Archive for the ‘Medieval’ Tag

Source: Olive oil and the Church   Leave a comment

The following forms a chapter in John Hurley, The Tree, the Olive, the Oil in the Old and New World (1919), available in pdf form on our site. SY

From the earliest ages to the present time the olive tree, its fruit with its uses, have been carefully considered ; now brief mention should be made of olive oil as used in ecclesiastical ceremonies, both in primitive and modern times. As is generally known, the liturgical blessing of oil is very ancient. It is met with in the fourth century in the Prayer Book of Serapion and in the Apostolic Constitution, also in a Syrais document of the fifth and sixth centuries entitled Testamentum Domini Nostri Jesu Christi. The aforesaid book of Bishop Serapion (A. D. 362) contains the formula for the blessing of the oil and chrism for those who had just received baptism, which was in those days followed by confirmation in such a manner that the administration of both sacraments constituted a single ceremony. In the same book is found a separate form of blessing for the oil, of the sick, for water, and for bread. It is an invocation to Christ to give His creatures power to cure the sick, to purify the soul, to drive away impure spirits, and to wipe out sin. In the Old Testament oil was used for the consecration of priests and kings, also in all great liturgical functions, e. g. sacrifices, legal purifications, and the consecration of altars.

In the primitive church the oils to be used in the initiation of catechumens were consecrated on Holy Thursday in the Missa Chrismalis. Two different ampullae were used, one containing pure oil, the other mixed with balsam. This mixture was made by the Pope himself before the mass in the sacristy. During the mass two clerics of lesser rank stood before the altar holding the ampulla. Toward the end of the canon the faithful offered for benediction small ampullae of oil: these contained oil of the sick which the faithful were allowed to make use of themselves, but the same oil also served for extreme unction. The vessels holding it were placed on the railing surrounding the space reserved for the clergy. The deacons brought these vessels to the altar to receive the blessing of the Pope. The Pope continued the mass while the deacons returned the ampullae to the place whence they had brought them, and a certain number of bishops and priests repeated over those which had not been brought to the altar the formula pronounced by the Pope. The consecration of the large ampulla took place immediately after the communion of the Pope, before the communion of the clergy and the faithful. The deacons covered the chalice and paten while the subdeacons carried the ampullae to the archdeacon and one of his assistants. The archdeacon presented to the Pope the ampullae of perfumed oil, the Pope breathed on it three times, made the sign of the cross, and recited a prayer which bears a certain resemblance to the preface of the mass. The ampullae of pure oil was next presented to the Pope and was consecrated with less solemnity. The consecration and benediction of the Holy oil now take place on Holy Thursday at a very solemn ceremony reserved for the bishop. He blesses the oil which is to serve at the anointing of catechumens previous to baptism, next the oil with which the sick are anointed in the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, finally the chrism, which is a mixture of oil and balsam, and which is used in the administration of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The use of oil in Christian antiquity was not, as has been maintained, a medical prescription adopted by the church. In apostolic times St. James directed the priests or ancients of the community to pray for the sick man and to anoint him with oil in the name of Jesus. And shortly afterwards, probably in the second century, a gold leaf found at Beyrout in Svria, contains an exordium ‘pronounced in the dwelling of him whom I anointed.’ This is, after the text of St. James; the earliest evidence of the use of oil accompanied by formula in the administration of a sacrament. The oil of the sick might lie blessed not only by priests but also by laymen of high repute for virtue, and even by women. In the sixth century St. Monegundus on his death-bed blessed oil and salt, which were afterwards used for the sick. A similar instance is met with in the life of St. Redegund. In the West, however, the tendency was early manifested to confine the blessing of the oil of the sick to bishops only. About 730 St. Boniface ordered all priests to have recourse to the bishop. In 744 the tendency was not so pronounced in France, but the Council of Chalons, 813, imposed on priests the obligation of anointing the sick with oil blessed by the bishop. In the East the priests retained the right to consecrate the oil. The custom even became established, and has lasted to the present time, of having the oil blessed in the house of the sick person, or in the church by a priest, or, if possible, by seven priests.

