The Funerary Feast of King Midas Stew is a recipe recreated from ingredients that were chemically determined to be present in the pots of the Funerary Feast of King Midas of Phrygia, about 740 BCE, found at the Midas Mound (Great Tumulus) in Gordion, located in Yassihöyük, Turkey, which is believed to be the tomb of King Midas’ father Gordios, at whose funeral this stew was cooked. The chemical analysis was performed by Dr. Patrick McGovern of University of Pennsylvania. This recipe was developed by Ayse Salzmann of the Gordion Project and Pam Horowitz of the Museum Catering Company, with the help of Dr. Naomi Miller, a paleobotanist and member of the Gordion team and Dr. Patrick McGovern. The recipe was posted on a slip of paper inside the Penn Museum in Philadelphia, PA during The Golden Age of King Midas temporary exhibit, which is where I have picked it up in November 2016. I have modified some of the measurements and added many extra instructions, because the original recipe was really vague. Note, that the recipe includes a few ingredients not found in the original, such as onion, carrot, celery, cumin and thyme, and black pepper. I intend to modify this recipe further so that I only use authnetic ingredients, but alas that will have to wait a bit.
In 1957, Rodney Young and a team from the University of Pennsylvania excavated the Great Tumulus Mound, located at the Gordion site. There they found eighteen pottery jars placed inside large vats. Each jar contained as much as 150 grams (0.33 lb) of a spongiform and brownish material, which was unusual when compared to the more common shiny, dark residues found inside the bronze drinking vessels. The jars were also surrounded by large clumps of a similar-looking material.
Infrared spectroscopy, liquid and gas chromatography and mass spectrometry analyses of this material led to the identification of various ingredients. Specific fatty acids and lipids characteristic of sheep or goat fat. Phenanthrene and cresol were found in the material and implied that the meat was first barbecued before it was cut off the bone. Presence of gluconic, tartaric, and oleic/elaidic acids indicated that honey, wine, and olive oil, which may have been used to marinate the meat, were present in the recipe. Presence of a related plant steroid, chondrillasterol, and the triglyceride 2-oleodistearin indicated that a high-protein pulse, most probably lentils, was present. Large stocks of lentils and cereals were found in storage jars in the kitchens of buildings across the street from what is almost certainly Midas’ palace in the Gordion citadel. Presence of Anisic acid indicated that either anise or fennel was used in the dish. It is unknown whether or not in the 8th cetury BCE the ancient Phrygians imported real pepper from the Indian subcontinent. Dr. Naomi F. Miller, a paleobotanist and member of the Gordion team, reported that bitter vetch (Vicia ervilia) and wild fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) grow around Gordion today and have a very bitter taste. They may have been used as flavoring agents instead of pepper.
Overall, the chemical findings revealed that the main entree at the funerary feast of King Midas was most likely a spicy lentil and barbecued sheep or goat stew. Some components of the stew were prepared separately and might have entered in at different stages of the ceremony, the uniform chemical composition of the contents of eight pottery vessels and four clumps that were analyzed strongly suggests that the ingredients were cooked together to make a cohesive stew, because otherwise we would need to imagine how the leftovers were being divided up and distributed equally to each vessel, which is unlikely. The absence of bones, olive pits, or other seeds and grains also indicates that the material tested came from a prepared stew and not from disparate dishes.
- McGovern, P. E. 2000. “The Funerary Banquet of ‘King Midas’,” Expedition 42.1, pp. 21-29.
- McGovern, P., D. Glusker, R. Moreau, A. Nuñez, C. Beck, E. Simpson, E. Butrym, L. Exner, and E. Stout. 1999. “A Funerary Feast Fit for King Midas,” Nature 402 (Dec. 23), pp. 863-64.
The Funerary Feast of King Midas Stew Recipe
- 1 1/2 lb Lamb Stew meat
- 1 1/2 cups Green Lentils Rinsed
- 4 cups Water
- 1 Onion Large, chopped
- 1 Carrot Chopped
- 2 stalks Celery Chopped
- 1 teaspoon Cumin
- 1 tablespoon Thyme
- 2 tablespoons Honey
- 1 tablespoon Salt
- 1 tablespoon Black Pepper Coarse Ground
- 3/4 cup Red Wine
- 4 tablespoons Olive Oil
- Chop up the onion, carrot and celery.
- Cut the Lamb stew meat into 1.5 inch cubes.
- Season the lamb meat with salt and pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
- Saute the meat in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, inside a large dutch oven over medium-high heat, until the meat becomes brown. When the meat is done remove it from the pan into a glass bowl. Keep the lid off the dutch oven while stirring and flipping the meat.
- In the same dutch oven, saute chopped onion, carrot and celery in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for about 5 minutes. Keep the lid off the dutch oven while constantly stirring the vegetables.
- After the vegetables were sauted for 5 minutes, add to them cumin and thyme and 1/2 a cup of Red Wine to deglaze the dutch oven. Keep the lid off and constantly keep stirring the mixture in the dutch oven for another 5 minutes.
- Return the stew meat back into the dutch oven with all of its juices.
- Add 2 cups of water to the pot. Bring the water to boil and keep it gently boiling for 30 minutes. Stir the pot every 5 minutes. After 30 minutes check if the meat is tender. If it is not tender keep boiling until tender. This step can be done with the lid on or off. If you keep the lid on the water will boil faster. You will need to remove the lid to stir it. After stirring, close the lid back.
- At this point the meat should be eatable. Taste the stew and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add green lentils and remaining 2 cups of water to the pot. Stir the pot and bring to a boil again. Then simmer everything for 30 minutes. Make sure the pot is covered with the lid during this whole step, especially during simmering.
- Taste the stew and add salt and pepper to taste again.
- Add 1/4 cup of red wine.
- Add 2 tablespoons of honey and stir everything again.
- Make sure the dutch oven is covered with the lid. Remove the dutch oven from the fire and place it inside the baking oven, which by this point should be preheated to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake everything inside the dutch oven, inside the baking oven for 40 minutes. The lid must stay on the whole time the dutch oven is inside the baking oven. Do not overcook the stew by keeping it longer in the oven than 40 minutes, otherwise it will dry out.
- After 40 minutes check if the meat is completely cooked through and done. The meat should be extremely soft and tender, and easily fall apart from being poked by the fork. If the meat is done, remove the dutch oven from the baking oven and serve.