A couple of weeks ago, when I wrote about my visit to the British Museum, one person commented that the cuneiform tablets looked like pop-tarts. Anyone familiar with the CREWS Project and our love of ancient baking will know that this is the sort of challenge we can’t let go. I haven’t had pop-tarts since I was a kid, and not too often then, but it turns out they’re not too difficult to make. Naturally we had to give it a try.
So how are pop-tarts for cuneiform? Not great, it turns out. But it’s important to share negative results as well as positive ones. Making the pop-tarts was as straightforward as expected – they’re pretty much just rectangles of pastry with jam sandwiched between. The problem came with inscribing them. The thin, egg-enriched pastry is rather soft, but on its own will take a stylus impression. With a layer of jam underneath, though, it’s rather too yielding and doesn’t form wedges well. It was also tricky to make wedges as deep as possible without piercing through the thin pastry.
I tried refrigerating the pop tarts for a while in the hope that would firm things up a bit, but it didn’t make a huge difference.
Nevertheless, I was able to make a reasonable set of impressions. They were better near the edges than in the middle, because the cushioning effect of the jam was less pronounced. I used alphabetic cuneiform and Ugaritic since the signs tend to be simpler and a bit larger than Akkadian. These are based on real tablets but they’re not really readable – the soft pastry made for quite large wedges so I ended up only being able to fit part of each line on the pop-tarts.
As they went into the oven, I wasn’t overly confident. The wedges were shallow and ill-defined and I doubted they’d survive the cooking process. I’m afraid to say this assessment was right. After baking the only wedges which survived were those near the edges, and even those weren’t very legible. The dream of pop-tarblets, breakfast of Assyriological champions, was sadly not to be.
In the end I spread icing over what remained of the cuneiform. They might not be legible tablets, but they could still be made to taste as good as possible. And I can report that they did taste good. Rather better, it has to be said, than the shop-bought pop-tarts of my childhood. I wouldn’t recommend them as a medium for ancient writing, but do give them a try for a quick and easy treat.
~ Philip Boyes (Research Associate on the CREWS project)