Crops and Foods of the Novel

Chapter I

Cultivation of oranges on the Sorrentine Peninsula

"In fact, since the sweet orange, the melarancio, had arrived from China along with the Portuguese sailors in the second half of the fifteenth and early sixteenth century, and in particular with dom Vasco da Gama, the shady interior gardens within the walls of stately homes, spacious courtyards of the houses of Piano and terraces on the hills grew rich of those plants replacing mulberry trees. The intense fragrance of their flowers inspired fairy tales told by grandmothers, and the juice of sour fruits enhanced the flavours of cuisine for the well-off families, with innovative dishes of fish and meat: skewers of quail and sausages, alternated with thin slices of orange, mullets, squid, capons and kids, all flavoured with orange juice."

Sorrento. Osteria della Minestra Maritata. Cultivation of tomatoes on the Sorrentine Peninsula

"On the other hand, the frequenters of the tavern in the heart of Sorrento, which stood out for three centuries due to its name and the culinary and plebeian tradition of the leaf eaters, people who ate cheap vegetables, defended the tradition and the old local cuisine from the alimentary novelties which arrived in Europe along with the great geographical discoveries. The recent arrival of tomato had made this vegetable, bright as the sun and fried day by day in olive oil especially in the summer, the daily nourishment of peasants from Sorrento, Massa, Vico and from the hamlets of Piano. Although herbalists and alchemists had classified it as a poisonous, inedible vegetable, and used it only in magic potions for the mysterious aphrodisiac properties attributed to this plant from the new world, the people of Sorrento, farmers, artisans, merchants and fishermen, consumed it daily and, in fact, refuted the danger of tomato - on the contrary, they spread, especially in the men's councils, its fame as a sexual stimulator."

Sant’Agata. Donna Titina's spugnilli

Under an open gallery hung long bunches of Vesuvian cherry tomatoes, the spugnilli, speckled with white lime to preserve them better during winter, braids of garlic, onions, and spicy dried chillies, which Columbus had brought in 1493 from the Caribbean islands in his second voyage to the Americas."

Sant’Agata. Donna Titina's chillies

"The habanero pepper disappointed greatly the expectations of the Catholic monarchs, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, deluded by the possibility of big gains from the market. The cultivation of chilli pepper, in fact, had spread with the speed of light, even in the area of Naples, and it became a permanent ingredient of rustic soups."

Sant’Agata. Donna Titina's fruit and vegetables

"Huge baskets overflew with lemons, apricots, artichokes, carrots, beans and peas in pods, while the servants sorted the harvest of the day."

Sant’Agata. Cultivation of lemon on the Sorrentine Peninsula. Lemon, a medicine for scurvy

"Huge baskets overflew with lemons, apricots, artichokes, carrots, beans and peas in pods, while the servants sorted the harvest of the day. Donna Titina was also a fanatic of growing lemons, which had arrived in Sorrento centuries earlier from the Arabic Sicily and spread extensively in the coastal area, in particular after finding out that lemon juice could cure scurvy, a widespread disease of sailors.

When in 1499 Vasco da Gama returned to Portugal after the circumnavigation of Africa, half of his crew died of scurvy, with haemorrhages in various parts of the body and wounds, which healed with difficulty. Sailing boats and fishing boats of Sorrento constructed since the thirteenth century in the shipyards of Marina di Alimuri, and later on in Marina di Cassano and Marina di Sorrento, dedicated to navigation in the Gulf of Naples and along the Tyrrhenian Sea, were all equipped with baskets of lemons from donna Titina, renowned to such extent as to be considered a medicine."

Sant’Agata. Donna Titina's scagliuozzi

"Come with me, Michelino, bring me my anchovies. There is some cake ready for you, which you will like very much: the recently fried scagliuozzi. They are still warm. Mine are the best in the world, because I add raisins to the pastry. Eat some right away and take the rest to Crapolla."

Chapter II

Sant’Agata. The basket of food for Angelo, the son of donna Titina

"Donna Titina arrived from Sant'Agata on horseback, sitting on a large seat with a backrest, and followed by eight people, including her maids and servants. One of them was holding on his shoulders a basket full of groceries: dry caciotta, goat cheese, two pieces of bread, several slices of salted pork, two flasks of wine, fresh fruit, dried figs, nuts and almond nougat with candied fruit."

Chapter IV

The Sorrentine harvest. White and red wines of Sorrento. The Gragnano

"The harvest time was imminent. Sharecroppers and labourers working in the main holdings of the noble families of Sorrento, often also fishermen working on land and fishing to survive, began to store the grapes in the opaque coolness of the extensive cellars built in tuff, where, after a careful selection they would be crushed, in stone troughs by barefoot men and boys. Never by women. Fermenting and maturing grape musts combined in different ways in wooden barrels constituted a wise dosing operation, entrusted to the experience of the elderly. The process of vinification did not require the obedience of fixed rules, but was realized according to the different outcomes of the harvest, where the more generous grape replaced the less abundant one. The goal of the winemakers of Sorrento was always the same: balance between taste, fragrance, persistence and acidity.

