Wow, it’s been a while since I started my excessively geeky structural analysis of the Carnival Menus of 16th c. Italian chef Messisbugo. The earlier parts of the series are my “mini-Messisbugo” menu for a dinner for 10
, the introductory structural overview
, summarizing the menus being used as data and describing the overall schematic structure of the meals, and a detailed analysis of the first unit: the table setting
. As before, all credit for tracking down and translating the text goes to vittoriosa
I now proceed to the unit that I’m unofficially calling the “pre-course”. After the description of the table setting, there is a list of dishes that is similar in structure to the lists identified as courses, but it is not usually labelled as “the Nth course”. Furthermore, it is followed in the text by an instruction to bring scented water for the hands and then the text proceeds to a course generally identified as the “first course”. One exception to this may help disambiguate the nature of the service. in the 1537 menu, this “pre-course” is instead called the “first course” and is followed by an instruction “Scented water was given for the hands and then the first course. Everyone sat down, and then the second course came in [followed by a list of dishes].” So this implies that this “pre-course” (whether numbered or not) may be served after
the handwashing even though it is described before it. I'm still uncertain about this.
Here are the specific texts: 15?0
40 pieces of marzipan biscuits. [See the discussion in the previous article regarding whether this item belongs conceptually to the “table setting” group. I have omitted it from the analysis of this section.]
Salad of capers, truffles and currants, one per person.
Salad of endive, chicory [radicchio
] leaves, and citron sliced thinly, one per person.
10 hot pheasant pies, 10 little plates.
Salted beef tongue cut in pieces, in 10 little plates.
Roasted capon meat sliced and fried with lemon juice and sliced lemon and sugar and pepper on top, 10 plates. 1524
25 cold jointed pheasants in 20 little plates.
Salad of half-salted beef tongue incasonada
[?] in slices, in 20 little plates.
Fried mortadella slices with sugar and cinnamon on top in 20 little plates.
Salad of truffles and capers in 37 open pies, 37 little plates.
Salad of mixed greens [mescolanze
], ramps, and citron, 37 little plates. 1536
Salad of herbs and citron, 32.
Salad of truffles, 32.
4 salami and 4 tongues in slices, in 10 plates.
10 boiled jointed capons in pastry, fried, in 10 plates.
Large round pies filled with sliced boar in sauce [dobba
], 10 plates
Large flaky pastries with ten partridges, cold, in 10 plates
, 10 plates. [note: “Cascóssa, a kind of creame or fresh cheese, some take it for a kind of paste-meat.”
Turkish-style rice, 10 plates. 1537
- In this case, this list is identified as the “first course”
Salad of ramps, cress, chicory [radicchio
] leaves, and citron, 32 plates.
Salad of raisins and capers, 32 plates.
Large pies, each of which contained half a loin of beef, sliced, in sauce [dobba
], in 14 plates.
Capon meat and mortadella slices covered with blancmange and fine sugar on top, 14 plates.
14 large pastries of pine nuts and raisins, quartered, in 14 plates.
Salami, that is, persutto trinzato
[?] and sliced tongue, 14 plates. 1540
12 capons in pies, jointed raw and then cooked inside the pies, in 12 plates.
Salad of peacock flesh with sliced lemon, 24 little plates.
Salad of endive with chicory [radicchio
] leaves, 24 plates.
Parmesan cheese, 12 plates.
12 cold roasted loins of hare, jointed, in 12 little plates. 1548
- The format in this case includes as the first item in the list the napkin, knife, and breads that are usually grouped with the description of the table setting. I’ve left those treated in the preceding article, per my approach of structuring the discussion according to the majority pattern.
Salad of chicory, endive, ramps, and other mixed greens, 16 plates.
Salad of peacock meat and sliced citron with red wine vinegar, sugar, and a little pepper, 16 plates.
Sliced salami and salted tongue and the accompanying persutti
, 7 plates.
Little flans of raisins, currants, pine nuts and salami, 48 on 7 plates.
Dry-roasted stuffed polpette
, covered with royal sauce, 48 on 7 plates.
Soup of raisins covered with sugar and cinnamon, 7 plates.
12 roasted partridges in mirasto
in pieces, 7.
28 little flaky pastries of royal pastry, filled with blancmange, 7 plates.
7 ducal saveloy sausages and boar bole
[?], and fried veal sweetbreads, together on 7 plates.
