Italian Cooking History

The Romans, our ancestors, during their descendence from power that in Europe concluded with the Fall of the Western Roman Empire (476A.D.) used banquets as long relaxing moments in which they invented complicated dishes (Flamingo's tongues, animal livers and rare birds) covered in very expensive spices accompanied by certre and flute melodies; this was for those who represented power and they were destroying themselves while the people and the slaves had to make do with the leftovers or take sustenance from vegetables and grasses.
The barbaric invasions destroyed every culinary and alimentary tradition so much so that when the Longobardy arrived from the Alps every gastronomic dish was lost to memory.
Different events touched the periphery of Italy, above all in Sicily, that in the X century began to be colonised by the Arabs who influenced the culture and the islanders. There were introduced, for example, dried pasta (developed probably as a food for the Arab nomadic population as a preserve) and here we find favourable conditions for its development and diffusion towards Genoa, Naples, France and Spain.
It was the Christian culture and the Catholic Church that reconsidered the pleasures of the table bringing to our attention the guilt tied indissolubily to sexuality: the sin of Adam and Eve in earthly Paradise was a sin of pride, but involving a woman and was solidified by the act of eating. Spiritual perfection was obtained through alimentary abstinence and above all through the privation of meat. Until the year one thousand the diet of monks and nuns was limited to bread and pulses, with egg and cheese on permitted days and some seasonal fruit. The renouncing of meat was tied on one side to the rejection of violence that was excersised in the killing of animals, and on the other side to the protection of virginity that more energetic food may have put in danger.
It was in the era of Charlemagne that the dilemma to reconcile the gluttony of the Romans and barbarians with the privation of the ascetic Christians was resolved: fasting and abstinence which occured on festival days was altered, also for religious power, and abundant and varied dishes were made to God as a form of respect and prayer: the pleasures of the table, which were earthly pleasures coincided with spiritual and religious festival days. And so it was that the life in the Monasteries evolved through abandonment of total ascetism because in the course of a year there were many occasions the lavish table was considered a place of prayer. In parallel medieval castles, organised into feuds, enlarged the number of people who could eat regularly there because their services were borrowed by the self-sufficient medieval economic system (craftsmen, domestics, ecclesiastics, squires).
Certainly in the medieval era it is not possible to speak about gastronomy: until the moment in which Europe renewed city life and brought, first of all to Italy, a reinforcement of costumes, the small festivals being more similar to the barbaric alimentary accumulation than a harmonious creation.
It was in the 1200's, with the flowering of city life, and the intensification of traffic following the Crusades, that the formulation of the first nucleus of products from which the middle classes developed and paid attention to and legitimised the research into the pleasures of the table: the tight gastronomy paid court to taste, the sensibilisation of the palate, recuperated some methods of cooking in the oven or in frying pans resting on the embers in a corner of the fireplace. There was also reborn the ancient art of stews and of sauces and the use of dressing the food and to present birds on the table adorned in their feathers. The recovery of the antique traditions forgotten for a long time coincided with the introduction of new alimentary elements that enriched the tables of the lords: spices and cane sugar that the Arabs cultivated in Sicily and that was widely used substituting honey and permitting the invention of sugared almonds which became a requirement as a sign of distinction for every official or important lunch.

Tuscany was the region in Italy that developed the renewal that characterised the culinary art in the XIV century, when the passage of popular cooking with the experimentation of a gastronomy that had travelled around Europe, was elaborated by the upper-middle classes that had orchestrated the economic fortune of the city.
The environmental conditions, always becoming more favourable since Maltilde di Canossa and following her, the councils, began the terracing of the mountainous terrain and the controlling of the water networks, gave the region excellent base materials: the oil of the Senesi and Florentine hills, the peas and cabbages of Lastra a Signa and Scandicci, the lambs of Casentino, the veal of Val di Chiana, the red mullet of Tirreno and the pike of Chiusi lake. All could be bought at the Mercato Vecchio of Florence, where there was also space for the itinerant sellers of chests of eggs, game and cheeses.
Good red wine was already produced in Chianti, notably the Montepulciano and the Montalcino and from the Island of Elba came a noble Aleatico. The bread from Prato was particularly popular, which was inspired by the cooks of the convents, a refined bread sweetened with honey and perfumed with spices, seasoned with dried figs and grapes; this was perhaps the ancestor of the panforte of Siena and probably also the panettone of Milan, which were the typical cakes produced at Christmas. Until the 1200's the use of spices reigned supreme in Tuscan cooking and there also spread very quickly the fashion of sugared almonds, destined for very special occasions.
