July 22, 2005

The Empire of Vegetables

I am very grateful to Mr. Rusher for sending me a delightful book: Romeo Salta’s Le Delizie della mia Cucina. Salta arrived in New York an illegal immigrant in 1929, thereafter working his way up to become a chef, and, in time, a renowned restauranteur. He died in 1998, aged 93. Le Delizie… is the Italian version of a recipe book he originally published in English as The Pleasures of Italian Cooking. The recipes look excellent, and the book will be a useful complement to my copy of Anna del Conte’s The Gastronomy of Italy, but what drew Mr. Rusher’s attention to the book in the first place were not its recipes, but its quaint illustrations…

Cucurbitus, il Re dei Legumi,' (Cucurbitus, King of the Vegetables): drawing from 'L'Empire des Légumes,' by Amédée Varin.


'Ritorno dall' Osteria,' (Return from the Hostelry): drawing from 'L'Empire des Légumes,' by Amédée Varin.

These depict anthropomorphosised vegetables in a variety of situations. Looking closer at the illustrations, I saw the names Varin and de Gonet on each of them. Amédée Varin, I discovered, was their artist, and Gabriel de Gonet had been their publisher. They had originally appeared in a book entitled L’Empire des Légumes, (The Empire of Vegetables) sometime, I would guess, in the 1850s or ’60s. Varin evidently illustrated at least one other book for de Gonet. I could find little information about Varin on-line, beyond that he sometimes worked with an Eugéne Varin, I guess, perhaps, his brother, and that his style is seen as reminiscent of Grandville’s.

'Crisi del settimo anno,' (The seven-year itch?): drawing from 'L'Empire des Légumes,' by Amédée Varin.


'Il 'Cavolo' di Bruxelles,' (The Brussels Sprout): drawing from 'L'Empire des Légumes,' by Amédée Varin.

Staying with the vegetabley theme, here is Salta’s recipe for Carciofi alla Romana (Artichokes, Roman style): first, obtain six small, very tender artichokes; discard their outer leaves and trim the tips of the others. Open out their centres, taking care to keep them intact, and extract the hairy ‘chokes,’ which are barbe (beards) in Italian. Place the artichokes in cold water and lemon juice, to avoid discolouration. Re-fill the artichoke centres, using a mixture of a quarter cup of olive oil, two handfuls of finely-chopped parsley, 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped, and a few pinches of fresh mentuccia, or of dried mint, a teaspoon of salt, & pepper.

'L'Eroe,' (The Hero): drawing from 'L'Empire des Légumes,' by Amédée Varin.


'Una Carota al Parliamento,' (A Carrot at Parliament): drawing from 'L'Empire des Légumes,' by Amédée Varin.

Stand the artichokes close to one another in a saucepan, drizzle them with more olive oil, and cook them on a medium heat for 10 minutes (presumably having added water to the pan—the recipe doesn’t say how much, but this variant suggests just covering them with water) Then, add 2 glasses of white wine, and half a cup of chicken broth to the pan, with more salt & pepper. Cover, and cook on a medium heat for about 45 minutes, or, until the artichokes become tender. A vegetable stock could, of course, be substituted to make the dish suitable for vegetarians.

Click on the images above, by the way, to see the illustrations enlarged, and in full.

Posted by misteraitch at July 22, 2005 10:32 AM

Thanks for sharing the wonderful illustrations.
I never heard about the artist, but quite surprisingly the fourth one of his works here reminded me one of my collages.
Did you see by chance the exibition called Ocima Arcimboldovyma = Through the
Eyes of Arcimboldo

Posted by: galidana on July 24, 2005 02:15 PM

haha! love these mraitch. you get the best gifts. that plate of the drunken radishes is amazing. they all are. thanks, and thanks rusher.

Posted by: jmorrison on July 25, 2005 02:36 PM

It was indeed a pleasure (or should I say "una delizia") to see these pictures again after so many years!

Romeo Salta, Jr.

Posted by: Romeo Salta, Jr. on August 20, 2005 10:03 PM

Vogliate inviarmi, a mie spese, un volume. Sono stato amico di Giovanni Bonuzzi che mi fece conoscere il Vostro locale a New York e mi parlò dell'amicizia che lo legava a Romeo Salta.
Vi prego, lo considero un onore. Sono un giornalista gastronomo e mi serve per fare un articolo su una rivista qui in Italia.
Grazie infinite
Alfredo Pelle

Posted by: Alfredo Pelle on January 27, 2006 04:22 PM

My parents actually have decorative framed tiles made out of those drawings. My father was friends with Romeo, and I believe he got the artist who did the tiles in the restaurant kitchen to make a set of 12 or so for my parents.

I know that my father has long wanted to find the original book with these illustrations in it. Do you have any idea where I could begin my seach?

Posted by: Angelina on April 22, 2006 03:53 AM

Angelina—the original book is rare (and expensive). I believe its full title is L’Empire des Légumes. Drôleries vegetales. Mémoires de Cucurbitus Ier: and that it was first published as a 311-page octavo, in Paris, 1851, containing 24 illustrations of Varin’s. A reprinted edition with one illustration fewer seems to have been issued around 1861. If you search sites like bookfinder.com and abebooks.com (and the internet in general) from time to time, then you might find a copy for sale. At the moment, the only one I can find is an example of the later edition in an upcoming French auction, (as lot no. 441) where its reserve price is given as 300-400 Euros.

Posted by: misteraitch on April 22, 2006 08:19 AM

I found some post cards in a little shop, would like to know something about this cards. If you can help me. Thanks Kaye They are pictures from the book.

Posted by: Kaye Salter on August 22, 2006 02:56 PM

Panteek have just posted the Varin prints from the Empire of the Vegetables. [And also the butterfly-as-people series). It seems that Varin more than just copied Grandville - he actually did some of the engraving work for 'Les Fleurs Animees'. [One source says that the butterfly people precedes Grandville but their wording is ambiguous - although I haven't checked out the dates as yet.]

Posted by: peacay on November 9, 2006 10:58 AM

the stroy is very nice

Posted by: rain on August 8, 2007 05:45 AM
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