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Scappi's opera : an encyclopedia of kitchen implements & foods of the Renaissance


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Scappi's Opera is often mentioned here on IFI, and is a particularly precious book for Thomas Powers. So is it for me and it ought to be for all blacksmiths interested in the reproduction or copy of hearth and kitchen implements of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Scappi's book came out in 1590.


Scappi's work : an important resource



If you eat with any enthousiasm, Scappi is your man. He gives us one thousand recipes and a list of what foods to eat at what time of the year, a food-season section.

For those of us who are interested in kitchen implements of the XVII° and XVIII° centuries in Nouvelle-France or elsewhere in the western world, Book I holds a wealth of information. It lists all the utensils and implements that must be present in a kitchen of the Renaissance and those required for camping … though 'camping' might not be the approriate term for the outings of a pope. Scappi was a cook to cardinals and a pope.

Elsewhere, I have noted that cooking techniques and the tools to work had been the same for centuries in 1590 when Scappi's book appeared. It must be added that they would remain the same until that moment when cooking went from downhearth to bar grate "due to the use of coal instead of wood (1)" in England (± 1750) and, here, from downhearth to the cook stove quite sometime after la Nouvelle-France, those few acres of snow as Voltaire put it, were exchanged by the king of France for the sweet sugar of the isles (1763).

En Amérique du Nord, il a fallu attendre jusqu'en 1815 pour l'invention de la première cuisinière vraiment acceptable ...
— Moussette, Le chauffage domestique au Canada, page 139.



These techniques and tools were those of the cooks of la Nouvelle-France and looking in Scappi's kitchen is looking into our kitchens and in all the kitchens where cooking was done on the hearth, downhearth,

Two editions of Scappi's Opera

The original edition is accessible online in Italian and freely.

On my shelves, I have the english translation by Scully published at the Toronto University Press.


The translation in itself is notable and must have been a labor of love. The text is completed by comments and references which are all very usefull. And as might be expected, there is an important bibliography. To all this, Scully adds :

  1. an index of persons appearing in Scappi's book;
  2. a complete index of all the ingredients used in the recipes;
  3. an index of preparations, i.e. recipes;
  4. an index of procedures or as Scully put it "concerned with actions relating to foodstuff and transformation and kitchen work" (page 758);
  5. another one of kitchen equipment;
  6. an index of measures including weights, volumes, sizes, quantities, distances, times and heats;
  7. an index of miscellaneous terms such as Garda Lake, meal, fine, banquets ...;
  8. and finaly, an index for the terms from the conclave for which Scappi was head cook.

Scully's work is precious, the work of a scolar of the highest level for which I have nothing but admiration. However, traduttore, traditore ... Scully is guilty ... somewhat ... well ... a little ...

In the recipe noº 39 of book II, page 154, Scully translates "pero si ha da cuocere a lento fuoco" by "It has to cook though over a low fire". And again in recipe no° 55, book III, Scully uses the word "over" when Scappi writes "faccianosi cuocere a lento fuoco".

The word "over" might  mislead some in a world where the bar-b-q is used in a majority of households. Some readers may think that because the meats were cooked with fire like that is case with the bar-b-q the meats were roasted above the fire like on a bar-b-q, which was not the case. A lento fuoco is the downhearth cooking level of heat that became the "low" in the "high-medium-low" range of cooking heats in our modern kitchens.

I could not find  an indication by Scappi as to how and where the meat was to be positioned. It seems the question was never asked, that eveyone who cooked downhearth knew what roasting ment. Scappi's engravings however, no° 1 and no° 6, are clear with regards to this technique. The roasting of meat is done in front of the fire and not over the fire.

I am not a translator but I would nevertheless offer to translate "arrostire a fuoco lento" by "to roast slowly" or "roast at a low heat" which aptly translates the degree of heat and does not position the meat in space with regards to the fire.

So I was nitpicking. Scully's scholarship is impeccable and generously, would I say, gives us access to the cookbook of the Renaissance a sort of encyclopedia of the kitchen implements for downhearth cooking. Yes, it is a window through which we can better see in the kitchens of la Nouvelle-France.

— — — — — — — —

  1. Roberts, Hugh D.; "Dowhearth to Bar Grate, an illustrated account of the evolution in cooking due to the use of coal instead of wood"; Wiltshire Folk Life Society, Malborough, Wiltshire, England; 1981; 86 pages ; quoted from the title page.
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Yves, Thanks for the reference. I ordered the book yesterday and always being curious regarding etymology, I wondered "why opera?". I got out my big Garzanti dictionary and found that opera means "work." In the sense of a book title, it means a literary work.

Which ought not to stop you from singing when hitting ...


You will enjoy this book. It's a pleasure to get lost in it.

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always being curious regarding etymology, I wondered "why opera?". I got out my big Garzanti dictionary and found that opera means "work." In the sense of a book title, it means a literary work.


I guess the direct English translation would be opus or body of work or collection of works depending on the subject or objects written about. I think the words are interchangeable in Italian depending on context. confusing! nothing to do with big girls in fancy party frocks shattering wine glasses at all!

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The book received. The time period sort of coincides with the Spanish entradas into what is now New Mexico and Arizona (I'm in Santa Fe). The costumes are similar. I enjoyed looking at the Italian fabric work caps, shoulder capelets, and trunk hose, The Swiss guards at the Vatican still wear the morions and carry halberds. I doubt that the Spanish explorers wore the "ballooney" hose, but rather, closer fitting, longer breeches. The morion (combed helmet) was common to the Spanish of the period.

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