Monday, June 29, 2009


Zuppa Inglese is approximately equal to an English Trifle, according to the very last entry in the encyclopedic Oxford Companion to Italian Food by Gillian Riley. For several days, I've been browsing through this unusual work.

The book doesn't look unusual -- letter by letter, it goes through ingredients (like the first entry, abbacchio, which refers the reader to see LAMB), regions of Italy, classic dishes, food writers, famous Italians (if they had something to say about food), and concepts like SLOW FOOD and FAST FOOD. It has illustrations -- black and white, a bit grainy. It has consistent cross references. After Z there's a bibliography and an index; the front matter is also complete.

But the content reflects the author's ideas, which are interesting, and I would say, unusual.
  • First, it's fabulously historical -- for example, the entry on Sicily begins at the beginning of history, when Greeks and Phoenicians began to colonize the territory already inhabited by local people. In the Odyssey, the Cyclops adventure took place on Sicily -- and one thing the Cyclops did was to make cheese. Myth or reality? "By 400 BC, Sicilian salt pork and cheese were being exported to Greece," we learn. Also, "Mithaikos, the first celebrity chef, is said to have migrated ... from his native Syracuse [in Sicily] to Greece."
  • Second, the author makes such interesting connections. Zuppa Inglese, or trifle, for example, is linked to many other egg-custard-based desserts -- lighter versions, flummery, syllabub, dishes "where slices of bread are toasted or fried then allowed to absorb a liquid," bread-and-butter puddings, savory bread puddings, budins, other cake and custard dishes, tiramisu, and by implication related custards such as creme brulee.
  • And third, the work makes such wonderful use of Italian literary food references and even art references, such as the citrus fruits that appear in the works of Andrea Mantegna. I think I've in fact been introduced to a new mystery writer that uses food in his works -- I'll post more when I've followed it up.
In all -- I love browsing in this book. It's a really different experience from online browsing!


Jen of A2eatwrite said...

It looks fascinating. I'll have to see where I can find it. Do you know if it's at the A2 library?

Mae Travels said...

The Ann Arbor Library doesn't have it in the catalog. I bought it from in the new paperback edition.