Monday, October 13, 2008

Exploring the book: Columbus Menu

Although some information about the Italian sailor, Christopher Columbus, who claimed the New World for Spain, is presently in doubt, his voyages and what happened afterwards is generally accepted as a melding of culinary influences which revolutionized the eating habits across oceans.

...Raymond Sokolov (1991) suggests that the explorer Christopher Columbus is the most important figure in the history of food. Responsible for opening up the New World beginning the trans-Atlantic exchange of foods and culinary practice. This bringing together of two hemispheres to the one table was a period of substantial change to eating practice. The extent of this cross fertilization is generally portrayed in the statement "Imagine Italy without the tomato". Dramatic as this particular change may have been, it is worth remembering exploration and trade has longer histories as a major influence of food habits...Why We Eat What We Eat: How Columbus Changed the Way the World Eats.

New World: Old World

Let's try to imagine what it must have been like for the indigenous peoples of the United States of America (the New World) as they watched the "floating islands" of the European explorers (Old World) approach the America's. Long before the adventurous explorations of Christopher Columbus, Native Americans had watched in amazement as strangers from other lands or perhaps to their minds, other universes, set foot upon their shores. Were they curious, were they frightened, were they angry? Were they pleased? As most of us have learned in our history books, Christopher Columbus was not the first to surprise the Native Americans. Others had arrived before him. What was Columbus to encounter in the New World he believed to be the Indies? (Columbus mistakingly referred to the Native Americans as Indians because he thought he had sailed upon India) It wasn't to difficult to discover the reactions of the sailors which are documented on October 11 in the Log of Columbus translated in 1903. Although, it was a much more difficult to find any stories related to the then population of the America's, I did find impressions from the 16th and 17th century.
On the fertile land of the New World, Christopher Columbus and his crews encountered many important crops domesticated by the Native American inhabitants. Native Americans, the true first farmers, had been cultivating potatoes, beans, squash and corn long before the arrival of the European explorers. In return, the explorers brought with them foods and other unknowns to the people of the Americas. This swapping of cultivated cultures was later to be called the Columbian Exchange by historian Alfred Crosby in his book of the same title.
...When Europeans first touched the shores of the Americas, Old World crops such as wheat, barley, rice, and turnips had not traveled west across the Atlantic, and New World crops such as maize, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, and manioc had not traveled east to Europe. In the Americas, there were no horses, cattle, sheep, or goats, all animals of Old World origin. Except for the llama, alpaca, dog, a few fowl, and guinea pig, the New World had no equivalents to the domesticated animals associated with the Old World...source

A New Cuisine

With the essence of Columbus Day in mind, I would like to explore a recipe book titled Columbus Menu: Italian Cuisine after the First Voyage of Christopher Columbus by Stefano Milioni which was published by the Italian Trade Commission in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus's first voyage. This book contains both the first Italian recipes and modern recipes using such New World foods as tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, corn, beans, squash, turkey and cacao (chocolate). The book is not only a collection of recipes, it also includes a short history of each of these ingredients. There are descriptions of how each food was first introduced, reactions to it, and its importance especially in the Italian diet.

Squashes: The introduction of the New World's zucche and zucchini created less of a stir in Europe than other types of unfamiliar vegetables from the Americas, because some of their relatives had already been cultivated and regularly consumed in Europe for centuries. However, the newcomers were more attractive and much tastier...It should be noted, however, that the exact origin of the pumpkin and some other squashes is much disputed. Some experts say Europe acquired them millennia ago from an Asian homeland, while others insist that they originated in the New World... Pumpkin and zucchini only entered Italian cuisine after the seeds of Cucurbitaceae( the gourds) were brought to Europe from the New World and the plants began to be cultivated in Italian gardens. In the 16th century, Sienese botanist Pietro Andrea Mattioli observed, in discussing the cooking of pumpkin, that "it is the practice to eat it either boiled or fried in the pan or roasted. Boiled, it has little appeal in itself. When roasted, or fried in the pan, it releases a great deal of its moisture. Nonetheless, because of its natural water, it should be eaten with oregano." (Columbus Menu Pg.79)
There are other interesting notes on squash and its various cooking methods in this book. Rather than type them all up, I have scanned two pages for you to see. click the image to enlarge As I said, Columbus Menu offers two renditions of the recipes. An "older" method and a "modern" method. The third will be a Native American method.
Method #1 Soup: Minestra di Cime di Zucca, Bartolomeo Stefani, 1620
Take the vine tips of the zucca; if they are those of zucchetti, it would be best to blanch them first in broth. Once blanched, put them in a small pot with capon broth and two cheeses cut in small pieces and previously blanched. Add verjuice that is made three times a year from grapes that are large and have a great deal of pulp and, once the skins have been removed, are crushed, the seeds then being taken out afterward. Put in two ounces of grated Parmesan and two eggs so that the soup will be thickened.
Method #2: Omelet with Squash Flowers
2 bunches squash flowers
extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
6 eggs
2 tbs. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tbs. chopped parsley
Remove the flowers from the stems and the stamens and pistils from the blossoms. spread open flowers and wash them by dipping them in a basin of cold water. Drain them and dry with a towel. Heat the oil in an omelet pan and add the flowers. Cook over moderate heat until they have shrunk somewhat and are tender. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Beat the eggs with a pinch pof salt and another pf pepper, the grated Parmesan and chopped parsley. Put the pan back on the heat, pour in the eggs and cook the omelet. Serve hot. Serves 6
Native American Method Pumpkin (I-Ya)
Cut ripe pumpkin in rings, remove the peelings, hang on a stick before the fire near enough to dry slowly. This may be stored until ready for use. to prepare it should be washed and cooked any way you like pumpkin. The Indians often ate it dried.

Grant that I may never find fault with my neighbor
Until I have walked three moons in his moccasins.

Native American saying

1. Christopher Columbus: Man and Myth (@ Library of Congress)
2. The Columbian Exchange by Alfred Crosby (notes from the book)


  1. The Columbus Menu looks like an interesting booklet. Seems like you can truly find a booklet to fit any occasion. I'm tempted to try cooking squash blossoms at least once next spring. I like the Native American method of drying the pumpkin, it sounds so easy. Too much humidity here for me to try that.

  2. Hi there, dear Louise. This is such an interesting write-up. I am always excited to trace back the origins of some foods. My husband and I stayed in Oregon for a few years back in the 80's and it was in the US that we ate zucchini for the first time in our life. These days, I can find zucchinis at the markets here in Malaysia and they are now grown locally.


    choesf :D

  3. Louise - you do find some great material! Now, I should start to think about an annual Columbus Day Dinner!

  4. Hi Louise,
    what a great post about Columbus day. Very interesting recipes, with different ways to enjoy squash. Squash flowers are truly a delicacy and worth trying!! In some areas of Italy the blossoms are filled with mashed potatoes, a tiny piece of anchovy, dipped in batter and fried. Yum!

  5. Kathy, you must try the squash blossoms. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

    Hi Happy!
    I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. In my research, I discovered historians question as to whether the gourd family may have had roots in Asia before the America's. I suppose we will never know but at least they are enjoyed world wide. The flowers are also delicious stuffed!

    Hi T.W. I do hope you will plan a Columbus Day Dinner and share with all of us...

    Hi there Manuela,
    I've been missing your posts:( My father, who was from Sicily use to stuff the flowers with ricotta. YUMMY!

  6. Hmmm. I wonder what dried pumpkin tastes like.I want to experiment.

  7. Hi Courtney,
    I'm sure that creative culinary mind of yours can come up with a most interesting recipe that uses dried pumpkin. How about for Thanksgiving????


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise