Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

Main Page This family-friendly site celebrates Italian culture for the enjoyment of children and adults. Site-Overview

Italophile Book Reviews     News-Blog     YouTube Channel     Italy Posters     Zazzle Xmas Cards     Italophile Books   PrintFection Tees

 


 

Middle Ages and Renaissance Italian Cookbooks

Beauty

Food /Wine

Recipes

Cookbooks

Candies

Sweets

   
 

 La Cucina
La Cucina Art Print
AllPosters.com

 

 

Italian Still Life with Green Grapes
Italian Still Life with Green Grapes Art Print
AllPosters.com

 

 

The kitchens in the basement of Caterina de' Medici's French Castle Chenonceau are wonderfully preserved, as you can see here in these images I made on a recent visit.

The butcher's block with knives and the drawer in the bottom for blood and bits that were used for sausages.  The hooks are for hanging fowl and other meats.

Another butcher's block, well-used, with the handy drawer underneath.

 

 

One of the hearths with cooking pots hanging, and the table full of produce.

 

 

 

The bread oven with bread forms and a ready supply of wood.

If you step back, you can see the bread paddles, the same type that are used by pizza makers around the world.

Here you can see that the bread oven sit next to a cooking hearth.

 

The sink with a pump that pumps water from the River Cher below.

 

 

 


Italian Feast
Italian Feast Wall Tapestry
AllPosters.com

 

 

Flavors from Italy
Flavors from Italy Art Print
 AllPosters.com
 

 

Olive
Olive Framed Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 

 Cucina di Siena
Cucina di Siena Art Print
AllPosters.com

 


Sugar
Sugar Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 

 


Cereals
Cereals Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 

 

 Cucina Tuscana
Cucina Tuscana Art Print
AllPosters.com

 

 


Agrumes
Agrumes Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 

 


Herbal Teas
Herbal Teas Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 

 

 Cucina di Roma
Cucina di Roma Art Print
AllPosters.com

 


Goat Cheeses
Goat Cheeses Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 

 


Spices
Spices Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 

 Cucina
Cucina Art Print
AllPosters.com

 


Beans, Peas and Lentils
Beans, Peas and Lentils Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 

 


Summer Fruits
Summer Fruits Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 

 

 Cucina
Cucina Wood Sign
AllPosters.com

 


Summer Vegetables
Summer Vegetables Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 

 


Stone Fruit
Stone Fruit Poster
 AllPosters.com

 

 


Mushrooms
Mushrooms Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 

 Cucina Bolognese
Cucina Bolognese Art Print
AllPosters.com

 

Cook's Garden of Herbs
Cook's Garden of Herbs Art Print
Weissman, Naomi
 AllPosters.com

 


Wine Grapes - White
Wine Grapes - White Poster
 AllPosters.com

 


Wine Grapes- Red
Wine Grapes- Red Poster
 AllPosters.com

 

 Aromatic Garden
Aromatic Garden Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 



Herb Garden II
Herb Garden II Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 


Herb Garden I
Herb Garden I Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 

 Florentine Glazed Tiles
Florentine Glazed Tiles Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 


Beaumont Toile
Beaumont Toile Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 


Jarrones Clasicos I
Jarrones Clasicos I Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 

 

 A Kitchen in Tuscany
A Kitchen in Tuscany Stretched Canvas Transfer
Burrows, Karel
AllPosters.com

 


Tuscan Fruit, Figs
Tuscan Fruit, Figs Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 


Tuscan Fruit, Lemons
Tuscan Fruit, Lemons Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 


Tuscan Fruit, Apples
Tuscan Fruit, Apples Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 


Tuscan Fruit, Pears
Tuscan Fruit, Pears Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 


Tuscan Fruit, Cherries
Tuscan Fruit, Cherries Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 


Tuscan Fruit, Apricots
Tuscan Fruit, Apricots Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 


Tuscan Fruit, Grapes
Tuscan Fruit, Grapes Art Print
 AllPosters.com

 


Tuscan Fruit, Peaches
Tuscan Fruit, Peaches Art Print
 AllPosters.com

I've purchased these prints for myself and love them.  I have them decorating my dining room.  I've featured them on my Decor with Framed Prints page.

