In the Longitudinal Hall, in the Tomb of Rekhmire, in Thebes, Egypt, there is a drawing which depicts a recipe of a sacrificial cone cake made from Tiger Nuts. There are various opinions of what Tiger Nuts are called in Ancient Egyptian. There is a debate of how to read the hieroglyphic for it on Rekhmire’s tomb as well. It has been read as Wah, or sometimes, Menweh, Gyu, Senwet, Shenyta, and other variations. The word used for sacrificial cake on Rekhmire’s tomb is Shat. So I have decided to call these cakes Wah Shat – 𓇹𓈙𓂂𓂝𓏥𓎠
Tiger Nuts are not actually nuts. They are root tubers of the plant Cyperus Esculentus. The plant looks like regular blade grass above ground, but below ground, the tubers, when fully grown, are attached to its roots. Once collected and removed from the roots they are dried and can be eaten raw or can be ground into flour. When I tasted them, their taste resembles pistachios, but with a much gummier texture, and takes a little while to chew them through. They were used as the chewing gum of Ancient Egypt, where they have been cultivated from the Predynastic period.
Tiger Nut (Cyperus esculentus) grass growing in a vegetable garden, in Alaska, USA. Photo: Tim Steele, September 26, 2014, vegetablepharm.blogspot.com.
Tiger Nut (Cyperus esculentus) tubers fully grown in a vegetable garden, in Alaska, USA. Photo: Tim Steele, September 26, 2014, vegetablepharm.blogspot.com.
A pile of dried tubers of Tiger Nuts (Cyperus esculentus). Banfora market, Burkina Faso. Photo: Marco Schmidt, March 5, 2010, Wikimedia Commons.
Rekhmire was an ancient Egyptian noble and official who served as Vizier and Governor of the City of Thebes, during the reigns of Thutmosis III and Amenhotep II, the sixth and seventh Pharaohs, respectively, of the 18th dynasty, in the 2nd millennium BCE. His tomb was mainly studied by Norman De Garis Davies, and his wife Nina, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, between 1906-1940,and it is their drawings that are shown in this article.
Painting from the Tomb of Rekhmire in the Logitudinal Hall, Eastern Wall. Drawing by Norman de Garis Davies, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1935.
The painting shows Rekhmire being served by various workers who are preparing sacrifices on his behalf. One of the sacrifices is a cone shaped cake made from Tiger Nuts, piles of which are being brought in the Temple of Amun. Spread out among the drawings, are faint short inscriptions in hieroglyphics that describe the process.
Painting from the Tomb of Rekhmire in the Logitudinal Hall, Eastern Wall, with hieroglyphic Wah (Tiger Nuts). Drawing by Norman de Garis Davies. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1943.
Painting from the Tomb of Rekhmire in the Logitudinal Hall, Eastern Wall, with hieroglyphic Shat (Cake). Drawing by Norman de Garis Davies. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1943.
The painting shows workers stock piling Tiger Nuts into large piles. After that the Tiger Nuts are pounded into a coarse flour, sifted, and mixed with a liquid or fat of some sort, which most probably is honey. The reason it is most probably honey, is because on the left side of the painting workers are shown removing honey combs. Besides honey, oil was probably used as well as the binding fat to hold up the shape of the cake. The cakes are then shaped into long cones, and stacked in baskets, which are in turn brought as sacrifices to the god Amun on Rekhmire’s behalf.
Painting from the Tomb of Rekhmire in the Logitudinal Hall, Eastern Wall, Zone 1. Photo: Thierry Benderitter, www.osirisnet.net.
The inscriptions dispersed amidst the individual scenes translate into English as follows:
The vizier Rekhmire receiving Tiger Nuts and honey in the treasury of the temple and putting under seal all valuables as [temple offerings to Amun], by virtue of his office as confidential controller.
Pounding the Tiger Nuts in the treasury of [Amun, lord of the thrones of Egypt,] to make cake offerings at every festival which His Majesty had established.
Be quick over the pounding, each separator. Lo, we are doing his behests.
Cooking loaves . . . daily [for Amun and] for the company of his associated gods.
Adding fat and cooking cakes.
… making Tiger Nuts loaves up for an offering of temple dues.
Translation after Davies with modifications by Benderitter.
Painting by Nina de Garis Davies, painted in 1930, of the scene in the Tomb of Rekhmire of Workers Removing Honeycombs. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 30.4.88.
I have recreated the proportions of the recipe of this cake based on another ancient Roman recipe recreation of a similar concoction of nuts and honey, called Chrysocolla. According to Davies, in his book on the Tomb of Rekhmire, it is possible that there was another ingredient in the Tiger Nut Cone Cake, which is dates. There are some fragments of inscriptions mentioning dates, and also the color of the cakes seems to be reddish, which could have been due to smeared date paste on the outside of the cakes. However, since dates were not really depicted on the drawings, I decided to leave them out of this particular recipe. The reddish color of the cake can be simply due to cooked honey, especially Egyptian Sidr honey, which is very dark, as you can see on my photos.
- de Garis Davies, Norman. The tomb of Rekh-mi-Rē at Thebes. Vol. 1. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1943. pp. 43-45.
- de Garis Davies, Norman. The tomb of Rekh-mi-Rē at Thebes. Vol. 1. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1943. Plate XLIX, Plate L.
- de Garis Davies, Norman. Paintings from the tomb of Rekh-mi-Rē at Thebes. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1935. Plate XXIII.
- Wilson, Hilary. “A recipe for offering loaves?” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 74 (1988), pp. 214-217.
- Budge, E A Wallis. An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary. Vol. 2. London, 1920. p. 730, entry: sha-t.
- Manniche, Lise. An Ancient Egyptian Herbal. 3rd Edition. British Museum Press, 2006.
- Nunn, John F. Ancient Egyptian Medicine. University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.