Food and Flavor: A Gastronomic Guide to Health and Good Living: Chapter VIII - EPICUREAN ITALY by@henryfinck

Food and Flavor: A Gastronomic Guide to Health and Good Living: Chapter VIII - EPICUREAN ITALY

THE fact that Roquefort cheese was relished by Roman epicures twenty centuries ago indicates that French gastronomy is not entirely a product of modern times. Yet it was not till the reign of Louis XIV (who died in 1643) that France began to lead the world in this branch of civilization. The cradle of modern culinary art was Italy. Katharine of Medici brought its higher branches from that country, which, in the sixteenth century, was supreme in all the fine arts, the chef's included.
image
Henry T. Finck HackerNoon profile picture

@henryfinck
Henry T. Finck

Food and Flavor: A Gastronomic Guide to Health and Good Living

Food and Flavor: A Gastronomic Guide to Health and Good Living, by Henry Theophilus Finck is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Chapter VIII: EPICUREAN ITALY

image

VIII. EPICUREAN ITALY

THE CRADLE OF MODERN COOKERY.

THE fact that Roquefort cheese was relished by Roman epicures twenty centuries ago indicates that French gastronomy is not entirely a product of modern times. Yet it was not till the reign of Louis XIV (who died in 1643) that France began to lead the world in this branch of civilization. The cradle of modern culinary art was Italy. Katharine of Medici brought its higher branches from that country, which, in the sixteenth century, was supreme in all the fine arts, the chef's included.

Italian cookery differed in those days from that of other countries as French cookery, with its entremets, ragouts, and salmis, its diverse light viands and delicacies differed in latter centuries from that of other parts of the world. What gave the Italian cooks their supremacy was that they were alive to the importance of Flavor. Montaigne expressed admiration of these same cooks "who can so curiously temper and season strange odors with the savor and relish of their meats."

Is it a wonder that the reform was hailed with delight, Voltaire going so far as to exclaim: Un cuisinier est un être divin?

Venice was the gate by which Oriental luxuries entered Italy. At the same time there were culinary traditions which came to the Italians of the Middle Ages direct from their own ancestors. Sicilian cooks were favored by the ancient Romans just as French chefs are in modern Europe. Among the Greeks, also, the cooks from Sicily were in great demand, and Sicilian cookery was proverbially good. The Carême of his time was the Sicilian Archestratus, who, we read, "traveled far and wide in quest of alimentary dainties of different lands," and who, some 2250 years ago, wrote a long poem on gastronomy.

Three centuries ago Burton referred to the fondness of the Italians for frogs and snails, two delicacies now universally associated with Gallic epicureanism. The French, to be sure, have by their special care in the rearing of these creatures (there are books on the subject) made them peculiarly their own.

Though now playing second fiddle to France, the Italians are still holding their own among the leading gastronomic nations. They have plenty of reasons for liking their own cooking, nor are they alone in enjoying it. In New York and other American cities Italian restaurants are always well patronized and not only by Italians, and the same is true in London, and to some extent in Paris.

Let us briefly pass in review the most desirable foods and dishes of the Italians to see what we can learn from them.

OLIVE OIL AND SARDINES.

Col. Newnham-Davis declares that "really good pure olive oil is almost unknown outside the boundaries of Italy. An Italian gentleman never eats salad when traveling in foreign countries, for his palate, used to the finest oils, revolts against the liquid fit only for the lubrication of machinery he so often is offered in Germany, England, and France."

This is somewhat misleading. While inferior or adulterated olive oil is certainly served in many otherwise respectable European restaurants, even in Paris, I have eaten delicious olive oil made in France. Spanish oil usually has a flavor too strong for most of us, but when it is carefully refined this is not the case. In Lyons I was once the guest of a family of epicures who preferred Spanish oil to any other, and their salads certainly were delicious. But, on the whole, the finest olive oil comes from Italy.

The superiority is purely a question of Flavor, for all olive and other table oils have the same food value.

Many factors combine to make Lucca and other Italian olive oils so pleasing to the palate. The soil is specially adapted to the cultivation of the olive tree, and care has been taken to select the best varieties. The old Roman epicures, who gathered their delicacies from all parts of the world, already preferred Italian olive oil, especially that of the variety known as the Licinian and grown in Campania.

