Libri Belli in the Kitchen

Articolo pubblicato su Sali e Tabacchi - Issue 00

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Collage by Zeno Peduzzi

Recipe books and cookbooks filled the shelves to the brim. They were crammed on the top shelves of the kitchen, always inevitably inaccessible to the hands of a child. The volumes occupied an entire category of a family library and were large and thick as ring binders, or either, thin as spiral notebooks.

The Talisman of Happiness by Ada Boni, whose cover features a portrait of Il Mangiafagioli, “The Beaneater” by Annibale Carracci, was written at the beginning of the ‘900 and reprinted multiple times, and is a staple of Italian gastronomy that never really intrigued me. The gentleman on the cover is eating something that doesn’t really inspire appetite (bean soup — no way!) and the text inside the book is only made up of recipes (no images!).

Nothing to do with the culinary and visual opulence of the manuals written by Lisa Biondi, literally stuffed with countless more realistic images. Lisa Biondi was an unmissable presence in the kitchens of the second half of the ‘900, a bit like Bartezzaghi in crosswords. Flicking through her manuals, but also the cookbooks from the seventies and eighties, was a joy to behold.

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Collage by Zeno Peduzzi

I have flicked through and read over those pages over and over again and up until today the photos of the dishes have remained etched in my memory. Yet, the truth is Lisa Biondi actually did not exist but was a positive and familiar personification of a collective of experts and authors which changed over the years. A brand with a human face just like the American Betty Crocker, essentially, a pure marketing device. Her recipes and those of her contemporaries praised the use of these newly minted varieties of food: margarine, Knorr stock, Calvè mayonnaise, and the booklets regarding these foods, were given away with the purchase of products or small kitchen appliances. Jolly Della Buona Cucina, which can literally be translated to “the Jolly of the Good Food”, is one of the booklets which been published since the 1970s, small recipe notepads characterized by comb binding and a cover which always features a coloured checkered tablecloth. These booklets were all about the so-called ‘last minute menus’ and the ‘almost-ready meals’, practically raving about frozen and canned food for the people who had no time to lose anymore.

In comparison, the Eighties were a riot of soufflé, salmì, canapè, aspic, pilaf. People loved to show off and showed this through the bombastic names of recipes and ingredients, it was practically jubilation of hedonism in the kitchen. Browning, frosting, sautéing, stewing and the images of the books become more and more excessive: these are the photographs that I remember perhaps most vividly. Saturated colours, unlikely associations. Somewhere I must have seen a ziggurat stuffed with boiled pasta and even a chicken entirely filled with tortellini. Things that you humans can’t even imagine…

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“Curiouser and curiouser!”

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