 

 

 Toscano I
Toscano I Art Print
AllPosters.com

 


Toscano II
Toscano II Art Print
AllPosters.com

 


Italian Still Life with Green Grapes
Italian Still Life with Green Grapes Art Print
AllPosters.com

 


Italian Feast
Italian Feast Wall Tapestry
AllPosters.com

 


In Giro per la Toscana
In Giro per la Toscana Art Print
AllPosters.com

 

 Natura Morta con Ciliegie
Natura Morta con Ciliegie Art Print
Garzoni, Giovanna
AllPosters.com

 


Snail with Grapes and Pears
Snail with Grapes and Pears Giclee Print
Garzoni, Giovanna
AllPosters.com

 


Cherries and Carnations
Cherries and Carnations Giclee Print
Garzoni, Giovanna
AllPosters.com

 


Figs
Figs Giclee Print
Garzoni, Giovanna
AllPosters.com

 

There is a wonderful book about the customs of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance that includes many images, and tons of curious information.

It is available to read on-line via Gutenberg Press, for free.

Manners, Customs, and Dress During the Middle Ages, and During the Renaissance Period.

By Paul Lacroix
(Bibliophile Jacob),
Curator of the Imperial Library of the Arsenal, Paris.

Illustrated with
Nineteen Chromolithographic Prints by F. Kellerhoven
and upwards of
Four Hundred Engravings on Wood.

 

Free On-Line

About these Books

About the Era

Spices and Herbs

Pizza and Pasta

The Ingredients

Coloring Food, and Banquets

Medicine, and Tips and Tricks

Other Things of Interest

From Amazon.com

English Translations Available On-Line

Some images from Scappi's Book

 

Free On-line

The University of Marburg in Germany provides rough text transcriptions (links at bottom of page) of three ancient Italian cookbooks.  I've converted these texts into more useful indexed and edited PDF books that you can access and download.

Anonimo Toscano, Libro della cocina
This is the earliest (circa 1380) and briefest (23 pages) of the three books.  The Italian is difficult to read if you only know Italian because the language used has lots of Spanish influence.

Anonimo Veneziano, Libro di cucina/ Libro per cuoco This text is from the Veneto area of Italy from circa 1430.  It is 29 pages long and incorporates many of the recipes from the Toscano book.  The Italian is rich with French, Spanish and Latin influences, and transliterations of the Venetian dialect's soft consonant pronunciation.

Maestro Martino de' Rossi, Libro de arte coquinaria This is the latest book (+/- 1460) and it incorporates much of the previous two books in it's 82 pages.  It's divided into 6 chapters:  meat, side dishes, sauces, pies/tarts, fried food and egg dishes, fish.  The Italian is closest of the three books to modern Italian, with lots of Latin and Catalan mixed in.  This book, by chef to lords and popes Martino, makes up nearly half of the famous book by his friend Platina (Bartolomeo Sacchi - Humanist and Vatican librarian) Opera - De obsoniis ac de honesta voluptate et valitudine, from 1475, Opera On Right Pleasure and Good Health.

Later in about 1550, a cook, Bartolomeo Scappi, put together another cookbook, which again incorporated many of Maestro Martino's recipes, re-written.  The book was reprinted for over 100 years.  (images from the book below) (link to scanned copy below).

Frontispiece to an Italian Cook Book
Frontispiece to an Italian Cook Book Giclee Print
AllPosters.com

 

 Frontispiece to the Cook Book of Bartolomeo Scappi, 1622
Frontispiece to the Cook Book of Bartolomeo Scappi, 1622 Giclee Print
AllPosters.com

 

I also have on my site An Al Andalus Cookbook, or an Anonymous Andalusían Cookbook, as copied by a scribe in the 1400s, from texts from the 1200s, that often were themselves transcriptions of books from the 900s.  The PDF is featured on another page on this website, which provides more information on this book and the recipes, which have direct links to Sicilian cooking, and indirect links to Italian cooking.  The rest of this page refers only to the 3 Italian books mentioned above.