No less important than soil and variety is the proper harvesting of the crop. In Asia, as well as in Greece and in many parts of Spain, much of the oil produced owes its inferior quality to the fact that the olives are knocked off the trees with poles or shaken off. The Italians who make the best oil pick the olives by hand and deliver them at the mills without bruises.

These same Italians subject the olives to four successive pressings. The oil from the first, known as virgin oil, is the finest, and as it is also the most expensive, unscrupulous dealers may and do sell the yield of the following and increasingly inferior pressings under that name. Eternal vigilance is everywhere the price of getting pure food and the best of it.

There is food for thought in the official information that Spain exports large amounts of olive oil to France and Italy and that the greater part of this is reëxported from those countries, largely in the form of mixed oil. In 1911 Spain exported 90,419,723 pounds of olive oil, valued at $7,397,977.

Much good has no doubt been done by the Italian Society of Permanent Chemical Inspection, for the analysis of food products and official certification of purity. The honest grower of and dealer in olive oil suffers much from the competition of the cheap oils.

In the interest of honesty a law was passed in Spain in 1892 providing that all cottonseed or rapeseed oil imported into that country must be denatured by the addition of 1-1/2 per cent. of wood tar or petroleum and also that all imported olive oil found to contain cottonseed oil or other similar products shall be rendered unfit for consumption in the same manner.

The dangerous nature of the competition to which the olive grower is exposed is illustrated by a remark made by commercial agent, Julian Brode, in the Consular and Trade Reports (August 29, 1910.) Writing from Alexandria he says: "The natives, most of whom are Mohammedans and large oil consumers, have been educated to substitute cottonseed oil for the olive oil they formerly used, and the latter is now found only in the houses of the wealthy. The change, which has taken place in Egypt, and which is now taking place to a great extent in Turkey, can likewise be made in Tripoli, Tunis, Algeria, Morocco, and other Mohammedan countries if proper efforts are put forth."

Bearing in mind the remarks in a preceding chapter regarding cottonseed oil the word "educated" in the above quotation is painfully sarcastic. It is purse versus palate, cheapness versus Flavor, which remains for the wealthy alone to enjoy and get the benefit of.

It is in the sardine industry, however, that olive oil is fighting its hardest battles. The oil in a box of sardines costs, if genuine, more than the fish in it. Consequently, efforts are being made to substitute cheaper oils. From regions where sardines are canned in wholesale quantities come reports of annually decreasing imports of olive oil, with a corresponding increase in the imports of cheaper oils. Were it not for the public's "prejudice" in favor of Flavor in oil, the olive would doubtless be kicked out altogether. I have read in a consular report that "cottonseed oil has been selling about fifty per cent. cheaper than the olive oil used in packing. This saving, the packers say, would be given to purchasers of their goods."

The dear, generous, philanthropic packers! To think that it is not for their own sake but to help the consumers that they are so very anxious to give up olive oil, and to persuade the Government not to make them state on the label what kind of oil they use!

They point out—disinterestedly, of course!—that cottonseed oil is "claimed to be physically as pure as olive oil, just as digestible, and even a better preservative." The question, therefore, "is simply up to the manufacturers of cottonseed oil to educate the public to these facts and destroy the prejudice against their product."

In England, in the summer of 1912, a different kind of education was carried on by the importers of a special brand of sardines. In big advertisements the public was informed that a sardine is not necessarily a pilchard but may be the chinchard, the herring or the small mackerel, or the brisling which fattens on the small shellfish of the Norwegian fjords. All of these become sardines only when they are cured. The flavor depends in part on the kind of fish canned, the food they eat, the time of the year they are caught and, in part, on the way they are cured. For the better grades olive oil is used, but for the cheaper class trade coarse olive oil is taken, or cottonseed or peanut oil. Of olive oil there are fourteen grades and the best of these is the right kind if you want the best sardines.

Here were interesting things for British sardine buyers to ponder. They were thus warned not to continue to ask the grocer simply for sardines, but for sardines of a particular kind put up by a reputable firm. If the firm which boasted that it used the best fish and the best of the fourteen grades of olive oil has a wise head it will live up to its claims. In such things honesty is by far the best policy—in the long run.

