The first book with a community of “social followers”

To everyone in Italy the work is known simply as “L’Artusi” (“the Artusi”). And when you earn the definite article in your name, it means you have left a mark. In this case, the man was worth as much as his work: “l’Artusi” refers both to the historical character and to the very famous cooking manual: La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene: igiene, economia, buon gusto. (Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well: hygiene, economy, good taste)

The author

Pellegrino Artusi (1820-1911), born in Forlimpopoli (Forlì-Cesena) but transplanted to Florence, was a native of the Romagna region, full of determination and initiative. After a very rewarding career as a businessman that gave him a good reputation and wealth, at fifty years of age he decided to retire in order to finally devote himself to his passions.

The future gastronome did not act like a pensioner who looks at building sites. He got to work himself. The bricks of his construction were Italian cuisine recipes, which he started to collect and transcribe with curiosity and diligent enthusiasm. His plan was to publish a book, even it meant doing it at his own expense.

The work

In late 19th-century Italy, culinary writing celebrated the bourgeois spirit, reluctant to flaunt wealth, frugal by principle, not interested in new approaches, and in love with tradition.

In this context the various cuisines defined as easy, familiar, economical, healthy, hygienic, modern, universal, sublime, expert, perfect and authentic were competing for increasingly larger slices of the publishing market. Of these, Il cuoco sapiente, ossia l’arte di piacere ai gusti degl’italiani (The wise cook, or the art of pleasing Italian tastes) by an anonymous author, published by the Florentine bookseller-publisher Enrico Moro in the years of the Italian Unification, and reissued in 1871 (then in 1887 by the publisher Guigoni in 1887, and again in 1901), deserves a special mention because its rather innovative organization was later adopted by Artusi.

Despite initial problems, which ended in Pellegrino paying for the publication of his work, in 1891 one thousand copies of the first edition of La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene: igiene, economia, buon gusto were printed by Landi in Florence.

Right from the start it had a community of “social followers” throughout Italy, who would send him their family recipes. As in a blog that is constantly updated and added to, the manual was reissued numerous times: the thirteenth edition, in 1909, contained the final number of recipes, no less than 790.

The fourteenth edition, in 1910, included Cucina per gli stomachi deboli, (Cooking for delicate stomachs), which echoes the title of an 1858 book published in Milan, La cucina degli stomachi deboli: ossia pochi piatti non comuni, semplici, economici e di facile digestione con alcune norme relative al buon governo delle vie digerenti, (Cooking for weak stomachs: a few uncommon, simple, economical and easy to digest dishes with some rules on good care of the digestive system) written by Doctor Angelo Dubini, but published and reprinted anonymously for reasons of scientific decorum (in the mid-nineteenth century it was considered unbecoming for a doctor to teach people how to prepare a stew).

The fifteenth and last edition of the work by Artusi, in 1911, ran to 65,000 copies and was followed by a long series of printings and publishers (such as Bemporad, Salani, Marzocco, Barion, Bietti, Giunti and, in more recent times, Einaudi, Garzanti, Rizzoli, Mursia and many others). By its 100th anniversary it had sold one and a half million copies and had been translated into many languages, and nowadays one can even find a smartphone version of it.

Why read it?

Although the work of this Great Old Man of Italian bourgeois cuisine is a collection of recipes drawn from both written and oral sources, it is has a value that goes well beyond that of a culinary manual. Artusi made significant additions, thinking in national terms: he completed, modified, adapted and corrected, making his recipes accessible to and understandable by the public throughout Italy. He thus contributed, on the gastronomic level, to the cultural and linguistic unity of the country.

This is a book of regional cuisine: its recipes are taken only from Central-Northern Italy, particularly from Emilia, Romagna and Tuscany. However, thanks to an expert use of language, nourished by the classics and always clear, and to a discursive, cordial and engaging approach, it became the most widely ready cookery book among Italian families.

Moreover, as each recipe was tested several times by Artusi’s Tuscan cook, the public acknowledged the authenticity of the work and considered it the guardian of home cooking tradition. The tradition that does not lie and does not betray, but brings people together and warms the heart.

What are your family recipes? Have you ever thought of putting them together?