 

About These Books

These books are fun reads. They're written in an Italian that is a mix of Italian and Latin and sometimes French and Spanish

The local dialect and pronunciation is written phonetically.  For example, in the Venetian cookbook, the soft Venetian pronunciation of 'gg' and 'ci' (friggere, braccia) in Italian is written as 'z' and 'x' respectively (frizere, braxa).  And the soft French ç is used to signify a soft pronunciation in a word like dolce, becoming dolçe (dolsay).

Medieval Kitchen of Chateau de Pierreclos, Burgundy, France
Medieval Kitchen of Chateau de Pierreclos, Burgundy, France Photographic Print
 AllPosters.com

It makes it easier to understand if you know any of these languages besides Italian.  Try reading the words aloud phonetically, and listening to them.  They often sound like modern Italian, but are just written with a different spelling.

The spellings vary.  The masculine and feminine of the words vary. And the words vary sometime even within one book.  This is because languages were not yet categorized and documented by national governments and policed by language departments, and most importantly, each book was not the work of one author

It's best to think of the books as notebooks contributed to on loose sheets of parchments by visiting or permanent cooks in large feudal-style or manor house kitchens. 

Medieval Kitchen, Chateau de Pierreclos, Burgundy, France
Medieval Kitchen, Chateau de Pierreclos, Burgundy, France Photographic Print
 AllPosters.com

That's why most of them are attributed to an 'Anonymous' cook from a general region of Italy, and include instructions at the end of many recipes to 'now serve the dish to the Lord of the Manor' (da' al Signore).

They were eventually gathered together, edited, and printed, resulting in these cookbooks. 

The regional distinctions of the anonymous authors really have little meaning.  Each book cites recipes from other European regions and even from North Africa.  Actually, many of the recipes have similar versions in North African cooking, and many of the ingredient names are bastardizations of North African words. 

Banquet Given by Charles V (1338-80) in Honour of His Uncle Emperor Charles IV in 1378, circa 1460
Banquet Given by Charles V (1338-80) in Honour of His Uncle Emperor Charles IV in 1378, circa 1460 Giclee Print
 AllPosters.com

This was not a time of the modern nation-state, but instead it was a feudal period that evolved into Prince-run-states, some enlightened by the Italian Renaissance (Rinaciamento).  People, especially tradesmen like master chefs, were very mobile

Even Leonardo da Vinci offered his services to the chef of Ludovico di Sforza in Milan to make his banquets more exciting with pyrotechnics and robots, as described in this book.

 

 Banquet Given by Bartolomeo Colleoni (1400-75) for Christian I (1426-81) of Denmark
Banquet Given by Bartolomeo Colleoni (1400-75) for Christian I (1426-81) of Denmark Giclee Print
 AllPosters.com

 

About the Era

Reading the books, you discover not just traditional dishes and variations you might never have imagined, but also things about the time period, the social history.

 A Medieval Kitchen
A Medieval Kitchen Giclee Print
 AllPosters.com
This image is from Scappi's book and shows the making of cheese and butter

For example:

