Festival of Elvegast 2024

The Feasting of the Shrew

Another Shakespearean event, but in this case the feast was set in Italy just like the play. A small feast of only 40 seats, with recipes from Bartolomeo Scappi’s Opera, one of the most encyclopedic sources for Italian Renaissance food.

Scappi sets forth in his Opera not only hundreds of recipes, but full menus for dinners and suppers throughout the year. The Opera was first published in 1570, and  was soon reprinted. It is believed that Shakespeare wrote Taming of the Shrew between 1590 and 1592, so it is quite possible that his Veronese characters might have eaten meals similar to those described within the pages of the Opera. 

Selected recipes linked below – if there’s one I haven’t yet included that you’d like more information on, please feel free to contact me. Primary sources for each recipe are also included at those links.

Menu

First Course

Second Course

  • Stewed Capon with Gooseberries
  • Thick Soup of Tagliatelle
  • The best sort of cabbage
  • Roulade of pork
  • Mushroom sops
  • A dish of rice

Third Course

Background: Bartolomeo Scappi

Bartolomeo Scappi was born around 1500. He served various bishops and cardinals throughout his career, which culminated in service to Pope Pius the IV and Pope Pius V. Unfortunately, the latter was an ascetic who notably canceled his own celebratory feast for the first anniversary of being elevated to the papacy.

As a chef, Scappi was a showman – one of his feasts comprised hundreds of dishes, including seventy-seven different desserts and edible statues of weird beasts from the Orient, Greek gods, and cavorting nymphs. More interestingly, his cuisine embraced dishes from the whole of the Italian Peninsula – despite the fact that at this time in history, there was neither a unified Italian nation nor even the notion of a unified Italian Cuisine. Scappi’s Opera is filled with references to a Bolognese sauce for this, a Genoese garnish for that, or a delicious dessert known and loved by the people of Padua but virtually secret from anyone else. Clearly, Scappi was well traveled, and moreover traveled with the express intention of exploring markets, speaking to traders, and experimenting with every new ingredient that came his way – a habit made clear in his book.

Background: The Menus

Scappi’s Opera includes an entire chapter setting forth menus for various occasions. For this feast, I focused on the menus from April, as shown below. In general, Scappi’s menus included a “starter” course from the credenza, followed by one, two or three courses from the kitchen, and a final course from the credenza.

The credenza was a sideboard that was kept stocked with both dishes and tableware, but also a wide range of cold foods. In Book IV of the Opera, Scappi details the furnishings of this sideboard for both normal and “lean day’ meals, shown in abbreviated form below:

For meat days: All sorts of {fruits} whether confected, dried or in a syrup… biscotti and mostaccioli {a type of cookie}, marzipan, pignolli and pistacchio candies…grapes, pomegranates, quince, oranges, pears of many types, apples of many types, cheese of many types as well as butter and “cream tops”. Salamis, salsiccioni, mortadelle, prosciutto, tongues, more cured meats… cold pies of game, cold pies of poultry, and pies of large cold salami.

For lean days: Salted tuna, smoked tuna, salted salmon, smoked herring, anchovies, sardines, many other assorted fish, fish pies, fish in aspic, as well as fresh fruit (various seasonal fruits are listed).

The credenza typically also was where other cold dishes such as salads were served from, as shown in the menus.

Two sets of menus are provided for April, each with both a dinner (the more substantial meal) and a supper. I have arranged this feast based on the meal progression found there – the majority of the dishes found in this feast are listed in approximately the same course in one of the four menus, or a similar substitution is made. The meal for April 8th is a simpler bill of fare, served to fewer people, than that for the 15th. 

An interesting note about the arrangement of the menus – modern tastes tend towards sweet dishes at the end of the meal, while Renaissance Italian menus included both sweet and savory dishes throughout. This, perhaps, is most obvious in the final course, which in most examples included sweet and savory cold pies, artichokes, fruit, various cheeses, and pastries. It’s as though the salad, cheese, and dessert courses of formal dining have been combined into one! 

In creating the menu, I attempted to balance the many sweet items specified by Scappi with the more savory items expected by modern diners. I also, in something of a departure from period practice, attempted to ensure both omnivores and vegetarians/vegans would be able to eat – for instance, the focaccia was chosen as it was made with olive oil rather than butter.

