Literature and Cooking
In this division between the refined French cooking and the genuine Tuscan cooking, is inserted Pellegrino Artusi who proposed with his recipes, a panorama of Italian cooking which was titled, significantly, The science of cooking and the art of eating well. A practical manual for the family (1891). Artusi born in Forlimpopoli but who always lived in Florence in Piazza d’Azeglio wrote a book containing 790 recipes to put down the nosey frenchified cooking that reigned everywhere and particularly in Florence; the King Vittorio Emanuele II in fact was a great admirer of French dishes where, for example, butter reigned to the detriment of our exquisite olive oil.
As was told in the introduction, Artusi could not find anyone to publish his book; he published it with a thousand editions at his expense for Salvadore Landi and sold it by corrispondence. The book at first had hesitant results and then great success and was published with immense satisfaction by the Florentine publishers Bemporad; who sold thousands and then millions of copies; the author became rich and died satisfied at the age of ninety in 1911.
The influence of this book was great in Italian cooking because it was the first unitary text, complete, well written, written with the emerging classes in mind who considered their daily food a strong point of their being.
Artusi’s book was critiscised in some parts because it did not propose simple dishes, and instead preferred a cooking rich and over-abundant. But we must consider this great book from a historical aspect: it was written as a manual for the middle class Italians (and not only Florentines) that could spend and who could forget tripe, baccalà, ribollite, pan-zanelle etc., and in good measure accept veal, chicken, truffles, eggs and butter; Artusi proposed to teach the cooking of these products well affirming the Preface: “Amo il bello e il buono ovunque si trovino e mi ripugna di vedere straziata, come suol dirsi, la grazia di Dio....”
And we may affirm “...the art of eating well” is a book that - also for the good language in which it is written - has a place in bringing out our culture that, with fatigue, at the end of the 1800’s we were trying to realise a united Italy.
Gabriel D’Annunzio who during his long stay in Florence infrequently searched for the luxurious restaurants such as Doney but preferred those simple as the trattorias, and certainly not for the price, as seen by his mania for greatness and his spending power remained proverbial. At Settignano he frequented the Capponcina where he tasted the dishes of the cook Anastasia, when instead he lived in Via Lorenzo il Magnifico he was a constant client of Gaetano Picciolo on the Viale Regina Margherita (today Viale Lavagnini) where were the famous steaks that were exhibited very much. And when he was accompanied by Eleanora Duse the table was always laid in a small room where there was always a vase full of orchids, a flower that he often dedicated to his women.
When, retreating to the Vittoriale, he received a letter from the son of Picciolo, responding to a telegram the text of which is a witness to his attachment to the Florentine culinary arts: “Your unexpexted message reminds me of my sweetest Florentine memories stop I send you what you want but you send me by telegraph the steak of three quarters that we ate together to not forget Jarro stop Embraces to Dad. Gabriele D’Annunzio”
Who is Jarro?
Jarro is the pseudonym of Giulio Piccini, journalist, theatre critic gastronomo who in the first years of ‘900 published for Christmas his Almanac in which other than recipes of equisite dishes dedicated entire chapters to euphemisms and Florentine ancedotes. He was also an expert cook Italian as well as French, inventor of main courses that he would dedicate to his friends: such as his trout alla Gigi Torrigiani, the “leg of hare alla Eugenio Niccolini” and the “scallop of veal alla Ugo Ometti”. Sometimes he enjoyed cooking for his friends in the kitchens of hotels and trattoria which the owners had made available for him. In his quality as a cook, it was alien to his character any form of jealousy towards the professional cooks, in fact he was abundant in his praise when they prepared some particularly good dish, instead he did not spare other journalists and writers. In one of his Almanacs he refers to a certain phrase that is said by one of the cooks of Gabriele D’Annunzio. While Jarro was addressing an eulogy for a “salmi di beccaccia” that was affirmed as a masterpiece, the cook pointed out to the poet, of who expected the praise - said: “You believe that dish is as easy to do as a tragedy!!”
For a portrait of this sypmathetic gastronomo who did his best for the rebirth of Florentine and Tuscan cooking, remembering the phrase that was published in one of his Almanacs and who would have probably wanted written on his tomb: “Jarro is happy and relaxed between his severe contemporaries and does his best to make happy his fellow men.”
Finally, to remain in the field of literature, we must not forget the dishes that we find cited in many pages of the popular narratives of Tuscany in these years; for example that of Luigi Bertelli (1858-1920), better known under the pseudonym Vamba, author of the very famous Il Giornalino di Giamburrasco in which there are cited the stracotto, the sphagetti with accuigata who Caterina prepared with much love or the very famous pappa al pomodoro of the college Pierpaolo Pierpaoli of which was locked up the poor Giamburrasca.
But also to be remembered are the dishes cited by Collodi (pseudonym of Carlo Lorenzini 1826-1890) author, above all, of the famous Adventures of Pinnochio. A story of a puppet. When Pinnochio, with the cat and the wolf, arrive at the Osteria of the Gambero Rosso, they are content with «a piece of nutmeg and a corner of bread» whereas the wolf does honour to the menù of the Osteria and the cat «feeling gravely indisposed by his stomach cannot eat more than thirtyfive red mullets with tomato sauce and four portions of tripe with parmesan...».
To end the examples let us remember the senese Federigo Tozze (1883-1920) who in his romance “Con gli occhi chiusi” gives the most primitive and simple recipes of “acquacotta” prepared by Masa on the farm of Poggio a’Meli, at the door of Siena: «You need to see it! He poured a drop of oil from a tin cruet, a drop so light that it was like a needle point. Draining well the forellino before putting the cruet back in the cupboard, he passed it over his tongue many times. The oil was boiling and he threw in the chopped garlic and onion. When the garlic became yellow and roasted, he put the fried garlic and onion into the pan full of boiling salted water; put again on the fire and every now and again cut a piece of bread, pushing with his chest and using both hands...»