  • How do you communicate how long to cook a dish, when there were no inexpensive, reliable timepieces in every home?  They used prayers that everyone at that time knew, like the 'Our Father' and the 'Hail Mary'.  So you're instructed to "cook it as long as it takes to say an Our Father", for example, or to 'recite two Hail Maries'.  Or a recipe may say to leave something to soak 'from vespers (evening prayers) to the morning'.  Only in Maestro Martino's book do they start mentioning time.
  • In the oldest books, the measurements and numbers are Roman measurements and numbers:  pounds - libre, and ounces - oncia, i, ii, iii...  Arabic numerals 1, 2, 3... were not yet in common use in Europe (more common from the late 1400s and the early 1500s), and the metric system was a long way off!  Maestro Martino's book uses Roman numerals for the chapter headings, but writes out the numbers in Italian.
  • There are lots of special dishes for meat-free Fridays and Lent, di' de digiuno and La Quaresma, as required by the Catholic religious calendar devised by the Vatican, often modified (at time banning eggs and milk products, too), and finally phased out in the 1960s.
  • The manor houses relied on what was hunted on the Lord of the Manor's estates for meat, eaten either freshly butchered or preserved in salt, in which case certain recipes are mentioned by the writers as being better suited to the preserved meats, and on what was domesticated on his estates for meat, eggs and milk.  Other products from his estates might have been all sorts of grains, wine, vinegar, olive oil, animal fats, butter, cheese, fruit, vegetables and herbs.  They would have purchased in the various oriental spices and other specialty products like sugar and rice.
  • Recipes are cooked either on a stovetop or in an oven.  The fuel was likely wood or wood-charcoal.  The writers at times mention where on the stove or in the oven the dish should be cooked, indicating the temperature it should be cooked at.  Certain areas of the oven and stovetop were hotter than others.  And they warn about protecting a dish from being exposed to too much smoke in the kitchen, always a problem in the days before electric ventilators!
  • The pots and pans and utensils are the same variety of which we use today, but larger, as the Manor House cook had to cook for the whole household.  Many of the recipes mention which type of pots or pans to use, and some even mention which types of serving dishes to use.  The Solaio, for example, is mentioned several times, and is the sun shaped dish with compartments around the center that is still used through-out Southern Europe and North Africa.  And indispensable in today's kitchen as well as back then was the kitchen towel, mentioned often and usually specified as linen.
  • Food could be baked, boiled, fried, sautéed, roasted either in a pan or on a spit.  Again, just like today, but only in larger quantities, and sometimes parts of an animal that many of us rarely eat today, such as the animal's head.
  • Some recipes are poorer in ingredients, or made with leftovers, and are intended for the staff of the Manor rather the Lord and his family and guests.  This was a feudal society, highly stratified by class.
  • Sauces are common and made with just about everything:  herbs, mustard, wine, exotic spices, verjuice, broth, blood...  Like French cooking today, sauces were used over meat to vary the flavor.

 

 

Spices and Herbs

Spices are used individually in the recipes, but most often, similar to all European cooking from that time, they use spice mixes called 'sweet spices' and 'strong spices', and sometimes 'fine spices'

These mixes are most comparable to today's spice mixes for stuffing, pumpkin pie, pasta, etc. and the Asian 5 and 7 spice mixes, for example, and the various curry spice mixes throughout India.  Food back then was often strong and pungent, or sweet and sour, so the recipes call for lots of spices, and suggest the cook cater to the tastes of the Lord of the Manor, his patron. 

The mixes usually included various combinations of:

  • cinnamon,
  • nutmeg,
  • mace,
  • clove,
  • pepper both white and black,
  • ginger,
  • cardamom,
  • coriander
  • cumin,
  • anise,
  • long pepper (Indonesian, hotter than black pepper and later replaced in European cuisine by paprika from the New World because it could be grown in Europe and need not be imported, expensively, from the east)
  • laurel/bay,
  • grains of paradise,
  • fennel
  • fenegriek
  • saffron,
  • mustard. 

In some parts of Europe, the sweet mix includes sugar, but not in the Italian recipes.  To give an idea of the mixes, here are translations of the recipes from the Venetian cookbook.

Sweet Spice Mix

Sweet spice mix for many things good and fine.  The best sweet, fine spice mix that you can make if you want it for lampreda (ed. eel-like fish) in a crust and for other good fresh water fish that you make in a crust and for making good broth and good flavors/sauces.

Take a quarter ounce of cloves and an ounce of good ginger and take an ounce of ground cinnamon and take the same amount of bay/laurel leaf and grind together all these spices as finely as you wish.  And if you want to make more, take the things in the same proportions, and it is wonderfully good.

Strong Spice Mix

Black and strong spices for much flavor/sauces.  Take an eighth of an ounce of cloves and two ounces of pepper and take the same amount of long pepper and two ounces of nutmeg and grind them all together into your spice mix.

Fine Spice Mix

Fine spice mix for many things.

Take one ounce of pepper and one of cinnamon and one of ginger and an eighth of an ounce of cloves and one quarter of saffron.

Spice mixes, just like in India today, also were combined to create not just a certain flavor in food, but also a certain color:  white, golden brown, red, and green, for example.

