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The Ides of March and the Invention of the Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad

Today is the Ides of March, according to historical tradition. It’s the day that Julius Caesar passed on. Legend has it that he died violently at the hands of his best friend, Brutus. (That’s where the term “brutally” comes from.) Truth is stranger than legend, though, and the truth is, dear departed Julius didn’t die a violent death.

He died while inventing a meal. The Caesar Salad, to be exact…

You see, Julius was leader of Rome, but in his heart of hearts he wanted to be a chef. The best Italian chef ever! And he knew, because he was particularly well-traveled, that only those chefs who made a novel, spectacular dish could ever be considered the Very Best.

So Caesar found himself in a bad situation: Mid-month, still two weeks to payday. He’d drunk up most of the rent and all his combat bonuses, and there was little in the larder besides salad greens and some stale bread. Oil and vinegar too, and one small lump of cheese from Parmigiana. (Now, THERE was a campaign!) He desperately wanted to make a great meal, but didn’t know what to do.

So he sent a runner (sometimes it’s good to have minions) to Brutus’ house, asking for his help.

The runner came back a half hour later, winded, with a small bag in his hand. He gave the bag to his master, who opened it and found some extra-fragrant anchovies inside. “What’s the meaning of this?” Caesar roared. “Sorry, master,” the runner said. “It’s all he had. He asked me to remind you that he was drinking with you, so he doesn’t have much left either.”

Caesar nodded, fondly remembering the great carousing and wenching with his best friend. He took the anchovies into his kitchen, meditated for a few minutes to bring on the gods of creativity, and set to work.

Marcellus Theater

He mixed the oil and vinegar, and added some of the cheese, all grated up. He found a bit of garlic and added that too. (Unfortunately, the Gauls hadn’t invented mayonnaise yet, as Caesar knew from his conquests.) He mashed and he stirred. Then he went out to the garden and picked some fresh lettuce and a few sprigs of parsley. (He actually liked eating the stuff. Go figure.)

Back in the kitchen, Julius tore the lettuce into bite-size pieces and put them in a bowl. He roughly hacked the stale bread and added some of the bits to the salad, then he poured the dressing all over it. He took out the anchovies and placed a couple big ones on top. (No tomatoes; no Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson yet.) With a nice bottle of Chianti to hand, he sat down to taste-test his creation.

He found it very good, actually. Okay, the anchovies seemed a bit off, but hey, anchovies always seemed a bit off. It was what differentiated anchovies from other fish, Caesar thought. He ate with gusto.

About that time, his friend Brutus shook free from his committee meeting and wandered by to see how ol’ Julius was getting along. To his horror, he found the leader of the Roman Empire prostrate on the floor, shaking badly. Brutus rushed to his aid, lifting the ruler’s head into his lap. “How did this happen?” he yelled.

“Bad anchovies,” Julius whispered.

“A bad anchovy couldn’t cause this much trouble!” exclaimed Brutus.

“Ate two, Brutus,” Caesar said, and promptly expired.

And that’s why I never, ever eat Caesar Salad, especially if they offer it with anchovies. At least his famous drink, the Orange Julius, was perfected before he passed on…

Enjoy the (Middle O’ March Madness) Heat!


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