Marcella di Cavallino’s 16th century Florence
(and other ideas)
An Everyday Italian is, largely, where I post project and process and general muttering, but it’s also where I’m talking about the little things that round out how you present yourself in persona, or interesting facts about 16th century Florence, or tips on SCA life in a way that is – hopefully – practical and useful. In other words, news you can use.
- Everyday Italian: Drinking vessels
- Recipe: Roast pork with three sauces
- Planning a well-balanced feast
The one with a pony
Working on illumination skills and also a new calligraphy hand
My first scribal commission after moving from An Tir to Drachenwald was for an Orden des Lindquistringes – Drachenwald’s award for long and extraordinary service to the Kingdom – to be given for contributions to the Equestrian community.
My inspiration was a mashup of two images ostensibly from different editions of Konrad Kyeser’s 15th c. treatise on the military arts, Bellefortis. I chose it because PONIES! but also because I wanted to push my illumination skills a bit – I’d met the recipient once before, so I wanted the rider to look as much like her as I could make it, and for the horse to look like hers, as well.
After getting the pencil lines in I started, as is right and proper, with the calligraphy. It was a new-to-me hand – a variant of Lateinische-Deutsche Cursiv – so naturally I didn’t spend any time practicing but dove right in, using a combination of an exemplar that I found, and the original manuscript. I’m pleased to say that it didn’t suck, and I really like how it looks, so will use it again.
The organisation of the words surrounded by this sassy red bit is what I liked from the Gottigen manuscript. It’s unusual, and adds interesting structure to the page.
There was much painting, and repainting, and poor choices, and tea, and painting. The crappy photo quality doesn’t really show the subtleties, and – if I’m completely honest – I would make different choices were I to do this again. The starting colours were too solid and flat, and the more I tried to fuss with it, the less better it got. Also, I need to sort out better nibs and ink flow – the ink bits are a bit uneven and sloppy, even by period standards.
The one with the Flying Spaghetti Monster
Italian White Vine meets a Sci-fi author for breakfast
My second scroll commission in Drachenwald came with very specific parameters: could I work the Flying Spaghetti Monster into a scroll, somehow? Yes. Challenge accepted.
This was another Orden des Lindquistringes, this time for someone who is well known for teaching rapier, and cooking breakfast for everyone at events. He’s also a science-fiction writer in his Real Lifetm, which is why he was deemed the right person for the FSM Challenge.
The original request mentioned knotwork as the design element, but I thought Italian White Vine would lend itself much better. And I like the humanist hand. And my persona is Italian. So that’s what I did.
Once I’d landed on the secondary inspirational bits, the process followed my usual path. The gold is shell gold rather than gold leaf, as it’s what I had to hand.
Bacon and eggs are represented by the rooster and boar, and the contributions to rapier are represented by the buckler. The Flying Spaghetti Monster was subtly worked into the illuminated capital. The wreath around the badge of the order represents the Autumn Crown event where the recipient was recognised.
Takeaways from this experience were 1) find my better pencils for the initial drawings, and 2) find a better way of outlining that’s not so heavy. Also, my nib and ink situation hadn’t rectified itself. The original ink, while brown now, was probably black when first done, but I still prefer the lighter look that brown gives, with this style, since it doesn’t overpower the artwork as much as true black does.
The one with a cheesy tart
When you have all of the constituent parts, this is what you do
I found this recipe while looking for something else in Scappi1 and, since I had most of what I needed, I gave it a shot. For the first version, I Ina Gartened it (“if you don’t have fresh/can’t make your own, store-bought is fine!”) by using puff pastry I already had, and ricotta from the shop. It worked out really well, and I’d serve this version at a modern dinner any day of the week. I’d serve the following version, too, if I’m honest.
For this second version, I dug more deeply, and did it (mostly) properly.
Scappi typically uses two types of pastry: basic water/flour – largely for pies – that is intended to be discarded, and what is essentially paté sucrée (usually with bonus rosewater) that is intended to be eaten. This tourte falls into the latter category. However, my version needed to be gluten-free, so I deviated from his recipe on this point, using a mixed non-wheat flour recipe that is in all other respects like its wheaten paté sucrée counterpart.
Book V. Pastry: Tourtes
96. To make a Bolognese herb tourte without eggs, baked on a copper sheet or braised in earthenware.
When the chard greens have been chopped up small and washed, let them drain by themselves. Then, without crushing them, mix them with grated Parmesan cheese and struccoli – that is, cheese freshly made that day – along with pepper and cinnamon. Then get a copper baking sheet greased with a little butter and with a sheet of pastry dough on it; on that sheet gently put the filling to a height of a good three fingers. On the filling put little chunks of butter and cover it with another sheet of pastry, rippled or smooth, crimping it all around. Sprinkle it with plain water and brush it with butter: that is done so the pastry will rise. Bake it in an oven or braise it in an earthenware vessel. When it is done a tourte like that will have flattened so much that it is scarcely half a finger high. Serve it hot with sugar over it. Rather than on a sheet of copper you can also do it on an earthenware baking sheet or in tourte pans.
