Tag Archives: 150th Anniversary of Italy’s Unification

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Artusi at 100, Italy Honors its Culinary Father

Pellegrino Artusi, author of the famous Italian cookbook La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiare Bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well), is the father of Italian cuisine. This year – the 100th anniversary of his death – will be remembered with special events and celebrations, especially in Forlimpopoli, Artusi’s birth place, and Florence, the city where Artusi spent his life.

Pellegrino Artusi was 71 when he wrote his iconic book on the art of eating
Pellegrino Artusi was 71 when he wrote and published his iconic book

Artusi made his fortune as a silk merchant, but after retiring he devoted himself to fine dining. In 1891, at the age of 71, he completed the 600+ page tome in which he included amusing anecdotes and menus, as well as recipes. He couldn’t find a publisher and so self-published the large volume. It took him four years to sell a thousand copies. The self-published second edition sold faster, so he increased the print-run of the third. Then, all the hard work paid off – the book was discovered by the middle class.

Pellegrino Artusi self-published the 1st Edition in 1891
Self-published First Edition 1891

One of the reasons for its popularity is that Artusi wrote his book entirely in Italian – this at a time when most professional chefs were French-trained, and their books were so sprinkled with French terminology that they were hard for the uninitiated to follow. Also, Artusi was a bon-vivant, a noted raconteur, and a celebrated host; he knew many of the leading figures of his day and read widely in the arts and sciences. Almost half his recipes contain anecdotes or snippets of advice on subjects as varied as regional dialects and public health: while you may open the book to find out how to make Minestrone or a German cake, you will probably read on to find out how Artusi escaped cholera, or what the Austrian troops who occupied Northern Italy in the 1840’s were like.

He also created an appendix of menus: “As it frequently occurs that one finds himself unsure of what dishes to select when one has to offer a dinner” Artusi wrote, “I thought it well to provide this appendix, which gives the menus for an elegant dinner for each month of the year, as well as several menus tailored for specific holidays. I’ve omitted desserts because the seasons, with their various fruits, will council you better than I could. Even if you can’t follow these menus to the letter, they’ll at least give you some ideas that will make your selections easier.”

Artusi's photo superimosed on the XIII edition (1909)
Artusi's photo superimposed on the XIII edition (1909)

Artusi’s book stands with Manzoni’s great novel, I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), and the music of Verdi as works that not only are great unto themselves but represented a sense of identity and self-worth to a nascent country with no nationalistic feeling … Artusi chose to give Italians their definition by telling them how they ate … Anyone who seeks to know Italian food avoids Artusi at his or her peril. He is the fountainhead of modern Italian cookery,” wrote Fred Plotkin in Gastronomica.

Before Artusi died in Florence in 1911, more than 200,000 copies had been already sold. Today, the book is a perennial best seller in Italy and the recipes are still used. It has been translated in Spanish, Dutch, German and English. In 2003, the University of Toronto Press, published a new English translation that is still  in print.

The most recent English translation
The most recent English translation

L’Artusi, as the book is called in Italy, went on to become one of the most read books of the time, a household icon, and a source of inspiration for generations of cooks. There is even an Italian language iPhone app that contains all of Artusi’s 790 recipes.

Although he became famous for his first book, Artusi wrote another – a practical manual for the kitchen – in 1904, with over 3,000 recipes, simply entitled Ecco il Tuo Libro di Cucina (Here is Your Cookbook). Last month, Artusi became a fictional amateur detective in a popular murder mystery written by Pisan Marco Malvaldi – Odore di Chiuso (Smells Stuffy).

Cartton by Sergio Staino for Casa Artusi
Sergio Staino for Casa Artusi - Impossible to eat 'lite' with Artusi

The 100th anniversary events and initiatives to celebrate Artusi include conferences in Florence and Folimpopoli about Artusi and his work, Artusi-themed dinners held in different Italian cities on the 17th of March, Italy’s new national holiday to celebrate Italy’s unification, theatrical performances, various demonstrations and videos, and a national competition.

In Florence, on 31 March, an exhibition, entitled Pellegrino Artusi: il tempo e le opere, will open at the National Central Library. The exhibition will show original work and documents in the life of Artusi and his relationship with the world of publishing. The ‘Artusian’ celebrations will continue in June with a week of culinary stands in Piazza d’Azeglio; in November there will be an Artusi Week, involving catering schools in Florence, as well as restaurant and hotel owners.

Mangia! Mangia! – 150 Years of Garibaldi Biscuits

Not only is 2011 the 150th Anniversary of the Unification of Italy – it is also the 150th birthday of the Garibaldi Biscuit.

Giuseppe Garibaldi probably never ate a Garibaldi Biscuit (although there is one dubious story about dry bread smeared with a mixture of berries and horse blood consumed by his starving troops as they conquered the Kingdom of Two Sicilies to unify Italy).

