Lost in Translation – a critical review of the Scully translation of
If you are at all interested in presenting a true Italian Renaissance feast,
as opposed to something perioid cobbled together from both modern and medieval
sources then buy this book. There are over 1000 recipes plus variations
at a current cost between $75 and $90 (dependent upon supplier). It
is an incredibly well valued book.
The other texts most often used by re-enactors for “Italian” feasts include
Martino [1, 2] and Platina  that are really late medieval rather than
truly renaissance. The best renaissance cook books are those by Messisbugo
 and Scappi [5, 6].
That said the re-enactment cook faces several issues both minor and major
in recreating recipes from this text, all of which stem from problems with
the translation. I have been working with Scappi and other 16th century
Italian sources for over 8 years, I have a familiarity with the food, the
culture and have spent the last three months going through the book recipe
by recipe to spot the areas where I and Scully disagree. This is the
Book 1 recipe 4 – strutto – translated as good rendered fat is given in the
recipe as fresh kidney fat melted with water and clarified is functionally
lard, i.e. good leaf lard.
Book 1 recipe 6 – lardo – translated as lard, the recipe describes a salted
pork back fat, which when melted is not lard, it is bacon grease. This
is defined throughout the work as pork fat, when really it should be salted
pork fat, it brings a completely different flavor profile to the dish, not
to mention salt.
Book 2, recipe 8 – melangole – translated as orange juice. Scully defines
this juice as that from sour oranges in the footnotes, but each subsequent
use it is simply given as orange juice. The majority of orange use
in Scappi is sour orange. Specific instances of half sweet oranges
and sweet oranges are specifically defined in the text as melangole de mezo
sapore or melangole dolce. Again a huge difference in flavor profile.
Book 2, recipe 15- coscia – the meat cut is defined as beef shank, given
other dictionaries and the recipe itself it is more likely to be round steak.
Book 2, recipe 19 – cipollette – translated by Scully as spring onions, which
will be interpreted by most to mean green onions, when in effect this literally
translated means small onions, equivalent to a shallot. These onions
are often stewed or fried and served with various foods, which would render
green onions slimy, best to use sweet onions or shallots not green onions.
Book 2, recipe 169 – giuncata – translated as curdled milk, best translated
as junket or rennet set milk.
Book 2 recipe 185 – formentone – in 2006 following a lead from Italian Cuisine
 I decided to try and determine if this was maize or not. An Italian
work on the subject  indicated that formentone was one of the many names
given to maize in the early days as well as biade, formento indiano, formento
turco, fromento giallo, gran turco, and biava. At that time and still
I agree with Capatti that this is a recipe for new world maize and I disagree
with Scully that this is einkorn. For a full description of the sources
and other information on maize and other new world foods see:
Book 2, recipe 198 – cavoli cappucci – headed cabbages, a smooth leaved pointed
head cabbage, similar to plain green cabbage, not a savoy or crinkly type.
Book 2, recipe 215 – - identified through the description in Castelvetro
[9, 10] as the St. Georges mushroom, Scully gives two potential mushrooms
as equivalent, including Tricholoma georgii which is the old latin name for
Calocybe gambosum. But the mushroom certainly isn’t an agaric.
Book 2, recipe 218 – zucche nostrale – identification of lagnaria squash
as crook neck squash without making separation from new world squash apparent.
Book 2, recipe 233 – sottostare – translated as braise which under certain
circumstances is correct but others is inaccurate. It is a cooking
method which can be described as ‘to cook under’ generally under a lid or
closed pot under coals. A braise is a moist heat cooking method but
not all dishes put ‘sottostare’ have liquid and so can not be considered
Book 2, recipe 255 pignocatti – translated as pinenut paste, given recipes
from other sources it would best be described as a pine nut candy, similar
Book 2, recipe 270 – limoncelli – translated as lime by Scully, literal translation
is little lemon. At no point in Opera does Scappi call for a lemon
(limone), which makes me wonder. Digging through various agricultural
and dietetic texts of the same time period has led to descriptions of the
fruits grown in the region at the time as citron, pumello, sour orange and
lemon, with no mention anywhere else of limes. To this date little
of the citrus crop in Italy is limes, in fact limes are grown in more tropical
locations. No other cook books before or after use limes, all use lemons.
I wonder if the use of limoncelli by Scappi is a reference to a particular
small lemon rather than a large Amalfi lemon.
Book 3, recipe 238 – cavolo nero – translated as dark crispy cabbage, known
in the US and purchasable as either black kale or dinosaur kale.
The one problem that eclipses all others is simply one of weights and measures.
