How the Victorians Described Italian Food for Blameless (

For Blameless, Gentle Reader, when Alexia and cohorts traveled to Florence, I utilized my 1891 Baedeker’s Northern Italy extensively.

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 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 twenty years ago).

As I was reading along, in the wee hours of the night several years ago now, 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. I re-encountered my notes on the subject recently, and thought you might find it entertaining.

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 any one of my characters wafting into some Italian cafe and demanding a dish of those “delightful green covered tiny puddings.” You see how easily I amuse myself?

That’s why I was so obsessed with pesto in Blameless. 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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“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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