The father of Mediterranean cookery: our book of the month for December

Libro de Cozina
Roberto de Nola
Toledo: R. de Petras for D.P. Davila, 1525
[E.P.] Case E.b.7

The title page.

The title page.

This is the first Spanish edition of a book originally written in Catalan and published in Barcelona in 1520 by a man who became known as the father of Mediterranean cookery. The nationality of the author, Roberto de Nola, is unknown (Catalan? Aragonese? Italian?). What is known, from his description of himself on the title page, is that he was cook to Fernando (Ferdinand I), King of Naples (r. 1458-1494).

Roberto wrote his book to aid the servant who would replace him upon his death. He began by describing such matters as the duties of household officers, dietary health, what drinks should accompany the dishes, how to carve, and how to serve at table. Recipes follow, whereby the Spanish editions add to and adapt the original Catalan recipes. The recipes are generous in their use of olive oil. They include a great number of soups and stews and sauces, and also food for invalids. More than once, the writer claims that chicken broths are so singular and sustaining that they will return or nearly return a dead man to life (fol. 34). Typically for recipes right up until the nineteenth century, the instructions are vague about quantities. An example (fol. 17): 

The upper cover of the binding showing a chef in action.

The upper cover of the binding showing a chef in action.

Take a hen which is more than half cooked and cut it up as if to make portions; and take good bacon which is fatty, and gently fry it with a little bit of onion.  And then gently fry the cut-up hen with it.  And take toasted almonds, and grind them, and mix with them quinces or pears which have been conserved in honey; and take the livers of the hens, and roast them on the coals.  And when they are well-roasted put them in the mortar of the almonds, and grind everything together; and then take a crustless piece of bread toasted and soaked in white vinegar, grind it in the mortar with the other stuff.  And when it is well-ground, blend it with hen’s broth that is well-salted; and strain it all through a sieve; and cast it in a pot; and cast the hen in also; and cast in all fine spices, and a good quantity of sugar.  And this sauce must be a little bit sour.  And when the sauce is cooked, cast in a little finely shredded parsley, and prepare your dishes, and then [cast] upon them sugar and cinnamon.

The book was very popular, undergoing four further editions in Catalan and ten in Spanish.  Diego Granado plagiarised 55 of its recipes for his Libro del Arte de Cozina (1599). Its lasting value is demonstrated by the existence of a restaurant in modern Malaga which cooks its dishes.

This copy of Libro de Cozina came to Senate House Library as part of the Eliot-Phelips Collection in 1950. It is the only copy of the first Spanish edition recorded on COPAC.

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