Smoked sardines are almost, if not quite, as good as those simply packed in olive oil. They are usually marketed as Kieler Sprotten and should be better known in this country.

FRIED FISH AND FRITTO MISTO

Doubtless the word sardine comes from the Italian island, Sardinia, around which the small fish used for canning abound.

Small fish of various other kinds are a favorite article of diet all over Italy. In Venice, for instance, among the most characteristic sights are the numerous little shops in which piles of fried fish are exposed for sale inside the open window, if window there be. They are eaten with slices of polenta, or thick corn meal mush, cut off with a thread from a huge loaf. The gondolier, as he passes by, exchanges his penny for some of this food and departs munching it with evidence of perfect satisfaction.

The oil used for frying these little fishes is not, as a matter of course, the virgin oil of the month of May. But it is infinitely better than the "cooking-butter" sent to the kitchens of thousands of wealthy Americans. It is more economical, too, than our frying baths. When the French composer Massenet, a noted gourmet, visited Italy for the first time, he enjoyed a meal consisting of "an excellent snail soup and fish fried in oil which must have done service in the kitchen at least two or three years."

It is acknowledged by epicures of all lands that in the art of frying, the Italian cook ranks supreme. In the more expensive eating houses butter (not "cooking butter") is often used, but the national way is to fry in oil, and when the oil is prime the result is delicious. An American girl, who married an Italian, writes to me from the Riviera Ligure: "Oil is used for frying, and it seems to me everything is fried—even green vegetables get a bath of hot oil. When butter is used it is for a condiment."

Fried food in England and America is usually greasy and indigestible because the cook does not understand that a deep frying-kettle is best, that the oil (or whatever liquid is used) must at the start have a temperature of nearly 500° Fahrenheit, so that a thin film may form immediately over the outside of whatever is to be fried, thus keeping in all the juices and flavors; and that whatever oil may adhere to the food after it is fished out must be allowed at once to drain off on a napkin or otherwise. The Italian cooks seem to know all these things instinctively, the result being that their fried foods come up to the test given by Mary Ronald, who remarks in the Century Cook Book that properly fried Saratogo chips can be eaten out of hand without soiling one's gloves.

Fritta mista is one of the chefs d'œuvre of the Italian cook. The first time I ate one was in Rome. We went to a little restaurant marked in Baedeker with a star. After eating the mixed fry containing sweetbreads, shredded artichoke bottoms, brains, cocks-combs, truffles and other delicacies, done to a turn, we decided that the restaurant deserved two stars.

It will be noticed that the favorite fritta mista consists largely of things that Americans have only recently learned to use or still despise. The value of sweetbreads, which used to be thrown away, has been discovered—they are now almost worth their weight in radium. Brains would be equally relished by nine Americans out of ten—if not by all—if they would taste them fried as served to me on August 22, 1912, at Como. I give the date because it was a memorable gastronomic event.

The Italians are like the French in relishing these "trimmings." Mary Ronald relates an amusing story of a French family who moved into one of our Western towns where calves' heads, livers, brains and sweetbreads were still undiscovered luxuries. They wrote home that the price of living there was nominal because the foods which they most prized were given away by the butchers as food for dogs.

Many years ago Sir Henry Thompson tried to persuade the British to substitute olive oil for lard. His advice affords at the same time an amusing glimpse of a certain culinary custom: "Excellent and fresh olive oil, which need not be so perfect in tint and flavor as the choicest kinds reserved for the salad bowl, is the best available form of fat for frying, and is sold at a moderate price by the gallon for this purpose at the best Italian warehouses. Nothing, perhaps, is better than clarified beef dripping, such as is produced, often abundantly, in every English kitchen; but the time-honored traditions of our perquisite system enable any English cook to sell this for herself, at small price, to a little trader round the corner, while she buys, at her employer's cost, a quantity of pork lard for frying material, at double the price obtained for the dripping. Lard is, moreover, the worst menstruum for the purpose, the most difficult to work in so far as to free the matters fried in it from grease; and we might be glad to buy back our own dripping from the aforesaid little trader at a profit to him of cent per cent, if only the purchase could be diplomatically negotiated."