The families of the original middle-classes, who at that time did not have palaces with large salons for receptions, made parties and feasts along the roads: they provided long tables under a roof canopy of cloth that protected the participants from the sun; leaves, flowers and carpets covered the walls, and in the open air lunch was served that in the 1300's was already very varied.
Every well-to-do family in Tuscany laid their tables for their guests with snowy white tableclothes and providing plates and tankards of silver, glass and silver glasses and enamel salt sellars; with the cutting knives finely sharpened, the candelabra, the containers for the sugared almonds, the bowls for washing the hands, and the most precious of all the objects where left on exhibition on top of the cupboards in the principle rooms.
Good manners where considered very important in Tuscany; the only exception was the wine that, in the periods of epidemics that in those centuries prevailed, was allowed to be poured down one's throat as an antidote and narcotic; also the beautiful young women and distinguished young men who told the stories of Decamerone, between the sugared almonds and small cakes of their artistocratic afternoon snacks, some glasses of wine where allowed often.
Other than in the palaces also in the monasteries some rigorous fasters in the 1400's were a memory: the Church, and above all the Papal Courts, had welcomed in good measure the tendency to honour God at the table: the sin of gluttony did not appear to anyone as particularly frightening.
The news chronicles of the 1500 and 1600's reported on a series of banquets for official receptions of a luxury unheard of in which hundreds of different courses where alternated with music, songs and dances. While French, German and Spanish mercenary troops came in waves devastating and sacking the peninsular, the Renaissance courts of Milan, Ferrara, Florence, Mantova, Urbino, the Serenissima Republic of Venice, the Papal Rome of Michelangelo and Raffaello competed to create the most splendid palaces, the magnificence of the art collections and the productions of public festivities. A wedding, a visit of a foreign sovereign, the conclusion of a treaty were all occasions for organising, in front of the amazement of the subjects, sumptuous processions through the city: for Milan triumphal arches and live scenes were formed by Leonardo; Lorenzo the Magnificent designed for Florence scenes and costumes for the carnival floats. For every feast the conclusion was the banquet, of which the leftovers, some kinds of sweets, was the custom to be distribute to the citizens.

The fantasy had no limits: in 1595 the Cardinal Grimani of Rome at Palazzo Venezia gave an official lunch for the Ambassadors of the Serenissima (Venice), who was welcomed with pipes and drums. The trumpets introduced preserves and jams, whereas gold and silver plates piled high with biscuits and pine kernels appeared at the sound of harps. After a milk soup and tray of deer heads, the tuba announced sixtyfour courses of chickens in Catalana sauce, and the roast and pheasant dishes vaulted into the room to the harmony of the violas. With the dessert of marzipan and whipped cream there was a dance by a young arab girl and the singing of a group of children.
On the 13th September 1513 the Rome of Pope Leone X Medici, a known gourmet, celebrated the nomination as a noble of his nephew Guiliano with a formal banquet in Campidoglio. The table, that seated twenty selected guests, towered on a division at the centre of the piazza, whereas around was erected tiers in a semi-circle for the crowd that attended the show. When bowls of perfumed water passed by, the guests unfolded the sparkling white napkins to dry their hands, there were liberated into the air a flight of fluttering birds. The abundance was such, say the reporters, that the invited took and threw one after the other, at the end there was seen deer and pheasants, piglets and partridges fly towards the tribune and dirty the piazza.
Eighty years afterwards, in May 1593, as told by the gastronomic writer Vincenzo Cervio ne Il trinciante, welcoming the son of Duke Guglielmo of Bavaria Rome renewed, after very difficult years, the splendours past. On the contrary surpassed, because to the thousand people permitted in Castle Sant'Angelo on the table of honour appeared, between the emblems of the Pontiff and the German princes, literally covered in gold and pearls there alternated four pheasants with feathers adorned with trembling drops of gold and three lions of golden royal pasta; there were also golden cold pies with the forms of eagles, lions and tigers. At the end of the lunch there was brought into the room a model in pasta of the Castle Sant'Angelo, from which flew out partridges and live baby birds that held onto the golden crowned top and behind these appeared a mechanical tower, golden obviously, that walked by itself.
It is evident that the gastronomy of these exhibitionist official Roman lunches did not follow an ideal of creativity, but perpetuated the medieval way of alimentary accumulation to finally exorcize, in a liberating crescendo of signs of abundance, the spectre of famine always in ambush.
And more there is the desire to begin again also the tables of the classic world, of Imperial Rome, of the mad official lunches of Nero and Eliogabalo, of the productions of Satyricon of Petronio.
The court of Naples and that of Urbino exhibited like Rome, through the ephemiral splendour of the banquet, the magnificence of their lords, but other courts pursuing with style different from those of the politics of image.
Those exagerations infact where never shared by the Medici, lords of Florence, of middle class origins; rather than stun their guests with preparations of dubious elegance the Medici preferred to include grace in their celebrations. Enough to remember that in June of 1469, on the occasion of his marriage to Clarice Orsini, Lorenzo the Magnificent had distributed to the Florentines from the palazzo in Via Larga the huge gifts of food that he had received; the day of the cerimony there was not offered to the population the left-overs, but 1,500 wooden boards of jelly and chickens, fish, sugared almonds and other delicious appropriate packages.
At the official lunches of the Medici family there was in force good manners and the highest cleanliness; the vases, the candelabra, the silverware were chosen for their artistic value; against the tendency of other courts, the Medici cooks directly under the control of the head of the house did not exercise their whims in artificial and disagreeable tastes to the palate, but used rigorously natural products of their region for dishes of Tuscan tradition, often from knowledge derived from the people.

Lorenzo was personally rather moderate and at his villas of Fiesole and Poggio a Caiano
enjoyed tasting with his friends the hares from his woods and the cheeses from his farms. Landowner of enormous properties administered by his mother Lucrezia, gave to his fellow citizens and example of astute management; his game preserves were continuously being repopulated with pidgeons and pheasants and the fishing lakes with fish.
After the pause of the Savonarola and their exile, the Medici returned to the palace of Palazzo Pitti, with the title of Grand Duke, the tradition of elegance. In the forefront of their gastronomy, tied to the local traditions interpreted by professional cooks, emerged the research into alternative tastes and the care of the genuinness of the food.
Another court of which we have witness to is that of the Estensi at Ferrara of which is handed down by Cristoforo Messisbugo in his work Banchetti, a composition of food and general utensils. He was a gentleman, scholar and humanist. By his works, the court of Ferrara created in Europe, the fame of artistic polo and its principles bringing merited fame to its patrons. Around the food the Ferraranese court organised for its guests global shows of lofty ideals: at the banquet of 24th January 1529, on the occasion of the wedding of Prince Ercole with the daughter of the King of France, present Isabella d'Este Gonzaga and French and Venezian ambassadors, the culmination of the feast was the representation of the Cassaria of Ariosto.
Messisbugo is the cautious and able codifier of northern cooking based on butter against that of Tuscan-southern cooking based on olive oil. He also manages to harmonise well the food for the banquets. In his proposals there is revealed a certain attention for raw vegetables and salamis; alternating with certainty meat and fish, various fritters and cooked foods, the cooking time in stews and grills; using with confidence the pasta with tomato sauce, specially the stuffed tortellini in various ways. And with the wines an attentive connoisseur. Advised a wide use of sugar, cinnamon, pine kernels and grapes was passed over many dishes which reveal the taste for the bitter-sweet of the Rennaisance when sugar was the privilege of the rich.
Ferrara was a short distance from Venice who held the monopoly on sugar up until the times of the Crusades; they imported it from the Orient and produced it at Candia supplying all of Europe; Lombardy alone bought it for 85.000 florins a year.
In the 1500's Venice had not yet developed its gastronomy for which later on it would become famous; the Doge paid from his own pocket for five formal banquets every year, but in the Hall of the Major Council the show most admired was that of the table decorations, at which sat by right the members of the government, the apostolic delegate and the ambassador of France; on the precious Venetian lace sparkled the glass of Murano and the engraved silver; fancy cakes, sugared almonds and candied fruits were so abundant that the guests were invited to take them home.
