Banquet of Temperament
By Tim Hazell
Marsilio Ficino (1433–99) embodied the ideals of a Renaissance man of his time. His concerns were for essential textures that added heart and personal substance to daily rituals. Ficino’s Book of Life, published 500 years ago, advocated simple decisions associated with choices of foods, clothes, ointments, and travel, compatible with each person’s specific histories and needs. Honoring temperament and the right of each soul to manifest itself meant understanding the matrix of a richly gilded life. Moods, attitudes, and energies represented a forsaking of stagnant delineations, shifting the focus to a person’s own destiny and health. In conclusion, Ficino offers us recipes and seasonings for good living from his third self-help book, On Making Your Life Agree With the Heavens.
“Our laboratory here, our antidotes, drugs, poultices, ointments, and remedies, offer different things to different types of people. If you do not like some of these, just put them aside, lest you reject the rest because of a few. If you do not approve of astronomical images, even those that have been found to be good for the health of mortals, remember that I, myself, do not so much approve of them as describe them. You can, with my permission, or even, if you prefer, with my recommendation, put such things aside. At least you should not neglect the medicines that have been strengthened with a little planetary help—or you will have neglected life itself.”
Medieval pleasures of the palate reflected the artfulness and invention ushered in by cosmopolitan trends in European capitalism, voyages of discovery, and an influx of exotic ingredients. Cookery at court was an aesthetic exploration of splendor as well as the alchemy of wellbeing. Ingredients, preparation, and decoration contrasted sweet and sour. Diverse food textures were provided by the abundance of wild game, domestic animals, and imported spices brought to the continent in the galleys of the Mediterranean and North Sea alliance. Prepared or bought mixers such as tart verjuice, almond milk, and sweet wine elevated bland food to piquancy. The following recipe from Ficino’s time makes a hearty appetizer in anticipation of a sumptuous meal.
1 8-inch unbaked pastry shell or 12 individual unbaked pastry shells one inch in diameter
1 pound brie cheese, with rind
6 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon saffron
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Bake pastry shell to harden for 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Cool. Reset oven to 375 degrees. Remove rind from chilled cheese and reserve. Cut cheese into small pieces with moistened knife. Beat softened brie cheese, yolks, ginger, brown sugar, saffron, and salt until smooth. Pour into pastry shell. Strew cut rind evenly over surface of the pie. Combine cinnamon with white sugar and sprinkle around pastry edge. Bake about 30 minutes at 375 degrees until set and golden brown, 12 minutes or less for individual tarts. Serve