 

Herbs that we know today appear as well, like:

  • parsley,
  • sage,
  • mint,
  • marjoram,
  • basil,
  • fennel. 
  • dried and fresh mushrooms are used, too, both cultivated and wild,
  • and one recipes calls spinach an herb.

And these herbs were often combined in soups and sauces.  Some of the recipes call them herbe odorifiche, aromatic herbs.  They were either grown in the cook's garden, bought from a farmer's market, or collected from the fields, wild herbs, herbe selvatiche

 

 

Pizza and Pasta

The earliest pizza recipe in the cookbooks is one made from sliced rounds of bread.  The traditional loaf, still sold throughout Italy (and Spain and Greece), is a large, round loaf of about 1 kilo (2 lbs.).  It is turned on end and cut into circles, a finger thick.  The round is then fried in a pan in oil and lard, and seasoned with herbs and cheese.

Ravioli (raffioli) are mentioned in the earliest cookbook, and the recipe is repeated in the other books.  The ravioli (the dough made with flour and water) are filled with all kinds of things, both sweet and savory (often a mincemeat), and either boiled in broth or fried, and sometimes topped with sugar.  Today in Italy ravioli is also used as a generic term for a filled pasta.

Lasagna shows up early too, and is just a flat, thin pasta of flour and water cooked in broth and topped with extra animal fat for good measure.  But there is an early recipe for a baked dish that layers a crust or pasta (pastello) with other ingredients, which resembles today's lasagna.

In Maestro Martino's book, which is the latest of the three books, there are more recipes for pastas, including sun-dried pastas that could be stored for up to 3 years, and when cooked, should be cooked for 1 to 2 hours! 

Tagliatelle:  Martino calls it maccaroni romaneschi, but it is the same as today's tagliatelle, even to the point of telling us we can cook them in the nest form or separated into string form.  The pasta is rolled around a bastone, club, which today in Italian is called a matarello, the the rolling pin is removed and the pasta is cut.  He says to cook it in broth or water, then serve it seasoned with butter, cheese and sweet spice mix.  Interestingly, today in Italy you can buy a tagliatelle that is twisted, and called maccheroni.  And in Italy maccheroni is used as a generic term for pasta.

Spaghetti:  Martino calls this triti or formentine, but as described it is recognizable as today's spaghetti or linguini.  He says to make it like the tagliatelle, but cut it much thinner.  It's served up the same as tagliatelle.

Bucatoni:  Martino call them maccaroni siciliani, and explains that you make a flour pasta that includes egg white and rose water.  Then you roll strips of the pasta as long as your hand, around a wire as thick as a piece of straw (spagho), then remove the wire.  This makes a thick, hollow pasta that today is called generally bucatoni.  He says to dry them in the sun.  I actually call them fire-hoses, because that is what they remind me of.  They are very heavy, and need to be cooked a long time, but perhaps not the 2 hours that Martino recommends!

Vermicelli:  This soup pasta is the same as today's soup pasta called vermicelli (little worms, or larvae).  Martino says to cook them for 1 hour, and to color the dish yellow with saffron, unless you cooked them in milk.

 

The Ingredients

Some quirks you come across include:

