The register of deaths at the Magistro della Sanita of Milan records that the painter Guiseppe Arcimboldo died on this day in 1593, at about 66 year of age, from kidney stones. Arcimboldo is best known for his much-imitated ‘portraits’ made from carefully assemble fruits, flowers, vegetables, and other foods. It is possible that his idea of creating pictures in this way was inspired by dishes at actual banquets held by various artists of his time, who made compositions out of real food.
The paintings are surreal, before there was an official Surrealist movement, and are full of allegory and symbolism which is lost to many of us today (I include myself here), but which would have been clear to his patrons and contemporaries. They are also clever and fun, and we can all appreciate that. My favourite is “The Vegetable Gardener”. Or should it be “The Vegetable Bowl”?
Paintings sometimes give us good information about food and dining in previous times. It is easy to identify the carrots and onions in this picture, and is that the long stalks of cardoons on the right (or the left, depending on which image you are looking at)? Garlic for the eyes too. Can you see anything else?
The carrot is our vegetable of choice today. Carrots have been around since ancient, perhaps prehistoric times – but it seems that they may have originally been used for their seeds and leaves. It was probably the Arabs who introduced them from
The carrot belongs to the vegetable family Umbellifereae, and, as the name suggests, they have umbrella-like flower heads. There are over 3000 members of the family, including many herbs (parsley, dill, coriander, fennel and caraway) as well as celery and angelica. The carrot’s most obvious relative is the parsnip, which looks very similar and cooks very similar.
Here are some words and, and recipes of sorts, for both the carrot and the parsnip from the fifteenth century Italian Bartolomeo Sacchi (a.k.a Platina). He considers them simply variations of the same medicinally useful vegetable.
On the Carrot and Parsnip.
There are two kinds of parsnip … Doctors say that the parnsip is white while the carrot is red or almost black. … Both are difficult to digest and of little and harsh nourishment. The parsnip should be boiled twice, with the first water thrown away, and cooked with lettuce the second time. Transferred from there to a dish and seasoned with salt, vinegar, coriander, and pepper, it is suitable to eat, for it settles cough, pleurisy, and dropsy, and arouses passion. It is even customary for it to be rolled in meal and fried in oil and fat when it has been hollowed out after the first boiling.
Carrot is seasoned in the same way as parsnip, but it is considered sweeter if cooked under warm ash and coals. When it is taken out, it should cool a little, be peeled, scraped entirely free of ash, cut up in bits and transferredin to a dish. Salt should be added, oil and vinegar sprinkled on, some condensed must or must added, and sweet spices sprinkled over. There is nothing more pleasant to eat than this. It is good for people in two respects, for it represses bile and moves the urine. In other ways it is harmful, as it is for liver, stomach, and spleen.
[On Right Pleasure and Good Health; Platina (1475), from the Milham translation]
Tomorrow’s Story …
A Mystery of Cooks.
Quotation for the Day …
Some guy invented Vitamin A out of a carrot. I'll bet he can't invent a good meal out of one. Will