During the time of the catechumenate those who were about to become Christians received one or more anointings with holy oil. The oil used on this occasion was that which had received the blessing mentioned in the Apostolic Constitution. This anointing of the catechumens is explained by the fact that they were regarded to a certain extent as being possessed by the devil until Christ should enter into them through baptism. The oil of catechumens is also used in the ordination of priests and the coronation of kings and queens.

The oil of chrism is used in the West immediately after baptism. Both in the East and West it was used very early for the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The Ordo Romanus shows that in Rome on Holy Thursday the archdeacon went very early to St. John Lateran, where he mixed wax and oil in a large vase, this mixture being used to make the Agnus Dei. The same document shows that in the suburban churches wax was used while Pseudo-Alcium [pseudo Alcuin?] says that both wax and oil were used.

In the Liturgy of the Nestorians and the Syrian Jacobites, the elements present at the Eucharistic Consecration have been prepared with oil. Among the Nestorians a special rubric prescribes the use of flour, salt, olive oil and water.

From the second century the custom was established of administering baptism with water specially blessed for this purpose. Nevertheless, the sacrament was valid if ordinary water was used. We are not well informed as to the nature of the consecration of this baptismal water, but it must be said that the most ancient indications and descriptions say nothing of the use of oil in this consecration. The first witness, Pseudo-Dionysius, does not go beyond the first half of the sixth century; he tells us that the bishop pours oil on the water of the fonts in the form of a cross. There is no doubt that this rite was introduced at a comparatively late period.

The maintenance of more or less numerous lamps in the churches was a source of expense which the faithful in their generosity hastened to meet by establishing a fund to purchase oil. The Council of Braga (572) decided that a third of the offerings made to the church should be used for purchasing oil for the light. The quality of oil thus consumed was greater when a lamp burned before a famous tomb or shrine, in which case it was daily distributed to pilgrims, who venerated it as a relic.

Chrism is a mixture of olives and balsam, blessed by a bishop in a special manner, and used in the administration of certain sacraments and in the performance of certain ecclesiastical functions. That chrism may serve as valid matter for the Sacrament of Confirmation it must consist of pure oil of olives and it must be blessed by a Bishop, or at least by a priest delegated by the Holy See. These two conditions are certainly necessary for validity; moreover, it is probable that there should be an admixture of balsam and that the blessing of the chrism should be special, in the sense that it ought to be different from that which is given to the oil of the sick or the oil of catechumens. If either of the last two conditions is wanting the sacrament will be doubtfully valid. To deal with the subject in a sufficiently exhaustive manner, it will be enough to touch on (1) the origin and antiquity of chrism, (2) its constituent nature, (3) its blessing, and (4) its use and symbolic significance.

(1) In its primitive meaning the word chrism, like the Greek chriona, was used to designate any and every substance that served the purpose of smearing or anointing, such as the various kinds of oils, unguents and pigments. This was its ordinary signification in profane literature, and even in the early patristic writings. Gradually, however, in the writings of the fathers at all events, the term came to be restricted to that special kind of oil that was used in religious ceremonies and functions, especially in the administration of the Sacrament of Baptism and Confirmation. Thus origin refers to the visible chrism in which we have all been baptized. St. Ambrose venerates in the chrism the oil of grace which makes kings and priests; and St. Cyril of Jerusalem celebrates the praises of the mystic chrism. The early councils of the church have also references to chrism as something set apart for sacred purposes and making for the sanctification of men. Thus the Council of Constantinople held in 381 and the Council of Toledo, 398. Regarding the institution of chrism, or its introduction into the sacramental and ceremonial system of the church, some theologians, among them St. Thomas and Susrex, hold that it was instituted immediately by Christ, while others contend that it is altogether of ecclesiastical origin. Eugene IV in his famous ‘Instruction for the Armenians’ asserts that chrism is the matter of the Sacrament of Confirmation, and, indeed, this opinion is so certain that it may not be denied without incurring some note of theological censure. All that the Council of Trent has defined in this connection is that they who attribute a certain spiritual and salutary efficacy to holy chrism do not in any way derogate from the respect and reverence due to the Holy Ghost.