  • Fruit is often cooked in broth, including apples and pears which are prepared as if they were vegetables.
  • Lettuce is cooked like cabbage.
  • The more fat in the broth the better because it means more flavor.  Stock is made from fowl, fish, marrow, and meat.
  • Vinegar and agresto (verjuice-juice from unripe grapes) is used more often than wine in the recipes.  Vinegar is a natural meat tenderizer, and agresto creates a bitter taste (agro) that is often combined with sugar or a sweet wine for a sweet-sour flavor which was very popular then.  When wine is used, it is reduced down in a sauce for meat.
  • You will not find in these recipes ingredients that came to Europe from the New World (the Americas), as the New World had not yet been discovered.  So the 'typical' Italian ingredients like tomatoes and zucchini, for example, are absent.  But you will note that there are recipes that use other vegetables in similar ways as today's Italian kitchen would cook zucchini, for example.  That suggests that the new ingredients, when they did arrive, were just cooked in a similar way as the older ingredients.  In Maestro Martino's book (+/- 1460) he mentions an easy to grow calabaza,  in the Spanish name the explorers gave to pumpkin squash.  Interestingly, he gives a recipe from Catalonia, the purported home of Columbus, according to the Spanish.  But the recipe most likely refers to a gourd (zucca).
  • Tomatoes, however, when they did arrive in Europe, were boiled to preserve them and to use them, and have come to shape our view of Italian cooking today.  While some suggested at first that they were unhealthy (tomato plant leaves are toxic, and tomatoes that have gone off can make you VERY ill), they're later used primarily as a sauce for everything from meat, grains, pasta, bread and vegetables.  Before that, pastas were cooked and served in meat broth, or just wrapped about a filling and fried.
  • Eggs are used a lot:  alone as in omelets, added to soups and stews, hard boiled, the yolks for thickening and coloring, the whites for binding pastes and coatings.
  • Olives are not used in the recipes.  They were no doubt too valuable for oil.  Olive oil is used however, sometimes on it's own and other times together with lard.
  • Bread is used in the recipes as a thickening agent for soups and stews, and as a filler for sausages and pastes. 
  • Perhaps the ingredient we would see as oddest is all the sugar added to many of the dishes we would consider savory, such as meat dishes and vegetables.  This does not mean that their food was like candy.  Many of the recipes include sour flavors combined with the sweet, making a sweet and sour sauce.  Other times the sugar is used to counter the saltiness of the salt preserved meats, or the bitterness of some of the vegetables, or to sweeten a wine sauce.  Today's prepared foods are also notorious for using much salt and sugar in savory foods, probably not much more than was used then. 
  • Pomegranate juice (grenadine is sometimes called pomegranate wine) is also mentioned as a sauce base, just as it is throughout North African cooking. 
  • And sappa, condensed grape juice, is used also as a sweetener.  Sappa was used abundantly in Roman cooking, and is still used today in the Sardinian cuisine.  A side note, in Roman times it was condensed down in lead pots for the rich, giving them heavy doses of lead poisoning which could explain much of the madness and infertility that surrounded the Roman rich at the end of the Roman Empire.

 Kitchen Interior, 1566
Kitchen Interior, 1566 Giclee Print
 AllPosters.com
King Philip II (1527-98) Banqueting with His Courtiers, 1596
King Philip II (1527-98) Banqueting with His Courtiers, 1596 Giclee Print
 AllPosters.com

Some common ingredients are:

  • Sugar, also in what we would consider savory dishes like meat and soups and stews, but considering how much sugar is added to packaged savory foods today, it might not have been much different than now.  And considering that many of the meats and fish they used were salt cured, the sugar must have been needed to counteract the saltiness.
  • Honey, boiled and skimmed.
  • Onions and garlic, but used less than imagined.  Exotic spices were used more often for flavoring.  Onions tend to be used with other vegetables.  Garlic tends to be used to flavor meats.
  • Rose water,  just as it still is used in most of North Africa, and in southern Italy and southern Spain; it's used comparably to how vanilla flavoring is used today in Western cooking.
  • Almond milk, a liquid that comes from ground and soaked almonds that is still commonly sold in southern Spain and Sicily as a milk substitute, or when thickened with sugar as a sweet spread to put on bread or to put in your coffee as a sugar and milk substitute-delicious!
  • Lard (strutto) pork fat used instead of olive oil or together with olive oil.
  • Butter (botiro) in place of or together with lard.
  • Raisons (uva passa) and dates (dattali)
  • Nuts:  pine nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts and almonds with recipes for sweet almond pies, marzipan and almond milk.
  • Milk (lacto) from cows but more often from goats and sheep.
  • Cheese  (cascio, chaxi, casi, caso, formaio, formazo) both fresh and aged, used just as we use them today.  Made from cow, goat and sheep's milk.  There are recipes for cheese tarts that are the same as our cheese-cake recipes today.  Standards never go out of fashion!
  • Eggs in omelets, custards, as protein in soups, boiled and devilled. Egg whites for nougats and pastes. Egg yolks for thickening and coloring things yellow.
  • Flours from various grains including rice flour.
  • Beans and lentils
  • Wine both sweet and non sweet.
  • Verjuice (agresto) a liquid made from unripe grapes, sometimes substituted with vinegar.
  • Gelatin for preserving cooked food in aspic (spico).
  • All sorts of fowl and fish, many that we no longer eat, either because they are scarce or protected (peacocks, cranes, parrots, swans), or because they are extinct (sadly many of the fish recipes are for fish that no longer live in the Mediterranean, some of which we know only from depictions in Roman mosaics).
  • Meats of all sorts and all parts of the animal.  There are recipes for sausages and rolled meats (mortadello) made from the leftovers or less choice meats.  Nothing was wasted.  Quite a few of the meat recipes include dried fruit and sugar, making a mincemeat dish that used to be more popular than it is today.  In Maestro Martino you'll find recipes for polpette, meat balls, which are very popular in Italy today.  He also includes a recipe for preserving pork loins that is called prosciutto cotto.
  • But the most common ingredient of all is saffron.  Saffron was used not just for it's pungent flavor with vegetables, beans, soups, on meats and in sweets, but less flavorful types of saffron were used solely for the yellow coloring it gave to the food.  Yellow was considered a lucky color because it is the color of gold.