28 domestic pigeons stuffed inside and under the skins, roasted, 7 plates. The Handwashing Instruction
I’ll analyze the dishes below, but I wanted to list the hand-washing transitions first, since they’re closely parallel to each other. As noted above, the 1537 instruction strongly implies that the handwashing is done before the “pre-course” is served. But otherwise the implication seems to be that the handwashing is done after the service. 15?0
Then scented water was given for the hands, and in the first course there were: 1524
And here was given scented water for the hands, and then came this first course: 1536
Then scented water was given for the hands, and the first course came, as such: 1537
- note that the “pre-course” is identified as “first” in this case and the numbers are shifted accordingly for the following courses.
Scented water was given for the hands and then the first course [i.e., the course described above]. Everyone sat down, and then the second course came in 1540
Then scented water was given for the hands, and in came: 1548
Here was given scented water for the hands, and they remained for a bit with this course, then they took away the salads and salami and brought in the next course. The Structure of the Dishes
With the omissions noted above, this unit contains either 5 (3 menus), 6 (1 menu), or 8 (2 menus) dishes. There are some clear categorical themes, though each menu may vary within that theme. Salad:
All menus have a salad of greens (endive, radicchio, ramps, mixed greens, sliced citron).
Four have another salad involving truffles, capers, and raisins or currants (each of these ingredients is missing in at least one case but there is clearly a grouping here).
There are two other dishes labeled a “salad”. One is a “salad of peacock flesh with sliced lemon” which seems to be its own category (it shows up in two menus, and also in one of the non-Carnival menus that is not part of the current analysis). The other, a salad of sliced salted beef tongue, seems to belong conceptually in the next category. Sliced preserved meats and sausages
Five of the six menus include a dish of salami and sliced salted beef tongue, or tongue by itself. One of these also includes a dish of “fried mortadella slices”. (Mortadella slices also occur as garnish in other dishes.) Fowl most typically capon
Some sort of fowl dish is always present and the one most commonly present involves capon, although the method of cooking and presentation may vary (4 of 6 menus). Boiled joined and cooked in pastry; joined raw and cooked in pastry; roasted, sliced and fried with lemon juice; meat (cooking method unspecified) with mortadella slices covered with blancmange.
Game birds (partridge or pheasant) feature in 4 of 6 menus: in patry, in pies, or simply served as cold joints. One menu also has a dish of (domestic) pigeons stuffed and roasted. Less Common Categories
There seems to be a conceptual slot for a dish of red meat: boar, beef, or hare (4 menus, 2 of which involve “large pies”). But this may be an attempt on my part to impose order on an unrelated assortment of dishes.
Two menus have a dish of cheese, evidently served plain.
Two menus have a dish featuring rice (Turkish-style rice or a pie filled with blancmange).
Two menus have pastries of raisins and pine nuts (other ingredients possible).
The menu with the largest number of dishes ekes out the more common categories with stuffed polpettes (a sort of meat roll-up) and a soup of raisins.A "Typical" Course
So if the most common number of dishes is five and given the groupings above, a typical menu should involve:
- a salad of greens and citron slices
- a second salad, typically of truffles and capers (alternately peacock meat and sliced lemon)
- a dish of salami and sliced tongue
- a dish of capon in some form
- another meat dish, there being a temptation to suggest either game birds or a game animal (boar or hare) though I’m sure this is an artificial grouping on my part
A more extensive course might add the other category of meat dish from above, a cheese plate, or a rice dish, but beyond that no pattern can be extrapolated. My Mini-Messisbugo
I diverged from the above “typical” menu for the pre-course primarily because I wanted to limit the number of meat-based dishes and aim for a larger variety of types of dishes, especially ones that could be served cold with little prepartion.
- A salad of endive, radicchio, and thinly sliced lemon, marinated in advance with lemon juice and almond oil. I blended the salad motifs slightly by adding capers and then added fresh arugula at the last minute.
- A plate of sliced salami, prosciutto, and smoked tongue accompanied by parmesan cheese and small balls of fresh mozzarella. This combines the obligatory salumi plate with the optional cheese plate.
- Pastries of pine nuts and raisins. I loosely followed one of Messisbugo’s recipes for this dish, using ground raisins and pine nuts bound with honey and rolled up in (commercial) phyllo dough.
- (Commercial) almond biscuits. As noted above, this properly belongs in the table-setting category but I served it with this course.
I may save the analysis of the “main courses” for later and jump ahead to the “Removal” for the next article. The relationships of the main courses and their contents are complex and I’d rather get some momentum going on this write-up rather than getting bogged down.