Taking readers back to the Spanish Habsburg court, this critical edition and translation of Arte de Cocina presents a nuanced understanding of what foods were prepared and consumed during a monumental time in Spain’s culinary history. Read a Q&A with the author of The Art of Cooking, Pie Making, Pastry Making, and Preserving, here.
Tell us about how you got the idea to translate Francisco Martínez Montino’s 1611 cookbook Arte de cocina, pastelería, vizcochería y conservería (The Art of Cooking, Pie Making, Pastry Making, and Preserving). Was there a specific event, story, or motivation that acted as a catalyst behind this book’s creation?
Writing about food representations in literature is a significant part of my research agenda and while investigating primary sources for the book Food Matters: Alonso Quijano’s Diet and the Discourse of Food in Early Modern Spain, I got to know well the medieval and early modern cookbooks written in Spanish and Catalán. While the others were significantly more modest in scope and had less influence on future cookbooks, they all had critical editions (and a couple of them, translations) but Martínez Montiño’s collection of 506 recipes had neither a critical edition nor a translation into English. The more recipes I read, the more I was hooked and knew that writing a critical edition and translation of his masterpiece would be a fascinating entry into early modern Spanish culture.
What was it like to do academic research on a cookbook, not a typical topic for literary scholars? Are there any examples, anecdotes, or lessons that stood out to you during the research process of this book?
Studying food practices is a novel approach to understanding history. You don’t just learn about what foods were consumed, but rather, by slowly and intentionally reading cookbooks, you get insight into a myriad of economic, social, and cultural values. For example, Martínez Montiño’s recipes contain insights regarding the economic sectors of agriculture and livestock practices, cycles of and accesses to foraging and hunting; technologies of the time period via what instruments and equipment were used in the kitchen; labour practices within and associated with the kitchen; cultural values including how Christian doctrine shaped eating habits; what ethnic, regional, and international cooking practices were valued; hygiene standards and how the ill were cared for; and what taste meant for the king, queen, lords, and others at court. In short, cookbooks are cultural artefacts that provide insight into many cultural practices and values of the time period.
What was the most challenging aspect of working on this project?
While working on the recipe translations, there were several challenges related to both vocabulary and cooking processes (some still not fully resolved). Those hurdles always led to great exchanges with colleagues, some whose work focused on cookbook translations, some who were experts in culinary history of Spain at other times periods or of other European countries, some professional journalists or professional cooks working on the same or similar topics from their own professional perspectives, some dedicated foodies who love recreating historic dishes, and all of us who share a passion for understanding culture through this culinary lens.
One of the most exciting vocabulary discoveries while researching the cookbook dealt with the use of the flor [flor], a culinary term that refers to the coagulated protein that separates from both the fat and the juices when meat cooks. Martínez Montiño separates out the flor in twelve different recipes and reserves it to then spoon on top of the dish as a finishing touch. After consulting with many experts in the field, several of whom were unfamiliar with the term in this context, in the end I found that the best way to identify the flor was to recreate several dishes. That is how my cooking partner and I were able to confirm exactly what it was (see photo).
Notice the meatballs (#65, “Albondiguillas castellanas” [Castilian meatballs]) in the background waiting to have the flor sprinkled on top before being served.
The photo below shows flor once again in recipe #34, “Un platillo de pichones” [A squab dish], where it is reserved and then sprinkled on top.
Tell us about the research process for this book. Was there anything in your research that surprised you?
Each day working on the project would bring exciting discoveries. In addition to gaining a better understanding of the regional and international references scattered throughout, Martínez Montiño also included a series of dishes that have clear ties to Spain’s Muslim heritage and contemporary Morisco communities. Dishes with ties to Islam are nothing new for cooking manuals on the Iberian Peninsula. In fact, essentially all of them, the Libro de Sent soví [The book of Sent soví], Manual de mugeres [Manual for women], Mestre Robert’s Llibre del coc [Book on cookery] or its translation (Ruperto de Nola’s) Libro de guisados, and Hernández de Maceras’s Libro del arte de cocina [Book on the art of cooking], contain several Muslim or Morisco-inspired recipes. But, in Martínez Montiño’s cookbook, we see the only example of recipes for couscous (#354, “Cómo se hace el Alcuzcuz” [How to make couscous] and #355, “Cómo se guisa el Alcuzcuz” [How to cook couscous]) since their appearance in the Hispano-Muslim cookbooks of the thirteenth century until well into the twentieth century when Emilia Pardo Bazán includes Martínez Montiño’s couscous recipes in her own cookbook.
Additionally, he includes many pastry procedures and ingredients inherited from Spain’s Islamic past. Recipe #114, “Bollo maimón” [Maimon layered pastry], is a perfect example. For the filling, three dozen hard-boiled egg yolks are ground together with a pound and a half of crushed almonds and enough cinnamon to turn the mixture brown (see the first three images below). Early thread-stage sugar is also prepared, as well as two pounds of melted butter; both are set aside. For the dough, flour, water, eggs, and salt are combined until soft and the dough blisters (see the fourth image). Then it is stretched out so thin that you can see through it (images 5-8). Layers of dough, filling, butter, and sugar syrup are assembled (images 9-12) and baked in the oven. The finished product is below (image 13).
Recipes like “Bollo maimón,” those for couscous, and others that focus on Muslim and Morisco culinary contributions at a time when the crown is systematically eradicating cultural artefacts such as Arab clothing and language and actively expelling Moriscos from the country, bring to the forefront the primacy of food in the formation of Spanish cultural heritage. It is fascinating to consider how these recipes underwent scrutiny at three different government levels over the course of a year while it was being prepared for publication, and at no point were they expunged from the book in ways that would be analogous to the fate of the very people who inspired them.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading The Art of Cooking, Pie Making, Pastry Making, and Preserving?
I’m excited for people to try the recipes and taste flavour combinations from that time period: the spice combination of ginger, clove, nutmeg, black pepper, and saffron; the parsley, spearmint, cilantro herb combination; the different pastries; and the sauces! The use of vinegar and other sour flavourings can transport people back in time. I would also be very happy if readers came away with a richer understanding of how food is an integral part of one’s social and cultural identity. I think that’s as true for the seventeenth century as it is today.
Learn more about The Art of Cooking, Pie Making, Pastry Making, and Preserving, here.
Follow Carolyn A. Nadeau’s Instagram page for more recipes from the cookbook.