MACARONI THE REAL STAFF OF LIFE.

Next to olive oil the best edible thing Italy gives to the world is macaroni in its many varieties. We import more than four million dollars' worth of it yearly, and we have learned, by raising durum wheat, to make a fair imitation of the products of a Gragnano factory; but most of all this is probably eaten by the Italians who have come to live with us.

In the average American household macaroni is far too seldom served. In one of its varieties, it might advantageously replace potatoes served at one at least of our three daily meals. Just why we should have potatoes served at every meal I have never been able to understand. Most desirable substitutes, besides macaroni, are boiled chestnuts, rice and hominy, the rice and hominy being particularly good when fried. Not that I would say a word against potatoes. Baked, fried, boiled, steamed, mashed, hashed and browned or with cream—in all these and many other ways they are good, and it would be a calamity to be deprived of them because they not only make an excellent accompaniment to other foods, especially to meats, but are also most tasty when served as a separate course, in the French style. But enough is as good as a feast. What we need is variety; and sometimes, when we have to economize on meat, we need something more nutritious than potatoes.

Potatoes impose much work on the kidneys, wherefore those afflicted with rheumatism should avoid them. Besides, macaroni has many times the value of potatoes as a flesh former. It owes this value to the large amount of gluten in it, the potato being useful chiefly as a heat-producer.

Gluten is a word the meaning of which everybody should know.

When wheat flour is kneaded in a current of water most of the starch is removed and there remains a sticky substance which is called gluten. It is the nitrogenous, or flesh-building, part of the flour. In ordinary wheat flour there is enough of this gluten to make the dough cohere and to give the bread a food value apart from that coming from the large percentage of starch in it which is a heat-producer. In macaroni wheat there is a smaller percentage of starch and a much larger percentage of gluten. Genuine macaroni which is made of the best durum wheat flour has nearly twice the amount of gluten as the highest grade wheat flour.

Bread is generally called "the staff of life," but in Italy macaroni is the staff of life, and it has a much better title to this designation than bread because it contains so much more of the body-building gluten.

"Gluten is to wheat what lean is to meat," as Charles Cristodoro has tersely put it. "When you think," he writes, "of macaroni flour, it is like going to the butcher and buying a roast and getting less bone, less gristle, and less fat, but about twice as much lean for the money. A butcher who would give his customers twice as much lean meat as another butcher would get all the trade in the neighborhood."

In other words, macaroni is both bread and meat. It is not merely a side-dish, as many American and English housewives fancy, but a complete meal in itself, although, owing to the mildness of its Flavor, it is generally relished more when cooked with tomatoes, or a little chopped meat, or, better still, some cheese or butter or both, because, like bread, macaroni is deficient in fat, some of which it needs to make a dish well balanced as to nutritive ingredients.

image

Macaroni Drying

For lunch there is perhaps nothing quite so desirable as a dish of macaroni thus prepared. At present it is difficult to get such a dish properly cooked, except in our Italian and French restaurants. But I believe the time will come when every American and English business man and woman will have a chance to eat an appetizing and easily digestible lunch in a macaroni cook-shop.

This point seems of such great importance that I shall emphasize it by citing Sir Henry Thompson's advice.

"Weight for weight, macaroni may be regarded as not less valuable for flesh-making purposes, in the animal economy, than beef and mutton. Most people can digest it more easily and rapidly than meat; it offers, therefore, an admirable substitute for meat, particularly for lunch or midday meals, among those whose employments demand continuous attention during the whole of a long afternoon. To dine, or eat a heavy meal in the middle of the day is, for busy men, a great mistake: one nevertheless which is extremely common, and productive of great discomfort, to say the least."

Macaroni might, this eminent dietician suggests, be prepared at the restaurants "as a staple dish, in two or three forms, since it sustains the power without taxing too much the digestion, or rendering the individual heavy, sleepy, and incompetent afterwards."

All these remarks refer to macaroni generically—the whole macaroni family, which is a big one. Its best known members are spaghetti, and vermicelli; but there are many others equally good and known only to Italians. Among these are fidelini, stellete, tagliarini, lasagnetti, and many others. Altogether, I am told, there are about fifty varieties of pasta—which is the generic name for all of them.

