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Renaissance Gastronomic Literature


Gastronomic literature was born in Italy, as in other European countries, during the 13th and 14th centuries as a result of the long evolution that separated Medieval cooking from that of Ancient Rome. The cuisine of the Middle Ages was more international with recipes, ingredients and flavors that were practically identical throughout Europe and unified by the social standards. One on hand, there was the nobility with its preferences for wild game and fish, which in Europe led to the standardization of recipes. These dishes were favored by the dignitaries that passed from one Court to the next and were characterized by an exaggerated use of spices, the real status symbol of the period. On the other hand, there were the common people, who were able to sustain themselves with what came from the land or the market, giving life to the “characterizations” that would later define the separate national and regional cuisines, specific ingredients and local customs. For example, the well recognized use of vegetable oils in the south of Italy versus animal fat (lardo, lard and butter) in the north.

Liber de coquinaLibro per cuoco The three main cookbooks from the period were Liber de coquina (a cookbook contained in a miscellaneous text dedicated to Charles II of Anjou at the beginning of the XIV century), the Libro della cocina bolognese (written in Tuscan dialect based on an Angevin text) and the Libro per cuoco (by an anonymous Venetian written at the end of the century). There were also minor publications like Ricette di un libro di cucina del buon secolo della lingua (Recipes from a cookbook), and Frammenti di un libro di cucina del secolo XIV (Fragments of a cookbook of the 14th century).  Together these books signified a step forward with respect to previous gastronomic literature. This is true, not necessarily in the technical sense, but in how food writing achieved autonomy from medical science and scientific disciplines. These books are actually real kitchen manuals, written and copied (before the printing press was invented) to be sold to professional chefs, who would be able follow the suggestions and recommendation. The chefs would have also been capable of estimating how much of an ingredient to use, as quantities were entirely missing from the books. The content is quite similar in all the books, especially when it comes to wine. Linguistically, however, the books vary dramatically due to renunciation of Latin, still in used in Repubblica Clericorum, for popular, regional dialects.
Libro di cucina del sec. XIV. Testo di lingua non mai fin qui stampatoLibro di cucina del sec. XIVOpera nova chiamata Epulario Written in codice Bolognese, or the dialect (or linguistic code) of Bologna, we have Francesco Zambrini’s Libro di cucina del sec. XIV. Testo di lingua non mai fin qui stampato (Cookbook of the 14th Century), published in Bologna in 1863, as well as the fortieth publication in the series “Scelta di curiosità letterarie inedite o rare”  (A Selection of Interesting Unedited or Rare Literature), by Gaetano Romagnoli. Also written in codice bolognese, there is Olindo Guerrini’s Frammento di un libro di cucina del sec. XIV (Fragment of a 15th Century Cookbook) published in Bologna in 1887. Meanwhile Ludovico Frati edited the critical republication of the Libro di cucina del sec. XIV (14th Century Cookbook), a selection of text taken from the codice Riccardiano of Florence, (previously published by Morpurgo in 1890). This book followed the previous book published in Livorno by Giusti in 1899. Both cookbooks were reprinted in facsimile by the publishing house Forni.
In the 15th century, two important gastronomic works were published: the first is the Libro de arte coquinaria, a technical guide to cooking by Masetro Martino of Como, chef to the Patriarchate of Aquileia in Rome; and the second is De honesta voluptate et valetudine, by Bartolomeo Platina, who transformed the culinary information presented by Maestro Martino into a real doctrine. Probably composed around 1450 and conserved, in its original form, in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., Maestro Martino’s cookbook is the most complete and systematic of the works that came before. The book received considerable praise also from Martino’s contemporaries, to the point of being frequently plagiarized. An almost identical text was published and printed in Venice in 1516 by “Maestro Giovanni de Rosselli francese” with the title Opera nova chiamata Epulario (Venice, 1517). This text continued to be reprinted until it reached its seventeenth edition during the middle of the 18th century and only recently has it be “substituted” with the original.

Even Bartolomeo Sacchi (1421-1481) from Piadena (MN), known as Platina, who was a major player in Italian humanism, greatly admired the work of Maestro Martino, referring to him as the best chef of his time. Platina even used Martino’s book as the technical base of this treatise, De honesta voluptate et valetudine, published for the first time in Rome in 1474 in Latin. It was the first printed cookbook to circulate throughout Italy. It was later published in Venice in 1487 in Italian and then spread across Europe, having been translated into French, German and English. The book’s success can certainly be attributed to the novelty of its approach and the systematic treatment of the culinary arts, nutrition, food safety, dietary ethics and the pleasures of the table, according to change in approach to food. Platina realigned himself with the classic medical and philosophic thinking of humanism that included the “honest,” or measured, pleasure based on the legitimate components of essential equilibrium.
From the gastronomic point of view, the two treatises record the presence of sweets and sugar in Italian cuisine. Sugar was considered the “new spice” of the 14th century and was used in combination with or in place of traditional spices. With Martino of Como, butter-based cooking – developed in Northern Europe in place of spiced flavors – made its way into Italy and became even more popular in the following centuries.
Emilio Faccioli was responsible for the first modern transcription of Maestro Marino. L'arte della cucina in Italia (The Art of Cooking in Italy) was published by Einaudi in 1987. Bartolomeo Sacchi’s work was first translated into modern Italian with the title Il piacere onesto e la buona salute (On Right Pleasure and Good Health), and also published by Einaudi in 1985.
The sobriety shown by Platina was of no interest to an aristocratic class that thought of food as a way to show off one’s wealth and power. This same sobriety was repeated in the medical treatises of Ugo Benzi (1376-1439) of Siena, Girolamo Manfredi (ca. 1430-1493) of Bologna and Michele Savonarola (1384-1468) of Padua.