A Bolognese herb tourte without eggs
For the pastry:
2x paté sucrée (sweet pastry with egg yolk) with rosewater
For the fresh cheese:
4 pints whole milk (unpasteurised, if you can get it)
1/4 c vinegar (I used champagne vinegar, because I’m fancy, but white wine/apple cider vinegars would also work)
For the filling:
250 g stemmed chard, washed and cut into 1cm strips (some or all of the stem is OK, if you want a bit of crunch)
150g fresh farmers cheese (or ricotta), drained
100 g grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Salt (to taste – the cheese may well be salty enough, but I put a pinch in anyway because salt)
Scant 15 g butter for filling
Melted butter for brushing
To make the cheese:
Heat the milk over medium/medium-low heat until it just starts to bubble around the edges. Don’t heat it too quickly or it will scald on the bottom. A thermometer should read 180F/85C. Remove from the heat, add the vinegar, and give it a stir. It should start to curdle immediately. Let it sit for about 15 minutes. Strain through a collander/sieve lined with cheesecloth. Squeeze gently to remove a bit more whey, but go easy.
To make the tourte:
Preheat oven to 180C/350F-ish. Roll out half of your pastry and put on a baking tray or pizza stone. Mix chard, cheeses, salt, pepper, and cinnamon together in a large bowl (Note: mixing the cheeses/spices together first then adding them to the chard helps ensure even distribution). Pile filling to 6-8 cm high. Cover with the other half of the rolled-out dough, crimp edges, stab holes in the lid for steam escapage. Brush with water and butter.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning half-way through. Good warm, not terrible cold.
1The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570); The Art and Craft of a Master Cook
Translated with commentary by Terrence Scully
University of Toronto Press, 2008
The one that’s unfinished
But, unsurprisingly, also involves cheese
This also involves research and Scappi and cheese, but also a load of other books. It’s an excellent example of how one thing leads to a rabbit hole, which leads to learning new things, which leads to gods only knows what but maybe a PhD. This ‘entry’ will be more of a narrative of process and a bit of bragging about my growing library on the subject than any real product.
A few years ago, I received A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles by Ned Palmer as a gift. It is an excellent treatise, cleverly organised into chapters by time period, from the Neolithic to the present, and discusses a representative cheese for each period. It is an excellent book, and got me to thinking: what cheeses were available in renaissance Florence, and could I put together a plausible cheese board of period cheeses to impress my friends?
This, naturally, led me back to Scappi who, rather thoughtfully, has an entire ‘menu’ in his Opera of what to put on a banquet side board. It’s basically a shopping list of snacks, and lists out cheeses (and loads of other things) by name as well as by season (fresh cheeses, for example, are only made when there’s fresh milk, and that only happens when it’s lambing/kidding/calving time).
Armed with that list of named cheeses, I headed over to the internet to see what I could find. As it happens, there is a reasonable amount of useful current scholarship – both historic and scientific – on Italian cheese. Much of the period information comes from extensive and thorough merchant records of the late fourteenth and through the fifteenth centuries, as well as a few health resources from around the same time.
Where I currently am, with all of this, is translating a short book – Formaggi in tavola: Commercio e consumo del formaggio nel basso Medioevo, by Maria Giagnacovo – into English. This will be followed by doing the same for a passage in German from Summe der Milchprodukte, a discussion of dairy products from a health/medical perspective from 1477. And then more reading – including a book specifically about the science of Italian cheeses, which I now own – and then the organising of the findings into something useful.
Thankfully, once they land on something good, Italians don’t really change things. Parmesan, for example, has been made more or less the same way since before the fourteenth century. Other cheeses we’re familiar with enjoy a similar lack of transformation and, with a bit of effort can be fairly readily sourced. This plays into my initial goal of creating a ‘Perfectly Period Party Platter’ of cheeses that were available in 16th century Florence, but as I dive into the source material, I’m finding that there is plenty there to develop into something more substantial.
- Confienza, Pantaleone da, et al. Panthaleonis De Conflentia Summa Lacticiniorum = Des Pantaleone Da Confienza Summe Der Milchprodukte. MLUA, 2002.
- Giagnacovo, Maria. Formaggi in Tavola: Commercio e Consumo Del Formaggio Nel Basso Medioevo: Un Contributo Dell’Archivio Datini Di Prato. Aracne, 2007.
- Gobbetti, Marco, et al. The Cheeses of Italy: Science and Technology. Springer, 2018.
- Kindstedt, Paul. Cheese and Culture: a History of Cheese and Its Place in Western Civilization. Chelsea Green, 2013.
- Palmer, Ned. Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles. Profile Books Ltd., 2020.
- Scappi, Bartolomeo, and Terence Scully. The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570) L’arte Et Prudenza D’un Maestro Cuoco. University of Toronto Press, 2011.