Glisglis – a Roman gift and a recipe for a festive dormouse

Time for the History Jar Advent calendar and this year it’s festive foods and beverages.

In Ancient Rome dormice were kept in large terracotta pots called gliaria. And then they were fed hazelnuts, walnuts, cheese and pine nuts. Pliny says that they liked beechnuts as well. Erm – and then having been lovingly fattened up they were cooked. “There were also dormice rolled in honey and poppy-seed,” notes Petronius on one occasion. And I wouldn’t worry about the Roman rodent pots having an exercise wheel or not, apparently the glisglis sleeps for seven months of the year.

A glirarium exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum in Chiusi.

And before we all get carried away with the idea of Romans eating tiny dormouse at Saturnalia – their midwinter festival- it should be remembered that these dormice, the edible dormouse, are substantially larger than our native species.

glisglis- the edible dormouse- which is not native to the UK arrived in Tring in 1902 as part of Lord Rothschild’s wildlife collection…it escaped and can now be found in parts of the South East. They are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, so no giving them away to your guests to be fattened up.

The Roman cookbook entitled Apicius has the following recipe:

Stuff the dormice with minced pork as well as the flesh from all of the dormouse’s limbs, together with ground pepper, pine nuts, laser and liquamen and place them sewn up on a clay tile in the oven or cook them in a roasting pan.

Martial identifies dormice as a potential gift for guests but the Emperor Claudius banned this item from Martial’s list of 223 possible Saturnalia guest gifts as being too extravagant.

From the Lewis Carroll memorial window All Saints Church, Daresbury, Cheshire.

The dormouse being stuffed into the teapot is not an edible dormouse and thus not a suitable midwinter gift for an Ancient Roman or indeed anyone else for that matter.

Io Saturnalia!