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Science in the Kitchen of Pellegrino Artusi

Cuoco  di famigliaCuciniere italianoCuciniere universaleCuoco sapienteArtusiStomachi deboli

In the Italy of the late nineteenth century even in the kitchen the bourgeois style makes its appearance, reluctant to show wealth, parsimonious on principle, not open to novelties, but strong believers of tradition. In this context explodes a strong gastronomic literature, even in a repetitive and often banal: the various Cucine facili, familiari, economiche, salutari, igieniche, moderneuniversali, sublimi, sapienti, perfette, vere, or all of cookbooks entitled “easy, familiar, economical, healthy, hygienic, modern, universal, sublime, sage, perfect and real cooking” contend themselves increasingly large slices of the book market. Among these publications a special mention goes to the “The wise cook, or the art of pleasing the taste of Italians” by an anonymous author, published by the Florentine bookseller-publisher Henry Moor in the early years of National Unity and reprinted as early as 1871 (but published again by Guigoni in Milan in 1887 and again in 1901) whose internal organization of the chapters, innovative to some extent, will be then picked up by the protagonist of gastronomic literature in the late nineteenth century.
But was there space for the others? Pellegrino Artusi (1820-1911), born in Forlimpopoli but resident of Florence, believed there was. Despite some difficulties at the beginning that pushed him towards self-publishing, he published the first edition, 1,000 copies, of La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiar bene: igiene, economia, buon gusto (Kitchen Science and the Art of Eating Well: hygiene, budget, good taste) in 1891 with Landi in Florence. By 1909, he had published twelve more editions and the thirteenth edition contained 790 recipes. The fourteenth, published in 1910, included a part about cooking for people with weak stomachs, outselling a book published in Milan in 1858 called La cucina degli stomachi deboli: ossia pochi piatti non comuni, semplici, economici e di facile digestione con alcune norme relative al buon governo delle vie digerenti (Cooking for Weak Stomachs: or the few simple, low-cost dishes that are easy to digest). By the fifteenth, the last edition by Artusi, published in 1911, his book sold 65,000 copies and to then grow further with a series of notable editors and publishers like Bemporad, Salani, Marzocco, Barion, Bietti, and Giunt. More recently, the book was republished by Einaudi, Garzanti, Rizzoli, and Mursia – doubling its lifespan with 1.5 million copies sold.
Including even compilations of information from both written and oral sources, the work of Artusi that occurred, changed, adapted and improved, is truly extraordinary. His recipes were accepted and used by people throughout Italy, creating a cultural and, even more shocking, a linguistic unity with gastronomy. In its own right, even Artusi’s book is based on regional cooking: only Northern and Central Italian recipes are included, and predominately those from Emilia, Romagna and Tuscany. However, thanks to an educated use of language and amicable approach, the book became the reference point for the average Italian family, the true guardian of culinary tradition.