Symposium J-5 Writing Cookery, for who?

Who are cookbooks intended for? Is it the same if it’s written in the vernacular or Latin? Some answers on the 25th of May, about Italian and Germanic areas, with :

Culinary recipes and their public in the Italian Renaissance

Antonella Campanini

After almost a millennium of silence the composing of recipe books took off again in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Who were these books aimed at? Could they have been meant to be used for hands-on cooking or were they just for reading? An attempt will be made to answer some of these questions by undertaking a systematic analysis of Italian recipe books – and their shape – in this period.

Personal biography

Antonella Campanini is a researcher in Medieval History at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, where she teaches Food History from Prehistory to the Middle Ages and History of Typical Products. Her primary area of study is the social history of food from the medieval to the early modern period. Member of the Conseil Scientifique of the Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation, she has produced numerous scientific publications and she directs two international series on the culture of food: “Tables des Hommes”, PUFR, Tours and “European Food Issues”, P.I.E. Peter Lang, Bruxelles et al. Her most recent books are: Food Cultures in Medieval Europe (Brussels, 2019) and Il cibo. Nascita e storia di un patrimonio culturale (Rome, 2019).

Cooking recipes in the Ars magirica hoc est coquinaria by Jodocus Willichius (1563). Analytical perspectives on an example of culinary discourse in Latin in the networks of the Germanic reformed humanists.

Corentin Poirier

For several decades now, the writing of the cookery is a subject of renewed interest among historians and food specialists. The edition and analysis of collections of medieval cooking recipes have made possible to draw up an overview of eating habits on a Western scale, and to evaluate the modalities in which the different stages of preparation of dishes are written and how to accommodate them and perceive the main changes about it. With regard to Latin, it remains mainly focused on the handwritten traditions of medieval European cookbooks, like those of the Tractatus de modo preparandi et condiendi omnia cibaria or the Liber de coquina, or on gastronomic treatises of the Renaissance, such as the very famous work by Bartolomeo Sacchi (Platina), De Honesta voluptate et valetudine (1467). Other texts are undoubtedly less exploited, and it is one of them that we have chosen to address in our communication. The Ars Magirica hoc is coquinaria, de cibariis, ferculis opsoniis, alimentis et potibus diversis parandis, eorumque facultatibus is the work of Jodocus Willichius (Willich), “medicus et theologus Academiae Francofordinae cis Viadrum doctissimus”, German humanist and polymath, born in 1501 in Reszel, in present-day Poland, known to have been at the origin of the first German “Convivium Musicum”. Left unfinished by the author at his death in 1552 (which occurred in Halle-sur-Saale), it was published posthumously by the Swiss humanist Conrad Gessner, at his cousin printer Jakob Gessner in 1563 in Zurich, probably at the request of the Willichius’ brother-in-law, named Wolfgang Justus. The volume contains 272 pages, but the Ars Magirica, which makes up the main part, is not the only text contained therein. At the end of the work, in fact, is found, better known to food specialists, the Epistola de caseis et operibus lactariis, et modo quo in Rhaeticis regionibus et alpibus parantur, dated January 27, 1556, addressed from Samedan to even Conrad Gessner by the Swiss humanist and translator Jachiam Tütschett Bifrun (1506-1572), who describes the methods of making different cheeses in Upper Engadine, giving many details on the ingredients. In addition, before the index and the preface, Gessner also precedes his edition of an Epistula nuncupatoria written in Zurich to the address of Johannes Pontisella the Elder, pastor and director of the Latin School of Chur (c. 1510 -1574).

We will begin our paper with a brief presentation of the volume and its structure, reviewing the circumstances and modalities of its edition as well as the author’s objectives, on which we will procure some biographical information. This will be an opportunity to approach the various networks concerned by the production and reception of this book, in particular that of Swiss and more broadly Germanic humanists close to the Protestant Reformation. The work is presented as “Liber Medicis, philologis, et sanitatis tuendae studiosis omnibus apprimè utilis”: we will therefore have to understand the dissemination of the treatise to the various networks of these recipients, in the light of the approach adopted by Willichius who, as we can already understand, chooses an approach which is primarily intended to be didactic at the same time as it mixes entirely dietary considerations into his discourse. This is why we will continue by offering a brief analysis of Ars magirica itself, looking at the structure of the book and its various chapters (which number seventy-four). To summarize, after having addressed the condition of cooks, Jodocus Willichius, who did not have time to perfect his treatise, lists the different uses of utensils that we can find in a kitchen, then he gives an overview of the food products presented by categories: dairy products, eggs, vegetables, fruits, cereals, oils, honey, sugar, mushrooms, spices, aromatic herbs, as well as various kinds of meat and species of fish and poultry for which it provides indications of preparation and focuses on the various appropriate cooking. In this regard, he discusses with both recipes from Antiquity and contemporary ones, sometimes taking the example of quite local recipes. Willichius does not content himself with writing his treatise in Latin, providing as far as possible to his reader the equivalents of the names of utensils, ingredients and dishes in Ancient Greek and also their translation into the vernacular, that is to say  in the current language which is his and that of the readers to whom he intends his treatise, namely German.

In fact, the point is to grasp the contribution that Ars magirica offers to our knowledge of Renaissance culinary writing and to identify the main research perspectives about it. At a time when the humanists are thinking afresh the letters of Antiquity, Jodocus Willichius does not escape the movement, stuffing his discourse with references, in Latin and Greek, taken from the works of the Ancients, which he mixes with that of modern authors, including, of course, Platina. Therefore, we assess the discourse on cooking held by Willichius through the prism of the recipe he has also chosen to adopt. In addition to the content of some recipes that we will have included as examples, we will try to look more deeply into their morphology and their rhetoric. All told, this point allows us to perceive how the culinary recipe in Latin, a brief form but effective for transmitting in writing a knowledge which is intended above all to be technical, has been able to evolve since the Middle Ages, and, finally, how the cuisine, thanks to a justified use of Latin, could free itself from a purely professional framework and assert to find a legitimate place within the scholarly literature of the Renaissance.

Recipes from an Italian manuscript of the 15th century

Francesca Pucci Donati

My contribution to the panel « Writing cookery, for who? » concerns a 15th century Italian manuscript kept at the Classense Library of Ravenna (Ms 123). The manuscript, which is unpublished, contains a group of five culinary recipes among other practical advice and fragments of literary texts. I shall focus, firstly, on the structure and formal characteristics of the manuscript (handwriting, vernacular language, authors or copiers, etc.). In this respect, it is interesting to note that the person who transcribed the recipes, made some copying errors (for example, he trades the name of a recipe for another). Secondly, I will concentrate on the prescriptions (name, description, ingredients, ways of cooking) and make some comparisons with similar preparations outlined in the Italian cookbook tradition of the 14th and 15th centuries. Finally, I will try to consider these fragments in the cultural framework where the manuscript was written, and make some comments about the public to whom this text might be addressed. Who were the readers of miscellaneous materials such as the Ms 123 of Ravenna? Why copy some recipes and other practical information in a manuscript composed almost entirely of literary works? Are the recipes addressed to an audience of experts or non-experts? All these are a few of the questions that will guide my speech.


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