Symposium J-8 On the Edge of Cookery

Sometimes it is interesting to look at a manuscript as a whole and dwell on the different types of recipes it can reveal. Get ready for cookery, alchemy, cosmetics, metallurgy and medicine, as all of these aspects will be present on May 20th. The richness of the information provided is important for the study and reconstruction of the everyday life at the Este court in the Renaissance Ferrara.

Does it fit in the literature secrets? Who knows? But one thing is sure, on the 20th of May Bruno Laurioux will talk about all the little (and not so little) secrets of the cook…

And one of the key recipe of this era is for sure those bringing wine to liquor. Want to know more about how they did it back then: join us on the 20th and explore the topic with Azélina Jaboulet-Vercherre

Between the lines of a recipe book.

Cookery, alchemy, cosmetics, metallurgy and medicine in the Renaissance Ferrara (Italy)

Federica Badiali & Pietro Baraldi


The manuscript

In the Municipal Ariostea Library in Ferrara is conserved an important, anonymous miscellaneous Renaissance manuscript (ms. Cl. II 147), traditionally known as “Pseudo-Savonarola”. It has only been partly studied and published before now. It’s a paper volume, with a modest aspect, entirely devoid of any ornament: therefore, it was surely intended for a frequent, domestic use. It has been written by several hands, probably three, in subsequent moments; the language is Italian, with vernacular influences of the dialect of Ferrara, except for some medical and alchemical recipes in Latin, probably copied from other sources. For the first time, the Authors have entirely transcribed the manuscript (figure 1).

It contains more than 1.200 recipes, among them 240 are cookery and pastry recipes, whereas the others refer to: pigments for different materials, metal alloys, multi-purpose stain removers, chemical treatments for leather and bone, oenology, cosmetics, therapies and remedies for several diseases and veterinary medicine. It should be noted that some recipes have been repeated more than once.

The section which contains the culinary recipes take from c. 23r to c. 68v; these are written by the same hand, the oldest and the most accurate of the manuscript. Blank pages were left in two parts of the section, probably to be completed with similar recipes (cc. 45v-46v, cc. 50r-52v), however, their purpose was not respected, and these pages contain medical recipes, hastily written by another hand at a later time: this demonstrates the private and domestic purpose of the manuscript.

Ink, watermarks and paper have not yet been studied and the binding was restored in 1964.


The previous studies of this manuscript, although in-depth, dealt with the different topics separately: in that way, unfortunately, the relevance of this unmatched recipe book was completely forgotten.

The Authors of this paper are carrying out a complex interdisciplinary study, which aim to demonstrate the richness of the information that this document provides for the study and reconstruction of the everyday life of the Este court in the Renaissance Ferrara. In other words, court life shines through the reading of this manuscript, assembled by more than one author, but unitary in its complexity.

Indeed, the purpose of this recipe book was to offer a solution to any problem, big or small, as in the housewife-handbooks of the last century: that is, we can understand which were the most common needs and habits, particularly of health and food, and, furthermore, reading this manuscript we can more thoroughly acquire knowledge on the social and cultural context of the Este court.

The secrets of the cook : “tours de main” and tours de force in the collections of recipes from the 12th to the 17th centuries

Bruno Laurioux, University of Tours – CESR

In 1558, Giambattista della Porta published in Venice the Magia Naturalis sive de Miraculis rerum naturalium which became one of the most famous collections of secrets during the Renaissance. Chapter fourteen of the second book dedicated eight pages to “banquets and meals astonishingly prepared”. In the second version of Magia Naturalis, this section was considerably enlarged to a complete book, which included no less than thirteen chapters and 59 recipes, under the current title of “De re coquinaria”. Contrary to what one might think from this title, it was not an extract of Apicius’ famous cookbook but a mixture of recipes. Some of them pertain to cookery at first glance: how to tenderize different kinds of meat, how to make a meat sweet or bitter, how to cook a fish or a capon in different ways but simultaneously, how to prepare a peacock so that it seems alive, how to serve this same bird without any bones, or even how to cook chicken and eggs without fire, how to do if there is no more salt in the kitchen or at the table, how to make meat looking like bloody or full of worms. Advices on the choice of foods according to season or because of their medical properties, or on the different ways to fatten an animal that will produce a tasty food, or about the preparation and improvement of wines, are obviously taken from agronomical and medical treatises – whose authors are frequently mentioned. Was it also the case of the “culinary recipes”? This is the simple question that this paper tries to deal with. The main objective here is to trace the textual traditions that linked Renaissance books of secrets with very different recipe literatures regarding the content as well as the author and the reader. Some culinary tricks can be found in many medieval cookbooks but the technical instructions intended for creating events that will surprise the guests are usually considered as jugglers’ tricks. In fact, 15th century culinary collections included this last kind of recipes under the category of “entremets”. It will be studied here through the example of the peacock coated with its feathers as it seems alive – a spectacular dish, which appeared in real banquet but was also a topic of the chivalry literature.

‘Alcoholic’ Recipes: From Wine to Distilled liquor

            (Late Medieval and Early Modern Times)

Azélina Jaboulet-Vercherre

Wine has traditionally held strong therapeutical virtues until the Modern Era. When it is distilled, though, the complexity of the potential ‘recipes’ has awarded it almost magical powers.

Distillation used to be the prerogative of alchemists, physicians, and apothecaries until the fifteenth century, when merchants and specialized wine retailers alike took over nascent opportunities to sell liquor. New techniques were implemented to satisfy increasing demand; simultaneously, growing awareness of such powers required careful distribution and use.

Wine was deemed especially suitable to making alcohol also because of the philosophical connections between life and wine. The divine water, another term for distilled alcohol, was believed to transform human beings by refining their best elements, hence its denomination as quinta essentia. The quintessence is, by definition, considered a fifth element, whose incorruptibility may provide healing powers.

OpenEdition vous propose de citer ce billet de la manière suivante :
vhulet (9 mai 2021). Symposium J-8 On the Edge of Cookery. CoReMA. Consulté le 18 juillet 2024 à l’adresse

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