Eating in Jerusalem of the First Temple Period
During the First Temple period Jerusalemites ate mainly the natural crops that are typical of the region: "a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey" (Deuteronomy 8:8). The usual diet contained few vegetables, mainly those that grew wild in the fields (garlics and wild onion). Meat was enjoyed only by the privileged rich; ordinary people would have meat only at the Passover sacrifice or on particularly important occasions. Other foods of the common people included the eggs of wild fowl, milk, cheese, and butter. David, going out to his brothers who were in the camp of the army fighting the Philistines, brings them cheeses (1 Samuel 17:18).
The limited information we have suggests that in the biblical period it was customary to have two daily meals. A late-morning meal, which also served as a break in the workday, would probably consist of bread dipped in olive oil or in wine vinegar, toasted wheat, olives, figs or some other fruit, and water or a little diluted wine. A picnic meal like this was eaten by Ruth the Moabite and Boaz (Ruth 2:14). The main meal was taken in the evening, before dark, and consisted of a common pot of soup or a broth of seasoned legumes into which the diners dipped slices of bread to scoop out the helping.
"Further, take wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and emmer. Put them into one vessel and bake them into bread" (Ezekiel 4:9). The Land of Israel lies in the wheat belt where the culture of flour and bread as a universal food base developed. From the Bible we know of leavened bread and matzah, but also halah, wafers, bread morsels, and cakes. Bread was baked in an oven heated by twigs, placed on hot stones and covered with cinders or coals, or it might be fried in an iron pan. Other food-grains were damp green seeds ("carmel", "melilot"), wheat stalks of which the seeds were toasted in fire, such as David ate during his flight from Absalom in the desert, and gruel made of ground wheat, groats, or a baked mixture of ground wheat and meat.
The foods might be seasoned with a little salt, which was produced mainly in the Dead Sea area, honey (from dates or of wild bees), or with juices, various fines herbs, and olive oil.
From earliest times the stone terraces in the Judean Hills around Jerusalem were worked and yielded a variety of crops. However, when Jerusalem became an international center of government and commerce during the reign of Solomon, food production was insufficient to satisfy the standards deemed fit for the king and his resplendent court. The result was that imported foods began to reach Jerusalem (some in the form of taxes and offerings from across the vast kingdom); soon the city's economy grew dependent on the importations. The wealth and luxury of King Solomon's court is indicated by the daily menu of the palace kitchens: "Solomon's daily provisions consisted of 30 kors of semolina and 60 kors of [ordinary] flour,10 fatted oxen, 20 pasture-fed oxen, and 100 sheep and goats, besides deer and gazelles, roebucks and fatted geese" (1 Kings 5:2-3). The cattle were imported from the Hauran area (east of the Jordan River), while fatted geese were a well-known Egyptian dish, prepared to please Pharaoh's daughter, Solomon's wife, who was accustomed to the pamperings of the Land of the Nile. Sugar cane probably also reached the region during this period.
When the Queen of Sheba arrived in Jerusalem she was stunned by the splendor: "When the queen of Sheba observed all of Solomon's wisdom... the fare of his table, the service and attire of his attendants, and his wine service... she was left breathless" (1 Kings 10:5).
See the recipe for Labaneh.
Source: The Jerusalem Mosaic. Copyright 1995 Hebrew University of Jerusalem -- All Rights Reserved.