Ancient (and modern) Egyptian Fruit and Vegetables

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Ancient (and modern) Egyptian Fruit and Vegetables

Post by HEPZIBAH » Sat Apr 09, 2016 12:24 am

I suppose I could have posted this in any one of a number of sections of L4U and finally decided on here. I had been searching for something else, but as often happens, one search led to another and I ended up on this article about Egyptian fruit and Vegetables. Sorry about the layout, it hasn't copied over well. If you want to see more go to the original source, link given lower down.

Fruit and vegetables

Many Egyptians had a garden adjacent to their house, where they grew vegetables and fruit. Vegetables - the "crop of the year" - were grown all year round, irrigated by hand and formed an important part of their diet.
May the king give an offering (to) Osiris, the great god, that he may grant an invocation offering of bread, beer, cattle, fowl, and every good and pure thing, every kind of vegetable...
Stela of Ahmose, the coppersmith

(Source: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)


How basic vegetables were on the ordinary Egyptian's menu can be seen in this complaint of striking workers during the reign of Ramses III
We are starving hungry. Our tongue wasted away in thirst. No cloth is left. We are lacking oil. We have no fish, not even vegetables.
Onions, which celibate priests were forbidden to eat because of their aphrodisiacal effects, were a staple food.
On the pyramid (of Cheops) it is declared in Egyptian writing how much was spent on radishes and onions and leeks for the workmen, and if I rightly remember that which the interpreter said in reading to me this inscription, a sum of one thousand six hundred talents of silver was spent;
Herodotus, Histories II, Project Gutenberg
Garlic was highly valued. According to Pliny Garlic and onions are invoked by the Egyptians , when taking an oath, in the number of their deities. Ramses III ordered garlic to be distributed in large quantities in the temples. The Israelites who had become accustomed to the Egyptian diet of bread, fish and vegetables, complained when they were wandering in the desert [3]
5 We remember the fish , which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick.
Numbers 11