It was after Garibaldi won worldwide fame as a military strategist that an understated British biscuit (redundant, I know) was given his name. This dry, barely sweet Victorian relic was wildly popular in 1861 when biscuit king John Carr invented it and it still has a faithful following today.

Garibaldi Biscuits aka Squashed Fly Biscuits
Garibaldi Biscuits aka Squashed Fly Biscuits

Despite the name, Italians are not among the aficionados who break off strip after strip of the parching crackers layered with the thinnest smear of crushed currants. Like Marmite, Garibaldi Biscuits are solely a English delicacy today. Maybe that has to do with the sobriquets – fly sandwiches, fly cemeteries, dead fly biscuits or squashed fly biscuits – the tasty treat has earned because of the appearance of the semi-dried currants.

Garibaldi made a celebrated visit to Tynemouth, England in 1854, but it wasn’t until his great victories in 1860, that he was deserving of an honorary cookie.

Garibaldi Biscuits by Artist Ralph Steadman
Garibaldi Biscuits by Artist Ralph Steadman

John Carr was one of the great biscuit-making Carr’s of Scotland (of water-biscuit fame), but he abandoned the family business to work for the Peek Frean in Bermondsey. John Carr’s first biscuit, the Pearl – a crumbly plain thing, probably similar to a tea biscuit, launched in 1860 – did not survive. (Neither did Peek Frean – the brand is owned by United Biscuit in the U.K. and Kraft Foods in the U.S.)

History does not relate how Carr came up with his magic formula: the dry, not too sweet dough, the shiny glazed top, the squashed currants and the clever device of leaving strips of five biscuits joined together, like perforated cardboard. A single Garibaldi section has only about 35 to 40 calories, but for fans it is hard to eat just one.

By 1878 did anyone send aging Garibaldi a tin of biscuits
Did anyone send aging Garibaldi a tin of biscuits?

In the U.S., the Sunshine Biscuit Company made a popular version of the Garibaldi Bisquit, bigger, if not better, with raisins, which it called “Golden Fruit”. Sunshine was bought out by the Keebler Company, which tried chocolate filling, of course, but, like Golden Fruit, that didn’t last. Today, Garibaldi Biscuits are marketed only in the U.K. as Crawfords Garibaldi Biscuits distributed by United Biscuits. Some British supermarket chains, such as Waitrose, also have their own branded Garibaldi Biscuit.

If you are in Florence, you may find Crawfords Garibaldi Biscuits at the Old England Store, Via de’ Vecchietti, 28r, for two euro per packet.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Italy’s 150th Anniversary, Garibaldi & Lincoln

Giuseppe Garibaldi resigned his commission of leader of the army of Unification (I Mille) on September 18, 1860 and retired to his home on the island of Caprera off the coast of Sardinia. He was 53  years old and recovering from a battle wound.

1860 Garibaldi fights for Italy's unity
1860 Garibaldi fights for Italy's unity

In 1861, at the outbreak of the American Civil War, Garibaldi was approached by a representative of the United States Government, reportedly on behalf of President Abraham Lincoln. The Union Army was in disarray and Lincoln was unhappy with those in command. He needed a proven military leader.

As Herbert Mitgang wrote in his fascinating and very detailed article in American Heritage Magazine (October 1975):

“The offer came at a moment in Garibaldi’s life when he lived in semi-exile—too little of a politician to scheme for personal advancement, too much of a national idol to be put behind bars on the Italian mainland. The hero of the movement for a unified Italy, he had led a spectacularly successful revolt against a reactionary regime in Sicily and in Naples—the so-called Two Sicilies—in 1860, but now he was in temporary retirement.

On lonely Caprera, a wild, rocky island covered with juniper and myrtle and stunted olive trees, below La Maddalena off the northeastern corner of Sardinia, Garibaldi tended his vines and figs, built stone walls to fence in his goats, and looked out to the sea, dreaming. The conqueror of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, in gray trousers and slouch hat, his red shirt and poncho flapping in the wind, refused all titles and honors for himself and sought only lenience for his followers. “How men are treated like oranges—squeezed dry and then cast aside!” he said.

He had wanted to march on Rome, against the “myrmidons of Napoleon in,” supposedly there to protect the pope, and defeat the Bourbon troops. But Victor Emmanuel II, king of Sardinia and now of Sicily and Naples as well, decided that French help was needed to complete unification of Italy and called off Garibaldi’s advance. Going back to Caprera, Garibaldi leaned against the steamer rail and said to his legion of Red Shirts: “Addio—a Roma!”

Abraham Lincoln’s Offer

1866 Garibaldi leads Italy against Austria
1866 Garibaldi leads Italy against Austria

Through the letter, dated July 17, 1861,  from Secretary of State William H. Seward to H.S. Sanford, the U.S. Minister in Brussels, Garibaldi was offered a Major General’s commission in the U.S. Army.