The most delicately and deliciously flavored of them all is tagliatelli, but it is hard to get. Beware of substitutions!

"Subito! Subito!" exclaimed the waiter at the Vapore restaurant in Venice when, for the first time, I had ordered this—to me—unknown dish and finally asked him why he did not bring it. He had gone out specially to buy some fresh butter to cook it with, and when it came on the table—tagliatelli al burro—it was a feast for the gods. If you gave me the choice, at your expense, of all the dishes on the elaborate lunch bill of fare of the most expensive New York restaurant and tagliatelli al burro was one of them, tagliatelli with butter I would order.

There is also such a thing as gluten bread, made for persons of weak digestion or troubled with diabetes; but it is said that one tires of this.

No one ever tires of the macaronis. I could eat a dish of them three times a day and smack my lips after each.

To be sure, there is macaroni and macaroni. An Italian can tell the genuine by its smoothness, its clear yellow color, its hornlike toughness and general glutinous aspect. The genuine is not necessarily imported; a good brand is, as I have said, made in America of real durum wheat; but in this, as in all other things, eternal vigilance is called for; the world is full of gay deceivers. Macaroni made of ordinary wheat flour is poor stuff, but fortunately it is easily distinguished from the real thing. Being deficient in sticky gluten, it is not able, when it is subjected to the drying process, to bear its own weight and is therefore laid out flat instead of being "poled"—that is, thrown over reed poles on which it is exposed first to sunlight and then to damp cellars and shaded storehouses. Therefore, to get the real Italian Flavor, look for the flattened pole marks at the bend in the end of the macaroni.

While macaroni is the national dish of Italy, it is as great a mistake to suppose that all Italians eat it three times a day, as it is to think that rice is the daily diet of all Japanese. Rice, in Japan, is a luxury to be served in the poorer families only on holidays, or in case of illness. Professor Chamberlain relates in his Things Japanese that he once heard a beldame in a village remark to another with a grave shake of the head, "What!Do you mean to say that it has come to having to give her rice?" the inference being that the case must be alarming indeed if the family had thought it necessary to resort to so expensive a dainty.

In the same way it has been said about Italians that it is as accurate to assert they live on macaroni, as to assert that Americans live on turkey. Some do, many don't.

When I arrived in Japan, some of the geishas were convulsed with laughter over my clumsy efforts to eat with chopsticks. I found it a good deal like fishing—never knew when I'd get the next bite. Macaroni eating is less difficult to the inexperienced, yet many Americans seem to be in doubt as to how it should be done. (Maybe that is one reason why it is not served as often as it should be.) The approved Italian way is to gently spear a stick of it with the fork, convey the end to the mouth, and suck it in without much waste of time. An American observer was so impressed by this process that he came to the conclusion that the Italians have reels in their throats.

Another way is to wind the paste round your fork till there is a wad that just fits your mouth. But there is no loss of Flavor if the macaroni is cut into convenient pieces and eaten ad libitum any way you please.

The most astonishing sight I witnessed during my seven visits to Italy was at Naples. We had hired a cab in front of the hotel and told the driver we wanted to see the people enjoying their open air life. He took us to a street where everything, including cooking and eating, was done outside the houses. Presently he stopped at a place where macaroni was being cooked in a huge kettle. A beggar ran up and offered to eat some right out of the boiling water if we would pay for it. The cook ladled a huge portion into a tin basin and the man swallowed it all in a few seconds, steaming hot. His stomach must have been lined with asbestos. The driver had in the meantime, also at my expense, taken a large glass of wine; but instead of being in league with the cook, as I supposed he would be, he told me to "give him a lira—quite enough," and drove off rapidly before the macaroni man could vociferate his demands for more.

Mabel Phipps Bergolio, the American lady whose remarks on frying were quoted on another page, hardly thinks it true that the Italians are too poor to eat macaroni. "My husband thinks it depends upon the part of Italy they live in. Here, the contadine eat minestrone—a thick soup made of oil, garlic, and all kinds of vegetables which they cultivate here. In Piedmont rice is the principal food, because it is grown there in large quantities. In the mountains near here, our maid tells me, they eat minestrone and chestnuts all the year round and nothing else. In the South, Naples, etc., macaroni is eaten and is cheaper there than in this part of the country on account of the flour which is raised there. Garlic and oil are used in preparing it, and this, with fruit, seems to be the food of the meridionale. In the North potatoes and polenta are eaten in large quantities in regions where the soil is adapted to raising tubers and corn."

