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Music – “The Pope” from Angel Food for Thought by Meryn Cadell. Released: 2007
Given that there is rather an untouchable mystery surrounding centuries of “Popedom”, I have wondered, on occasion, what do Popes eat? Do they indulge in carnal delights (whoops, make that “carnivorous” delights, although historically, some Popes indulged in both!).
A recent addition to my cookbook collection is “Buon Appetito, Your Holiness – The Secrets of the Papal Table” by Mariangela Rinaldi and Mariangela Vicini, published in 1998. The dust jacket indicates that it is “A titillating, intriguing, and hugely enjoyable account of the papacy and papal culinary tastes, seen through the often secret recipes of the Popes’ storied kitchens, from St. Peter himself to the present pontiff”.
And titillating it is. With recipes like “Aphrodisiac Sea Bass”, “Omelette of Oranges for Panderers and Harlots, Etc.”, “Soused Carp”, “Ossa di Morto” (Dead Man’s Bones), who could resist delving into the tastes and proclivities of the Popes?
St. Peter (A.D. 30-67) , aka “The Fisher Saint”, got the ball rolling, so to speak. Many recipes based on fish are named for St. Peter, including “St. Peter’s Fish with Herbs” and “Sole Quo Vadis”, made with crayfish. Following Peter were a whole host of Popes, including St. Sylvester I, St. Gelasius, Gregory the Great and Pope Joan, the only female Pope.
According to the authors of “Buon Appetito”, it was Pope Joan “…whose undoing was her prolonged intake of exotic, flavorsome, spicy and, according to rumor-mongers, aphrodisiac dishes”. “Aphrodisiac Sea Bass” (guaranteed to work, according to the authors) and “Aphrodisiac Horseradish Liquer” are associated with Pope Joan. How the combination of horseradish root, juniper berries and white wine became a potent concoction is anyone’s guess.
Pope Martin IV (Simon De Brion – 1281 – 1285) apparently fancied eels and the authors of “Buon Appetito” refer to him as “…the gluttonous Pope par excellence”
Pope Martin V (Oddone Colonna – 1417 – 1431) was no slouch either, when it came to food delicacies and presented dishes to kings, princes and barons featuring extremely rare (at the time) spices such as saffron and cinnamon, fresh cheese, dates, ginger, pine nuts and more. One of the recipes from his chef is “Omelette of Oranges for Panderers and Harlots, etc.”
Leo X (Giovanni De’ Medici – 1513 – 1521) remarked to his brother Giuliano, as he climbed the steps to the Vatican, “Let’s enjoy the papacy, for God has given it to us” and he appears to have lived up to his word in this regard.
A banquet for 600 guests during his papacy featured cooked peacocks, resplendent with features and skin, sugared capon dressed in gold, and 23 other courses, each more lavish than the last. Indeed, he appeared to enjoy the perks of the job.
Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia – 1492 – 1503), while Cardinal, frequented an inn run by a married woman, Madonna Vannozza de Caetanei, who bore him four children (yes, those Borgias, associated with adultery, incest, theft, bribery,and murder).
Once he was elected Pontiff, he plotted how to get rid of his enemies and lavished precious fabrics and jewels on his children. He also had time to construct a place of torture, the Torrione Borgia. His legacy appears to have been one of torture, cruelty and ruthlessness, not to mention his love of desserts and one infamous dish of roast pheasant, served in human skulls, just to remind his dinner guests of their human condition.
On the more contemporary line of Popes, Pope John XXIII (Angelo Roncalli – 1958 – 1963), favored polenta and Pope Paul VI (Giovanni Battista Montini – 1963 – 1978), was fond of a Lombard dessert, “Ossa Di Morto” (Dead Man’s Bones), which are small sweet cylindrical cookies, served traditionally on All Souls’ Day.
The current Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) is said to prefer a rather austere regimen of food, preferring fruit, skinless chicken, and salads, with the occasional glass of wine.
Rumour has it that Pope Francis misses being able to go out on the street and stop to enjoy a slice of pizza. But, that wouldn’t be Papa John’s, Little Caesar’s or Dominos, as those big boys have largely stayed out of the Italian pizza market.
It appears that whatever a Pope fancies, he (once, a “she”) only need ask for it! Buon Appetito, Your Holiness!
“Buon Appetito, Your Holiness”
(Mariangela Rinaldi and Mariangela Vicini, 2000)
“Bon Appetit Magazine”
(March 13, 2013 issue)