Archive for December 2010

News: best place to eat in Perugia, fall 2010   Leave a comment

Several students from the Umbra Institute food programme voted this Christmas on Perugia’s best eating spot, after a semester of delectation and growing expertise in food matters. Here are the results. Congratulations to the Osteria del Tempo Perso and Al Mangiar Bene. SY

Osteria del Tempo Perso: 12
Al Mangiar Bene: 10
Mediterranea: 6
Dal mi cocco: 5
Pizza e Musica: 4
La Taverna: 2
Pizzeria Etrusca: 2
Trattoria del Borgo: 2
Il Baldo: 1
La Cambusa: 1
Il Tempio: 1
La Victoria: 1
Luna Bar: 1

Posted December 31, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Source: the pinoli harvest   Leave a comment

The following extract comes from the work of an English writer c. 1900. Note that Mafalda is the author’s Italian charge with imperfect English. SY

Each contadino has a piece of the wood allotted to him, and when the vintage is over, and the sowing of the grain and pressing of the olives not yet begun, the pinecones are gathered and stored. This raccolta is no easy matter, as the cones do not fall of themselves, but must be forcibly detached. One of the men mounts the tall bare trunk, on which the succession of knots and lopped branches forms a rude ladder, and at last sits perched, like some fantastic bird, high among the boughs. Then a perilous process to any but an agile and skilful climber he cuts the cones with a sharp knife attached to a long pole, and they fall to the ground, to be gathered by the rest of the family into heaps. Care must be taken, however, to keep at a safe distance while the actual rain of cones continues, as they fall with all the force of heavy stones, and a blow on the head would be enough to severely injure, if not kill, a man… The patriarchal fashion in which the contadini live, each family under its own capoccia or head, and the habit of taking the wives of sons into the house to share the work and submit to the domestic ruler, makes this arrangement of a double wedding necessary in most cases, as the sister’s departure makes room for the brother’s wife. Mafalda, arrived at the scene of action, set to work with praiseworthy energy, gathering pine-cones in her pinafore and depositing them on the heap which Dario and Giocondo and Fiore were dexterously transferring from the ground to the cart…  ‘What they do with them, these pinecones, when they get them to house?’ ‘They put them in the fire, or in hot water,’ I explained, always glad to see Mafalda’s mind opening to instruction, ‘and the heat makes these little scales unfold, do you see, my sweet one? And below every scale lies a nut, warm and snug. Then the nuts are taken out and cracked, and are good to eat, and to cook, and for, oh! ever so many things, and the empty cones are sold for fuel, to make fires when the winter comes.’ Mafalda was deeply impressed by this information. Her eyes opened to their widest extent; the mystery of the hidden nuts sleeping at the fragrant heart of the pine seemed to appeal to her, for she remained silent and nodded her head thoughtfully several times. ‘I take a cone to house, also I,’ she finally announced with determination; ‘and tonight we put her in the fire and take out her nuts, non e vero?’ Certainly we might do many things less amusing, so Mafalda selected a particularly noble and symmetrical specimen from among the piles before her, for the revels which we were to enjoy in that delightful hour which begins with the clearing away of the tea-cups, and is bounded so sadly and so soon for small people by the summons to bed. By this time the short November afternoon was drawing to a close; the day’s work was over, the last load was ready, and the cones piled so near to the level of the high waggon-sides, that it seemed as if no place would remain for us. Mafalda was much distressed. ‘Must we go on feet?’ she asked anxiously, using a form which, when one comes to think of it, is really more reasonable than our usual idiom, since no one person, much less two, could possibly return to the house on a single foot. However, her mind was set at rest by the courteous Dario, who scooped out a nest in the middle, lining it with sacks that we might not suffer too much from the hard and knobbly cones. We scrambled up, helped by the contadini, all of them loud in their injunctions to Fiore, who was to lead the oxen, to star’ attento and not jolt the signorine; then, with much pomp and circumstance, we set off, a proud procession, on the precipitous descent. The woods were dim and mysterious, grave with the quiet of evening, haunted by shadows and evasive presences which lurked among the trees; and it was pleasant in the misty grey of the twilight to picture the fire of blazing logs awaiting us, the welcome tea, and, beyond that agreeable horizon, the burning of the pinecones as a fitting conclusion to the day. Mafalda could scarcely eat her bread-and-jam in her impatience to begin operations, and no sooner was tea over than she committed her pine-cone to the flames. ‘May I sit upon it, the knee?’ she asked with her accustomed courtesy, after this important business was accomplished; and so we sat bunched up together in a great chair in the chimney-corner, and possessed our souls in patience while the glowing tongues of fire did their work. It was a real story-book scene: the warm glow from the logs flickered upon the tapestry and old portraits, and up to the vaulted roof of the salotto; the dogs lay basking in the warmth; the splash of the fountain in the garden, and the wail of the rising wind as it tossed a handful of dead leaves against the window-panes, only emphasised the cosiness within. It was a magical hour, made for musing and dreams; but Mafalda was in a garrulous mood, and too deeply concerned over the well-being of her precious pine-cone to watch it quietly on its glowing bed. ‘The pine-cone, she feel very hot,’ she pleaded presently. ‘If she not cool she burn me the hand!’ And as the cone really did seem to have opened its ‘petals’, I acceded to this request and removed it with the tongs to a corner of the stone hearth… The extraction of pinoli is one of the dirtiest occupations imaginable, the cones being sticky with resin, and blackened by flame; but Mafalda and I have no objection to ‘clean dirt’ in a good cause, and, as the former sapiently observed, ‘With the soap we can wash us the hands’; so by bedtime that is to say, the bedtime of well-regulated young people of six quite a large heap had been got out and cracked. Mafalda was charmed by the whole proceedings; but her pleasure reached its height when, very carefully, I opened one of the pinoli and showed her, in the safe sheath, trebly protected by nutshell and cone, the tiny waxen hand, with its slender fingers, which the country people call the ‘Manina di Gesu’. She went into ecstasies over ‘this little hand white’ and was not content until she had opened one for herself, a delicate operation, not easy for impatient, childish fingers to perform. At last Mafalda was led off’, reluctant, to bed; and ten minutes later I was leaning over her, and, obedient to her instruction, ‘more tuck’, straining the bedclothes to that unwrinkled smoothness which this exacting little person requires. Sitting up, she herself smooths away every crease from the tightly drawn sheet and counterpane, and then slides cautiously into a recumbent position, fearful of disturbing in the least degree the perfect neatness of her bed.