 

 

 

Coloring Food, and Banquets

Coloring the food was common.  The aesthetics of the dishes appear to be as important to the cooks then as they do to chefs today.  Instructions on how to color food blue, black, yellow, red, etc. appear in the cookbooks, as do suggestions for special presentations for banquets religious festivals

 A Banquet Still Life
A Banquet Still Life Giclee Print
 AllPosters.com

For example:

  • The Anonymous Tuscan book contains a recipe for a 'Torte of Live Birds', and it's repeated in later books.  This was a showy dish that is mentioned in some banquet accounts of that time.  They would bake a crust with a lattice top and fill it, after out of the oven, with live birds that were released when the crust was broken.  What happened to them and the bird-dropping-covered crust after that, I really don't know!
  • In that same book, the cook describes how to skin a peacock to retain the feathers, head and skin, so after the bird is cooked you can put it all back over the roasted peacock and serve it to the Lord as if the bird were still alive.  Yummy?  Maestro Martino goes even further and explains how to prop the neck and head up with hidden wire to make it look alive, and how to make flames come from the beak.  He also suggest covering the roasted peacock with gold leaf before putting it inside the skin and feathers, for one more surprise for the Lord's guests.
  • And yellow was a popular color because it resembled gold so it symbolized wealth.  It was the color of choice for weddings and not just for the food.  A wealthy bride's dress was usually golden or yellow.  The wealthiest included gold in their recipes, and some even used it to coat fowl before it was served at the banquet table:  gilded meats.  Some sweets were shaped into jewelry and colored gold, too.  And at least one recipe includes the option of including precious stones.
  • And then there is the suggestion of creating from colored paste a depiction of an entire orchard or forest to decorate the banquet table, including fires with burning scents to mimic the forest's smells.

 Wedding Banquet of Grand Duke Ferdinand I of Tuscany (1549-1600), 1590
Wedding Banquet of Grand Duke Ferdinand I of Tuscany (1549-1600), 1590 Giclee Print
 AllPosters.com

 

Medicine, and Tips and Tricks

Interestingly, considering the recent interest in Super Foods that bring healthful benefits, is that each cookbook includes recipes for the infirm.  The problem is detailed in the recipe title:  constipation, can't urinate, has a cold, is weak, is gouty, stones, weak liver...

 Flowers Vines Shrubs and Mandrakes in a Medieval Herb Garden
Flowers Vines Shrubs and Mandrakes in a Medieval Herb Garden Giclee Print
 AllPosters.com

Medicines in those days were not synthetic pharmaceuticals.  Instead, medicines were herbs, spices, roots, leaves, and foods.  So:

  • The cook was also a medic.
  • The cook's kitchen garden was a useful pharmacy (orto).
  • Recipes were often prescriptions.  (The Italian work for prescription is recipe-ricetta.)