The white and red wines of Sorrento and, in particular, the red wines from the castles of Lettere and Gragnano once belonging to the medieval duchy of Amalfi, were very popular at the viceregal court of Naples. Along with other gifts, such as fresh fish and cheeses of Lattari shipped by sea, they constituted gracious compliments of the Sorrentine patricians, such as the Correale family, to the viceroy, the Neapolitan nobility, high clergy and, in particular, to the supreme magistrates of the Royal House of Sommaria, for protection, and favours, and last but not least, favourable judgements on local disputes in tax matters, especially those with the houses of Piano."

Sorrento. The Correale Palace. Kitchen and pantry

"According to the tradition of aristocratic houses, the kitchens of Palazzo Correale were placed in the underground areas. A wood stove was placed in the most extensive space of the room, where on long skewers the slow cooking of the game was coming to an end, and further down there was a large fireplace with several fires on which pots and pans made of copper were steaming with already prepared dishes. At the centre, tables of raw wood for the cooks, with large serving dishes, pans of different sizes, terracotta pots, copper ladles, spoons, cleavers, utility knives and forks.

From the ceiling blackened by smoke, along a wall next to the fireplace, braids of white and yellow onions, chillies, garlic, sprigs of oregano, rosemary and other herbs hung in a concert of colours and smells. In a side corridor, more ventilated, hung meats, sausages, lard, bundles of suet, capocollo, other sausages, salami, hams, specks, loins, bellies, bacons, and cheeses: caciocavalli, provolone, provola, caciotta and scamorza.

To continue on tall wooden shelves, big plates of preserved food, glass and earthenware jars with all kinds of pickles and conserves from the garden and from the daily household supplies brought to the palace early every morning by the farmers and sharecroppers of the Correale: peppers, aubergines, courgettes, mushrooms, onions, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, green beans, green tomatoes, peeled tomatoes, green and black olives, and tuna and anchovies salted and soaked in oil. The corridor continued to the cellar full of barrels of vintage wine, the transfer of which into straw flasks occurred only in the presence of the Count, worried that incorrect racking could ruin the valuable content."

Sorrento. The Correale Palace. Seasonal fruits

"On the back of the kitchen, which was linked with a very airy area below the orchard, all kinds of seasonal fruits were collected in lined up baskets: limoncello apples of Sant'Agata, apple-quince from Colli, annurca apples from Piano, renette apples of Casarlano, Williams pears, mastantuono pears, table grapes, oranges, lemons, mandarins, vanilla persimmon, pomegranates, prickly pears, dried figs, fresh sweet September figs, walnuts, hazelnuts, dried carob and, dulcis in fundo, the white and red azarole loved by Marino. Yellow and green melons were dangling from the vault above to be kept for the festive season, interspersed with bunches of still unripe and greenish rowanberries.

The locust beans, also called chocolate for the poor, which provided flower for cakes, revealed a special ability to absorb water therefore became, just as the ripe rowanberries, a natural remedy for diarrhoea, quite a common illness of servants."

The Sorrentine Peninsula. Limoncello apples and mastantuono pears

"The most desired among all apples was the limoncello apple from Sant'Agata, which was stored in the similar way to the annurca apple, until late winter, slightly stippled while retaining the taste of lemon. Among the pears the most popular on the tables of Sorrento remained the mastantuono pear, mainly consumed fresh or cooked, according to two recipes: sweet, stuffed with almond paste and chocolate, baked in the oven or salted, stuffed with lean ground beef, bread, pine nuts, parmesan and pecorino cheese, and cooked in a pot with tomato sauce and fresh basil.

It was believed, that the name of the mastantuono pear was linked to an ancient folk legend. A farmer from Sorrento grew a pear tree, which despite treatments, as the only one in the orchard remained fruitless. In the end, because of this waste, the owner was forced to cut it down and sold the trunk to a sculptor. The artist created a statue of St. Anthony, placed later in the parish church and venerated by the faithful. Whenever the witty farmer went to church, he passed the statue of the saint, and still angry at the plant exclaimed: "I knew you as a pear tree, which didn't give pears. Now that you have become Saint Anthony, will you be able to do miracles?"

Sorrento. The Correale Palace. Marmelades

"Not less than ten servants, men and women, were applied to the kitchens of Correale and were each given on official occasions clearly defined tasks distributed by the count: chefs and cooks with the head chef, Alfonso, also in charge to taste the food intended for the landlord; the butler, Michele, particularly skilled in the use of herbs, preparation of salads, adornments of dishes, composition of fruits and also, in preparation of marmelades, for which extensive amounts of seasonal fruit were used, which otherwise would have gone off; the steward, Costanzo, who recorded the inputs and outputs of the supplies, the bottler, the baker, and finally, the trusted cupbearers, who under visual inspection of the butler, served wine at the table."