(2) Two elements enter into the constitution of legitimate chrism, viz., olive oil and balsam. The former is indeed the predominating, as well as the principal ingredient, but the latter must be added in greater or lesser quantity, if not for reasons of validity, at all events in obedience to a grave ecclesiastical precept. Frequent reference is made in the Old Testament to the use of oil in religious ceremonies. It was employed in the coronation of kings, in the consecration of the high priests, and in the ordination of the Levites, and, indeed, it figured very prominently in the Mosaic ordinances generally, as can he abundantly gathered from Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Such being the prevailing usage of the Old Testament in adopting olive oil for religious ceremonies, it is no cause for wonder that it also came to receive under the New Dispensation a certain religious recognition and approval. The second element that enters into the constitution of genuine chrism is balsam. This is an aromatic, resinous substance that is extracted from the wood of certain trees or plants, especially those belonging to the terebinthine group or family. In the manufacture of this sweet-smelling unguent the early Greek-Christians were wont to employ as many as forty different perfumed species or essences. In the beginning of the Christian era balsam was obtained from Judea and from Arabia, but in modern times it is also produced, and in superior quality, in the West Indies. The first mention of balsam as an ingredient in the composition of chrism seems to be found in the Gregorian Sacramentary, a work belonging to the sixth century. Now, however, according to existing legislation, the additional balsam is requisite for lawful chrism, but whether it is necessary for the validity of the sacrament, assuming that chrism is the matter of confirmation, is a matter about which theologians do not agree. The modern view appears to be that it is not so required. But owing to the uncertainty mere olive oil alone would be doubtful matter and could not therefore be employed apart from very grave necessity.

(3) For proper and legitimate chrism the blessing by a bishop is necessary, and probably, too, such a blessing as is peculiar to it alone. That the bishop is the ordinary minister of this blessing is certain. So much is amply recognized in all the writings of the early centuries, by the early councils ; the Second Council of Carthage of 390, and the Third Council of Braga, 572 and by all modern theologians. But whether a priest may be the extraordinary minister of this blessing, and if so, in what circumstances – this is a question that is more or less freely discussed. It seems agreed that the Pope may delegate a priest for this purpose, but it is not so clear that bishops can bestow the same delegated authority ex jure ordinario. They exercised, it seems, this prerogative in former times in the East, but the power of delegating priests to bless chrism is now strictly reserved to the Holy See in the Western church The rites employed in consecrating the sacred chrism go to show that it is a ceremony of the highest importance. Formerly it could be blessed on any day of the year, according as necessity arose. Now, however, it must be blessed during the solemn mass on Holy Thursday. For the full solemn ceremonial the consecrating prelate should be assisted by twelve priests, seven deacons, and seven subdeacons. The oil and balsam, being prepared in the sacristy beforehand, are carried in solemn procession to the sanctuary after the communion, and placed on a table. Then the balsam, held on a silver salver, is blessed, and similarly the olive oil, which is reserved in a silver jar. After this the balsam is mixed with the oil. Then the chrism, being perfected with a final prayer, receives the homage of all the sacred ministers present, each making a triple genuflection toward it. and each time saying the words, ‘ave sanctum chrisma’. After the ceremony it is taken back to the sacristy and distributed among the priests, who take it away in silver vessels commonly called oil-stocks, that which remains being securely and reverently guarded under lock and key.

