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Dante Alighieri

TIM

By Tim Hazell

“Now the firm margin bears us, under the vapor

Rising from the stream to form a shade and fend

The fire off, sheltering both banks and water”

- Dante’s Inferno, Canto XV

 

The thirteenth century brought the fruits of maritime discoveries to European culture and capitalism. Permanent trade links between the Mediterranean and North Sea attracted Venetian galleys and merchant crews from the south. The arrival of sailors, ships, and goods was a foretaste of benefits from annexation as innovative commercial and financial techniques brought prosperity to cities such as Bruges, Florence, and Genoa. In 1277 the first Genoese ships put into Bruges. Venice came calling by 1314. Precious commodities such as saffron, silks, ivory, and spices arrived from distant and exotic ports. The middle class grew prosperous, acquiring lavish homes in the burgeoning ports of Italy and France.

Born into a world of enterprise where fortunes were lining coffers of the affluent, Dante Alighieri is generally acknowledged to be the greatest Christian poet. His exact date of birth is unknown. This son of a prominent Florentine family would later claim to be a descendent of ancient Roman ancestry. Dante’s education took place at home and early interests led him to encounters with literary textures of Provence—its minstrels, poets, and Latin heritage. Love is the central theme in all his work, profoundly transformed in the Divine Comedy, of which The Inferno is a part. This chronicle of the “City of Man” in the afterlife is also the poet’s journey through Hell.

“I could not have seen…

The wood that lay behind us, had I looked back,

When we encountered another troop of souls

Who looked at us the way that men will look

at one another at dusk, when daylight fails

Under a new moon: knitting their brows at us

The way old tailors do when threading needles.”

 

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 rare ingredients. The following recipe from Dante’s time makes a hearty appetizer in anticipation of a sumptuous meal.

 

Brie Tart

Ingredients:

1 9-inch unbaked pastry shell or 12 individual unbaked pastry shells, 1 inch in diameter.

1 lb. brie cheese, with rind, chilled

6 egg yolks

1/2 tsp. powdered ginger

1 tsp. brown sugar

1/4 tsp. saffron

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. white sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

 

Directions:

Bake pastry shell to harden for 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Cool. Reset oven to 375 degrees. Remove rind from cheese and cut into small pieces with moistened knife. Reserve. Allow cheese to soften. Beat brie, egg yolks, ginger, brown sugar, saffron and salt until smooth. Pour into a 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 warm or cool.

 

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