On September 18, 1861, Sanford sent the following reply to Seward:

“He [Garibaldi] said that the only way in which he could render service, as he ardently desired to do, to the cause of the United States, was as Commander-in-chief of its forces, that he would only go as such, and with the additional contingent power – to be governed by events – of declaring the abolition of slavery; that he would be of little use without the first, and without the second it would appear like a civil war in which the world at large could have little interest or sympathy.”

In other words, according to Italian historian Petacco, “Garibaldi was ready to accept Lincoln’s offer but on one condition: that the war’s objective be declared as the abolition of slavery. But at that stage Lincoln was unwilling to make such a statement lest he worsen an agricultural crisis.”

Although President Lincoln did not have Garibaldi leading his troops, he did have Union soldiers trained by Garibaldi. The “Garibaldi Guard” was the nickname given to the 39th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment that fought in the American Civil War. Many of the regiment’s members were Italian Americans who had served under Garibaldi in Italy.

Lincoln reviews the 39th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment- the Garibaldi Guard
Lincoln reviews the 39th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment- the Garibaldi Guard

Garibaldi never joined the Union Army, but he kept track of the American Civil War’s progress. In August 6, 1863, still unhappy with the political outcome of Italy’s Unification, he wrote directly to President Lincoln.

In the midst of your titanic struggle, permit me, as another among the free children of Columbus, to send you a word of greeting and admiration for the great work you have begun. Posterity will call you the great emancipator, a more enviable title than any crown could be, and greater than any merely mundane treasure, You are a true heir of the teaching given us by Christ and by John Brown. If an entire race of human beings, subjugated into slavery by human egoism, has been restored to human dignity, to civilization and human love, this is by your doing and at the price of the most noble lives in America.

It is America, the same country which taught liberty to our forefathers, which now opens another solemn epoch of human progress. And while your tremendous courage astonishes the world, we are sadly reminded how this old Europe, which also can boast a great cause of liberty to fight for, has not found the mind or heart to equal you.

Giuseppe Garibaldi, Scritti politici e militari, ed. Domenico Ciàmpoli, Rome 1907

If Abraham Lincoln had been able to obtain the services of the brilliant Giuseppe Garibaldi, the American Civil War may have ended in short order. As it was, for his military expeditions in South America and Europe (Italy, Austria and France), Garibaldi is known as the “Hero of Two Worlds”.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Happy 150th Anniversary Italy!

Italy will spend 2011 celebrating the 150th anniversary of its unification – known as the Risorgimento (Resurgence). From a land of city-states, many under foreign domination, Italy became a country in 1861.

Most historians agree that the unification of Italy started in 1815 with the end of Napoleonic rule, but it took a tortuous path through the insurrections of the 1820s and 1830s and the abortive revolutions of 1848-1849. The War of 1859 created the Kingdom of Sardinia that encompassed most of northwestern and central Italy, including Tuscany. But the move to unify the peninsula stalled there. The rich north had had nothing to gain and little interest to take on the burden of the poor south or to confront the pope in the Papal States.

Garibaldi and his army of Red Shirts
Garibaldi and his army of Red Shirts

Giuseppe Garibaldi was the true hero who kick-started the final unification of Italy. In early 1860, he gathered about a thousand of volunteers (I Mille) in Genoa for an expedition by sea to Sicily.

Progress by December 1959
Progress of unification by December 1959

The Kingdom of Two Sicilies (yellow on map), which ruled over not only the island, but most of the southern third of the mainland, had long been a corrupt government, oppressing a restive underclass. Although the Garibaldi Red Shirts were less skilled and ill equipped, they had tremendous success, gathering thousands of volunteers as they moved through the countryside. They occupied Sicily within two months. Garibaldi claimed Sicily in the name of Victor Emanuel II, King of Piedmont, Sardinia and Savoy. He then crossed to the mainland and marched his troops to Naples.

After Garibaldi’s success made full unification of Italy a real possibility, Piedmontese troops, under the command of Victor Emanuel II, used the riots and uprisings in the Papal States (red on map) as a reason to move south under the pretext of maintaining order. In 1860, two thirds of the Papal States joined the Kingdom of Sardinia and Rome was left alone. The Piedmontese army bypassed Rome and the remaining Papal States and marched south to Naples to help Garibaldi’s troops defeat the remaining armies of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies.

1861 Italy - Orange Unified - Red Papal State - Green Austrian Venetia
1861 Orange & Pink Unified - Red Papal State - Green Austrian Venetia

On September 18, 1860, Garibaldi gave up command of his army and all lands to the south, including Sicily and Naples, to Victor Emanuel II, signifying the unity and formation of the Kingdom of Italy, which was formalized by the new parliament on March 17, 1861. Victor Emanuel II was crowned the first King of Italy.

Although a Kingdom of Italy had been formed, it did not include all of Italy. The missing parts were Rome and Venetia. Venetia was annexed in 1866. Rome and the remaining Papal States became part of the union in 1870.

Throughout the year Tuscan Traveler will highlight events and stories relating to the unification of Italy.