How the Victorians Describe Italian Food (Behind the Magic)

I recently pulled out my 1891 Baedeker’s Northern Italy, as Alexia and cohorts are currently traipsing about Florence.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an earlier version, and a lot changed in Italy over the 20 years between Alexia’s time and this edition of the travel guide (a complete rail system magically appeared, for example). Nevertheless, a 1891 Baedeker’s is still better than my unreliable memories of the city (from when I was excavating near there some ten or more years ago).

As I was reading along, in the wee hours of the night, muttering to myself about all the things I would now have to go back and adjust in Blameless, I encountered an unintentionally hilarious section. Essentially, intended as a food guide, it was really Italian cuisine as defined by the Victorian British pallet. Here are a few choice morsels for your amusement:

  • Antipasti: relishes taken as whets
  • Risotto: a kind of rice pudding (rich)
  • Salami: banger
  • Potaggio di pollo: chicken-fricassee
  • Funghi: mushrooms (often too rich)
  • Polenta: boiled maize
  • Gnocchi: small puddings

That last is my personal favorite. I can just see Alexia, wafting into some Italian cafe and demanding a dish of those “delightful green covered tiny puddings.” You see how easily I amuse myself? This is one of the great pleasures of writing alternative history, I get to expound on the absurdity of the Victorian British abroad, but also use them as a vehicle through which I can expound on the absurdity of other cultures as well. As bad as Alexia can be about alien cuisine (she has much to say on the vileness of coffee, I must point out) you should see how she describes foreign mannerisms. The Italian language, for example, she cannot help but notice seems to be mainly comprised of “extravagant hand gestures.” And, with that, I had best get back to it.

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Gail’s Daily Dose

Your Tisane of Smart:
Go librarians, go, rah rah rah!
Your Writerly Tinctures:
One of my favorite talks from BEA was Becoming an Agent of Trust: Publisher and Retailer Strategies for Harnessing New Social Media Tools to Grow Communities, it doesn’t sound like it is aimed at authors but BOY was it interesting.

Quote of the Day:

“Heaven is where the police are British, the chefs Italian, the mechanics German, the lovers French, and it’s all organized by the Swiss. Hell is where the police are German, the chefs are British, the mechanics French, the lovers Swiss, and it is all organized by the Italians.”

~ An oldie but a goodie

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Posted by Gail Carriger

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  1. Jessica Kennedy said:

    I want to write my review of Soulless soon! I don't usually "hold" my reviews for the release month but I'm behind on my reviews right now.

    I can't stop reading!

    Anyhow, I'd love to feature you on my blog during your release. Maybe do a guest post? I love your blog and your book was awesomesauce. Seriously.


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