The widespread use of this most basic utensil can be credited to the Italians through the tablescapes of Venice and a Medici princess. From the 10th through the 13th centuries, forks were fairly common among Venice’s wealthy trading partners in Byzantium. In the 11th century, the Byzantine wife of a Doge of Venice brought forks to the tables of La Serenissima however it wasn’t until the 16th century that forks were widely adopted in Italy and beyond.
The epicurean tastes of a Medici princess were transferred to France in 1533 when Catherine de’ Medici wed King Henry II, bringing with her Italian recipes and cooks, confectioners, distillers and the fork! French tables and travelers seeing and savoring Italy in the 1600’s were enamored by the slender handled 2-tined instrument that allowed food to slide more easily into the mouth.
In later centuries larger forks with 4 curved tines were developed and soon after the fork became more than a once criticized “excessive delicacy, a luxury of habits” that sufficiently offended the likes of St. Damian,a hermit and ascetic, who criticized the Byzantine-born Venetian princess for her use of the fork at the table that when she died of the plague, he regarded it as a just punishment from God for her vanity.
Bora, the cold, northerly wind that blows from the the northeast onto the Adriatic regions of Italy, Slovenia and Croatia moves downward from the mountains with clusters of clouds and gusts of wind that can reach from 120 -200 km/h. Chains and ropes are occasionally stretched along the sidewalks in downtown Trieste for pedestrians to hang on to lest they be blown away.
Carlo Moretti, one of Venice’s most innovative and unique glassblowers, was inspired by the windy gusts of the Adriatic to create Bora, a series of distinctively designed hand-blown Venetian glass tumblers. Their bold appearance and irregular oval shape comes in a windswept color-blocked collection. Beautiful and essential, their stylized designs are a magical combination for water, cocktails or a soft drink.
“Venetian coffee is said to surpass all others”
Farewell meat. Hello coffee. Only a few days left before Fat Tuesday. I plan on celebrating with a coffee drink named after the Carnevale City of Venice. To make a Venetian Coffee, put a sugar cube* in a mug. Add 1 ounce of brandy, then fill with hot black coffee and top with whipped cream. Traditionally served in a footed glass coffee mug, Venetians often drink their coffee with a baicoli, a special Venetian biscotti.
Costumed partygoers can be found drinking coffee or sipping their hot chocolate while nibbling on traditional Carnevale pastries: galani, crunchy slivers of biscuit and fritelle, soft oval-shaped doughnuts, plain, studded with raisins or stuffed with chocolate or zabaione custard cream.
*You can replace the cube of sugar with a 1/2 ounce of dark cream di cacao if you like.
In an article published by the San Marco Times, a Venetian expedition to Egypt discovered a rare and exotic plant previously unknown to our shores. Paduan physician and botanist Prospero Alpini, who accompanied the expedition, was credited for bringing the knowledge of this plant, known as Coffee Arabica L, back to the Serene Republic of Venice. Alpini commented that he planned on publishing his findings in a book under the title De Medicina Egyptiorum which he believes will be the first mention by a European writer of the coffee plant.
Venetian merchants are now offering coffee-drinking to the wealthy in Venice, charging them heavily for the beverage. We are petitioning the Doge and the Council of Twelve to make this drink available to all citizens although there have been reports that the Catholic Church may ban the drink saying that coffee is for Satan’s followers and Christians who drink it might lose their souls to the Evil One. Strong trade links with the Levant remain controversial yet it is unlikely that Venetian traders will sever ties with the region as long as the importing of coffee into Italy is profitable. Investors are now being approached and it is said that the first European coffee house outside of the Ottoman Empire is scheduled to open in Venice in a few years.
A tongue in cheek version of coffee’s arrival in Europe, factually true, slightly embellished
An Aperol spritz makes a light and refreshing Carnevale Cocktail. Mix 2 parts of Aperol with 3 parts of chilled Prosecco. Add a splash of chilled seltzer or mineral water and garnish with a lemon twist or slice of orange.
Similar to Campari, Northern Italy’s iconic apertivo, Aperol is slightly sweeter and has a lower alcohol content. Serve this drink in a champagne flute, hide behind your mask and indulge in the masquerade of Carnevale in Venice.
Venice is in the throes of Carnevale with masquerades, fireworks, festivals and food but the historical Venetian Carnevale had moments that played out like a scene from Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. Leonardo Dicaprio’s role would be as a battagliere, part of a mob of men representing different factions of the city (sailors and shipbuilders vs. fisherman) in a prearranged mock battle or battagliola. Described as “too small to be a war too cruel to be a game”, these staged fights involved men with helmets and shields hitting each other with wooden sticks called canne. When fought on one of the many ponti or bridges over the canals of Venice these ritual encounters were called battagliole sui ponti or “little battles on the bridges”. Frenzied Renaissance crowds were known to throw roof tiles off the nearby balconies in support of their gang.
Merchants, nobles, artists and the glitterati of Venice have been sitting at the tables of the Cafe’ Florian on Piazza San Marco in Venice to see and to be seen since Italy’s oldest café opened its doors in 1720. Café Florian was the only establishment to welcome female guests and would certainly have been a favorite with the infamous Venetian, Giacomo Casanova. The ornate salons with glided mirrors and frescoed ceilings were the setting for many a dangerous liaison. Casanova, never to be deprived of a good espresso, was said to have made a quick stop here on his way to Paris upon escaping from the Doge’s Palace prison in November of 1756.