Cooking banished but alive
But even though French culinary culture dominated official lunches and sumptuous banquets the taste for genuine Tuscan cooking persisted in the more modest social environments and found a valid supporter in Neri Tanfucio - to be precise Renato Fucini - who became in his field a generous host to many people in the artistic world who waited for the glory of being invited because - as Fucini wrote - “they were renewed and stayed well for a week with a schidionata of birds or a pot of pappardelle...”. He loved simple dishes: zuppe di magro, stufatini, fegatelli, arrosto di tordi, main courses that are remembered in the novel Scampagnata where is described the food prepared for the lords who came from the city.
Whereas while the Florentines imported wine from beyond the Alps to be given lavishly at their feasts, the illustrious foreign guests praised with great conviction Tuscan wines. To give some examples, when the Temple Leader of the Castle of Vincigliata invited to lunch the Emperor and Empress of Brasil or, on another occasion, the son of the Queen of England as Princes and Soveriegns of all of Europe, there always appeared on his table the wine of Fiesole that was appreciated with vinsanto, that unfailingly accompanied the dessert. How was it then - we may ask - that Tuscan wines were so easily substituted by that of the French? Perhaps because the Tuscan wine growers being a little closed and reserved did not make much effort in valuing the products of their vines....The gastronomer Renault wrote, justly, that Tuscany should have occupied a more important position in the world of enology, but unfortunately, the complex types, with different names and types, opposed those who wanted celebrity. He told about a visit he made during a wine exhibition that every autumn was held in the Piazza San Firenze and was not able to find a glass in which to taste the wines, whereas everyone should have known that “the bottle wants the glass and vice versa”.
The double spirit of the culinary art exercised in Florence in the years “a cavallo” between the 1800 and 1900’s is signified by the banquets made in the autumn of 1890 for two political figures of strong contrasts between them because they represented the opposite political alliances: Francesco Crispi, decisive man of conservative government and Felice Cavallotti, deputy of the extreme right, supporter of humanitarian socialism. The lunch in honour of Minister Crispi was laid out in the small hall of the Politeama of the Casa Doney. In the theatre there was constructed a kitchen where 12 major cooks, 14 helpers and 35 people experienced in the pantry and in serving, prepared 35 courses of refined French taste that was served to 248 participants in evening dress accompanied by bottles of excellent French wines, and all served by a multitude of waiters headed by a director.
The banquet for the Honourable Cavallotti was served in the Alhambra in the Piazza Beccaria and was very different: on the table, laided out in an inn and well displayed, were flasks of Chianti and the 520 participants dressed well with fluttering ties were served pasta with tomato sauce, roast chicken with potatoes, pecorino cheese and fruit.
At the end of the century and in the first years of the 1900’s slowly, slowly increased the number of people who began to consider the cooking of beyond the Alps tedious and missed the old simple dishes that had been the joy of the Tuscan kitchens.