Posted December 30, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Comment: Earliest Italian cookbook in English?   Leave a comment

Here’s a question that we are struggling to find the answer to. What was the earliest original Italian cookbook written in English? By ‘original’ we mean not a translation of an Italian work, and note ‘book’ rather than recipe.

The First World War brought out a rash of works as Italy was an ally of the British Empire and the US (another post another day) and the country’s culture was celebrated.

However, there were also some early twentieth century works. In 1900 Dorothy Daly published her Italian Cooking with Spring Books in London – part of a series including French, German and Austrian cooking. Then in the same year Janet Ross published (J.M.Dent) her classic Leaves from our Tuscan kitchen: or how to cook vegetables a book that is still treasured today by many chefs. Both books are to be found here in pdf form.

Daly is slightly apologetic about bringing Italian food to the attention of a wider public, whereas Ross mentions only that many English friends who had visited her villa had asked for their recipes. We’ll look in another post at how ‘Italian’ the recipes in the two books are.

Are there any books that are earlier than this? SY



Posted December 29, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Source: Bad trattoria c. 1900   Leave a comment

The following comes from Hewlett, The Road in Tuscany and gives some idea of what could go wrong for the Anglo-Saxon traveller in Italy a century ago. SY

The little town [Trasimeno], but for its castle which is apart from it, looks blighted and poverty-struck; and so it is. I found its only inn – Trattoria del Trasimeno – to be quite remarkably bad; but its landlord as unmistakably good. His engaging candour would commend itself to any humane traveller. He was a fresh-coloured, white-haired little gentleman, well-set up, and dressed in a suit of Scotch plaid. He had the decisive air of a retired colonel turned squire, but kept all the simplicity of his nation. After the preliminaries of hand-washing were done he took me by the button apart; and ‘Senta, Signore’ he began, ‘this is a poor little country, where we think ourselves lucky to be alive at all. There is no meat, there are no fish but eels, and eels at this season of the year are not good for the stomach. But there does happen to be in the house a fine young dead chicken. He, I need not say, is much at your service.’ I engaged the chicken, adding that I assumed his death to have been violent. The landlord rubbed his chin, looking at me out of very blue eyes. ‘As violent as you please,’ he replied. ‘These hands have newly strangled him.’ Evidently the murder had been done partly for my sake, and he not sure how I should take it. It proved an atrocious bird, for which I had to wait three-quarters of an hour in a cave of flies and bad smells. Everything was bad that day – the wine flat and sour, the minestra full of garlick, the bread musty, the maid frowzy and ill-tempered; but to the little landlord everything seemed colour of rose since he had done a stroke of business. He had killed an uneatable fowl, and I was to pay for it.