COOKED CHEESE IN PLACE OF MEAT.

It would be sufficient honor for one nation to provide the world with the best olive oil and the real staff of life. But Italy lays claim to another gastronomic distinction.

It is generally conceded that the Americans and also the English, French, Germans, Russians and Scandinavians, eat more than is necessary, especially meat. In a previous chapter attention was called to the fact that, in the cooking of the future, meat is destined, for diverse reasons, to be used largely, if not chiefly, as a condiment to be added to equally nutritious but cheaper foods. The Italians, more than any other nation, have shown how this can be done without any real deprivation.

When our greatest man of letters, Mr. Howells, was consul in Venice and gathering the material for his delightful book on life in that city, he was impressed particularly by the surprisingly small scale on which provisions for the daily meals were bought and the general absence of gluttonous excesses: "As to the poorer classes, one observes without great surprise how slenderly they fare, and how with a great habit of talking of meat and drink, the verb mangiare remains in fact for the most part inactive with them. But it is only just to say that this virtue of abstinence seems to be not wholly the result of necessity, for it prevails with other classes which could well afford the opposite vice. Meat and drink do not form the substance of conviviality with Venetians, as with the Germans and the English, and in degree with ourselves; and I have often noticed on the Mondays at the Gardens, and other social festivals of the people, how the crowd amused itself with anything—music, dancing, walking, talking—anything but the great northern pastime of gluttony."

After describing the meals and referring to the great market at the Rialto and the way provisions are distributed throughout the city, he says: "A great Bostonian, whom I remember to have heard speculate on the superiority of a state of civilization in which you could buy two cents' worth of beef, to that in which so small a quantity was unpurchasable, would find the system perfected here, where you can buy half a cent's worth."

Half a cent's worth of meat will not go very far, even in Italy, but for a few cents' worth you can get enough to impart the Flavor of veal, lamb, or chicken to a pot of farinaceous food or a dish of vegetables, and that is all a true epicure needs to be happy.

Throughout Italy, especially in the South, meat is used sparingly. Large joints are seldom cooked, because of the effect of the warm climate in spoiling animal food rapidly. But there is another food which does not thus deteriorate and which is therefore used largely as a substitute for meat, and that is cheese.

To speak of cheese as a substitute for meat seems odd to those who—like most Americans—have been brought up to look on cheese with French eyes, as a dessert. The Italians also have cheeses—notably Gorgonzola, a variety of Roquefort—which are eaten at the end of a meal; but more characteristically Italian is the use of cheese as an ingredient of various cooked dishes, which take the place of meat.

While the statement made by one writer that the Italians put cheese into everything they eat is an exaggeration, it is true that many of their dishes are thus enriched; and it is this enriching of foods with cheese, to make up for the absence or scarcity of meat, that constitutes one of the great lessons Italy is teaching the world. Gastronomically, this lesson is as valuable as what France has taught the world regarding the dessert usefulness of ripened cheese as an appetizer; and from an economic point of view it is much more important, because meat is becoming dearer every year, whereas cheese is not only cheaper but more nutritious than meat.

More nutritious—yes, twice as nutritious. In Farmers' Bulletin 487, entitled Cheese and its Economical Uses, two of our Government's nutrition experts published a table (p. 13) based on a series of experiments which show that "cheese has nearly twice as much protein, weight for weight, as beef of average composition as purchased, and that its fuel value is more than twice as great. It contains over twenty-five per cent. more protein than the same weight of porterhouse steak as purchased, and nearly twice as much fat."

Thus does science justify the culinary practices of Italy, and explain how it happens that the sturdy sons of that land, instead of being, as many foolishly suppose, idlers, habitually indulging in dolce far niente, can and do accomplish the hardest manual labor, notably railway building—abroad as well as at home—on a diet which contains little or no meat.

Among the first things that strike one on visiting Italy the first time is the universal custom of putting grated cheese in the soup.

