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Parthian Game Hens #CooktheBooks #FoodieReads

For this round - our December-January selection - of Cook the Books, the book selection was chosen by Debra from Eliot's Eats. She chose Feast of Sorrow: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Crystal King.* You can read Debra's invitation in the book announcements: here.

On the Page
I first read this book on our ten-day camping trip last July along the Eastern Sierras. I swung in the hammock, breathing in the clean mountain air, and devouring King's book. Actually, I read a lot of books during the trip, but this was the first...and my favorite.

Then, in preparation for this event, I read it again. Let me start with this: I love this book. What's not to love, right? Food, history, love, passion, betrayal, and ancient Rome.

I became enamored by ancient Rome when I studied Latin in high school. And that passion was only flamed more when I lived in Rome for a year after college. Visiting those sites, walking among the ruins...I get misty-eyed just thinking about Rome.

King's research is evident and meticulous from the very first page and you are quickly transported to the world of Apicius, Thrasius, Sotas, and more. 

"Marcus Gavius Apicius purchased me on a day hot enough to fry sausage on the market stones. It was the twenty-sixth year of Augustus Caesar's reign" (pg. 3).

So began the tale of Thrasius, the fictional narrator of Feast of Sorrow. The novel is based on the real life of ancient Roman noble Apicius who is said to have inspired and contributed to the world's oldest surviving cookbook, a ten-volume collection bearing his name Apicius.

Some of the earliest foodies, it turns out, wrested credit for the work of the talented cooks they enslaved. This is a story where innovation collides with exploitation, loyalty with rivalry, and love with venomous hatred. I high recommend this for any fan of historical fiction, anyone who loves Rome, and anyone who enjoys feasts and foods. I found it impossible to put down. Twice.

On the Plate
I decided to make a variation on the Parthian Chicken that the author has on her blog: here. This dish was one that Thrasius imagined in the small dinner he suggests to Apicius on the day of his purchase. "...I would begin with a gustatio of salad with peppers and cucumbers, melon and mint, whole-meal bread, soft cheese, and honey cake. ...Then pomegranate ice to cleanse the palate, followed by a cena prima of saffron chickpeas, Parthian chicken, peppered morels in wine, mussels, and oysters" (pg. 6).

Parthian Chicken

 Apicius 6.8.3: Pullum Parthicum: pullum aperies a naui et in quadrato ornas. teres piper, ligusticum, carei modicum. suffunde liquamen. uino temperas. componis in Cumana pullum et condituram super pullum facies. laser et uinum interdas. dissolues et in pullum mittis simul et coques. piper aspersum inferes.

Ingredients serves 3 or 4
  • 3 cornish game hens
  • 1 t ajwain seeds
  • 1 t caraway seed
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled and pressed
  • 1/2 C sweet white wine  (I used a local Muscat wine)
  • 1/2 C dry white wine (I used a local Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 1 T olive oil
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 3 T fish sauce (this is closest approximation to the ancient Roman garum, a fish sauce that was used in almost all ancient Roman dishes)
  • 3 t softened butter
  • 3 apples (for stuffing the birds, you can use onions or anything else that will fill the cavity)
  • Also needed: three 9" length of 100% cotton twine, roasting pan

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Remove giblets from the cornish game hens and stuff them with apple quarters. Use the twine to truss the hens. Place them a roasting pan.

Grind the ajwain and caraway seeds and place them in a small mixing bowl. Add in the garlic and black pepper. Stir in the fish sauce and the olive oil.

Rub 1 t butter into the skin of each bird. Spoon the spice mixture over the top and spread it over the surface with a spoon.

Pour the wine over the birds. Put the pan in the oven and roast for 90 minutes. Every 20 minutes or so remove the pan from the oven and baste with the cooking juices. 

After 90 minutes in the oven, remove the hens from the oven and let them rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Serve with steamed rice, blanched green beans, and a great wine. I poured a skin-fermented Pinot Gris from Donkey & Goat winery.

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.

I am also linking this post to the Foodie Reads Challenge. 
Here's what everyone else read in December 2017: here.


  1. I thought I would make Parthian Chickesn (from King's website) from the onset. Then I read the book and went in a different directions. I may have to make your recipe though. It sounds and looks delicious. Glad you liked the book (twice)!!!

  2. I agree with you about the book, I found it fascinating. So much food to choose from. The story line was very interesting to me, the author did a bang up job capturing my attention.
    Nice chicken, and the wine looks good too....haven't tried that label.

  3. It sounds like this book was popular with us all. Your Cornish hens look amazing. The color is gorgeous. I'm drooling all over my new keyboard!

    1. OH and congrats on winning the gift card from Foodies Read.

    2. I enjoy game hens but they don't seem widely used. Like your twist on this preparation. I took a Persian slant too in my post about the book

  4. Great recipe! I wish I could have a portion now :)


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