 

Cook's Garden of Herbs
Cook's Garden of Herbs Art Print
Weissman, Naomi
 AllPosters.com

 

Besides health tips and recipes, there are also helpful tips and tricks on how to:

  • remove smoke from the kitchen (in the days before electric ventilators!), by perforating a walnut and putting it in the pan while you're cooking to absorb the smoke
  • remove salt from your porous cast iron pots and pans, by cooking a ball of bread in the pan
  • keep dishes warm or cool while preparing other courses
  • use the coal and wood burning stoves and cookers for each dish to get the right cooking temperature
  • clean or butcher an animal or fish
  • store ingredients so they don't go bad
  • replace ingredients with suitable substitutes when the ingredient was not readily available all year round
  • impress your Lord and Master with stunning culinary displays to keep your life and living, including recreations with food of his estates, and shaping the food into artwork.

 Serving the Goose at a 16th Century Christmas Banquet
Serving the Goose at a 16th Century Christmas Banquet Giclee Print
 AllPosters.com

Some Other Things of Interest

If you'd like, you can visit my page on the History of Italian Food and Recipes.

St. Mark's Square in the 1860s

And writer William Dean Howells lived in Venice from 1861 to 1865 as U.S. Consul under President Lincoln.  I have prepared a page with entertaining excepts from his book Venetian Life, in which he vividly describes Venetian food of the day, and the new-fangled restaurants.  

And the Castello Banfi winery site in Montalcino, Tuscany has a page I like that tells about the Etruscan roots of Tuscan cooking.

 The Banquet at Casa Nani, Given in Honour of Their Guest, Clemente Augusto
The Banquet at Casa Nani, Given in Honour of Their Guest, Clemente Augusto Giclee Print
 AllPosters.com

If you are interested in knowing more about Medieval and Renaissance cooking, visit this wonderful site And be sure to check out the images page.

From Amazon.com

Here are some links to books available from Amazon.com, if you wish to read more about the history of Italian cooking. 

The first two links are to English translations of Maestro Martino's book, including scholarly prefaces and other recipes from the era (most likely from the other two free books I offer above).  And Scappi's Opera.

Artusi's book is a classic of modern Italian cooking.  The book on the medieval kitchen includes Italian and French recipes from the same era as the free books I offer, with scholarly information about the era.

The showy aspect of ancient cooking is covered in the Taylor book as it pertains to the Sicilian cuisine from Greek times to today, including lots of recipes.  And the food of ancient Rome in covered in the second and fourth books, including recipes you can cook today.  Then there is an ancient Neapolitan recipe book

The culinary history of all of Italy gets scholarly coverage in the Capatti book.  And Da Vinci's inventions for his Milanese patron's chef make for entertaining reading in Dewitt's book.

Opera De obsoniis ac de honesta voluptate et valitudine, Venezia, 1570, (Opera On Right Pleasure and Good Health) who used as the base of his book the recipes of Maestro Martino.  And the cookbook by Scappi.  (These links don't always work, but I'll leave them in case they come active again and so you can read about the books.)

 

 

English Translations Available On-Line

Anonimo Toscano English

Anonimo Toscano Italian Plain Text

Anonimo Veneziano English

Anonimo Veneziano Italian Plain Text

Maestro Martino Italian Plain Text

Platina's book, scanned copy

 

 
 
 

Some images from Scappi's (Platina's) book

 

Cucina principale - Main Kitchen

 

Cucina propinqua alla cucina - Pantry Kitchen

 

Loggia - Open-air Kitchen

 

Luoghi freschi dove lavorare il latte - Cool places where milk is worked (into butter and cheese)

 

Cucina fatta a campana - Kitchen in the form of a bell

 

Cucina per campagna - Field Kitchen

 

Masserizie per camera di conclave - Meals for the Conclave Room - An image showing how the meals were sent into the Cardinals electing the new Pope, locked in the conclave room (now the Sistine Chapel). 

 

Ordine che si tiene per serviere gli Illustrissimi cardinali al conclave - The process of serving the illustrious cardinals in the conclave room - The procession of food had to be approved by inspectors, who then had the food set inside the wheels beside them.  Then the wheels were turned so the food appeared on the other side, the conclave room, at the same time as the view from the inspector's side was blocked.

 

Please visit Candida Martinelli's Writing Website and Young-Adult Historical Mystery Series Website