Libreto… di tutte le cose che se manzano comunementeSumma lacticinorumDe lactis serique natura, et in medicina usu Their works also addressed how to select and prepare food. The book Regole della sanità et della natura de' cibi (Rules of Health and of the Nature of Food), written by Benzi in the 15th century, was not translated into the vernacular until 1618 and did not make it beyond its second edition. However, the work of Manfredi, l'Opera nova intitolata il Perché (a new work entitled The Reason Why) was first published in Latin in 1474 and translated into the vernacular in 1507, with more than twenty reprints and new editions. Libreto… di tutte le cose che se manzano comunemente, (A little book …on all the things one eats regularly) by Savonarola appeared in the vernacular in Venice in 1508, followed by a couple of reprintings and changes.
Another important figure in scientific education of the same period was Pantaleone da Confienza (ca. 1420 – post 1477), probably born in the town of Confienza in Lomellina. Pantaleone was a professor of medicine at the universities of Turin and Pavia and responsible for the healthcare of the House of Savoy. He was also the author of Summa lacticinorum, published in Turin in 1477. His book was the first printed monograph on milk and dairy products, which he studied “on the field” over the course of his travels throughout Northern Italy and Europe. It is a true catalog of the renaissance of milk and dairy production. In 1595, Giovanni Costeo (17th cent. - 1603), a professor at the University of Bologna, followed suit and published his De lactis serique natura, et in medicina usu, which opened the door to a long series of specialized publications, oriented more towards scientific and technical aspects, than to gastronomy.
Coena Battista Fiera (1450–1540), a medical doctor from Mantua, was part of a younger generation of authors. In his book, Coena (published in Roma by Silber, 1490 ca.), he described in Latin, - using the model of Martial’s epigrams and with an ancient mentality - all types of fruit, vegetables, birds, fish, meat of domesticated animals, quadrupeds and birds, sauces, aromas, spices and wines. The book also includes dietary advice and food safety information.
De romanis piscibusBaldus De romanis piscibus by Paolo Giovio (1483–1552) is another book based on ancient interests and clearly influenced by humanism. It was published in Rome in 1524.
In a completely different vein, we have Baldus, written by Teofilo Folengo (1496-1544) from Mantua in the beginning of the 16th century. (The first edition was printed in Venice by Paganini in 1517.) Even though the work is classified as tout court, or even macaronic, it is still considered an important work of gastronomic literature due to the Doctrinae cosinandi viginti, found in the second edition. The work is a collection of twenty recipes that have been attributed to chef of the Roman god Jupiter. Baldus is also known for its abundant food citations from the Regalis coena found in the beginning of book. The doctrines have also been attributed to the macaronic work of Parnaso (Book I, 1-63), to the rustic dinner of Berto Panada,  (II, 174-332), to the feat of the monks of Mortella (VIII, 656-705), to the invectives thrown at the hosts and numerous other “minor” passages that made Folengo almost a precursor of Gargantua et Pantagruel by Rabelais.
De partibus aedium From this period, there is also the curious Italian eno-gastronomic itinerary based on the personal experience of Ortensio Lando (1512 ca.-1553), a medical doctor from Emilia, and possibly Modena. His book, Commentario delle più notabili e mostruose cose d'Italia (A Guide to the Most Notable and Monstrous Things of Italy), was published for the first time in Venice in 1548 with a Breve catalogo degli inventori delle cose che si mangiano e bevono nuovamente ritrovato,  or  small catalog of  the inventors of the things we eat and drink. Despite its erudite approach, this catalog is polluted by mystification, which did not influence the treatise writers of the following period like Antonio Frugoli e Antonio Latini. To our list of “collateral” texts, we have added De partibus aedium, an important architectural treatise written by Francesco Maria Grapaldo (1465-1515), a humanist from Parma. The treatise was published in Parma for the first time in 1464 and has been followed by thirteen new editions, published up until the mid 16th century. In describing the ideal Renaissance house, Grapaldo offers precious information about designing a kitchen, a storeroom, a cellar (with digressions about wines), a vegetable garden and chicken coop.
To conclude, it should be noted that many writers of the period – from Francesco Berni (1497-1535) to Lasca [Anton Francesco Grazzini] (1503–1584), to Agnolo Firenzuola [Michelangelo Giovannini] (1493–1545) to Ercole Bentivoglio (1507–1573) and more - wrote essays and songs about cooking based on the double meanings, allusions and erotic themes. These texts were not included in this presentation.