Cooking in Florence in our century
At the beginning of the XX century Florence began a process of economic as well as demographic growth thanks to the intensive activity of the middle-class production. This process lasted with some events until the Second World War that for Italy was between 1940 and 1945.
During these years the Florentine cooking - like the rest of Italy - was influenced firstly by the autosufficiency declared by Mussolini that forced the Italians to renounce whatever product that did not come from their own lands and to make do with the “orticello of war” and the few products that we could trace: between these is the potato that became a base of dishes from our kitchens tickling the fantasy of the housewife who knew how to make many dishes poor in seasonings but rich in taste. Successively the cooking was conditioned by the difficulties brought about by the war that hit all of Italy but above all Florence, theatre of a bloody battle (in August 1944) between German troops and the allies along the banks of the river Arno in which the bridges were blown up by the Germans (except the Ponte Vecchio) in a tentative to stop the entrance of the victorious Anglo-American troops from entering the city.
Difficult years, months of hunger in which traditional cooking was a pale, nostalgic remembrance.
At the conclusion of the conflict there followed hard years, in which all were called upon to make great sacrifices oppressed by galloping inflation, of the damage of the war and the commitment necessary to build an industrialised base in the area. In these years however there was a recovery in the cooking and in the habit of preparing complete dishes in which however were lost the more traditional and simple foods; moderate cooking using above all omelettes, tortini, vegetables and bread in all its uses.
Only at the beginning of the sixties - defined by a boom or by a miraculous economy - Florence (like the rest of the area) knew wellbeing. Electrical appliances, televisions, automobiles and motorcycles improved daily life and always major improvements in the levels of population. The technological progress and the consequent productive development in fact opened the way for the wellbeing of many; varied cooking reappeared on the scene in daily life: chicken at one time considered for celebrations only became a main course dish of everyone thanks to the breeding, fried foods and steak began to appear again on many tables and became characterstic of many Florentine trattoria; there also flowered many refined restaurants, where the palate was gratified by flavours that had disappeared: truffles, game, fish, molluscs, soufflè, mushrooms, pappardelle with rich sauces of hare, wild pig, porcini etc., etc. The culinary art found more space in the editorial field not only in the publication of volumes but also in the weekly and monthly magazines.
At the end of the sixties much opulence united with the reduction in physical fatigue made by the introduction of machines into the world of work and the automobile developed the phenomenon of super-nutrition with grave consequences for physical health that, at the same time by the demands of a form dictated by fashion, opened the door to a diet low in fats even in Florentine cooking, such as the mediterranean diet (the advised pasta, rice or vegetables, above all tomatoes) and the reduction of meat (favoured in part by events beyond the Alps such as “mad cow”) in favour of fish exalting unfortunately the cooking by methods that rob it of taste and seasonings. And once again Florence had an account with France, accepting nouvelle cuisine, a tendency by gastronomy to respect the “substance” and the quality and the taste, the genuineness of the ingredients and the fantastic presentations of the dishes.
But the strong traditions of our cooking soon enough put an end to this fashion that remained an attempt that did not stick. In Florence there are still some boungustai that use the antique flavours and the genuineness of the gastranomic elements and that follow the old recipes, even if the industrialised food, the mania for something different, the rhythm of daily life that forces the quick preparation of food and “conserved” products have corrupted the taste and that threaten the traditional menùs of trattoria with disappearance of salmi, dolceforte, timballi, anguille, pheasant and truffles and many other very tasty dishes of the best and most antique Florentine cooking.
Of this impoverishment there is an exception in the wine and oil production in many farms of very high levels: but these arguments are taken in a different part.
Today we have - with regards to the culinary art - a very varied panorama and contradictions that are composed of the most sophisticated research of genuinity, the tenacity of biological products, industrialised food, the unrestrained use of preservatives. Of all a little of the old recipes, antique tastes and sofficini....
We are waiting to see in respect to the traditions and with a sense of anxiety what will Florentine cooking be like in the Third Millennium.