(4) Chrism is used in the administration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders, in the consecration of churches, chalices, patens, altars, and altar stones, and in the solemn blessing of bells and baptismal water. The head of the newly baptized is anointed with chrism, the forehead of the person confirmed, the head and hands of a bishop at his consecration, and the hands of a priest at his ordination. So are the walls of churches, which are solemnly consecrated, anointed with the same holy oil, and the parts of the sacred vessels used in the mass which come in contact with the Sacred Species, as the paten and chalice. If it be asked why chrism has been introduced into the functions of the church liturgy, a reason is found in its special fitness for this purpose by reason, of its symbolic significance. For olive oil being of its own nature rich, diffusive, and abiding, is fitted to represent the copious outpouring of sacramental grace, while balsam, which gives forth most agreeable and fragrant odors, typifies the innate sweetness of Christian virtue. Oil also gives strength and suppleness to the limbs, while balsam preserves from corruption. Thus, anointing with chrism aptly signifies that fullness of grace and spiritual strength by which we are enabled to resist the contagion of sin and produce the sweet flowers of virtue. ‘For we are the good odor of Christ unto God’.

In conclusion it readily can be seen that the olive tree and its fruit have played a wonderful and conspicuous part in the history of the human race. From the ancient crowning of rulers and athletes with garlands made from its leaves, the placing of the boughs about the beloved dead, the race of primitive man that by its nourishing fruit and oil was kept from starvation and death, to the opening up of avenues of trade where otherwise there would have been no commerce, until the present days, the olive is famous and always will continue to be. Few substances have had the same fame, the same varied history, the same uplifting value that olive oil has had. It contributes not only to the nourishment of health, but also to the suppleness and beauty of the body; it has served as an anointing oil with which priests were elevated to the privilege of performing the sacred rights of the temple, using at their discretion both then and now the blessed oil in the solemn rites of the church. Kings and rulers were anointed with it, that the blessing of God might rest upon them, giving them grace to rule wisely the people under them. Great indeed would be the calamity to us, these people of modern times, if the olive orchards should become barren, the trees cease to yield their fruit, and the cruse of oil become empty

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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Comment: Phyllis Pray Bober on the Origins of Pasta   Leave a comment

Phyllis Pray Bober (obit 2002) wrote one of the most idiosnycratic and exciting food history books of recent years with her Art, Culture and Cuisine (Chicago 1999), which touches extensively on Italian cuisine, ancient and medieval. PPB attempted the impossible in her pages – the integration of artistic styles with cooking movements. Truly ambitious stuff!

The book has not had the success it richly deserved: we hope that this plug will sell a couple more copies.

This extract – concerning the origin of pasta – gives a flavour of her work. PPB favoured the Greek invention of pasta: but this depends on the priority of the Greek pasta words over the Arabic pasta words, something that has still not been fully established.

We give here the text without footnotes so as not to anger the gods of copyright.

‘The point has come to consider the vexed question of ancient pasta. Today at least there is enough responsible writing on food history to have laid to rest a persistent fable that Marco Polo brought noodles back from China, although his only surprise at ‘pasta’ (not at a loss for the word) he met on his trip was encountering noodles made not of flour but of breadfruit growing on trees.

There are two schools of scholarly thought concerning the beginnings of simple (i.e., flat varieties, not extruded hollow types) pasta-making. One follows an Arabist, Andrew Watson, who argues that it was the Arabs who invented pasta, introducing what has become the national dish to Sicily and South Italy in their conquests of the ninth century A.D. The Arabs certainly did bring reformed methods of farming to North Africa and Europe, as well as many new products, including sugar cane, eggplants, spinach, and a broad range of citrus fruits to supplement the citrons known in antiquity from Persia. But many scholars, myself among them, argue that noodles and lasagne, whoever invented their first (inevitable?) preparation of flour and water, sometimes with added egg or other ingredients, were already well known to Greeks and Romans. Our case has been enormously advanced by modern paleobotanical research which proves that durum wheat, the gluten-rich, ‘heavy’ wheat required for good pasta, was grown from an early date and is one of the reasons that much Greek and Roman bread was very dense. It was durum wheat that made Greek semidalis – semolina. For Watson, durum wheat was not an important crop before the medieval period.

