Archive for the ‘food myths’ Tag

Comment: how old is the Marco Polo myth?   Leave a comment

We have looked previously at Marco Polo’s writing, which shows emphatically that he did not bring pasta from China to Italy. We have looked too at two twentieth century sources that suggest that he did: an advertising campaign and a film.

But how old is the Marco Polo myth? There follows an extract from one of the first Italian cook books in English by Dorothy Daly (1900) who published with Spring in the UK.

And why, so far, no word of pasta, that ever present, ubiquitous Italian dish? For the reason that Pasta, whatever it may be to-day, is said not originally to have been a native of the country, but is alleged to be one of the many wonders brought home by the 13th century explorer, Marco Polo, from his travels in China. Nevertheless, although Pasta, in its many shapes and forms, may not have started off as a true native of Italy, to-day it seems as much a part of the country as an operatic tenor, and anyone wanting to present a truly Italian meal must perforce learn a few of the ways of preparing and cooking Pasta…

The myth seems to be well established here, which begs the question: where and when did it originate? Was it an American or even a British invention? SY

Posted January 13, 2011 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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Source: The Curious “History” of Panettone   Leave a comment

In a book published years ago by the Italian baker’s association, we find a cute legend about the invention of the Italian holiday cake, the panettone. In about the time when Da Vinci was doing his “Last Supper,” a young aristocrat by the name of Ughetto fell in love with a baker’s daughter, the beautiful Adalgisa. Ughetto could of course not get his parent’s approval of his young lover, and so he left his gilded cage and went to work for Adalgisa’s father as a baker’s assistant.

Ughetto was, however, not cut out for baking bread, and to make up for his lack of talent he began to experiment with the ingredients, adding eggs, candied fruit, and raisons until one day he hit upon the perfect combination and (taddah!) the panettone was born. The nearby Dominican monks were the first to fall in love with it, but its fame quickly spread all over Milan, and everyone lived happily ever after.  (Il pane e la sua storia by Arnaldo Luraschi, edited by Floriana Bivona, Edizione de “L’arte bianca”, Turin, 1945)  ZN

Posted December 11, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Source: A Saga of Cathay and Seaman Spaghetti   1 comment

The following extraordinary passage comes from the Macaroni Journal, October 1929. It is the first recorded instance of the Seaman Spaghetti legend. For Marco Polo’s original follow this link, for a later cinematic example follow this link. The original Macaroni Journal article is also available.

The question is surely why did Americans (or Italo-Americans?) feel the need to invent a Chinese origin for their national dish? ZN

Many, many years ago, when the peoples of the old world were recovering from the staggering economic losses occasioned by the Crusades, a great interest in exploration demanded the attention of everyone.

That was natural for the knights and nobles who had traveled far afield to wrest the holy land from the unbeliever were an adventurous lot, and peacetime pursuits no longer satisfied their craving for danger, new hazards and fame.

The 7th and last crusade terminates in 1270 A.D. and it was just about time that the Venetian, Marco Polo, greatest of medieval travelers, was carrying on his exploration in far distant lands. For 17 years he visited and studied the kingdoms of Asia and opened  up to accurate knowledge not only the region of the central Asiatic continent but also the disclosure of the existence of Japan, which he called Zipangu.

Legend has it that one day while cruising near the coast of Cathay (China) he was informed by one of his men that the ship’s supply of water was running dangerously low, and would require immediate replenishment.

Accordingly he steered his ship as close to the shore as safety would permit, and sent several of his men off in a small boat in quest of fresh water. One of the sailors in the party was a Venetian named Spaghetti, and it is around this man that the legend centers. When the small boat reached the beach the 3 or 4 sailors comprising the party separated, each striking out in a different direction. They knew there would be fresh water close by, but of course did not know its exact location.

Spaghetti in his search, soon came to a little patch of huts. He realised that water must be close but before advancing into the village his attention was drawn to a native man and woman working over a crude mixing bowl. The woman appeared to be mixing a dough of some kind, particles of which had overflowed the mixing bowl and extended to the ground.

The warm, dry air characteristic of the country, had in a short time hardened these slender strings of dough, and had made them extremely brittle.

Spaghetti observed the ingredients used, the simple method of mixing, and it immediately occurred to him that a dry food of this kind would be a welcome addition to their ship’s menu. His curiosity prompted him to approach the couple and make known his wants as best he could.

Through signs and gestures he managed to obtain a quantity of the grains used in making this strange dough, also a batch of the ready mixed dough and several strings which had dried.

After relating his experience, upon returning to the ship, Spaghetti ‘worked’ the entire quantity of dough into long slender ribbons. As they dried he broke them into shorter and more convenient lengths.

The problem of preparing the food had not been given much thought and it was one which would have to be experimented upon.

The sticks were not palatable if eaten dry, and when cooked in fresh water were not much better. Thereupon Spaghetti conceived the idea of boiling strips in sea water, which, as every one knows, is intensely salt [sic].

This method seemed to produce the best result, and to bring out the flavour of the food.

Before returning to Venice Spaghetti learned much of this new and appetising food. He discovered its energy providing qualities, its ability to remain fresh [? copy not clear] and wholesome for long periods to time and noted the acclaim with which it was received by his shipmates and other Europeans to whom he introduced it.

Upon Spaghetti’s arrival home the popularity of this new delicacy spread among the villagers and before long a similar food made of home grown wheat was to be found on every table.

In Gragnano,[1] where excellent spring water is abundant, the manufacturers of spaghetti (for such the food is named) assumed large proportions.

As a consequence Gragnano today is the leading macaroni and spaghetti manufacturer of the world. (Copyright is 1928 Keystone, Macaroni Manufacturing Company, Lebanon, PA)

[1]Neapolitan town particularly famous for its pasta. Its main street was set out in such a way to catch the sea breezes that would then dry the local spaghetti makers produce, hanging out before their stalls.

Thanks to Gabriella Stranieri of the National Pasta Association for digging out a copy of this article.

Pizza — Helstosky   Leave a comment

Pizza: A Global History (Carol Helstosky) – Another delightful volume in the Edible series by Reaktion books (together with already published Hamburger, Spices, and Pancake, as well as others forthcoming), small volumes which combine an elegant format and attention to detail with academic excellence in the monograph. Helstosky (author of Garlic and Oil: Food and Politics in Italy) chronicles the rise of the pizza in three leaps: onto the plate in Naples, across the Atlantic to the United States, and from there to a position of global culinary dominance. The book is as entertaining as it is solid.

Posted October 28, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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