Sparta, Ancient Greece, circa 650s BCE
- 1 piglet, cut into parts
- 4 cups pig's blood
- 6 cups water
- 1/2 cup vinegar
- Salt, to taste
- Add water and vinegar to a large stock pot. Bring to a simmer.
- Clean and flay piglet. Chop into parts and add to stock pot.
- Bring stock pot to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover, until pork is fully cooked.
- When pork is thoroughly cooked, remove cover and reduce heat to low.
- Add pig's blood to the stock pot and simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes. Add salt to taste.
The History Shapes Cookbook
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From the History Shapes Cookbook, available now:
Black soup is the modern translation of Mélas Zōmós, a regional dish slurped down by the ancient group of infamous warriors known as the Spartans.
You know the Spartans: the warlike, throw-spears-first-ask-questions-later, loose cannons of ancient Greece. Sure, their actual record of badassery is a bit more spotty than the movie 300 would have you believe, but historians generally agree they could've used a chill pill or three.
While there’s no evidence that black soup was ever eaten on the battlefield, it was definitely eaten in the mess halls of the soldiers. After completing their military training, men would join a supper club (called syssitia) to hang out and chow down with their war buddies. They paid monthly dues (which included cash and produce) to purchase pigs for their black soup. They loved it.
Everyone else in the ancient world? Not so much. Comedians and playwrights constantly dunked on it for being gross. Foreigners immediately spat it out. It was said that to fully appreciate the flavor, you needed to have swum in the Eurotas, a famous Spartan river. In other words, black soup was a “Spartan cool kid” thing.
Just how notorious was the dish? The first time in recorded history that black soup was ever mentioned was in a comedy by Pherecrates called “The Miners.” In the story, a woman visits the underworld and returns to report that the soup flows through the streets of Hell. Not going to find that slogan on a can of Campbell's.
Speaking of people who end up in Hell, Adolf Hitler was also a big fan of black soup. Like all emotionally unstable white dudes with inferiority complexes, he dug all things Spartan. Just before the outbreak of World War II, a paper called “Spartan Pimpfe” made the rounds. It claimed German boys would eat bowls of black soup to get strong for their athletic tournaments, which wasn’t remotely true.
It’s strange, then, that for a meal so well known to history, no true recipe survives. All we've got is a list of ingredients and a handful of variations. It's thought that vinegar was used to stop the blood from coagulating while cooking. Or maybe it was used as a condiment. I'm guessing the salt would help you forget the whole “I'm eating pig's blood” thing.
There's also no consensus on when or how it was served. Was it a fancy dish meant for special occasions? An everyday staple to start your day right? No one knows. It's said that the pieces of meat were skimmed out and given to younger Spartans. The elders would then guzzle the remaining murky broth as a perk of their station in life. One more reason to never grow up, kids.
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