Date: 15th October 1969
Venue: The Midland Hotel
Sponsor: Harlan Walker
An Italian Dinner from Emilia was held on Wednesday, the 15th October 1969, at The Midland Hotel, Birmingham. R. S. King-Farlow took the Chair and referred to the sad loss of our Chairman, Alistair Frazer. In paying tribute to him King-Farlow reminded the Club that he was one of the founder members in 1952, that he had sponsored amongst others, the famous Swedish Dinner and upon the resignation of Sir Arthur Thomson, two years ago, he became the Chairman of the Club. The feeling and regard of the Club for Alistair Frazer can best be given in King-Farlow’s closing words, “None of us will ever forget the vitality and joy of living which he brought to everything he touched and not least to this Club. We miss him at this table tonight and we shall miss him at future dinners.”
The Chairman said that the Club owed a great deal of gratitude to Harlan Walker for sponsoring the dinner that night at short notice. It had previously been arranged that this would be jointly sponsored by Alistair Frazer and his friend, Sir Ernest Chain. He welcomed the Club’s two guests, namely, Colonel Geoffrey Grey, the Consul for the Netherlands, the Vice -Consul for Belgium and Resident of the Consular Association in Birmingham, who had been good enough to say that he would sponsor a dinner for us in the coming year and Senor Vegnuti, the Consul for Italy in Birmingham.
Our Sponsor, in his opening remarks, said that the Dinner had originally been announced as an Italian Dinner. He thought that this was too wide a description and he had, therefore, proposed to base his menu upon a certain region, namely, that of Emilia, which covers the South Eastern corner of the Po Valley and takes its name from the Via Aemilia which runs through the principal towns of the region and above all through Bologna, celebrated in its gastronomy and of whom Pellegrino Artusi wrote, “When you hear mention of Bolognese cooking drop a little curtsey, for it deserves it.”
The meal started with SALAMI AND FRESH FIGS, an interesting change from parma ham and melon, the Sponsor thought, and just as likely to be served.
We then went on to the PASTA ASCIUTTA and we were left in no doubt as to the importance of its place in Italian cooking. Pasta Asciutta is a dry pasta as opposed to the pasta in brodo which is of much the same type but eaten as a soup. From Emilia Southwards we learned that it is eaten in enormous quantities and at least once a day by everyone. It is made in factories; it is made in the home and in heaven knows how many varieties. We were regaled with extracts from a Neapolitan catalogue of pasta which for that region alone had 109 varieties of the simple sort and entirely excluded the stuffed ones such as we were to eat that night. In order that we might add to our knowledge of what pasta really was about we were given an extract from the English description contained in this catalogue which had been puzzling the Sponsor for the last twelve years. It is somewhat lengthy but I feel that if this were not recorded in its entirety in the Minutes there might be lost for ever this pearl of the English language and that such loss would be unforgivable:-
“The insuperable sweetness of Naples climate, in the shadow of the fuming Vesuvius, caresses our production and consent us producing the last Napolitan macaroni.
The long experience, the modern establishments of our mill and production of macaroni, the select and perfect grinding of the corns, the incessant control of our experimental cabinet, assure us that our macaroni are excellent and insuperable.
Preferring macaroni – Gallo – beyond tasting the classic dish of Napolitan spaghetti because one pound of our product, when cooked, give the same results as one and half pound of another quality macaroni.”
There then followed cooking instructions with one final gem: –
“No science, but few knowledge to obtain a tasteful dish of Napolitan macaroni – Pasta Gallo.”
The pasta that we ate tonight was, of course, a home-made pasta. A thin paste of flour and eggs and then stuffed with a mixture of spinach, cream cheese, parmesan cheese, eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg. The result is then boiled until what is known as “al dente” – not to soft but not too hard – and served with parmesan cheese. This particular one is known as TORTELLI DI ERBETTE.
We were then given a quick run through the course of a dispute that has been going on for some hundreds of years as to the desirability of consuming such vast quantities of pasta asciutta. Apparently, this smouldered on, threatening the Italians in much the same way as Vesuvius until it erupted on the 15th November 1930 when a famous Futurist poet, Marinetti, launched a virulent campaign against
Italian traditional cooking in general and against pasta asciutta in particular. There
was uproar both in the press and throughout the country. The Duke of Bovino, then
the Mayor of Naples, presumably in an attempt to still the storm said, “The angels
in Paradise eat nothing but vermicelli al pomodoro”, but to Marinetti this only confirmed his suspicion with regard to the monotony of Paradise and of the life lead by angels. Ultimately, it became a political matter with Mussolini and his Government weighing in in no uncertain terms, “Spaghetti is no food for fighters” and “Pasta asciutta is anti-virile; a weighty and encumbered stomach cannot be favourable to physical enthusiasm towards women”. The members of the Club were, however. Relieved to have the personal assurance from Senor Vegnuti that neither he nor his many Italian friends, all confirmed pasta eaters, had ever suffered from this inconvenience. The outcome of it all was, of course, that as much pasta is eaten in Italy to-day as ever was. With the Tortelli we drank white SOAVE wine .