Being hot, the soup dissolves the cheese at once; and this is a point of great importance. There is an impression the world over that cheese is indigestible, and this is correct so far as raw cheese is concerned, unless it is taken in small quantities at dessert and carefully munched with a hard cracker or a crusty roll of bread. Cooked cheese, however, is easily digested—provided the cook knows her business and does not follow the British custom, graphically described by the eminent chemist, W. Mattieu Williams, of making, for instance, "macaroni-cheese," which is "commonly prepared in England by depositing macaroni in a pie-dish, and then covering it with a stratum of grated cheese, and placing this in an oven or before a fire until the cheese is desiccated, browned, and converted into a horny, caseous form of carbon that would induce chronic dyspepsia in the stomach of a wild-boar if he fed upon it for a week."

How it should be prepared, it is not the mission of this volume to indicate. The best cook books reveal the method and so does the Farmers' Bulletin (No. 487) just referred to. This bulletin should be, indeed, bound and placed in the kitchen of every American and English home, as it goes into the subject in much more detail than any of the cook books. There are in it pages on Kinds of Cheese Used in American Homes, The Care of Cheese in the Home, The Flavor of Cheese, Nutritive Value and Cost of Cheese and Some Other Food Materials, Home-made Cheeses, Cheese Dishes and Their Preparation, Cheese Soups and Vegetables Cooked with Cheese, Cheese Salads and Sandwiches, Cheese Pastry, etc.

Especially important are the pages devoted to a description of "Cheese dishes which may be used in the same way as meat." Under this head we find, among many other things, and with the recipes in full, references to cheese sauces, corn and cheese soufflé, macaroni and cheese, baked rice and cheese, cheese rolls, nut and cheese roast, Boston roast, baked eggs with cheese, cheese omelet, fried bread with cheese, cheese with mush, cheese croquettes, oatmeal with cheese, etc.

Doubtless the best cooking cheese is Parmesan; but when the genuine article cannot be obtained in bulk (never buy it grated, in a bottle) it is better to use Swiss or even American cheese (cheddar). The Dutch Edam is also excellent for the kitchen, as good as when eaten raw. Of the Italian uncooked cheeses for the table, the best are Gorgonzola and, particularly, Caciocavallo. This is not, as its name suggests, made of mare's milk. It looks like a rag doll, is similar to Edam in consistency and has a very pleasant and unique Flavor owing to its being slightly smoked. Beware of American imitations, cured with "liquid smoke."

In times of meat scarcity and high prices it is well to remember that hard-working men can (as experiments have shown) fully sustain their strength for months on the cheapest of all products of the dairy—cottage cheese made of skim milk, to which, just before eating it, some cream is added for fat and flavor. Strange to say, in all the literature on this matter I have never seen any reference to the transformations to which cottage cheese can be subjected. By standing a few days, it gets a ripening flavor that appeals to epicures, and if it is then boiled it assumes a consistency like that of Port Salut, making another pleasant variant.

A helpful little volume for those who wish to know how the Italians use cheese in cooking and how they make a number of other national dishes is Antonia Isola's "Simple Italian Cookery." Here are receipts showing how risotto, and other rice dishes, ravioli, polenta, gnocchi of farina or potato, are made (all of them delicious and desirable in American and English homes, particularly the gnocchi), and how eggs, fishes, vegetables, and meats can be cooked in tempting Italian ways. The chestnut, as a matter of course, is a frequent ingredient in the dressings and the pastry.

BIRDS, TOMATO PASTE AND GARLIC.

While the Italians are sparing in their use of meat, it must not be supposed that they do not know how to make the most of it when they do indulge in it. They are born cooks—it's a great pity none of them are ever to be found in our "intelligence offices"—and their experts know as well as the great French chefs how to prepare a savory roast, stew, broil, entrée, or dessert. In the making of sauces, the blending of meat and vegetable flavors, the cooking of fish and shellfish, one also finds much variety and local Flavor on the peninsula. Details as to those points may be found in abundance in the forty pages Col. Newham-Davis devotes to this country in his "Gourmet's Guide to Europe."

