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When books don’t have dates, PhD students get confused. And then they get angry…

18 Jul

Dorothy Daly’s Italian Cooking has been cited as one of the first Italian cookbooks written in English. It doesn’t have a date of publication on it, but no less than the Boston Public Library (BPL) has declared it was published in 1900, at least according to the Open Library and Internet Archive, which would mean, like Janet Ross’ Leaves from our Tuscan Kitchen, it was indeed one of the first:

Italian Cooking entry on the Internet ArchiveExcept it wasn’t published in 1900. It couldn’t have been. It’s wrong and it’s making me crazy. So, how do I, a lowly PhD student, dare to doubt establishments such as the BPL? Well, here’s some proof:

  • The book includes a “Table of Equivalent Oven Heats” which features heat settings for different manufacturers’ ovens. Not only does it seem like one oven, the Cannon with Autimo settings, didn’t exist until at least the late 40s, Daly’s chart also bears a striking resemblance to one published in the 1950s by British food writer Ambrose Heath in Kitchen Wisdom:
Oven temp chart in Italian Cooking

The oven temperature chart in Dorothy Daly’s Italian Cooking features some ovens that didn’t exist till after World War II…

Chart from Ambrose Heath's Kitchen Wisdom

Many of the same makes of oven appear in Ambrose Heath’s Kitchen Wisdom (1950).

  • It repeats as fact the myth that Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy from China, a myth which a number of scholars believe came from a 1920s item in the Macaroni Journal, a trade publication for pasta makers in the US.
  • Daly uses the term “pasta” throughout the book, but this word was not in common use in English-language cookbooks until at least the 1950s, with “macaroni” the preferred umbrella term for different pasta shapes up until then.
  • Sun Books published an Australian edition in 1969 under the title Cooking the Italian Way. Except for the title, and some minor editing, there isn’t much difference between this version and the so-called 1900 edition. It seems pretty unlikely that a book would require little editing when so much has changed in the kitchen from 1900 to the late 60s, unless it was marketed as some kind of nostalgia trip, which it wasn’t. Much more likely is that the book was first published in London in the late 1950s, which British historian Panikos Panayi notes in Spicing up Britain: The Multicultural History of British Food.

    Cooking the Italian Way by Dorothy Daly 1969

    The cover of Cooking the Italian Way, published in Melbourne, 1969.

  • The illusive Ms Daly also wrote a bunch of other books on Italy, all of which feature publication dates in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and even 80s. Some of these are reprints, but unless Daly was a prolific genius writing from the age of 2 until her old age, it’s difficult to account for the fact that the rest of the woman’s work was published 50 years after her first book. Incidentally, I have found very little biographical information about the mysterious Dot Daly, like when she was born and when she died, so if you know something, say something.
  • Stylistically, typographically and linguistically Italian Cooking just doesn’t look or sound like a book written at the turn of the last century. Don’t believe me? Have a look yourself and you will no doubt find a hundred other reasons why this book couldn’t have been published in 1900.

So this wrong date is now all over the Internet, with some categorising it incorrectly, even Google,  and others trying to make a quick buck. It makes me mad, not because people are potentially getting ripped off, although that’s never nice, but because a wrong date can lead a student of history to make incorrect assumptions about, well, everything. It also proves you can’t just accept what other people –  even if those people are big, established, respected libraries –  say. You have to question everything. Though, let’s be honest, we could’ve saved a hell of a lot of time if the publisher HAD JUST PUT THE DAMN DATE ON THE BOOK IN THE FIRST PLACE!

Sorry for yelling, but I was angry. I feel better now.

Thoroughly modern macaroni

6 Oct

Just when you think you know how 19th Century Australians cooked their pasta, along comes a recipe that changes everything.

Before we go on, however, you have to know there was no such thing as pasta in the 1800s – it was called macaroni. And it was most commonly cooked in a sweet pudding , much like a rice pudding, in a bake of some sort, like macaroni cheese, or as an accompaniment or garnish to different meats  (ox tongue garnished with macaroni anyone?).

There were, of course, exceptions, mostly revolting-sounding ones which involved brown gravy and batter, but none are as exceptional and out of place as the recipe below:

Maccaroni Dressed with Oil.

Take two cloves of garlic, slice them very finely crosswise, and set them to boil in a gill of fine olive oil, adding during the process two or three anchovies, well washed and boned, and cut in small pieces, and a dozen or more olives, cut in two and stoned.  When the slices of garlic assume a golden color, pour the whole over 1/2lb of boiled string maccaroni (Vermicelli or Spaghetti) well drained; mix well, and serve.

It comes from Australian Town and Country Journal in 1890 and, culinarily for its time, it’s a freak.

Not only does it contain garlic and olive oil – both at least a good seventy years away from real acceptance in the mainstream Australian pantry; it doesn’t contain any kind of protein – unless you count anchovies – which I don’t;  and it mentions spaghetti – which, while not unheard of in this period, is rare. The recipe is not prefaced with it being Italian, or foreign or unusual in anyway. It’s just a normal recipe for normal housewives, unlike any others before it, and a good way ahead of any others that follow it.

Unfortunately, there’s no author given for the recipe and that is a real shame, because they should be congratulated for their foresight…  of course, this could mean the recipe was plagiarised, in which case I take the congratulations back…

Bibliography

“Maccaroni Dressed with Oil,” Australian Town and Country Journal,  26 April 1890, 34.

