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Surprised by a 4,000-year-old recipe

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A recipe for lamb stew reads, “Meat is used. You prepare water. You add fine-grained salt, dried barley cakes, onion, Persian shallot, and milk. You crush and add leek and garlic.”

And that’s it; no quantities and no instructions.

I guess the cooks who used that recipe 4,000 years ago knew what to do. Lamb stew is one of three recipes on cuneiform tablets that are a part of Yale University’s Babylonian Collection, and a team of international scholars are working to recreate this dish and three others.

What amazes me most is a picture of the 4,000-year-old recipe. It looks much better than the recipes I use.

My husband recently scanned a green tomato soup recipe for me to send to someone who had asked for it, and he commented that it had a lot of green spots on it. I don’t know why he was surprised; I was cooking green tomatoes. All the recipes I use often wear drips and spills and leaks and sprays from whatever ingredients I am using.

I have always admired those neat cooks who keep their recipes in plastic covers, so they can just wipe away any spills and spots before they put them away. Even more amazing are those who cook directly from a computer screen. I have to print my recipes out and have them right in front of me, and in the line of fire.

Should future generations look through my recipe file (well, file is a little misleading; pile is more like it), they will have no trouble spotting the favorites because they will be the dirtiest.

Maybe I need someone to read them out loud to me instead of having to read them myself. I wonder if Alexa cooks …

Jean McCamy is a Wake Forest artist.

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