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Cookbook Watch

April 21, 1999|CHARLES PERRY

Here's a rare chance to check out one of the most influential cookbooks in history: "De Honesta Voluptate," in its first modern translation. It has been published as "Platina: On Right Pleasure and Good Health," Mary Ella Milham, editor (Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, Tempe, Ariz., 1998; $35).

When the book was written in 1465, European cookery had been fairly static for centuries, but new winds were blowing in Italy (Platina got most of his recipes from his chef friend, Maestro Martino), and "De Honesta Voluptate" popularized a new Renaissance attitude toward food. It was copied and reprinted all over Europe in the next two centuries.

It showed a newly analytical approach, an emphasis on moderation and, above all, an invocation of the practices of ancient Greece and Rome--or what Platina took them to be. Sometimes this was a little silly, as when he gave the medieval dish blancmanger the pseudo-Latin name "cibarium album" (or, even sillier, the pseudo-Greek "leucophagum").

So here it is, the official cookbook of the Italian Renaissance, with extensive notes explaining everything, including all the in-group jokes Platina included for his fellow humanist scholars.

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