The macaroni cure

18 Jul
Uncooked penne

Good news for the wine and pasta set... if your definition of "news" doesn't mean it has to be new...

As a pasta addict from way back, I hate people who say it’s bad for you. All those Dukan, Atkins and anti-carb crusaders who maintain it’s too processed and too white to be beneficial. Oh, they say, you can have a little bit, but not after 5pm, and make sure you have it with loads of vegetables, and while you’re at it, wholemeal has more fibre so use brown instead of white. And skip the cheese. And add tofu. And really, you shouldn’t eat it at all, so, while you’re at it, just leave out the pasta altogether. You won’t miss it. Trust me. And you’ll feel so much better!

Hmpf. Makes me want to hotfoot it to my nonna’s house who understands there is only one real serving size when it comes to pasta – huge – and only one way to eat it – with plenty of rich ragu and a hilltop of freshly grated parmesan.

So I was happy to read that Charles Napier doesn’t agree with the pasta puritans.

The English scientist maintains that macaroni is actually an excellent cure for alcoholism. He says that macaroni, and other products made from flour,  as well as dried peas and lentils, work by rendering the “carbon in an alcoholic drink both unnecessary and repulsive”.

He cites the case of one 60-year-old man who “was seriously impaired by his frequent excesses”. After an “almost fatal attack of delirium”, the man adopted a diet heavy on the macaroni and beans, and, somewhat miraculously, “a complete cure was effected in seven months”.

Sure, he said this in 1878, but good science is forever right?

Maybe not, but at least the Pastafarians will be pleased …

Bibliography

  • “Alcoholism and Farinaceous Food.” The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July, 1878, 7.

Pasta al dente

10 Feb
pasta

Pasta as we know it... but not in the 15th century.

“Tania, this pasta… it’s not good!”

My father gently picked up a strand of the spaghetti I had cooked him and dangled it in the air over his plate.  It quickly joined its tomato sauce-covered cousins below.  

“See? Too soft. Too soft is not good. It is like the spaghetti in the can like the Australiani eat. We are Italians. We eat our spaghetti a little bit hard in the middle. We have always eaten it that way and we always will. Understand?”

“Si, yes, ok, I understand. Sorry dad.”

I was only eight-years-old and the lesson about al dente pasta was to stick in my mind like dough to unfloured hands. Still, I wish I’d known then what I know now. Then I could’ve replied to my father’s lecture with:

“Actually no dad, you’re wrong. Italians, or at least the people who lived in the country that was to become Italy, haven’t always eaten their pasta al dente. In fact, in the 15th century they ate it so overcooked it was like porridge. So when you say we have always eaten it that way, well, you’re just wrong, wrong, wrong.”

I would’ve delivered this in the “tone” my parents were always warning me about.  It might’ve earnt me a slap and perhaps I would’ve deserved it, but slap or no slap, it doesn’t change the truth.

John Dickie, in Delizia! The Epic History of Italians and their Food, draws our attention to a few pasta recipes written by the eminent Maestro Martino de Rossi, sometimes called Martino di Milano and other times Martino di Como.  We will call him Marty for short. Marty was a chef and the author of The Art of Cooking in around 1465 – a book generally considered important in the development of Italian gastronomy.

What’s clear from this book is that Marty and his contemporaries liked their pasta soft, super soft in fact. The recommended cooking time for vermicelli is an hour and for macaroni two hours. Dickie points out that even if you take into consideration that Marty’s dough contained egg white and probably needed a little longer to cook than our pasta today, we’re still talking super mushy pasta.

So see dad? You were wrong and I was right… even if it did take me 27 years to prove it.

The fattest women in normal times?

8 Feb

Poor Mrs Hegarty! As she tells the “Medico” in an Australian Women’s Weekly article from 18 August 1945, her husband has been in New Guinea for eighteen months and he’s due back next week. She’s put on nearly three stone and she’s “just afraid of what he’ll say!”

Never fear Mrs Hegarty! Medico is here! With plenty of questionable dietary advice for everyone! But why just share nutrition advice when you can include racial stereotypes too?

While Medico praises the Scots, English and Irish for their “winsome” figures, as well as the Chinese and Hollywood stars for their ability to stay trim, the Italians are tarred with the fatty bombah brush:

“What country produces the fattest women in normal times?” I [Medico] asked.”

“”I suppose it would be the Italians.” [Mrs Hegarty]

“The Italian national food is pasta (macaroni and spaghetti), white bread, and olive oil. The macaroni is made from white flour.”

“Australians eat a lot of white flour as bread and jam, cakes and biscuits, don’t they?” said Mrs. Hegarty, “and many seem to have bother with their figures.”

“I’m afraid they do,” I replied.

If this was true, and I do doubt it was, it is certainly no longer the case. A study from The Lancet reported a few days ago found that the BMI for Italian women has fallen from 25.2 in 1980 to 24.8 in 2008, making the average Italian woman of “normal” weight.

In Britain, on the other hand, the average BMI for women has risen from 24.2 in 1980 to 26.9 in 2008, putting them in the “overweight” category.

So take that Mr Medico.

Medico.  “Eat and Grow Slim.” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 18 August 1945, 28.