COOKING. Numerous Bible references to the preparation of various kinds of food, methods of cooking, utensils and equipment used, persons doing the cooking, and places where it was done, afford a fairly complete knowledge of this daily task in the Biblical period.
All of the grains were prepared by cooking. They might be parched, or roasted over an open fire in some kind of pan. The cereals also could be boiled, in either whole or ground form, to make porridge. This would prob. be seasoned and flavored with salt, olive oil, other condiments, and perhaps even honey would be added. Honey, together with dates, provided the sugar of antiquity. The preparation of bread involved grinding, which might be done either in a mortar or a mill. The mortar (Num 11:8; Prov 27:22) was a somewhat hemispherical depression in a stone, in which the grain was crushed by pounding with a pestle made from stone. This was shaped somewhat like the large end of a baseball bat, with a common length of perhaps eighteen inches. The mortar might be a separate stone, or be built into a stone floor, and might also occur in bed rock, exposed near habitations. The mortar and pestle was capable only of producing crushed, or roughly ground grain, best suited for making porridge.
The mill had several forms, and something of an evolutionary development. Earliest and most common was the quern and muller (the “saddle-quern” is a standard artifact recovered in excavations of the Bronze and Iron Age sites in Pal.). This mill consisted of a lower stone, the quern, which might average from ten inches by eighteen inches to sixteen inches by thirty-two inches in size. Sometimes it had legs, or a support to raise the back side (nearest the operator) from the floor, and the surface became somewhat hollowed through usage (giving rise to the expression “saddle”). The muller was usually loaf-shaped, averaging from ten to eighteen inches in length, with a width of some three to six inches. It was the “upper” millstone of Judges 9:53, used as a weapon to kill Abimelech (cf. 2 Sam 11:21). These stones were usually made of basalt rock, imported from Bashan, which was ideal for milling because of its vesicular structure, which provided continuously sharpened cutting edges. Its mode of operation was to rub the muller back and forth on the quern, after the fashion of a washboard, thus grinding the grain between the stones. The rotary mill appeared later, consisting of two circular basalt stones, averaging about twenty inches in diameter. The upper stone had a handle for turning it on the lower, which carried a central pin for an axle. A central orifice was provided to pour the grain into, and the ground flour came out around the perimeter. Two women (Matt 24:41; Luke 17:35) were usually required for its operation. In Rom. times the large “hour-glass” mills were common, standing four to six ft. in height, and turned by animal or slave power. It consisted of a lower cylindrical stone with a conical top, and an upper stone, also cylindrical, with two funnel-shaped openings, meeting in the center. The lower one matched the cone referred to, and the whole was turned on the lower stone something in the order of a capstan. Grain poured into the top funnel came out as flour around its circumference below. Excellent examples of these mills may be seen today at Pompeii and Capernaum.
The flour was mixed with water, and other components, including salt and leaven, the latter consisting of some fermented dough left over from previous bakings. The dough was kneaded, usually in wooden troughs, and formed into cakes or loaves, which were then baked on the hearth, on heated stones (Gen 18:6; 1 Kings 19:6; cf. Hosea 7:8), or in ovens. The oven (tabûn in Arab., tannūr in Heb.) was usually built in a semi-subterranean pit, three to four ft. in diameter and about ten inches deep. It was lined with clay and large heavy potsherds were erected as a cover, sloping upward and inward, leaving an opening of a foot or so in the center. Many of these are found in the excavations, and rural people still use them. A fire was built inside and when all was thoroughly heated, and the fuel exhausted, the bread was put in on pans or flat stones, then all was covered and left until the baking was accomplished. Various modifications of this oven occurred and cakes also were baked on griddles, consisting of metal pans (Ezek 4:3; cf. Lev 2:5; 7:9; also note 1 Chron 9:31). Baking was a daily routine, to avoid staleness.
Meats were used by the more affluent (cf. Solomon, 1 Kings 4:23), the poor having them less frequently, usually at family gatherings, meals for special guests, and religious occasions. Sheep and goat meat were most common, though some beef was consumed. Meat was cooked by boiling, in water or oil, and by roasting and frying, using the oven, spit, and griddle (Judg 6:19; Mic 3:2, 3). Fowl was cooked like the other meats, and fish frequently was broiled over coals of fire (John 21:9). Locusts also were parched and eaten (cf. Lev 11:22; Matt 3:4; Mark 1:6).
A variety of vegetables was cooked and eaten, including beans, lentils (cf. Gen 25:29-34), onions, leeks (Num 11:5), and various roots. Seasonings were salt, very important to a vegetable diet (Job 6:6; Matt 5:13; Col 4:6); seeds, whole or ground, including anise, coriander, cummin, dill, herbs, thyme, mint, and others. Nuts also were a part of the diet, and garlic was commonly used.