Logistical Notes for the Feast

This was a reasonably budgeted feast prepared in a quite usable kitchen – Schley Grange Hall in Schley, NC. Equipment wise, we have everything needed – multiple ovens, two stoves, plenty of counter space, etc. However, as the feast is small (only 40 paid guests) the budget did prove to be challenging to fit my vision within.

I had a budget of $600.00 (in 2024, if one is reading this much later) for 40 paying guests, I planned servings for 56 to cover high table, cooking staff, servers, and my general need to make sure that everyone leaves my feasts stuffed. 

As always, when planning, I try to serve something like 32 oz. of food per person – while this does lead to some level of waste, it allows family style serving to feel generous and for people to have larger portions of dishes they like vs. dishes they do not. Again, my goal is stuffed, happy diners. 

Unfortunately, between inflation and the smaller-than-usual number of diners, I did overrun my budget somewhat significantly – the final receipts totalled ~$660, or about a 10% over-spend. Usually I cook feasts for 120-150, which leads to an economy of scale for certain items and the ability to purchase meats in restaurant-supply stores, at significant discount. (As an example, at the time of this writing chicken thighs cost $2.16 a pound when purchased in a 40-lb case, vs $3.29 per pound at an inexpensive grocery store. ) 

Quantities of food served, however, were reasonable and most of the leftovers were of cheaper dishes – kale, etc – so in retrospect I would not have changed the menu, merely shopped more aggressively if possible.

On a positive note, however, the feast scheduling went as well as I could have possibly hoped – the event schedule listed a feast time of 6pm, the head table was seated and ready to eat by 6:10 (a minor miracle in and of itself) and the first course was out to high tables by 6:15 and all other tables by 6:20.

The Arrangement of the Feast and Courses

First Course from the Credenza

In Scappi’s menus, the first course usually contained sweets (both cookies and pies), fresh cheese and butter, cold meats, and salads (in the supper menus). I’ve tried to capture the spirit of this combination, though with an abbreviated number of dishes and in a way that still appeals to modern palates. Example first-course menus1 included the following – I’ve highlighted items I chose OR that I used as a basis for substitution:

  • Dinner, April 8th: Little marzipan biscuits; Neapolitan mostaccioli; piped ricotta topped with sugar; prosciutto cooked in wine, sliced and topped with orange juice & sugar, Milanese-style offelle.
  • Supper, April 8th: Salad of lettuce & borage flowers; salad of mixed greens; asparagus salad; kids’ foot salad; junket topped with sugar; sausages cooked in wine, sliced and served cold; capons supramentati served cold, topped with capers; plum sauce; flans filled with farro, served cold.
  • Dinner, April 15th: Morsels of marzipan; pine nut candy; hulled strawberries topped with sugar; clotted cream, topped with sugar; prosciutto and salted ox tongue cooked in wine and sliced, topped with lemon juice & sugar; flaky offelle topped with sugar.
  • Supper, April 15th: Lettuce salad with borage flowers; asparagus salad; mixed salad garnished with flowers; salad of duck’s feet and gizzards; large sausage and buffalo’s tongue cut into slices and cooked in wine; tortiglioni or else focaccine made flaky with butter; pastries filled with 6lb of veal, served cold. 

First and Final Course from the Kitchen

In Scappi’s menus, the kitchen courses either included dishes of all kinds, or, if there were to be more than one kitchen course, started with a course of roasted and/or more delicate meats, followed by a course of boiled meats. I’ve chosen to include both in a single course.

A further note: very few vegetables were shown in the menus, nor carb dishes, and what vegetables there were tended to be cooked in meat broth. I’ve leaned on some of the lean day recipes to “fill in the blanks”, especially for those following diets which do not include meat.

Second and Final Course from the Credenza

As mentioned in the introduction, the second credenza course typically included a combination of salads, cold pies, sweets, cheeses, and fruits. The combination of raw artichokes with cooked artichokes appeared in almost every menu.

After this “final” course, diners would be given fresh flowers and candied spices, as well as scented toothpicks. Budgetary limitations did not allow for this.

Sources

The majority of the feast is based on Terrence Scully’s translation of the Opera:

Scappi, Bartolomeo. Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi, cuoco secreto di Papa Pio V diuisa in sei libri... apresso Michele Tramezzino, 1570, http://books.google.com/books?id=9VCtiKCegTUC&dq=Opera%20di%20M.%20Bartolomeo%20Scappi%2C%20cuoco%20segreto%20di%20Papa%20Pio%20V&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false.
Scappi, Bartolomeo, and Terence Scully. The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570): L’Arte Et Prudenza D’Un Maestro Cuoco. University of Toronto Press, 2008.

