food, history and art – some ruminations by Fredrika Jacobs

More thoughts on the EGG

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Francois Rabelais (ca. 1494/99- 1553), of gargantuan – and Gargantua – fame, respected the egg as any lover of gastronomy should. According to Timothy Tomasik, the celebrated writer refers to eight dishes featuring the egg prepared in various and, indeed, inventive, ways: frying, steaming, dragging through ashes, jumbled, and thrown down a chimney!
Bartolomeo Scappi, author of the renowned 16th century cookbook,L’arte et prudenza d’un maestro cuoco and a master cook who had conjured marvelous meals for the likes of Cardinal Du Bellay, Cardinal Cornaro, Cardinal da Carpi, and other members of the Vatican elite, offers some 20 egg dishes for “lean” days. Herbs count here, for some eggs are given flavor by the addition of rosemary, others with rosewater and sugar. Utensils are also of interest.

Here’s an example as taken from The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570), Terence Scully, translator and commentary (University of Toronto Press, 2008), p. 379 (recipe # 282):

To Poach Eggs on a Shovel
Heat up a shovel and when it is very hot grease it with pork rind and smear it with white wax or else with oil, and immediately break the eggs onto it. Cook them with another shovel over top, or else in the heat of the fire. Serve them with salt, sugar and orange juice on them. For lazy people the eggs can also be broken onto the embers.

Perhaps I should have tried Scappi’s recipe rather than Maestro Martino’s Neapolitan Rustic Torte, a savory pie that called for 6 eggs. It was less than “pretty” and my taste testers judged it unsatisfactory in terms of texture and ‘weird’ with respect to taste. Reflecting the recipe’s basis in 15th century cookery, one said it actually tasted like something medieval… not a stellar commendation!

Since we were in the experimental mode, we performed another ‘test’, this one involving wine and a blender. In a blind tasting of the same wine – one glass filled with juice poured directly from the bottle, the other having been poured from bottle to blender (briefly whirled about) and then poured into a glass – the aerated wine won hands down! Good to know!

Author: Pulcinella Pasta

Fredrika Jacobs, professor emerita of Art History at Virginia Commonwealth University, is the author of three books focused on the art and culture of Renaissance Italy ("Defining the Renaissance Virtuosa: Women Artists and the language of art history and criticism" (1997/99); "The Living Image in the Renaissance" (2005); and "Votive Panels and Popular Piety in Early Modern Italy" (2013). Additionally, she has contributed essays and articles to dozens of books and scholarly journals and spoken at symposia and conferences around the world.

One thought on “More thoughts on the EGG

  1. OK. The blender will have center stage at my next dinner party. As for your methods of cooking eggs, at least the shovel will hold the egg, whereas what is this business of throwing it down the chimney? I keep trying to envision the results, but do not come up with anything edible. Thankfully, cooking methods have improved over the centuries.

    What happened with your experiment making pasta?

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