The 18th century cookbook that could be your culinary bible today


Reading time 4 minutes

"Read this book, it is important, " vintner Jaime Rodríguez told Vicky Hayward, when she left the Remelluri winery in La Rioja, Alava after spending a weekend. It was the early 90's and the book was a facsimile edition of 1981 of New Art of Spanish Cuisine, a "tomito tied with a string" of the original text printed in Barcelona in 1767, according to the final approval of its author, the Franciscan friar Raimundo Gómez, who wrote it under the pseudonym Juan Altamiras.

Hayward, hispanist, essayist and English historian, not only read it. "Juan's words stayed in my head, I read it and, at the beginning, I started cooking the recipes of the book just for the flavors, " he says . "And I realized that there was more to it than just recipes."

Pato con membrillo

Altamiras created very current recipes. © Sandra Jiménez Osorio

There were stories, there was history. That 18th-century cookbook oozed “the sixth flavor” that Andoni Luis Aduriz, from Mugaritz, talks about in the prologue of this new edition written by Hayward and that has received the award for best publication by the Academy of Gastronomy. This recipe book that has had about twenty editions over the centuries (five while living Altamiras), but that fell into oblivion with the modern urban boom in the 20th century, is full of dishes “fresh out of a tunnel of the time, with flavors and techniques inheriting from Jewish and Muslim kitchens, ” as Hayward says, and others are so “ sparse in spices and brimming with ingenuity ”that they seem modern.

It is not surprising that people like Aduriz, banners of the avant-garde of Spanish cuisine, have it as a reference, like a Bible on their countertop, very close to their stoves. "Many famous chefs have heard about him and those who do not, when they discover him, are surprised, " says Vicky Hayward. “They feel identified with their form, it is a book that gives you the idea that everyone can cook. And that is part of the genius of Spanish cuisine, that sense of freedom, that we can all try it and get closer ”.

Nuevo arte de la cocina española

The design of the edition is by Mauricio J. Restrepo. © Silvia Tortajada

Three and a half centuries away erased at a stroke because Altamiras uses techniques that are still used today and others that "should recover, " as the author says. "Like his stir-fry, his aromatized oils, the way to use the onion" that the friar invented and then disappeared. Like dishes that he followed from the medieval tradition such as almond and hazelnut, desserts that were served in the royal court (“There are records of them in banquets in Olite, Navarra”), and that, according to Hayward, “they are very good ”And we should resume.

To encourage doing so, the edition made by this English Hispanic is "accessible" to all. Respectful of Altamiras because she keeps her original spelling, those typos that arouse emotion among those who read it, her jokes, her notes and even ways of calling the ingredients that are no longer used, such as carob beans, typical of southern Aragon in the s. XVIII. What he has done is, next to the monk's original recipe, add the modern version, today's name of the ingredients and even current culinary techniques.

Cordero con zumo de granada

Arab and Jewish flavors and influences. © Sandra Jiménez Osorio

Hayward has been able to do it after a conscientious and long work that began in the 90s, when after receiving that gift facsimile he began to prepare some of the recipes for his friends, adapted to his amateur kitchen, to the materials and ingredients of today . “I cooked 30 or 40 recipes for friends in the 90s, ” he explains. “I didn't think I was going to make 220 (the ones that the original book has, counting the versions it makes of some), I thought to stop at 60 and put a star in the book, but then I thought: why stop, why some yes and others, no ”.

And he went on and on until he cooked each of the recipes of the book, but always in his own way, inspired by the freedom to which Altamiras invited, a friar born in La Almunia de Doña Godina and experienced in the convent of San Cristóbal, who, contrary to what we might think, it was very cosmopolitan.

Bacalao con salsa de miel

or fried haddock, as Altamiras describes it. © Sandra Jiménez Osorio

"Altamiras had a completely international vision of cooking, because he was a friar because they were incredibly cosmopolitan, they traveled a lot in the missions, they had many visits in the convents and they had no obligation to cook national dishes in court, " he says. “That is what makes it very modern, it removes borders, when you feel like it uses a bit of French or Italian technique, such as breadcrumb noodles. It combines techniques and flavors of each site, such as cod with tomato and bitter orange ”.

A dish of the Old and the New World, one more that Altamiras wrote with which to trace the origin of our dishes, such as lenten stew, and our most common ingredients. "The cod would come from Alicante, surely, the tomato from America and the bitter orange from its orchards is very Spanish, " says Hayward. "He tells you many trips." History and stories, the sixth flavor, which we have to learn to empower and enjoy more.

Nuevo arte de la cocina española

'Algarchofas', that's what they were called in Aragon in the 18th century. © Silvia Tortajada

Vicky Hayward

The Hispanic and author with her book. © Sandra Jiménez Osorio