Category Archives: Neptunalia & Salacia

A Cool Summertime Recipe

We are in the midst of the Dog Days of Summer: they began when July was new, when Sirius, the Dog Star, began rising with the sun. Early astronomers thought the combination of Sirius rising with the sun made for the hottest days of the year. This annual phenomenon remains with us, as it does each year, until the Eleventh of August, when Sirius and the sun once again go their separate ways, thus ending the Dog Days of Summer once more.

It’s been unbearably hot just about everywhere this month. Here, too, the temperatures are running higher than normal: low to mid 90s, rather than the more typical 89 or so, and those few degrees make a big difference. As meals go, it is definitely a time for lighter fare, and today, on the approach to the ancient Roman festival of Neptunalia & Salacia (it falls on July 23), I’ve got the perfect meal to cool things down a bit, and today’s chapter of the Convivio Book of Days comes with a delicious recipe. It’s a Florida recipe that’s born somewhat out of necessity: an attempt to use up some of the local mangoes that are everywhere here come high summer.

And I know the current madness emanating from Tallahassee has not done much for our popularity (I’m with you on that), but let it be known that Florida has delivered some incredible contributions to the national cuisine: We’ve brought you hushpuppies, fried up from cornmeal and chopped onions and beer. We’ve brought you key lime pie, of course. And we’ve even brought you the half & half you pour into your coffee each morning (it was invented right here in Lake Worth at Boutwell Dairy in the early 20th century). Today’s recipe is one you can add to that list. It’s a recipe I adapted from one I picked up from my neighbor Margaret. It’s the perfect accompaniment to fish or chicken, though in this house, it’s always fish, and as such, it is perfect for Neptunalia & Salacia, when the Romans celebrated Neptune, the sea god, and his wife Salacia, goddess of the salty sea. It’s also perfect for any time you need a cooling light supper on an oppressively hot day.

M A N G O   W A T E R M E L O N   S A L S A
Best served over fish (we like haddock or mahi-mahi or snapper best). Measurements are approximate. The chopping takes some time, but if you make the salsa early in the day, the actual meal comes together at dinnertime in just a few minutes––just as long as it takes for the fish and the rice to cook.

4 mangoes, peeled and pitted
1/2 small round watermelon, preferably seedless
1 small red onion, peeled
2 jalapeño or poblano peppers
fresh cilantro
salt & pepper

Chop, into a small dice, the mangoes, the watermelon, the red onion, and the peppers and combine together in a large bowl. Take care to remove any stray watermelon seeds. I prefer a salsa that is mostly watermelon with almost as much mango, while the red onion and green peppers add their particular colors to the mix in a smaller proportion. Add chopped fresh cilantro to taste, and season with salt and pepper. Chill for at least a few hours, or overnight. Mango Watermelon Salsa will keep in the refrigerator for at least 3 or 4 days. Serve over fish that’s been baked or grilled or pan-fried. Basmati rice makes a nice accompaniment to the fish and salsa. Works equally well over chicken, and perhaps even grilled pork tenderloin.

If you have the luxury of choice, as we do here in Lake Worth, my favorite mangoes for this recipe are Haden mangoes, which we grow here, or Jewel mangoes, which grow at my family’s home nearby. There are some mangoes that have a distinct turpentine taste; I do not like those for this recipe.

Mango season here is quickly coming to a close. Our tree has completed its run for the year, as has Mom’s tree. I’ve heard it said that if you live here in South Florida and you find yourself buying mangoes from the market in summer, then you need to seriously reconsider who you call “friend.” There are so many mango trees here, almost everyone knows someone who has a glut of the fruit in July. They’re delicious, but let’s face it: you can only eat so many. Mango Watermelon Salsa is a most delicious way to get through four of them. Enjoy the meal, as you raise your glasses to each other on Neptunalia & Salacia and every summertime meal.


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Salt & Water


The Romans celebrated the Feast of Neptunalia and Salacia today, the 23rd of July. And why wouldn’t they? In these hottest days of summer, it is only logical that we would want to escape the heat, no matter to what age we belong. And so the Romans did just what we would do today: they would hit the beach. The sea beckoned then just as it does now, and the masters of that sea were Neptune, the sea god, and his wife Salacia, goddess of the salty sea. For their feast day, the Romans would go to the shore and enjoy the salt air and cool sea breezes. Water and wine were fundamental to the celebration.

If you are not landlocked, you would do well today to visit the sea. Dip your toes in the ocean nearest you. Breathe in the salted air. I can see the Atlantic if I stand on my rooftop, so we have an easy time of it here. If you are in the center of Kansas, far from the ocean, I’d say you can probably just as easily find your Neptunalia and Salacia in a pitcher of water. It is a good day to recognize our reliance on water, to honor its preciousness. Without it, we are nothing.

Salacia, of course, is a name derived from sal, the Latin word for salt, and we’d do well today to also recognize all that salt brings to our lives. We hear the constant warnings of the sodium in processed foods, how there is too much sodium in our diets, the threat it brings of high blood pressure… but if we connect with our food more directly––prepare our own meals from basic ingredients––we recognize immediately the importance of each ingredient, and salt is an excellent example of the need for moderation and balance in our lives: Too much salt will render your meal inedible; too little and your meal is mediocre. But the right amount of seasoning can make things downright sublime.

The Dog Days of Summer, these hottest days of the year, ruled by the dog star Sirius, remain with us until the middle of August. So get you to the beach today if you can and cool off some. The Romans would wish it so. More importantly, though, may your day today be one where the importance of common, ubiquitous things––things like salt and water––are understood and honored for their beautiful mystery.

Image: Cloudy Sky, Mediterranean Sea by Gustave Le Gray. Albumen print, 1857 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.


To Our Home Beneath the Sea


We are in the midst of the Dog Days of Summer, ruled by Sirius, the Dog Star. These are traditionally considered the hottest days of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere––a long stream of them that began when July was new. The Dog Days are not over until we get past August 15.

It is here, about halfway through those Dog Days, that the Romans placed the Feast of Neptunalia and Salacia, honoring Neptune, the sea god, and his wife Salacia, goddess of the salty sea. In Rome, the holiday was spent pretty much just as we today would spend a typical summer holiday: by the sea. Water and wine were important aspects of the celebration as well as general merrymaking. The goal was simple: Escape the persistent heat of summer.

If you are on holiday yourself during these Dog Days of Summer, and particularly if it is today, be sure to raise your glass (whether it contain water or wine) to Neptune and Salacia. Toast the sea, honor water and all it means to us.


Image: Triumph of Neptune Standing on a Chariot Pulled by Two Sea Horses. Mosaïque d’Hadrumète (Sousse), mosaic, mid-third century AD. Musée archéologique de Sousse.