Sorrento. The Correale Palace. The "Vesuvius" of head chef Alfonso

"The dinner was opened by an impressive serving of game personally prepared by Alfonso, much appreciated by the Count and the priest, less by donna Camilla and the children. The head chef, a native from Sant’Agata and descendant from generations of gastronomy hunters, knew dozens of secret recipes for game, passed to him by his father Ernesto, who received them from grandfather Alfonso: a family of great cooks. A dish, however, which aroused the enthusiasm of the mistress of the house and of her children, was an original creation of the head chef based, inter alia, on a new ingredient produced by a certain family from Gragnano, where Alfonso had paid a friendly visit.

It was the rigatoni made from a dough of durum wheat, with pure water from the mountain of Pendolo, pressed through the bronze colander, and dried in the courtyard in the sun and moist air. This sort of pasta, tubular in shape and internally hollow, known since the Arab rule in Sicily, with its name deriving from their dialect due to crushed processing, i.e. maccarata of semolina, was combined by Alfonso with other ingredients: peas, mozzarella, minced pork, basil and tomatoes. The whole dish was prepared in a conical shape with tomato sauce flowing from the summit, the sight of which in the dish encouraged the joyful exclamation of the second child, Livia: "Vesuvius, Vesuvius!"

Chapter V

Venice. The erotic banquet of Decamerona. The Triumph of Lust

"Even the dishes, sumptuously laid on large tables, aroused excitement having been composed by the chefs in explicit forms: open mouths, languid eyes, huge breasts, pointed nipples, immense phalluses, inviting vulvae and tightened buttocks.

Complete with wines from the mountains of Conegliano, beloved in Germany, which run in rivers served in multicoloured glasses blown by a master glass maker from Murano, a regular customer of the courtesan, by masked and semi-naked waiters and waitresses, the dances turned well soon into a libertine and profligate bacchanal, the hidden meaning and mystery of which was represented by the fusion of all things, abolition of all limits, cessation of all distance and abolition of any discrimination."

Chapter VI

Massa Lubrense. The promontory of Minerva. The basket of Kostas

"A very large basket suspended to the saddle of the master was fixed with two torches, bread with cheese and bacon, and two flasks of water."

Chapter IX

The Gulf of Naples. The coast of Procida. 172 recipes from the Kitab al-tabîkh, compiled by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq in the second half of the tenth century

"Kapudan pas,a was famous at the court of the sultan and among the Ottoman military commanders not only for his strategic capabilities, but also for his convivial passion based on the knowledge of the 172 recipes contained in the most ancient book of Arabian cuisine, the Kita-b al-tabîkh, compiled by Ibn Sayya-r al-Warra-q in the second half of the tenth century. Not surprisingly in any endeavour, either land or naval, led by him, he always brought with him the same atescibashi, the head chef of the Janissaries."

The Gulf of Naples. The coast of Procida. The goulash soup of Piyale Pasha, made with onions and tomatoes from donna Titina. The violets of Casarlano

"The preparation of dishes, which engaged the atescibashi and his helpers for the entire day, turned out to be the synthesis of a wonderful blend of meats and sauces: fresh fruit, pomegranate seeds, dried fruits, raisins, dactyls, sugar mixed with vinegar, honey, cinnamon and ginger jam. That culinary triumph conjugated sophisticated customs of the courts of the caliphs with those of the Berbers of the desert and Asian populations. In fact, the Ottoman cuisine represented a geographic area that included the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, the Balkans, the Black Sea, Anatolia, the Aegean Islands, Caucasia and the territories of Persia.

The only exception to ancient recipes prepared by the atescibashi was represented by traditional Hungarian dish, the goulash soup, which the chef cooked in honour of the admiral's origins using veal, red paprika, onion and tomato. It so happened that the onions and tomatoes of donna Titina ended up in the goulash soup of Piyale, while the violets from the gardens of Casarlano served to perfume fruit sharbats and lemon juice syrup."

Chapter XI

Istanbul. Topkapi Palace. The banquet of Sultan Selim II. Poultry meat

"The food was served in the absence of the sovereign. Pheasant, partridge, pigeon, duck, chicken and sparrow meat, cooked and seasoned with almond oil, offered to the guests on large plates made of solid gold and served by huge black eunuchs. Marino knew that Selīm really appreciated poultry meat. This was confirmed immediately while he ate, also by the abundance of alcoholic beverages, even though prohibited by the Koran, and by the opium addiction of many diners, whose joy and euphoria appeared obvious. Rivers of wine, brandy and other strange liquors with the taste fragrant of flowers were relentlessly poured into silver cups from large ceramic jugs from İznik by young white bare-chested eunuchs, who with gestures and impatient looks almost imposed to the guests to empty them right away."

Capitolo XIII

Madrid. Prison. The bowl of prisoner Marino

"Another jailer came in and placed on the floor a loaf of bread and a bowl filled with turnips, cereal flour and dried meat."

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