On Burnt Offerings and Cooking in Bible Times
Rev. Wayne Irwin
In bible times the simple gathering and preparing of good was one of the major occupations in life- the alternative being starvation. Nevertheless, food was not considered solely a means of sustaining life; it had great social and economic significance as well. Any pact or covenant was always sealed by participation in a common meal- to refuse was to express contempt for the other party to the agreement and to rupture the fellowship. And foodstuffs, therefore, were among the most important items of foreign trade- very useful in exerting pressure on international relations.To prepare special food and to present it as an offering to honour a guest was among the more common and more respected of the social graces of the day. And the offering of one's best animal be burning it upon an alter, it's sweet smoke rising to the heavens was a gesture of homage for God- a gesture understood to place God under obligation to be peaceful and forgiving. Perhaps from this emerged the precept that "the best way to the heart is through the stomach."Meat was not a regular part of the diet in those days. The chief reason was the scarcity of domestic cattle, particularly when any such animals were the family's providers of cheese and curds and milk. Meat then, was generally obtained through hunting, and then mainly pigeons and turtle doves and sometimes locusts, with lamb and goats being used at festival times. The wealthy lived on veal.Meat was most commonly boiled in water, or otherwise roasted in an oven, barbecued on a spit or fried in oil. It was always almost overcooked so it could be easily pulled from the bone. Chicken was unknown in Old Testament times; and fish was rare; although by the time of Jesus, fish was increasing in popularity, being mainly prepared by broiling over coals.Vegetables were scarce because of the climate. Beans and lentils were most common, either being eaten in their natural state or boiled into pottage. Sometimes they were mixed with flour to increase the yield of bread. The husks of the carob tree, generally regarded as the animal fodder, served as emergency food. And the most important fruits were olives, grapes and figs with the occasional inclusion of apples, pomegranates and dates.Honey was the sugar of antiquity and the main herbs were thyme, mint, but the one item eaten at every meal was bread. No matter what else was being prepared, bread was made ready as well, often being dipped in olive oil and then swished through some ground spice and herbs to provide variety of flavouring in what otherwise could be very monotonous meals. The bread was made from barley and emmer (a primitive form of wheat), occasionally from millet, and once in a while from spelt (the plant often serving as a border for the field). The grain itself was sometimes consumed uncooked, sometimes roasted in a pan, sometimes simply parched in a fire. It was also made into a porridge, to be seasoned with salt or onions or leeks and garlic and to be sprinkled with seeds such as anise or coriander or cumin or dill.Food itself was considered a gift from God, a gift not to be presumed upon, a gift not to be taken for granted- a symbol of God's providential love. In out present day we share an abundance of foodstuffs undreamed of even by the ancient royalty, for their land of milk and honey was a wasteland in comparison to ours.And so it is that Lowville United Church publishes a collection of favorite recipes- tested instructions for the preparation and presentation of special food in our day. May the enjoyment of the tastes and textures of these offerings being enhancement to your times with others, and may their sweet and savoury smells rise up in contemporary gesture of profound gratitude to God.