Walnut-stuffed roasts from the Marvels of Milan

Another interesting text that crossed my path was the ‘Marvels of the City of Milan’ written in 1288. Admittedly it should not be taken at face value, but Milan was a very rich city and contact with Northern Italy had a vastly underestimated influence on the development of German culinary culture.

IV. 3 There are also sour cherries and cherries of every sweet kind, both domestic and wild, truly in such quantity that sometimes up to sixty wagons a day are brought in through the gates of the city. They are sold in the city at any time between the middle of May and the middle of July. Plums, too, white (alba), red (subruffa), yellow (citrina), and also Damascene (damascena) are found in seemingly infinite quantity. They are sold ripe from the end of July (ante calendas iulii) to the month of October.

At the same time when plums begin to appear, plenty of summer apples and pears and chestnuts (morona) and the figs that are called flowers (flores) also appear. They are then followed by domestic hazelnuts. Thereafter (follow) corna, more suited to women, and a great wealth of iuiube and peaches. Also many kinds of figs and grapes. Also almonds, may I say a little about this, wild hazelnuts, walnuts in incredible quantity, which are enjoyed all through the year and all citizens delight in them after any meal/dish (post omnia ferculla).They are also added, ground up, to cheese and eggs and pepper with which meat is filled in wintertime. There is also oil (made) of them which flows richly for us. Again there are winter apples and pears and quinces, which refresh our citizens through all winter and beyond. There are also pomegranates, of great use to the sick, Many kinds of grapes abound which appear ripe about the middle of July and are found for sale until roughly about the end of December.

First, it should be said that that is a remarkably long growing season for grapes. I suspect the tail end includes a good deal of artificial preservation techniques to keep the grapes fresh for sale, at the right price. But Lombardy is a good place to grow fruit.

What I find particularly interesting is the reference to walnuts ground with cheese, eggs and pepper as a stuffing for meat. I would begin with the assumption this means stuffed roatss – familiar in both German and Italian cuisine in later centuries – but I can equally see it rolled up in slices of meat grilled over the coals, or as the centre of meatballs.

In 1288, the Milanese scholar and administrator Bonvesin da la Riva wrote a long text in praise of the greatness of his city. Milan at the time was at the height of its political and economic power, the head of the Lombard League and one of the richest and largest cities in Europe. His de magnalibus urbis Mediolani lists its architectural splendours, the wealth of its churches and citizens, and recounts its glorious history. Obviously we should not take everything in it at face value, but the author’s position in the civic administration suggests that the numbers he quotes are not entirely implausible. I have done my best to translate the sections pertaining to food, agriculture, and food-related trades. Chapter 4 is particularly interesting in this regard.

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