Supplemental Sources – Medieval Food:

I am indebted to the research of Colleen Davis, known in the SCA as Lady Antonia Calvo, whose translation of the April menus is part of a larger project to translate all of the menus in Scappi – although I had translated the April 8th menus myself before finding her version, my translation lacked both elegance and subtlety and I very much appreciate the availability of this one.  I was also inspired by the work of Louise Smithson, known in the SCA as Helewyse de Birkestad, OL her analysis of the menus and of the weights and measures used by Scappi was invaluable.

Smithson, Louise. “Salads of Scappi.” Medieval Cookery, 1 July 2007, https://www.medievalcookery.com/helewyse/salads.html.
Smithson, Louise. “Planning a Feast the Italian Way.” Medieval Cookery, 4 Dec. 2004, https://www.medievalcookery.com/helewyse/italianfeastplanning.html.
Smithson, Louise. “Lost in Translation.” Lost in Translation, 1 Mar. 2009, https://www.medievalcookery.com/helewyse/Lost_in_Translation.html.
Smithson, Louise. Feast for Yule and Baronial Investiture in the Barony of Red Spears- December 2002. 6 Jan. 2003, https://www.medievalcookery.com/helewyse/yulefeast.html.
Calvo, Antonia di Benedetto. Scappi, Scully, and Me. 30 Jan. 2024, https://peerless.kitchen/scappi-scully-and-me/.

Additional Background: Scappi, Shakespeare, and Other Questions:

These items were used for general historical background:

Schmidt, Stephen. “Scappi | Manuscript Cookbooks Survey.” Manuscript Cookbooks Survey, 1 Aug. 2019, https://www.manuscriptcookbookssurvey.org/tag/scappi/.
Folger Shakespeare Library, and Kent Cartwright. “Italy in Shakespeare’s Comedies.” The World of Italy in Shakespeare’s Comedies - Excerpt: Shakespeare and the Comedy of Enchantment, 25 Jan. 2022, https://www.folger.edu/blogs/shakespeare-and-beyond/italy-in-shakespeares-comedies-excerpt-shakespeare-and-the-comedy-of-enchantment/.
Davidson, Alan, and Tom Jaine. The Oxford Companion to Food. 2nd ed, Oxford University Press, 2006.
White, Edward. Cooking for the Pope. 3 Mar. 2017, https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2017/03/03/sensory-delights/.

I also consulted a number of modern food sources as I redacted the recipes:

Miller, Summer, and EatingWell Magazine. Wilted Kale with Warm Shallot Dressing. 28 Mar. 2024, https://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/255774/wilted-kale-with-warm-shallot-dressing/.
Hudson, Ed. “One Gallon of Milk, Two Cheeses – Mother Earth News.” Mother Earth News, 21 Jan. 2016, https://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/one-gallon-milk-two-cheeses-zbcz1601/.
U/ItsBecauseIm____. “Lemon or Vinegar, during or after, for Your Ricotta? : R/Cheesemaking.” R/Cheesemaking, 2021, https://www.reddit.com/r/cheesemaking/s/JS6zWpqgGs.
Min, Summer, and Food52. Braised Chicken with White Currants & Gooseberries Recipe on Food52. https://food52.com/recipes/30059-braised-chicken-with-currants-gooseberries. Accessed 8 June 2024.
Nagi. Slow-Roasted Crispy Pork Belly. 9 Apr. 2021, https://www.recipetineats.com/crispy-slow-roasted-pork-belly/.
Food, Rufus’, and Spirits Guide. Red Wine Braised Ham. 8 Jan. 2016, https://rufusguide.wordpress.com/2016/01/08/red-wine-braised-ham/.
Classes, Marta’s Cooking. Ricotta and Pine Nut Cake. 11 Apr. 2018, https://www.martascookingclasses.com/recipe/ricotta-and-pine-nut-cake/.
Sambocade (Medieval Elderflower Cheesecake). 17 May 2014, http://www.nutmegsseven.co.uk/blog/2014/05/sambocade-medieval-elderflowerhtml.

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