on 22 April 2008
In 1611 Giacomo Castelvetro was saved from the clutches of the Inquisition in Venice by the intervention of the British ambassador. Sir Dudley Carleton. In 1614, when in exile in England, he wrote The Fruit, Herbs and Vegetables of Italy in an attempt to persuade people to eat a wider variety of fruit and vegetables. Castelvetro was horrified by the vast quantities of meat and sweet things that the British consumed, though he admitted that they helped to keep out the cold. By describing the gastronomic delights of his beloved Italy he hoped to convince his readers of the benefits to be obtained from the cultivation and preparation of new and unfamiliar plants. He even dreamt of teaching the English how to make a decent salad.
Castelvetro takes us through the gardener's year, listing the fruit and vegetables as they come into season, with simple and elegant ways of preparing them. Practical instructions are interspersed with tender little vignettes of life in his native city Modena, memories of his years in Venice and reminiscences of his travels in Europe. He writes of children learning to swim in the canals of the Brenta, strapped to huge dried pumpkins to keep them afloat; Venetian ladies ogling passers by from behind screens of verdant beanstalks; sulky German wenches jealously hoarding their grape harvest; and his intimate chats with Scandinavian royalty about the best way to graft pear cuttings and discomfort the Pope ...
While exiled in England Castelvetro took refuge in the household of Sir Adam Newton at Eltham. He wrote his book there and distributed copies of it in manuscript to eminent people who, he hoped, might befriend him. One of these was Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford, a keen gardener and generous patroness of writers and poets. She was a brilliant member of the glittering court of James I, and through her Castelvetro hoped to find employment for his skills as translator, editor and teacher. But the manuscript dedicated to Lucy remained unpublished, and Castelvetro died, poor, ill and unhappy in 1616.
This is the first English translation of his work. His charming and instructive writing will at last find the wide readership it deserves. His message is as fresh today as it was four hundred years ago eat more fruit and vegetables!
About the translator: Gillian Riley is a freelance book designer and illustrator, educated at Girton College, Cambridge, who has spent many years studying the history of Italian cookery. She was once a runner up in the Observer/Mouton Cadet Cookery Competition and lives in Stoke Newington, London, where she cooks enthusiastically from a huge collection of cookery books, using herbs and spices from all over the world.
on 11 January 2012
I have owned and used this book over fifteen years or so and Castelvetro is a friend from whom I hope never to be parted. For those who do not use recipe books but who prefer to find the best and most interesting ways to prepare the best ingredients they have grown or found on the market, this is the book. The author simply describes the characteristics and different ways of preparing the fruit or vegetable in question. He writes like a lover of food and a good simple Italian cook. It is a historical document but it is also a practical guide that will never date. I lift a glass to the author's memory!