Leeks [6] are also mentioned in the Ebers papyrus and in the Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor the narrator found all kinds of food on his deserted island:
When I grew hungry and looked about for food, I found all ready for me within easy reach: figs and grapes, all manner of good herbs, berries and grain, melons of all kinds, fishes and birds for the taking.
Melon Egyptian melon, faience
Middle Kingdom
Source: Keimer, op.cit
Radishes, choriander, cabbages, endive [7], cucumbers, watermelons, melons [13] and raphanus, a wild radish tasting like turnip, were grown widely. According to Athenaeus the Egyptians ate boiled cabbage before all the rest of the food considering it one of the most delicate vegetables. The tubercular Arum colocasia, one of the plants loosely referred to as lotus, was also relished [5]. Mallow was added to soups [12].
The poor ate the roots of papyrus and other plants gathered in the marshes. The lotos mentioned by Herodotus with its round root was possibly the White Lotus.
When the river has become full and the plains have been flooded, there grow in the water great numbers of lilies, which the Egyptians call lotos; these they cut with a sickle and dry in the sun, and then they pound that which grows in the middle of the lotos and which is like the head of a poppy, and they make of it loaves baked with fire. The root also of this lotos is edible and has a rather sweet taste: it is round in shape and about the size of an apple.
Herodotus, Histories II, 2.92
Project Gutenberg
A second 'lily' variety Herodotus describes was probably the Sacred Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, an import from India, and not the traditionally depicted blue lotus.
There are other lilies too, in flower resembling roses, which also grow in the river, and from them the fruit is produced in a separate vessel springing from the root by the side of the plant itself, and very nearly resembles a wasp's comb: in this there grow edible seeds in great numbers of the size of an olive-stone, and they are eaten either fresh or dried. Besides this they pull up from the fens the papyrus which grows every year, and the upper parts of it they cut off and turn to other uses, but that which is left below for about a cubit in length they eat or sell: and those who desire to have the papyrus at its very best bake it in an oven heated red-hot, and then eat it.
Herodotus, Histories II, 2.92
Project Gutenberg
Broad beans, Vicia faba L., the Egyptian used a Semitic loanword, prj,[16] for them, have been a popular food in Egypt for a long time. The oldest known broad beans have been found in 5th dynasty tombs.[14]
Beans, Vigna sinensis, Egyptian ,[15] have been known since earliest historic times.[14] They were mentioned in one of Ramses II's paeans on himself:
Lower Egypt rowed to Upper Egypt for you, with barley, wheat, salt and beans without number.
Stela of Ramses II, year 8-9 (Kairo CG 34504)
After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website, Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Historisch-rhetorische Königstexte (19.Dynastie) => Heliopolis => Stele Ramses II. Jahr 8-9 (Kairo CG 34504) => Stele Statuenanfertigung
In medicine beans were used in remedies against constipation, in a remedy for a sick tongue or a treatment for male urinary complaints.[14] According to Herodotus, who travelled through Egypt in the Late Period, beans were ritually unclean and were not grown for human consumption:
Beans moreover the Egyptians do not at all sow in their land, and those which they grow they neither eat raw nor boil for food; nay the priests do not endure even to look upon them, thinking this to be an unclean kind of pulse.
Herodotus, Histories II
Project Gutenberg
Blackeyed beans Egyptian melon, faience
Middle Kingdom
Source: Keimer, op.cit
Diodorus thought that the Egyptians were forbidden to eat beans and chick peas in order to teach them the value of abstention. But legumes were found as offerings in tombs. During the times of Ramses III the priests of Thebes and Memphis received donations of beans. Lupins, lentils, chick peas and peas (since the Middle Kingdom) were also consumed. Lentils, easy to keep while dry, were a commodity occasionally used in trading. According to the story of Wenamen's journey 21 measures of lentils were part of the payment the Egyptian ambassador gave to the ruler of Byblos for a shipload of timber.
The lettuce was dedicated to the god Min, and was often protected by a little statue of the god. Its leaves were eaten whole, dipped in oil and salt, and were frequently part of votive offerings, having a reputation for being an aphrodisiac and enhancing fertility.


[Image: Date palms] Since the middle of the third millennium BCE dates were grown, though they were not of high quality. The palmtree, imposing when fully grown, was also planted for shade
there is a large city named Chemmis in the Theban district near Neapolis, and in this city there is a temple of Perseus the son of Danae which is of a square shape, and round it grow date-palms.
Herodotus, Histories II, Project Gutenberg
and its form influenced architecture
for the tomb of Amasis also, though it is further from the sanctuary than that of Apries and his forefathers, yet this too is within the court of the temple, and it consists of a colonnade of stone of great size, with pillars carved to imitate date-palms, and otherwise sumptuously adorned
Herodotus, Histories II, Project Gutenberg
[Image: Sycamores] Apple (tpH–tepeh), olive (Dt–djet), and pomegranate (nhm–nehem) [11], trees were brought to Egypt during the reign of the Hyksos or later. Mulberry trees reached Egypt from Armenia or Persia before or during the New Kingdom. Pears, peaches, almonds and cherries were not introduced until the Roman period, but figs, grapes and the not always very tasty sycamore figs [4] which could be harvested from April to December, were known from early times [2]. Coconuts were an imported luxury fruit affordable only to the rich.
May I walk every day unceasingly on the banks of my water, may my soul rest on the branches of the trees which I have planted, may I refresh myself in the shadow of my sycamore.
Egyptian tomb inscription, ca. 1400 BCE
Other fruit trees grown were the Dellach palm tree, mimusops, the shrublike jujube (Chinese date, Ziziphus jujuba ) and the drought resistant balanites which has datelike fruit and succulent leaves that are excellent feed for goats.
Ramses III allotted the Amen-Re temple figs, grapes, dom-palm fruit, pomegranates. Other items are not as well specified: there are two instances of all (kinds of) fine fruit and of fruit and a number of fruit have not been identified:
Mehiwet: cakes 3100
Khitana-fruit: heket 310
Khitana-fruit: bundles 6200
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, § 240

Some of these fruit were only eaten fresh, but many were dried in order to preserve them. Jars of raisins were allotted by the thousands to the Nile god temple by Ramses III, as were dried dates.
[Image: Olive tree] The Egyptian climate was not favourable to growing olives; and olive oil, known by the Semitic zayit meaning olive continued to be imported.

