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Biblical Archaeology Review 46:4, Fall 2020

Strata: Test Kitchen: Unwinding with the Ancient Babylonians

There’s nothing better than a steaming hot bowl of soup on a chilly fall day. While the residents of ancient Mesopotamia did not experience cold as some of us do, they could appreciate the comfort a warm bowl of soup brings after a sickness or on a cold, rainy day. For this round of BAR Test Kitchen, we’ve recreated Babylonian Unwinding Stew. In this case, “unwinding” doesn’t necessarily refer to relaxing after a long day, although that interpretation isn’t outside the realm of possibility as comfort dishes similar to this stew are known from the medieval period. “Unwinding” in our case refers to what sourdough does when added to the mixture.1

This recipe comes to us from the same source as a previous BAR Test Kitchen treat—Tuh’u Stew.a Both were originally recorded on the best preserved of four culinary tablets in the Yale Babylonian Collection: Tablet 4644. It’s unclear why these recipes were originally recorded. When first cataloged in 1911, it was assumed that the tablets actually contained pharmaceutical recipes, not food recipes. It was not until the early 1980s that the true nature of the tablets and their recipes was determined by French Assyriologist Jean Bottéro.

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