Notwithstanding the tradition of sobriety, when in 1574 Henry III of France, the rather strange son of Catherine de'Medici, decided with very little notice to spend a week in Venice, the Serenissima did not spare any expense. It was the month of July in which there were trips on the Bucintoro, parades and feasts and a fairytale nighttime regata in which the King watched from the balcony of the Foscari Palace, while the illuminated embarkation filed along the canal; at the Lido the King sang the Te Deum under a triumphal arch designed by the Palladio and decorated by Tintoretto and Veronese.

The festivities culminated on Sunday in a banquet offered in the hall of the Major Council, where Henry III was met by two hundred most beautiful patricians of Venice dressed in white and covered in jewels. The table was decorated with an ornate sculpture of sugar project of Sansovino:
there were two lions, a queen on horseback between two tigers and David and San Marco between figures of king and popes, and animals, plants and fruit. The napkins, bread, plates and cutlery were all of sugar.
The transoceanic travels, undertaken to supply Europe with spices, which were the other fountain of richness for Venice, flooded the market to the point that the price fell. From the 1600's
with the volubility with which the higher classes neglected the products they became common, the gastronomy, after centuries of abuse, rapidly abandoned the consumption of pepper, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamon, cloves. For Venice and other marittime cities of the Mediterranean there began an economic decline.
The Rennaisance in the area of the civilisation of the table had the merit of creating a new variety of cooking, the triumph of jams, preserves and fancy cakes and to have given value to some vegetables in the official refectories. Europe was being conquered by Italy by its unprecedented attention to cleanliness and good manners, recommended by a series of tracts - the most celebrated the Galateo of Monsignor Della Casa - that overall refined the costumes; from this new way entered the use of the fork, testified to in the peninsola by the customs of the middle classes from the 1300's: the well-known Franco Sacchetti in one of his short novels; at the end of the century Margherita Datini, the wife of the famous merchant of Prato who invented the bill of exchange, in her inventory showed twelve of these in silver of her property.
To know about the lunches of the powerful this is entrusted to history, but to know how popular cooking evolved the traces are found in literature: in the opinion of Baldus and Maccheronee of Teofilo Folengo, in Mantovan at the beginning of the 1500's people cooked polenta with chestnut flour and bread soup, beans, chickpeas and peas; on festival days used mariconda, a paste of breadcrumbs, egg and cheese cooked in broth a spoonful at a time. Lasagne and pappardelle pasta where popular, as was taglierini and maccheroni pasta and gnocchi. Simple food, in nutrients, between which did not appear meat, but of which was presented with monotony on the tables of the lords.
The discovery of America (1492) already gave to Europe its gifts.. Widely used on the tables of the rich was the turkey of which Bartolomeo Scappi the Duke d'Este said was raised as a rare animal and was considered a valuable wedding gift.
On his first return to the homeland which happended in 1493, Cristoforo Colombo had brought with him some sweetcorn seeds, the American cereal of rapid growth and high yield that became widely used around Veneto in 1530, in Mantovano, and in Polesine from where it reached central Italy. Wherever it was planted, together with American beans reconstituted the fertility of the soil, took away the spectre of famine for the farm workers; after its first success its spread stopped: only at the end of the 1600's the other European countries overcome their diffidence and adopted the polenta as a daily food.
The potato had more or less the same destiny: studied with interest by the agronomics of botanic vegetables, was accepted initially only in the Spanish and Italian countrysides.
The tomato, instead, had rapid success, that together with peppers was triumphantly welcomed in the popular cooking of the Spanish and became wide-spread in the less wealthy classes of all countries. The wide use and value of the tomato is certainly relative to the use with dry pasta that seemed to have come from Sicily already in the first ten years of the 1600's. It confirmed, in fact, the text that the porters in the port of Trapani invented the most important marriage that happened in the history of gastronomy, that of dry pasta with tomatoes, they cooked the maccheroni and the spaghetti in boiling water and put on top chopped tomatoes.

Half a century after in Campania the tomatoes were <<pummarola>>. At the end of the 1600's the <<vermicelli>> with the <<pummarola ‘n coppa>> became a dish sold on the street that appeased the hunger of the people. The age of pasta was born and has earned its definite immage.
Talking about simple pasta remember that already in the 1400's it entered into use in Italy from the south, but, before dominating the alimentary scene, continued to be an occasional food. Until the 1600's the Napolitans were known as <<Mangiafolie>> (leaf eaters) because their food was based on vegetables. Infact in Naples the <<vermicelli>> arrived in food in 1647, after the revolt of Masaniello: from then the Napolitans became <<Mangiamaccheroni>> (macaroni eaters).