Even so, the only widely read author on cookery outside the academic community who seems to have the right explanation is Patience Gray; in Honey from a Weed she announced the discovery of those who live in Apulia and other Italian provinces once the heartland of Magna Grecia (one I made for myself in May 1995) of the etymological proof needed to supplement botanical evidence. This involves two ancient Greek words: laganon, plural lagana; and itrion, itria. When one learns that the Arabic word itrijah, found in Aramic and Hebrew cognates, means ‘noodle’, it is difficult not to see a derivation from Greek, originally connoting ‘ribbon’. In the Salentine peninsula and the region around Taranto, the dialect preserves lagana for the rolled out square of dough used by housewives to be cut into pasta, and tria (itria) survives in the local dish, tagliatelle, cooked just as in ancient Greece with chickpeas and wild arugula (rocket). Part of the pasta is preserved in browned in oil in final assembly of the speciality as in a recipe preserved in Athenaeus (XVI, 647e) that incorporates lettuce juice to make green pasta.

The ‘waters’ of the pasta invention controversy were somewhat muddied by one Italian archaeologist who supplemented linguistic evidence with that of an artefact represented in an Etruscan tomb. The rock-cut supports of the Tomba dei rilievei at Cervetri are decorated with with reliefs of objects of all kinds, some for warfare, others of household equipment. One seemed to be an ancient spianatoia, a board for rolling out pasta, complete with a little bag of extra flour hanging from one handle. Alas, definitive study of the reliefs has now identified the object as a gaming board precisely like one shown on an Etruscan mirror being used by two competing Greek heroes. This does not negate Etruscan knowledge of pasta, however, and at least one museum devoted to history of the genre holds that they even rolled flat noodles about metal needles to fashion macaroni (much as medieval and Renaissance cooks would anticipate extruded manufacture of spaghetti at a later date).

A word on the uses of pasta by Greeks and Romans. The ‘ribbons’ as we met them earlier in the mattye were seemingly partially dried and broken up to add to stewed dishes as a form of thickening. And the chickpeas with tria and greens I so relished in Apulia as atavistic Western Greek fare are matched by Horace’s supper dish of chickpeas with leeks and lagani. (116-117)

Posted November 30, 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.

Montanari — Il riposo della polpetta e altre storie intorno al cibo   Leave a comment

For those of you who just couldn’t muddle through other books by Montanari (I’m thinking of L’azienda curtense in Italia), sit down with a cup of Joe and think of this as your chocolate-filled croissant. The book is made up of a number of Montanari’s reflections about food, and often these reflections take the form of a link between the past and the present. Less dense than other Montanari books but backed up by the same impeccable research and great inductions, Il riposo is aimed at an intelligent public but one that doesn’t necessarily know much about food history. An excellent first book in food history (surpassed only by John Dickie’s Delizia), it’s also unfortunately only available in Italian for the moment. (Laterza, 2009).  ZN

Posted November 12, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Grieco — “Olive Tree Cultivation”   Leave a comment

This hard-to-find article’s full title is “Olive Tree Cultivation and the Alimentary Use of Olive Oil in Late Medieval Italy (ca. 1300-1500). It’s most important finding is that the projection of present-day alimentary geography (i.e. where a food product is used presently) is problematic for a number of reasons. The first that Grieco discusses is the dramatic change in ease of transport. During Roman times there was little cultivation of olive trees in the Po River valley due to the low cost with which olives and olive oil could be transported from other areas where the trees grew better. With the “barbarian” invasions there was a general decay of land and sea transport.

