Pellegrino Artusi: introducing UK to “…the Art of Eating Well”

Pellegrino Artusi

Italy unified with a frying pan

I don’t know if you ever heard about him before, but… see that guy with the mutton-chop whiskers? That is Pellegrino Artusi, the author of Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well” (1891).

That book, in Italy, is as famous as Pinocchio. You don’t need to name it by its full title. Simply call it “The Artusi”, and everybody knows what you are talking about: the author and the book have become synonymous with one other in a way that rarely happens in the history of literature.

If Garibaldi unified Italy from the top of a horse, and Cavour with his neck for politics, Artusi did it teaching the people how to cook. He gave the Italians a gastronomic homeland. If not the same political faith, says a critic of Artusi’s work, “[..] people were eating the same food and sharing the same dishes.”

There is one of the for every nation in the world: August Escoffier for France, Fanny Cradock for United Kingdom, Julia Child for United States and Pellegrino Artusi for Italy, and more others I imagine…

Personalities that somehow, thanks to different skills and merits, have become an icon of the common heritage of their people.

Practical Cooking

Artusi didn’t want to write a recipe book. He didn’t trust recipe books. In his preface to his own work, he starts the second sentence like this:

Distrust those books which debate this art [the cooking. Ed.] most of them are either deceptive or unintelligible, especially the Italian ones; lesser evil the French: either from these and the others, you might be able to gain some profitable notion if you are already knowledgable of the art“. 

He started working on the book purely to suit himself, so that his interest in noting crucial steps of the process, tricks and hints was genuine and passionate. As he explains, at the end he was convinced by friends and supporters to publish the work, and what he came up with was what he truly wanted: an instruction manual for practical cooking.

If you don’t demand yourself to become a teenybopper chef and you haven’t been born wearing a casserole, […] with something like this book of mine, you can – I hope – come up with something good.

The “Ipse Dixit” of Italian cooking

In spite of its difficult beginnings in the publishing sector – it got rejected 4 times before the author decided to take a risks and publish it at his own expense –  this “domestic bible” quickly became an essential element of any bride-to-be’s dowry.

The colloquial style of his writing made his book sound familiar to anybody. People started sending him letters with new recipes or with local peculiarities, and Artusi gradually integrated them, updating his book. He mentioned restaurants or taverns where he ate, he recalled people he talked to, all through the recipes he talks to the reader, engaging a discussion rather than simply dispensing instructions. He behaved like an ahead-of-time food blogger.

To those in the know the book became a dogma of cooking. Even when almost forgotten by “modern food lovers” it remained the absolute authority on the matter. “It’s said on the Artusi”. Or, “Artusi makes it this way”. “I made it like Artusi”.

To words like these you can’t object.

So, simply bow before the “Ipse dixit” of Italian cooking.

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