To enjoy the national and particularly the local varieties of Flavor, it is well to take only a room in an Italian hotel and eat in the restaurants. I always do this, paying a little more for the room, which is only fair to the host. The trouble with these hotels is that the table d'hôte, though usually good, is not Italian but French, and in Italy you want something different, to get an idea of the variations in flavor of the spaghettis, the minestrone soups, the gnocchis, the risottos, and so on. Sometimes the hotel has attached to it a locally conducted restaurant, in which case it is needless to hunt for another.

For one of their gastronomic habits the Italians are justly denounced by other Europeans—their slaughter of millions of birds, largely blackbirds, siskins, green-finches, and other song birds, that yearly seek a refuge among them on their flight to or from the north. All efforts to curb this slaughter have so far proved unavailing. The difficulty is double: the birds are very good to eat and the common people cannot understand our point of view. Lina Duff Gordon, in her book, "Home Life in Italy" (which takes the reader right into the kitchens and the market places), tells about one of the hunters: "Once, when he offered us a bunch of blackbirds strung together by the neck, which he said made an excellent roast, we seized upon the opportunity to deliver a lecture on the shooting of singing birds. He listened so attentively that we rejoiced at having made an impression on an important convert, until looking up with eyes very wide open, he exclaimed: 'Ah! Sangue della Madonna! Then you have no sport in England!'"

It is hardly fair to chide the Italians for making too much use of garlic, unless we include in our censure the French—particularly those of the Southern provinces—and the Spaniards, who not only put it in their food but eat it raw in chunks. On this point I may be permitted to cite from my "Spain and Morocco" some remarks on a peasant who drove me from Baza to Lorca: "At noon he took his lunch, composed of ten raw tomatoes, half a loaf of bread, a piece of raw ham, and a large bulb of garlic consisting of a score of bulblets, which he took one at a time to flavor his portions. It is doubtful if he expected another meal that day, and in watching him a brilliant theory came to my mind:—perhaps the poorer classes in Spain are so fond of garlic for the reason that they have so little to eat; for, as it takes several days to digest a bulb of it, they always feel as if they had something in their stomachs."

In the best Italian restaurants, as in those of Paris, it is understood that garlic, while delicious for flavoring, is so only in homœopathic doses. Moreover one can always dine without garlic by simply saying to the waiter, when ordering a dish, senz' aglio.

Whether Italian peasants eat raw ham, as that Spanish teamster did, I do not know. Ham is not an Italian specialty. At Naples one may get the genuine smoked article, but it is so expensive that only the wealthy folk can afford it. But in his enthusiastic addiction to tomatoes that Spaniard was akin to the Italians. How they do love them—raw or cooked—more even than we do, if that be possible. Next to cheese, nothing is so frequently added to the macaronis as tomato sauce, either as we make it, or in the form of the paste which is one of the unique Italian products that ought to be better known in other countries.

The best tomato paste comes from the Province of Naples, where it is made of a small variety of the fruit which has a special Flavor that is much relished. This, to be sure, they do not waste on foreigners. What is exported is, as we read in the "Daily Consular and Trade Reports" (Dec., 1910), usually not even second rate, but "of the third quality," which is "of course, very inferior, because it contains little tomato extract and is almost entirely liquid. There is no demand for it in the Italian market, and it is prepared exclusively for exportation to America, where it meets the requirements of the immigrant peasants from Sicily. The latter, when at home, either do not use any tomato paste or consume a certain kind of hard tomato paste (conserva di pomidoro) which is made by the peasant women."

Consul Hernando de Soto further informs us that "tomato paste of the first and second quality also is exported, though in much smaller quantity, from Palermo to the United States, where it is patronized by a more prosperous class of Italians and also, it is stated, by some Americans."

Many more Americans would buy tomato paste were they sure of not getting the third-class article after paying for the best, as happens with so many things we eat.

About HackerNoon Book Series: We bring you the most important technical, scientific, and insightful public domain books. This book is part of the public domain.

Finck, Henry Theophilus. 2021. Food and Flavor: A Gastronomic Guide to Health and Good Living). Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved April 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/61719/61719-h/61719-h.htm#VIII

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org, located at https://www.gutenberg.org/policy/license.html.

react to story with heart
react to story with light
react to story with boat
react to story with money

Related Stories

L O A D I N G
. . . comments & more!