Opera and other late renaissance cookbooks are unique in SCA period books
in that the actual amounts of ingredients are specified in the recipes by
weight and volume. However, if you get these wrong it will throw off
The best source for understanding the complicated weights and measures in
use in the varying city states of the Italian peninsula (which wasn’t a unified
country at that time) is Italian weights and measures by Zupko .
Sadly this invaluable book is not referenced by Scully in his translation
of Scappi. Consequently on page 84 Scully assumes (his word) a pound
of sixteen ounces. However, Zupko indicates that the Italian ‘libra’
was almost universally twelve ounces except for certain cities which had
a ‘libra grossa’ which could be 18-24 ounce. However, the libra grossa
existed along side the standard libra and was always identified as such in
texts. No libra grossa existed for Rome during Scappis time and no
Italian pound (even a libra grossa) was ever 16oz.
The problem is that this compounds itself throughout the book. Scappi
himself indicates that a liquid volume, the ‘foglietta’ is a libra and a
half in weight and that a boccale is four foglietta.
Thus if we compare the various weights and measures we find this:
|12 oz; 317 -325g
|16 oz; 454g
|1 cup; 0.2-0.24L
|2 cups; 0.5L
|1 pint; 450ml
|1.5 pint; 667 ml (2/3 L)
|4 pints; 1.82L
|6 pints; 2.7 L
Be careful then when using Scullys measurements, when he gives 2/3 liter
that is a foglietta and should be less than 1/2 liter and so on.
The Italian version of Scappi is available for free online at:
So the original recipes can be checked for the original term.
If you have any questions about a recipe and you think that there is something
odd about the instructions then I am more than happy to look it up and let
you know what I think.
Why this matters:
Book 5, recipe 45 is a recipe for a French cream pie. A filling is
made of flour, milk and eggs (very much like a crème patisserie).
|| Zupko measurements
|| Scully measurements
|Milk (cow or goat
|| 1.5 pints
|| 2 pints
|| 4 oz
|| 4 oz
|| 4 oz
|| 4 oz
Book 7 recipe 142 for biscotti, the basic proportions are essentially those
of a sponge cake as shown below.
|Sugar 2.5 libra
|| 30 oz (2:1)
|| 42 oz (2.8:1)
|| 2 oz (2:1)
|Flour 2.5 libra
|| 30 oz (2:1)
|| 42 oz (2.8:1)
|| 2 oz (2:1)
|| ½ oz
|| ½ oz
1. Martino, M., Ricettario di Maestro Martino, in Urbinate
Latino 1203. Mid 15th century: Vatican.
2. Martino, M., Ricettario di Maestro martino, in Riva
del Garda. Mid 15th century.
3. Platina and M.E. Milham, Platina, on right pleasure
and good health : a critical edition and translation of De honesta voluptate
et valetudine. 1998, Tempe, Ariz.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts &
Studies. ix, 511 p.
4. Messisbugo, C., Libro Novo Nel Qual S'insegna a' far
d'ogni Sorte de Vivanda. 1557, Venetia.
5. Scappi, B., Opera : (dell' arte del cucinare).
Reprint. First published: Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi. Venice, 1570. 1981,
Bologna: Arnaldo Forni. , 436 leaves [ca. 888 p.],  p. of plates.
6. Scappi, B. and T. Scully, The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi
(1570) : l'arte et prudenza d'un maestro cuoco. 2008, Toronto: University
of Toronto Press.
7. Capatti, A. and M. Montanari, Italian cuisine : a cultural
history. Arts and traditions of the table. 2003, New York: Columbia University
Press. xx, 348 p.
8. Gasparini, D., Polenta e formenton: Il mais nelle campagne
venete tra XVI e XX secolo. 2002, Verona: Cierre edizioni.
9. Castelvetro, G., Brieve racconto di tutte le radici,
di tutte l'erbe e di tutti i frutti che crudi o cotti in Italia si mangiano.
1614, In Londra, M.DC.XIV.
10. Castelvetro, G. and G. Riley, The fruit, herbs &
vegetables of Italy : an offering to Lucy, Countess of Bedford. 1989, London,
England New York, N.Y., USA
11. Zupko, R.E., Italian weights and measures from the
Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. Memoirs of the American Philosophical
Society, v. 145. 1981, Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.
Copyright – this is the work of Mistress Helewyse de Birkestad
(Louise Smithson), translations etc done in March 2009. Permission
is given to use this work and translations provided that the author is given
credit. Please also let me know if you are using my stuff, I find it
interesting to know what people are doing with my translations, feasts and
class notes. My email is helewyse at yahoo dot com.