The next course was ANGUILLE ARROSTA and MOSTARDA DI CREMONA . Our Sponsor told us that Lake Comacchio to the North East of Emilia, together with Louch Neagh and the Ijssalmeer, is one of the most famous places in Europe for eels. We were to eat our eels roast with some herbs and served with Mostarda di Cremona, the latter being a sort of pickle made of glace fruit, ﬂavoured with mustard. In particular we were recommended to eat the skin of the eels, which we did and found, I think, very worthwhile.
To follow this course we had a water ice to clear our palates. Our next dish the Sponsor described as Bologna’s most famous main course, FILLETTI DI TACCHINO ALLA BOLOGNESE – Turkey breasts cooked with Parma ham and cheese. With it we had potatoes and a green salad. By looking over the Sponsor’s shoulder at his notes, I learned that he would have liked to have served this dish with those large and attractive white trufﬂes for which Italy is so famous but unfortunately, they were unobtainable. So far as I am aware this dish was received by all members as fully worthy of the Club’s tradition. With this we drank a red BARBERA D’ALBA 1966.
The Sponsor said that neither of the two wines came from the district of Emilia. The white wine was from a little further North in the Veneto and the red from further West in Piedmont. It appeared strange that there were no very well-known wines to accompany the reputation that Emilia has for food. We were told that there was, however, one very famous red wine called Lambrusco di Sorbara and that it was a very unusual one. Why then were we not drinking it? It was dry,
sparkling and red. We gather that opinions differ about the wine (Elizabeth
David, “Perfectly delicious”, Sir Osbert Sitwell, “The best of all . . . .a rare
foaming red wine which is quite excellent”, Mr. Shoomarcher, the American
author of “The Complete Wine Book”, “As nearly undrinkable as a well known
wine could be”). The Sponsor felt the only course was for him to try out the
wines and find the answer for himself. He found himself forced into the dilemma
of either wasting the wines by pouring them away or making himself ill by drinking
them. As he could bring himself to no firm resolution he succeeded in impaling
himself upon both horns; and so, said he had turned to the wines with which we
had been served.
ltalian meals always include cheese and we were given a selection of three. The DOLCE LATTE is a type of Gorgonzola, and a good one. The CACCIOTTO is a mild cheese to show a contrast. The third, namely, GRANA is a Parmesan. This the Sponsor felt was worthy of more explanation. Parmesan is more usually known in Italy as Grana because of its grainy appearance, and it does not always come from Parma. The big cheeses may well weigh up to 65 lbs. and as much care goes into the maturing and producing of this cheese as into wine in France. Knowledgeable men with little hammers trave wooden racks upon which the cheeses are stored, tapping as they go. The noise that they hear enables them to decide whether the cheese is to be sold young for grating or matured for eating, broken into chunks: and it was this way that we were to eat ours that night. Parmesan cheese is not allowed to be sold under the name of “vecchio” (old) until it is two years old, at three years it is called “stravecchio” and at four years “stravecchione”. Our cheese was stravecchio and in our Sponsor’s opinion about the right degree of chewiness for hand eating, in spite of the hotel’s view that it was not practicable to serve
as cheese at all. I think our members were able to live up to the Buckland
tradition and defeat the lugubrious prophecies of the hotel.
The meal ended with grapes, coffee and GRAPPA distilled from the grape pressings rather like the French “Eau de vie de Marc”.
Our Sponsor said that Paole Monelli in his book, “The
Wandering Glutton” says of Grappa, “It will descend in the glass like a very limpid water, divine, to see under the light as one does with precious stones, how it shines and glitters”. The Sponsor concluded with the remark, “Well we shall see, and I hope you enjoy it”. I have a feeling that it met with rather a mixed reception amongst the members of the Club.
At the conclusion of the dinner Senor Vegnuti expressed his thanks to the Club, his pleasure at being invited to a Bolognese meal and his even greater pleasure to learn how much Italian food, particularly from Bologna, was appreciated in Birmingham by the members of the Buckland Club.
The Chairman concluded the proceedings by thanking Harlan Walker for the very excellent meal that he had produced particularly in view of the shortness of time and of the difficulties under which he had had to make the necessary arrangements.
There were present at the dinner 46 members and two guests as follows: –
A.C. Bryant, Sir Charles Burman, G. C. Barrow, E. F. Briscoe, W.L. Barrows, C. L. Chatwin, N. Crabtree, Sir Eric Clayson, W.R. Doherty, P.J. Feeny, G.E. Fowler, D.G. Goode, O. Hahn, N. Hawkes, P.C. Hordern, C.V. Hancock, P.A. Hopkins, R. Hodgkinson, Dr. A.C. Houghton, A. Innes, R.S. King-Farlow (Chairman), Sir Francis Knowles, Bt., S.V. Lancaster, Dr. J.M. Malins, R.E. Moore, E.H. Moore, C. P. Norbury, M.J. Newall, P.A.G. Osler, F.E. Pardoe, E.V. Ralph, E. S. Russell, D. Salberg, G. Scott-Atkinson, G.J.W. Turner, Sir Arthur Thompson, R.E. Threlfall, C.G. Trentham, Dr. A. Brian Taylor, J.P.H. Walker, P. B. Whitehouse, J. K. Walker, J. N. Wharton, R. N. Wadsworth, S. T. Walker and Dr. A. G. Whitfield.