Secrets of the Dead

Baian seafood casserole and oyster farming in Baiae


We're sailing out into the bay to watch the muscle farmers haul up their load for the day. Shellfish farming was an industry as far back as the Roman times, today they've replaced oysters with mussels but incredibly the technology really hasn't changed that much. The entrepreneur Sergius Orata is credited with being the first to lay out artificial oyster beds in the bay in the first century BC.

Today, this same technique is used for mussel farming. Now the Romans knew that a good oyster had to be as fresh as possible and you needed to bring the source as close to the consumer as you could.

Sergius Orata claimed that his groundbreaking farming method produced the best oysters around. The process from the ancient text seems to be much the same, it is written that the oysters at Baia hung undulating in the water, now we can only take this to mean that they were hanging on ropes, much like we see underneath these buoys here in the bay. So collection today is much more mechanical than it was 2,000 years ago but it really is incredible that this tradition has lasted for 2,000 years. The ancient Roman cookbook Apicius suggests how the rich prepared their farmed seafood. It features a recipe for a Baian casserole: Oysters, mussels, sea urchins and vegetables. Topped with garum, a concoction of fermented fish and salt, the Roman version of ketchup.

Delicacies like this casserole were affordable for only the wealthiest residents. Thank you. To prove their wealth, the rich would sometimes eat 100 oysters in a one sitting.

There's such a great balance, the sea food is so fresh, it's possibly even the muscles that we saw drawn out of the sea this morning. You can imagine these wealthy Romans enjoying this, this is a great reason to be at Baia, this food is wonderful. Oh.

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