Posted December 28, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Comment: Montefiascone and the Bishop   Leave a comment

There is a well known ‘food myth’ about Montefiascone wine and a German bishop. The following account is taken from Edward R. Emerson, Story of the Vine (Knickerbocker Press 1902). It would be interesting to see how much older the tale is.

As the story goes… a German bishop named Defoucris, who travelled a great deal, and had acquired in his many journeys a discriminating fondness for wine. His valet bibulous bishop. was also an excellent judge, and the bishop, in order to ascertain the quality of the wine at the places where he was to stop, would send the valet on ahead that he might test it and write under the bush the word ‘est’ if it was good, and ‘est est’ if it was fine. On the other hand, if it was poor the valet was to leave a blank under the bush; at such places the bishop refused to drink.

The bush is a bunch of evergreen hung over the doorway to tell travellers ‘here wine is sold’. It has been used from time immemorial, and it is from its use that the saying ‘Good wine needs no bush’ has arisen, several of our noted authorities notwithstanding. At last the valet, arriving at Monte Fiascone, found there a place where he could write ‘est est’. In due time the bishop arrived, and was so pleased with the wine that he immediately proceeded to get drunk on it, and remained in that condition until he died.

The legend was either given in an incomplete form or it has since developed. This is extracted from the Italian Wikipedia inDecember 2010.

Il nome di questo vino deriva da una leggenda. Nell’anno 1111 Enrico V di Germania stava raggiungendo Roma con il suo esercito per ricevere dal papa Pasquale II la corona di Imperatore del Sacro Romano Impero. Al suo seguito si trovava anche un vescovo, Johannes Defuk, intenditore di vini. Per soddisfare questa sua passione alla scoperta di nuovi sapori, il vescovo mandava il suo coppiere Martino in avanscoperta, con l’incarico di precederlo lungo la via per Roma, per assaggiare e scegliere i vini migliori. I due avevano concordato un segnale in codice: qualora Martino avesse trovato del buon vino, avrebbe dovuto scrivere est, ovvero ‘c’è’ vicino alla porta della locanda, e, se il vino era molto buono, doveva scrivere est est. Il servo, una volta giunto a Montefiascone e assaggiato il vino locale, non poté in altro modo comunicare la qualità eccezionale di quel vino, decise di ripetere per tre volte il segnale convenuto e di rafforzare il messaggio con ben sei punti esclamativi: Est! Est!! Est!!! Il vescovo, arrivato in paese, condivise il giudizio del suo coppiere e prolungò la sua permanenza a Montefiascone per tre giorni. Addirittura, al termine della missione imperiale vi tornò, fermandosi fino al giorno della sua morte (avvenuta, pare, per un eccesso di bevute). Venne sepolto nella chiesa di San Flaviano, dove ancora si può leggere, sulla lapide in peperino grigio, l’iscrizione: ‘Per il troppo EST! qui giace morto il mio signore Johannes Defuk’. In riconoscenza dell’ospitalità il vescovo lasciò alla cittadinanza di Montefiascone un’eredità di 24.000 scudi, a condizione che ad ogni anniversario della sua morte una botticella di vino venisse versata sul sepolcro, tradizione che venne ripetuta per diversi secoli. Al vescovo è ancora dedicato un corteo storico con personaggi in costume d’epoca, che fanno rivivere questa leggenda.


Posted December 27, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Image: Chestnut collecting, c. 1900   Leave a comment

Postcard sent 1902 within Italy: photograph taken in Switzerland? SY

Posted December 26, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Source: Cafe culture in Italy c. 1900   Leave a comment

The following text dates to c. 1900 and gives the experience of an American in Rome.

The cafe in Italy, and for that matter on the Continent, almost deserves to be called an institution, so intimately is it bound up with the habits and customs of the country. Eating and drinking are often its secondary uses, coffee, ices, and other viands and beverages, serving as excuses for writing letters, reading the papers, meeting friends, conversing, playing draughts or chess, passing an idle hour. To many it serves the purpose of a club. There are cafes of every grade. My servant was in the habit of spending every free evening with her friends from the Abruzzi mountains in a cafe kept by another friend from the same region. Questions of politics, religion, ethics, and geography were nightly discussed there by the ignorant but shrewd rustics who met within its hospitable precincts, and their racy observations and piquant debates, which drifted to us through smiling, olive-faced Agnese, soon won for the little shop the sobriquet of the ‘Hotel de Rambouillet’. The silk-clad precieuses who conversed in the famous Parisian salon with Moliere and Bossuet may have been more elegantly dressed, and more celebrated, but I doubt if their intellectual curiosity and alertness and their code of courteous etiquette exceeded that of these bronzed peasants in the small, smoky Roman cafe.

Posted December 25, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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