Italy maintained, until the dawn of 1600, the first place in the art of cooking in Europe that in the course of this century passed to France not without some debt to this country.
It is well-known, in fact, that Catherine de'Medici, marrying in 1533 the dauphin Henry, spread in France the knowledge of Italian gastronomy and the base of the civilisation of the table.
It is right also to remember the festivities for the wedding of Maria de'Medici with King Henry IV that lasted many days in which was organised a banquet so rich in scenography that the Papal Nuncio suspected some diabolic intervention.
But in the course of the XVII and XVIII centuries with the disappearance of the lords and their courts Italian cooking lost its importance and fame; the age of the national recipe books seemed to have ended. The project to give life to a synthesis of Italian cooking - that above all Scappi, but not only him, had followed - left a post for a progressive accent on the regional diversities. Obviously that diversity constituted a visible element of a gastronomic panorama of the peninsola; that changed and the recipe books emphasised this point of view,
putting it into place on the geographic plan in a more complete way than that of the Medieval or Renaissance texts. This change of perspective emerged above all in the treatise of Napolitan production, through which, for the first time, there was defined a picture made of the gastronomic heritage of the south. Authors such as Giovan Battista Crisci, who in 1643 published in Naples the "Lucerna of Corteggiani", a large selection of menùs for the different periods of the year, or Antonio Latini, author of the "Scalca alla Moderna", or rather the art of best organising
banquets, two volumes published by him in Naples in 1692-94, they are particularly attentive in communicating their cultural and territorial <<ownership>>.
The "Lucerna" of Crisci is the first true repertory of products and specialities of Central-South. Not only Naples, <<symbolic>> reference also for the authors from the north, miriads of cities, citizens and farms throughout the territory are the crucial places of a gastronomic image decidedly new. From Abruzzo to Puglia, from Campania to Basilicata to Calabria - and arriving as always to Sicily - the geography of products concentrate above all on cheeses and on fruit, not without touching on Abruzzo ham, the soppressata and small sausages of Nola, the <<filetto di Giugliano guarnito con moscardini>>, the <<filetto di vitella di Sorrento>>; the macaroni may be Sicilian (or more precisely of Palermo) or Pugliese; the olives - fresh or <<informate>> - are of Gaeta and Maranola, of Caserta and Cilento, of Geraci and Messina; the lettuce is of Avellino and the melons of Aversa. Between the renowned places the fruit is known from Amalfi (peaches), Arienzo (red cherries, apples, peaches and apricots), Capodichino (red prunes), Capodimonte (peaches, sour cherries), Giugliano (peaches), Marano (again peaches and also white apples), Moiano (apples), Posillipo (white apples, moscatel grapes, peaches, apricots), Procida (apricots), San Giovanni (figs), San Pietro (figs), Somma (sour cherries, pears, lazzarone), Sorrento (prunes, peaches, apples). The tipology of cheese is very large that of fresh or preserved: mozzarella of Aversa, of Capua (<<fresh stewed>>), of Cerreto; caciocavallo of Basilicata (or of Potenza, or <<del Foio of Potenza>>) and of Sicily, salted ricotta of Capua, ricotta <<of goat>> of Pozzuoli and of Vallo di Potenza, <<ricotta di raschi>> calabresi (but again specifying: of Sila, of Pollino, of San Lorenzo); provole of Garigliano, of Capua, of Eboli, Cerra, Sessa; <<caci>>, not better specified, of Abruzzo and Puglia. You find, in this list, a prelevant non urban connotation of the productions and of the food markets, referring to small towns or to the <<countryside>> or to the <<coasts>>: outcome of a story - as we know -that already at the beginning of the middle centuries of the Middle Ages of the sacrificing of the autonomy of the citizens to the royal and baronial powers, orientating in a structural way different in respect to <<council>> and <<citizens>> of central-north.
Other indexes to the specialities of the south - not however distributed like the text of Crisci, between the multiple propositions for the composition of a menù, well organised into a systematic list - we find the works of Antonio Latini, in which the first volume is sealed with a brief description of the Kingdom of Naples that illustrates, with reference taken from <<different authors>> but above all <<from use, an experience>>, things like fruit, and others, that are produced specially, and of rare quality, in different places of the same kingdom.The twelve provinces, that constitute the Kingdom, are taken up one by one and examined, beginning with Campagna Felice, according to him Terra di Lavoro, the provided Naples with every sort of gift from God.
