E pluribus unum – “out of many, one.” So reads the Great Seal of the United States of America. We are a nation made up of many peoples from varied backgrounds, all of whom come together under a flag that stands for the ideals of personal liberty and equality. This noble concept of our rich and multifaceted nation is often expressed using another metaphor: a melting pot. Though that phrase really refers to a crucible in which different metals are (s)melted and mixed together, to be honest, it’s always made me think of fondu. Silly as that may sound, our motto e pluribus unum really DOES have a culinary pedigree. The first appearance of the phrase occurs in a Latin poem called Moretum (“Garlic Cheese”). In it, the writer (who some scholars think may have been Virgil, although that is not certain) describes a man making a simple lunch dish:
“First, lightly digging into the ground with his fingers, he pulls up four heads of garlic with their thick leaves; then he picks slim celery-tops and sturdy rue and the thin stems of trembling coriander. With these collected he sits before the fire and sends the slave-girl for a mortar. He splashes a grass-grown bulb with water, and puts it to the hollow mortar. He seasons with grains of salt, and, after the salt, hard cheese is added; then he mixes in the herbs. With the pestle, his right hand works at the fiery garlic, then he crushes all alike in a mixture. His hand circles. Gradually the ingredients lose their individuality; out of the many colors emerges one (color est e pluribus unus) – neither wholly green (for the white tempers it), nor shining white (since tinged by so many herbs). The work goes on: not jerkily, as before, but more heavily the pestle makes its slow circuits. So he sprinkles in some drops of Athena’s olive oil, adds a little sharp vinegar, and again works his mixture together. Then at length he runs two fingers round the mortar, gathering the whole mixture into a ball, so as to produce the form and name of a finished moretum. Meanwhile busy Scybale has baked a loaf. This he takes, after wiping his hands…” (Moretum 88-120, translation by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger).
Perhaps if we could get more people to sit down together for a simple homemade meal, we might come closer to solving some of our disagreements in this grand melting pot of a nation.