This meant that in order to have olive oil (for religious necessity, as Grieco points out), there was an imperative to plant trees in what was then a marginally productive climate. The change in the twelfth and thirteenth from customs duties on value rather than on weight made shipping olives and their olive more lucrative, and put pressure on the marginal plantations in the north of Italy. The drop in temperature known popularly as the “Little Ice Age” spelled the end of olive cultivation north of the Apennines until recent times.

Grieco also discusses, in a second, smaller section, the use of olive oil as a food product, and he finds that while there does not seem to be much truth to the much-popularized “butter line,” there is a general correlation with the amount of olive oil used and income.

We hope to make this paper available as a downloadable pdf from this site in the near future. The full bibliographic citation appears below:

Grieco, A.J. “Olive Cultivation and the Alimentary Use of Olive Oil in Late Medieval Italy (ca. 1300-1500).” In “Oil and Wine Production in the Mediterranean Area,” ed. M.C. Amouretti and J.P. Brun, Bulletin de Correspondence Hellenique (Supplement 26).

Dickie — Delizia   Leave a comment

Delizia! The Epic History of Italians and their Food (John Dickie) Don’t make the present reviewer’s initial mistake of taking this for a shallow popularisation. The fact is that Dickie’s book comes with attitude. First, Italian food history begins not with the Romans et alii but with the city states in the Middle Ages. Second, Italian food is urban and has little or nothing to do with idealised Italian contadini tilling the land. Dickie jumps through the centuries with alarming ease: from the possibly Arab origins of pasta to modern myth-making with a final ambivalent nod to Slow Food. And against the odds it all somehow hangs together… The only reliable AND readable narrative of Italian food history in English. (Sceptre 2008) SY

Posted November 9, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Source: Marco Polo discovers spaghetti in deepest Asia…   2 comments

The Adventures of Marco Polo was a 1938 Cary Grant vehicle put out by the Sam Goldwyn Company. Notable in pasta myth is the spaghetti eating scene. Marco Polo and his idiot sidekick, Binguccio, stumble on a Chinese family interested in Christianity who dole out spaghetti to the hungry travellers.

‘What are they, snakes?’

We would love to cut this link and embed here: any offers gratefully received. SY

Posted November 4, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Culture of the Fork — Rebora   Leave a comment

Culture of The Fork (Giovanni Rebora) – Rebora explores the explosion ignited by the modern era (especially the “discovery” of the Americas) by exploring the changes in various food products in Italy from late medieval times to the eighteenth century. Despite treating these products individually (e.g. grain & bread, pasta, cheese, meat, spices), Rebora makes an effort to link them and ultimately the reader finishes the book with a more or less organic picture of food culture in Italy in specific and Europe in general.  Translated by Albert Sonnenfeld. (Columbia University Press, 2001) ZN

Posted November 1, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Source: Marco Polo on Pasta   2 comments

Marco Polo: ‘You then come to another kingdom which is called Fansur.[1] The people are idolaters, and also call themselves subjects of the Great Khan; and understand, they are still on the same island that I have been telling you of. In this kingdom of Fansur grows the best Camphor in the world called Canfora Fansuri.[2] It is so fine that it sells for its weight in fine gold. The people have no wheat, but have rice which they eat with milk and flesh… And I will tell you another great marvel. They have a kind of trees that produce flour, and excellent flour it is for food. These trees are very tall and thick, but have a very thin bark, and inside the bark they are crammed with flour.[3] They use cleaned and ground flour, and make it into lasagna and several pasta dishes of which the said Marco Polo ate several times. He brought some back to Venice, and it is like barley bread, with the same flavour’.[4]

[1] An island in Indonesia.

[2] A rare flavouring and ingredient in medicine.

[3] The breadfruit tree (Artocarpus altilis) or perhaps the sago tree (Metroxylon laevis)?

[4] These last two sentences are not to be found in early manuscripts of Marco Polo’s travels. Rather they were first included in the first printed edition at the end of the sixteenth century.

Posted October 23, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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