Hard to believe, how time is passing quickly: Exactly three years ago, I was interviewed by JoAnn Locktov on our project Roses and Spices – The Edible Treasures of Venice:
While Venetian history is well-documented, the culinary heritage of the Republic of Venice is less well known. La Venessiana’s new project “Roses and Spices: The Fragrant World of Venice” shares the historical recipes for food, natural remedies and perfumery of the Republic of Venice distilled from forgotten books at the Venetian State Archive and other public and private libraries.
You grew up in Venice and graduated with an interesting emphasis. Can you please tell us about your thesis and the process of your research?
I graduated in Sustainability and Business Design, and in Linguistics and Humanities, which means I wrote two theses, one on “Ecology and Urbanization of the Lagoon of Venice”, and the other on “Business During Times of Unprecedented Change”. So, my emphasis is on Venice and on change!
During my studies, I was particularly interested in the languages spoken in Venice in the past: Venet, Latin and Ancient Greek. I spent years poring over ancient maps of the Lagoon: What started as thesis covering Lagoon terminology, soon included examples of how the Lagoon was salvaged and shaped by Venetian engineers during critical times in the past. And in particular, I loved exploring how Venetians mastered the art of living self-sufficiently in our Lagoon, enriching food with delicious herbs and spices.
The seeds for your platform started with your grandmother, Lina. Why did you and Lina decide that the culinary heritage of Venice would be relevant to people today?
Lina opened her first restaurant in Venice in 1945, and couldn’t help noticing how the food offered to tourists in Venice was different from the food eaten in the part of the Lagoon where she grew up, near Treporti. People went foraging for herbs in spring, and even used herbs and wild fruit in their staple dishes in winter!
I recognized the naturally flavored dishes Lina cooked for me in many historical recipes at Venetian libraries. I found myself distracted by recipes way too often! This was the food eaten in pre-industrial times, and it did serve a purpose: Food = health = beauty. Food was considered medicine in the Venice of the past, so we thought that during our current changing, fast-paced and unsure times, adding healthy and delicious touches to food might be useful.
We also did a few experiments, growing Lagoon herbs in the garden and using them to flavor food. Once, a summer vegetable soup made from turmeric, chili, macis blossoms, fresh laurel leaves, garden mint and parsley helped me recover almost immediately from a rather bad summer flu. We love trying out ancient recipes using herbs and spices such as fenugreek, liquorice root, cardamom and star anise, and we did see wonderful results.
How has La Venessiana evolved from the original premise when you started the platform 4 years ago?
When we started La Venessiana in June 2015, we envisaged a Venice journal explaining the secret Venice, her gardens and garden food, and the work of artisans and artists in town. And of course, we wanted to show the little known islands of this beautiful Lagoon!
Our readers soon encouraged me to write more posts on historical recipes. These posts received the most views right from the start. This is how our niche developed, going beyond just food blogging to sharing recipes so surprisingly un-Venetian at first sight, because they use herbs, blossoms and spices in unusual combinations.
For example, our recipes include Lagoon herbs and blossoms such as enula marina, sea porcelain, minutina, portulak, critmo marittimo, artemisia, lilac blossoms, elderflowers, and flowering currants. We also share recipes and background stories of seasonal ancestral food, such as orange mint-cherry cake with calendula frosting, pomegranate-artemisia butter, white lilac mousse, spring violet tangerine pancakes, or grappa-lilac cake. We also recovered the original recipe for torta greca, a cake popular in the 13th century in Venice.
People kept asking us to share more background stories of these recipes, and we thought that creating online classes was an ideal format to tell the story of Venice and her food differently, and comprehensively.
Your original online class on Venetian Heritage is a testament to your deep knowledge and love of Venice. The multi-media course is redolent in meaningful history and wonderful anecdotes. Can you please tell us what the course offers that cannot be found anywhere else?
Our online classes share original Venetian recipes and food stories of the Lagoon, herbs and spices for the first time in English! The recipes we share were mostly written in Latin and Greek between the 13th – 18th century, so there’s a language barrier you must overcome to read them. In our online classes, we want to create a new home for forgotten Venetian recipes from otherwise overlooked books, so people can see and taste them! While historical documents are well researched, Venetian food culture isn’t. So we are doing critical pioneering work, distilling recipes and food stories from books in libraries such as San Francesco della Vigna and the library of the San Zaccaria monastery, of which Lina is the guardian.
In the interview, we also talk about what we can learn from a historical city like Venice, and about possible strategies for her future, beyond tourism.