The Arsinoite Nome (i.e. the Fayum) is the most remarkable of all, both on account of its scenery and its fertility and cultivation. For it alone is planted with large, perfect, and richly productive olive-trees, and the oil is good when carefully prepared; those who are neglectful may, indeed, obtain oil in abundance, but it has a bad smell. In the rest of Egypt the olive-tree is never seen, except in the gardens of Alexandria, where under favourable circumstances they yield olives, but no oil.
Strabo, Geography, Book XVII, § 35

Olive oil [1][8] was used for lighting, but one may surmise it was used in the preparation of food as well. Olive oil jars were labelled
[.... olive oil from the great] olive tree plantation(?) of the House of the Million [Years belonging to the king of Upper and Lower Egypt ...... in the temple of Amen lying on the banks(?) of Ka : [...] jars.
Inscription on an olive oil jar fragment
Ostracon Qurna 619/5
Other trees were grown for oil before the introduction of the olive, among them the Moringa. From the little that we know, it appears that Egyptian ointments were made with nut oil, but it is probable that animal as well as vegetable grease was employed for this purpose too. The common people, both men and women anointed themselves with the oil of the kikki (castor-berry, Ricinus communis) [9].
And for anointing those of the Egyptians who dwell in the fens use oil from the castor-berry, which oil the Egyptians call kiki, and thus they do:--they sow along the banks of the rivers and pools these plants, which in a wild form grow of themselves in the land of the Hellenes; these are sown in Egypt and produce berries in great quantity but of an evil smell; and when they have gathered these some cut them up and press the oil from them, others again roast them first and then boil them down and collect that which runs away from them. The oil is fat and not less suitable for burning than olive-oil, but it gives forth a disagreeable smell.
Herodotus, Histories II, Project Gutenberg
Oils were also pressed from almonds, sesame (since Ptolemaic times), linseed (flax), raphanus, selgam (cole-seed), and seemga.

A small number of fruit and vegetables like garlic, onions, carobs, dates, or nuts, kept for quite a while, some could be preserved by drying, a technique known to the ancient Egyptians, although the frequency of its implementation with perishable food stuffs is unknown. But most had to be consumed when they were ripe or processed into a product that would keep. Surplus produce could also be marketed locally, but few vegetables could be sent far afield without spoiling. Therefore, people mostly had to make do with what they themselves or their neighbours grew in their gardens, which resulted in their choice being much more limited than a list of fruit and vegetables known to have been grown in Egypt [10] might suggest.

For a seasonal chart of Fruit and Vegetables see the original article: ... tables.htm

Image Experience is not what happens to you;
it is what you do with what happens to you.
-Aldous Huxley

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Re: Ancient (and modern) Egyptian Fruit and Vegetables

Post by carrie » Sat Apr 09, 2016 10:12 am

Thank you for that most interesting.

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Re: Ancient (and modern) Egyptian Fruit and Vegetables

Post by Winged Isis » Sat Apr 09, 2016 12:17 pm

Very. Thanks!
Carpe diem! :le:

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Re: Ancient (and modern) Egyptian Fruit and Vegetables

Post by Jayway » Sat Apr 09, 2016 3:28 pm

VERY interesting, thankyou. Must look up the caster oil, we have caster oil trees here but the locals told me they are poisonous so I have never touched them.

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Re: Ancient (and modern) Egyptian Fruit and Vegetables

Post by LovelyLadyLux » Sun Apr 10, 2016 4:40 pm

Castor beans are poisonous here.

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