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           ---           ----INTRODUCTION TO 1475
   roman Type in Venice 13 June 1475 THE title of
   Platina’s work, as is true of many books of the
   period, appears in various forms. One variant, De
   obsoniis ac  honesta voluptate, can be freely
   translated as: “On meat dishes and their virtuous
   enjoyment.” Platina stresses that his recipes do not
   lead to the sin of gluttony. So you can enjoy your
   three-inch charcoal-broiled steaks and still feel
   virtuous. This book is important not only as the first
   printed cookery text, but also as an excellent source
   of knowledge of daily life in the mid-fifteenth
   century, and particularly for insights into dietary
   customs of the time. Platina, I discovered, was not a
   cook. He is recorded first as a soldier and later as a
   distinguished scholar. In 1474 he presented the
   handwritten manuscript of his now famous Lives of the
   Popes to Pope Sixtus IV. The original is still in the
   Vatican Library. His reward was an appointment to the
   extremely important post of Librarian to the Vatican.
   How did this scholar come to write a cookbook? The
   clue may be found in the book itself, where he
   mentions his “good friend Martino” the chef of one of
   the Chamberlains to the Pope. They must have become
   acquainted at the Vati- can. A manuscript treatise on
   food and cookery written by Martino is in the Library
   of Congress. It is quite evident that Martino’s
   manuscript formed the basis for Platina’s book, for he
   says of his friend in Chapter VI, “which cook, by the
   immortals, could compare with my companion Martino of
   Como, by whom these things I write have for the most
   part been considered? You will call him another
   Carneades if you hear him discussing extemporaneously
   the things put forth here.” Platina’s book is rather
   casual in its approach to actual cooking, and the
   entries in the long table of contents may not guide
   the reader to any hint of a recipe. For instance, the
   chapter on edible birds deals with swans and storks,
   but only relates their living habits. It must be
   remembered, however, that in the fifteenth century the
   common people could neither read nor write. Books were
   commissioned by rich patrons who collected handwritten
   books with elaborate hand-painted illuminations. Any
   cookery manuscript would have been a carefully guarded
   secret, available only to professionals. I suppose the
   student apprentices who had to pay for their training
   were sworn to secrecy and learned not by reading but
   by working with their masters, who probably couldn't
   write out directions anyway. But Platina, a trained
   scholar and experienced writer, turned out a
   well-written book by the standards of his time, even
   though the recipes lack specific information. What
   fascinates me is that so many of the same foods we use
   today were being used then in practically the same
   way. Platina refers to eggs, pastry, bread and grains,
   cheese, all the vegetables, practically all the
   fruits, including cherries, grapes and eggs, chicken,
   frogs, salted meat, squid, octopus and all our modern
   spices. And his chapters of advice concerning
   healthful habits seem amazingly timely today, when
   exercise and recreation are considered of vital
   importance for good health. All of Platina’s recipes
   are frustrating, for no quantities are given and no
   definite cooking directions appear. You were just
   supposed to be a “born cook” in those days. Have a
   look at these old recipes, but, for goodness sakes,
   don't try them unless you are the gambling type. Use
   the modern versions--I can guarantee them, for we have
   eaten them one and all. Source: Pepperidge Farm
   Cookbook, by Margaret Rudkin -----
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