In my own opinion, the best recipes go beyond the taste buds, and serve as a topic of discussion as well. A pre-made jar of salsa doesn’t facilitate conversation, but a recipe with unique ingredients or preparation—something that says something about the person who made it—is all the more valuable for its ability to make connections between the people consuming it.
A good example: a batch of cuneiform tablet cookies, baked up by Katy Blanchard, Keeper of Collections in the Museum’s Near East Section. Here’s how she did it.
For starters, you’ll need some cuneiform to inspire you. A simple image search will yield more results than you’ll ever need—or you can always check out authentic examples from the Museum’s Babylonian Section on our Online Collections Database.
Next, whip up some gingerbread dough using your favorite recipe. In case you don’t have one, here’s Katy’s:
3 C. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. ground allspice
1 t. ground cloves
½ t. salt
½ C. unsalted butter
½ C. brown sugar
½ C. maple-flavor OR ¼ C. maple flavor syrup plus ¼ C. molasses
1 large egg
Mix flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves and salt in large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat butter, brown sugar and syrup mixture until creamy. Add the egg and beat until fluffy. Gradually add in the flour pix mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the remaining 1 cup of flour* until dough is stiff but pliable. Chill dough for 15 minutes. Working with small batches and keeping the rest refrigerated, roll dough to desired thickness on lightly floured board. Transfer to lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet.
*Yes. It never tells you to only use 2 cups at the beginning and every year I forget until I reach that line. Which means every batch of cookies I’ve ever made I’ve used all 3 cups in that first step and I’ve never had a problem. Cut the dough into “tablets” of varying sizes.
Katy’s recipe calls for baking at 350 degrees Fahrenheit—do this for seven minutes, and remove the tablets from the oven.
Next, choose your tool wisely—the cheese knife works very well for this part.
Carve the symbols you’ve chosen, and return them to the oven for another seven minutes.
And voilà! You’re left with a delicious snack and a great segue for those inevitable family conversations about the history of writing.
Of course, our cuneiform-writing friends in ancient Babylonia did not have the luxury of gingerbread in their lives. For a great selection of indigenous recipes from regions around the world, check out Culinary Expeditions—a full-color, hardcover book featuring 80 tested recipes, cultural and culinary stories, and glorious photography of food-related artifacts from the international collections of the Penn Museum.