Monthly Archives: January 2011

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”.

Dove Vai? – Art and Pathology Meet in New Exhibit

For those visiting or living in Florence, only a short time is left to experience one of the most unique and wonderful exhibits for those interested in either the art of wax modeling or the science of medical-surgical pathology practiced in the 1800s.

The free exhibit, called Oltre il Corpo, L’uomo (Besides the Body, the Man), will end February 12, 2011.

Oltre il Corpo, L'Uomo - Besides the Body, the Man
Oltre il Corpo, L'Uomo - Besides the Body, the Man

Fans of the anatomical wax collection of the La Specola Museum, who want to take the experience up a notch must go immediately to the newly constructed entrance (one of the few successful modern pieces of architecture in Florence) of the Careggi Hospital and then, find the permanent Center of Knowledge and Art (Osservatorio dei Saperi e delle Arte) exhibit space (to the left of the main entrance hall).

Illustration published in 1843 of a surgical blepharoplasty
Illustration published in 1843 of a surgical blepharoplasty

Whereas the anatomical wax models at Museo La Specola show the body in its perfect and healthy state, the creations at the Pathology Museum, from which curator Elisabetta Susani selected prime examples for Oltre il Corpo, L’uomo, are sometimes shocking representations of diseases that were treated in the 1800s. One of the most interesting is a the wax model side by side with the skeleton of a child with an incurable case of hydrocephalus.

1842 wax model of woman with ectropion of the eyelids
1842 wax model of a woman with ectropion of the eyelids

Look more closely and you find that the disease and the treatment are surprisingly modern. An example of this is a patient with ectropion (congenital or cancerous turning out of both upper and lower eyelids) who was treated with a surgical technique similar to one found today. The exhibit shows both the wax model of the diseased state and the surgical intervention, as well as the published illustration of the procedure.

If you are 3,000 miles away from Florence, you can see a video tour of the exhibit.

The Pathology Museum of Florence

The Pathology Museum was created in 1824 at the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, built in 1288 by the father of Dante’s muse Beatrice. It wasn’t until 1742 when there was a move to create a medical academy to formalize the sharing of information among doctors and scientists.

It took another eighty years to establish the Florentine Medical-Physical Society. One of the first acts of the Society was to set up a Pathological Museum. It was not a museum for the public, but rather a repository for information about the pathology and medical-surgical treatment of diseases.

Regulations for conducting autopsies in the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova were established. Each autopsy was to be presided over by the director of the Pathological Museum. The deceased patient’s clinical history was put on file. The diagnosis made by the patient’s doctor was to be compared with the results of the autopsy. The organs, removed by surgical procedures were consigned to the Museum. In cases where patients were cured, their doctors were required to send the Museum a report on their post-operative care.

Skeleton of child with hydrocephalus
Skeleton of child with hydrocephalus

Due to the difficulty of ensuring correct conservation of the pathological materials, it was decided to have some duplicates fabricated in wax. The Museum’s model-makers studied the techniques practiced in the other wax-modeling laboratory in Florence, La Specola.

Surprisingly realistic models were fabricated, providing a fascinating glimpse of the major pathologies in the 19th century. The collection of anatomical wax figures includes numerous wax reproductions, mainly the work of Giuseppe Ricci, Luigi Calamai and Egisto Tortori.

1865 wax model of woman with tubercular scrofula
1865 wax model of woman with tubercular scrofula

A remarkable example of symbiosis between science and art, the wax models were important, above all, for their value in teaching, allowing professors to illustrate the most important diseases to future physicians without having to depend the dissection of cadavers or the preservation of diseased organs.

The Museum attracted illustrious researchers in European medicine and resulted in the creation of one of the first Departments of Pathology in Europe, sited at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova.

The Institute of Pathological Anatomy and the Museum were moved to Careggi Hospital in 1959. At present, the Department of Human Pathology and Oncology, instituted in 2000, manages the Museum’s collections.

Osservatorio dei Saperi e delle Arti (OSA)

Address: Largo Brambilla 3, New Entrance of  Careggi Hospital

Take the #14 ATAF city bus to the stop half a block within sight of the Careggi Hospital entrance.

Open: Monday – Friday 10am – 5pm, Saturday 10am – 1pm (Free)

Ends: February 12, 2011

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.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Happy New Year from Tuscany!

Auguri di Buon Anno!!

Tuscan Traveler is looking forward to another year in Florence and Tuscany, writing about the less traveled paths, the hidden courtyards, as well as the objects or places seen every day, but for which the stories have been lost.

Via dello Studio view of the Florence Duomo
Florence Duomo seen from Via dello Studio

In 2011, Florentine food will be a focus and so will Tuscany for tots (or just for those very young at heart). Italian politics is too difficult for Tuscan Traveler to translate, but 2011 promises to be a year of great change (hopefully), therefore the best alternative web sites for current events will be brought to focus (of course, most likely under the theme Burnt To a Crisp).

2011 is the Year to Visit Tuscany with Friend In Florence

Tuscan Traveler and Friend In Florence expect to welcome friends back to Florence and Tuscany, as well as meet visitors new to the history, art, food and wine of this fascinating city and a diverse region of beaches and mountains, vineyards and olive groves, hill towns, markets, and so, so much more.

Tuscany in the summer in a sunflower year
Tuscany in the summer in a Sunflower Year

Friend in Florence offers you a virtual friend, who has both the experience of a native Florentine and the imagination and curiosity of a visitor, who after 12 years still looks at Florence and Tuscany with the eyes of a foreigner. Offering custom walking tours of Florence and chauffeured expeditions throughout Tuscany, Friend In Florence provides minute by minute information and experiences to create memories that will last for years.

For those who want to explore on their own, Friend in Florence offers self-guided itineraries of Florence and/or Tuscany with information about special events, introductions to friends of Tuscan Traveler and Friend in Florence, directions to workshops of craftsmen and small select wineries, and reservations at the best Florentine restaurants or countryside trattorias.

Montefioralle - one of the small hill towns of Tuscany
Montefioralle - one of the small hill towns of Tuscany

In the New Year, experience the Joy of a Florentine Kitchen!

Tuscan Traveler will post descriptions of the best places to eat in Florence and Tuscany, but if you have a desire to experience the joy and simplicity of cooking the Florentine way, ask Friend in Florence to arrange a class in your apartment kitchen in Florence or at your villa in Tuscany. If you don’t want to cook, but also want the comfort and privacy of eating at your home away from home, request a catered lunch or dinner from Friend in Florence.

Tuscan vegetables with zucchini flowers
Tuscan vegetables with zucchini flowers cooked up by a Florentine chef (email: (email: