|This is my contribution to Round Thirteen of ABC Wednesday. I am focusing on people for the fourth time, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten, although I am worried that I may have exhausted some letters of the alphabet, but I’ll see how it goes!|
Long before the likes of Heston Blumenthal brought scientific method into the kitchen and Jamie Oliver churned out his endless cookery books there was Pellegrino Artusi leading the way with his book ‘La Scienza in Cucina e l’arte di Mangiare Bene’ in 1891.
Artusi was born in 1820 in Forlimpopoli in what is now the Molise region of Italy, the son of a wealthy pharmacist. He was named Pellegrino in honour of Saint Pellegrino Laziosi of Forlì.
He enjoyed a colourful early life as a student, spending much of his time at the bar ‘Tre Re’ with his friend Felice Orsini, the future revolutionary, mad bomber and would-be assassin of Napoleon III.
Artusi returned to Forlimpopoli to take over the running of the family business and he might have remained there but for an event of extreme violence that was to shatter their lives.
In January 1851, the quiet town was taken over by the notorious outlaw Stefano ‘The Shepherd’ Pelloni and his gang. They held the wealthier citizens hostage and held them in the local theatre while the gang rampaged through the town stealing at will.
Tragically the violation of Forlimpopoli did not end there and several women were raped, including Artusi’s sister. She was never to recover from her ordeal and slipped into a deep depression and was eventually admitted to an insane asylum.
Soon after the family moved to Florence and Artusi continued to be successful in business, enough to indulge his two great passions in life – literature and cooking.
He wrote three books, a biography of the revolutionary writer Ugo Foscolo, another on the poet Giuseppe Giusti, both of which were largely ignored, but his cookery manual was to be a lasting best seller.
Artusi was a great believer in scientific progress and he brought scientific methods to bear in all the recipes he included in ‘The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well’. Written 20 years after Italian unification, it was the first to include recipes from all the country’s regions and thus the first to establish a national identity for Italian cooking.
He didn’t complete his work until 1891 when he was aged 71 and couldn’t find a publisher, so he used his own money to publish it himself, selling a thousand copies over four years. But its fame spread by word of mouth and more than 200,000 were sold before Artusi’s death.
It remains a perennial best seller in Italy and has been translated into Spanish, Dutch, German, Portuguese and English. Part of its charm is in its mix of recipes and anecdotes, such as how a case of cholera led him to a superb recipe for minestrone.
Artusi tells of the time spent some time in Livorno on the coast in the summer of 1855. He visited a small restaurant one evening to sample the local version 0f minestrone which he really enjoyed, but that night he suffered terrible stomach cramps which he blamed on his meal.
It was only after he returned to Florence that he learned that Livorno had been struck by an outbreak of cholera and it was this that caused him so much discomfort and not his food. As a result Artusi included the recipe in his book so that we can still enjoy it today.
Artusi published a further cookery book in 1904 entitled ‘Ecco il tuo libro di cucina’, or ‘Here is Your Cookbook’, a practical manual for the kitchen written in anonymous collaboration with the gastronome Giulia Turco.
Artusi did not marry and lived most of his life in his Florence home in D’Azeglio square with his Tuscan butler and cook for company before he died in 1911. His legacy is a bible of 790 recipes from simple broths to splendid desserts essential to any aspiring Italian chef.