The geographic gastronomy of Europe is already well delineated; the French gastronomy, between the arts, caught the attention of artists and writers and acquired the European dominance also thanks to a prominent personality: It is about Marie-Antoine Carème, born in poverty and working as a boy in a trattoria, very soon promoted, between Director and Restraunter, a genius of the ovens, valued for his natural talent and passionate study of letters and architecture.
With Carème gastronomy became an art form, joining products with ideas: following the works of the professionals and stimulating theoretic debate with intellectuals, that he gave trial with taking and harmonising between taste, presentation and smell. The Impressionists debated on the dishes of traditional regional courses and the new dignity of the middle classes. Alessandro Dumas' father tried, with the authority of his fantasy, in high cooking.
In England that boasted little gourmet foods of which Henry VIII, remained conditioned by the disdain of the Puritans for the refinement of the table, awarding scanty merit to roast beef and the breakfasts.
In far away Russia the numerous and rich dishes of their traditions made sometimes in the French way, but without any attempt at invention. Venice instead knew well this fashion elaborating the lightness of taste and local products, creating the only innovative 17th century cooking on the peninsula.
In the 1800's silence fell over Italian gastronomy, as in the century of the Risorgimento, Italy was too devastated to speak about food. Only some Parliamentarians every now and again threw some light on the inquiet misery of the farm workers who in the winter suffered from the famine. There was, in 1891, the manual of Artusi (The science of cooking and the art of eating well) to give the country the basic theories of middle class cooking without glories and waste.
Choosing and trying with care our traditional dishes, Pellegrino Artusi revealed in all of Italy the art of the inhabitants of Veneto, of risotto and fish soup, the fragrance of Piemontese mixed gran fritto, the sumptuous lasagne, the tortellini of Emiglia, the pancotto soup and the aromatic roasts of Tuscany; and not forgetting the southern gastronomy: the Napolitan macaroni and that with the sarde alla siciliana, the Palermo hake, the marzipan, the babà. Thanks to him regional Italian cooking became a national culture. But we have to be precise, the Italy known and considered from the gastronomic point of view by Artusi, was that comprising from the north of Trieste until Torino, and south until Naples. The Marshes, Abruzzo, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria did not figure in any recipes. Also when the reproduction of the "Science of cooking" increased, using the information from the correspondence of his readers, did not include the Meridian, making an exception of Sicily, with three dishes. Sardinia remained an island ignored.
The 1800's was also the century in which there was very close rapport between artisits, painters, writers, musicians and gastronomy.
In the preceeding centuries for artists, food was a symbolic and evocative way of expression, in the 1800's, gastronomy became a field of research in which were debated the cosmetic rules.Intending gastronomy to have a licence of worldliness. The merit is attributed to the genius of Marie-Antoine Carème in which many European artists had a good relationship with. For our country let's remember the friendship that is tied to Gioacchino Rossigni who at a musical composition alternated gastronomic inventions remaining celebrated such as the Rossigni salad or the homonymous tournedos, and he resented vivaciously the day in which the father of Alexandre Dumas criticised one of his maceroni dishes.
But also Dumas in the kitchen was considered a creator and competing with the musicians in preparing, for the celebrities of the theatre, inspirational and often exotic lunches. <<My taste for cooking comes to me from heaven>> he said assuringly with his usual magnificent presumption. His last book was "The Grand Dictionary of Cuisine", humorous and sometimes an improbable synthesis of experience, culture and fantasy. Balzac from his song, not a creator but a gourmet, brought to glory the restaurants citing them in the romances of the humane Comédie.
Also between the painters gastronomy became the fashion: the Impressionists debated the theory of light in the restaurants of Montmarte that, thanks to them, remainded famous and they moved to the country following the effects of light and the smell of stews. The renewal began with them, as we have seen, of the sort of still life of the nature of fish, fruit, vegetables; and thanks to them the shellfish and game of the Signora Toutain, bailiff's wife of Honfleur, lives immortalised in the history of art.
The richest of the group, the Count of Toulouse-Lautrec, was an expert groumet with a century in advance of fashion, proposed to the Parisian "bel mondo" the splendour of the forgotten regional cooking and the strong southern flavours. The Italian Giuseppe De Nittis, as told by the biographer Nino Vinella, delighted in cooking spaghetti and fish soup in his Barletta for Degas, Goncourt, Zola and Matilde Bonaparte.
The following generation, that of Vlaminck, Delaunay, Derain, di Modigliani, of the young Picasso, moved the discussions and the dinners to Montparnasse. On the 31st December 1916 the poet Apollinaire offered a surreal banquet of cubist hors d'oeurves , beauty meditations in salads, fruit from the feasts of Aesop and other courses from the same mystery; verbal games, not gastronomic: with the new century the eye, in fact, is deeply modified.
In the course of the century there is seen enormous progress and earned merit in the field of alimentation which is technical. The use of organic fertilizers and the invention of the agricultural machines made the harvest more abundant and secure. Some scientific publications have woken up to the damage caused by the adulteration of food and pressurize the governments to issue laws for their control. The invention of the railways and steamboats permitted the quick movement of mercandise and the first application of cold to meat and dairy products avoiding the damage caused by rapid deterioration.
When Nicolas Appert had the idea of preserving food in sterilised containers that, in brief, became tinplate cans and Louis Pasteur around 1880 detailed very product for their temperature of work and their time, the alimentation for the population was finally offered abundant food at a low cost.
It was the "Belle Epoque", and people had the illusion that all the troubles in the world were finished.
The happy forty years that preceeded the Great War where for high society a continuous interruption of feasts and receptions. Lunches in private palaces and those of the powerful; lunches in the company of beautiful ladies of the "démi-monde", covered in exquisite jewellry from Tiffany and Cartier, in the salons of hotels and restaurants.
Hunger turned up again, above all in some regions, in the years of the first World War when it affected all social levels. Italians everywhere knew poverty that continued until the Thirties of the 1900's culminating in the great crisis of 1929.
In the Forties, during the Fascist regime the war moved between the Futurists for the pastasciutta (pasta with tomato sauce) and more traditional foods and a certain ideology of sobriety testifying to a particular reality, that in Italy to be seen to eat was shameful. The documentary films of the "white telephones": never a laid table, at the most some cups in hands of a platinum blonde diva. Also with the economical renewal following the Second World War, notwithstanding the vast spread of the treatise of Artusi that represented the first tentative of proposing a national cuisine, it was not possible to reach a unity of culinary traditions, as the unity of Italy and it remained an idea more than a reality in many aspects of our life. The historical events are too different, the geographic positions of the various regions, the climate, the products and the culture in its most grand meaning. There remained likewise for some years a certain modesty for food that was consumed in the full intimacy of the middle class families so much so that after the Second World War the cinema dwelt only on simple foods: bread, the worker's flasks of wine, the pastasciutte dreamed of by Totò, the last sublime mask of the Commedia dell'Arte.
It needed Luchino Visconti and his artistocratic re-evaluation of the beauty of daily life to see the lunch of "The Gattopardo" triumphant on the screen.
It was in 1963, ten years before Orio Vergani founded the Accademia Italiana della Cucina. He launched a prophetic cry of alarm of the danger of the disappearance of our precious regional cooking that instead of exhibiting uses, costumes, deep-rooted and different traditions, found points of contact only through the fashion of some alimentary industries, that developed in Italy, particularly after the Second World War above all due to the influence that the United States exercised over our habits and our culture; foods that however spread parallel in respect to the regional gastronomy for many aspects maintained healing ties to the traditions and that today more than in other periods are valued. Really in the position contrary to the spread of fast foods and prepared foods, many felt through large levels of the Italian population the need to research into antique flavours, genuine products, simple foods that are recreated - perhaps enriched - from the poor cooking to the farm workers cooking from other times. A cooking often to be "recovered" that came to be embelished by new contributions and the major possibility of consumation. But these are nearly always consumed in restaurants because of the new socio-economic organisation of our country and the new roles in respect to women and the length of time asked for the cooking of these recipes from other times are not any more, forseeable. Naturally the facility of contact with the whole world permits a little everywhere (and also this may become a qualifying element) the importance of dishes and products from other countries (from Africa, Japan, India etc.,) that is inserted into alimentary use in our country as a consequence to the formation of a multiracial and multicultural society that in these years is developing at a tight pace.