Italian Blackberry Sauce, c. 1464

There is no shortage of 15th century Italian recipes thanks to Maestro Martino de Rossi, a well known and influential “celebrity” chef who worked in some of the greatest kitchens of late Medieval/Renaissance Italy. In 1464/65 he wrote Libro de Arte Coquinaria (The Art of Cooking), which is widely considered to be the first modern cookbook and possibly the best historical record of Italian cuisine.

There are a lot of sauce recipes in Libro de Arte Coquinaria but I was especially intrigued by what is commonly known as “Heavenly Blue Summer Sauce” or “Summertime Cerulean Blue Sauce” thanks to an English translation found in the book The Medieval Kitchen (1998) by Edward Schneider.

This particular recipe is made with blackberries, which are harvested during the summer.  According to Medieval folklore blackberries are never to be eaten after Michaelmas (a very old Catholic holiday) on September 29th. They are poison! Story goes, the Archangel Michael and Lucifer had a big fight in Heaven. Lucifer lost and plunged to Hell, landing in a blackberry bush. He cursed the berries, but not before spitting and possibly urinating on the bush.


The Recipe

Sapor celeste de estate. Piglia de li moroni salvatiche che nascono in le fratte, et un poche de amondole ben piste, con un pocho de zenzevero. Et queste cose distemperarai con agresto et passarale per la stamegnia.

The following translation is a blend of two separate translations by Jeremy Parzen and Edward Schneider:

Heavenly Summertime Sauce. Take blackberries that grow in the thickets/shrubs, and a small amount of almonds, well grounded, with a little ginger. Thin these things with verjuice and pass through a stamine/sieve

**Note on the translation

Every modernized redaction of this recipe I found calls it “Heavenly Blue Summer Sauce.” The blackberry sauce did not turn out blue for me or for anyone else, it seems, who has tried making it. This prompted a good look at the original Italian-Latin text, which I noticed doesn’t contain a word for blue (blu or caeruleus). I am an amateur at best when it comes to Latin, but Sapor celeste de estate could be loosely translated to mean “Heavenly taste of Summer.” My initial theory that this recipe may have been mistranslated was backed up by a 2005 English Edition of The Art of Cooking by Luigi Ballerini and Jeremy Parzen.  I decided to go with Parzen’s recipe title: “Heavenly Summertime Sauce.”


Heavenly Summertime Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 package (1.5-2 cups) blackberries
  • 2 tbsp. blanched almonds, finely ground
  • 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 1-2 tbsp. verjuice (apple cider vinegar is an appropriate substitute)
  • 1 tsp. sugar, additional sugar to taste

Step ONE

Take blackberries that grow in the thickets/shrubs, and a small amount of almonds, well grounded, with a little ginger.

Crush blackberries in a mortar or puree in a food processor or blender. If you’re happy with a thick puree, stir in your almonds and ginger. Otherwise, strain the blackberries to remove seeds and simply use the juice before adding the other ingredients.

Step TWO

Thin these things with verjuice and pass through a stamine/sieve

Add the verjuice or cider vinegar to your mixture. 15th-century purees were made by forcing the mixture through a sieve, but you’ll save some time and energy using a blender or food processor. If desired, run your sauce through a strainer but be aware that it will take some work to push it all through. I divided my mixture into two parts to try both methods. I started with the strainer but ended up transferring most of it to the blender. The point is to turn your puree into a sauce, so at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter which method you use. The sauce will be thick.

Step THREE

Adjust flavors and serve over meat.

The resulting sauce will be slightly sour and slightly sweet. I thought the sauce was a bit dull and it needed to favor either sour or sweet. So I added a touch more sugar, but only a pinch at a time until I was satisfied with the balance of flavors.

Sauces like this one would have been paired with a white meat like veal or chicken. Birds were a favorite meat source during the summer months so your most authentic dish served with blackberry sauce would likely be poached chicken.


I enjoyed this sauce. It was unique and certainly different from modern sauces but it went well with some shredded chicken and, surprisingly, with pork. It also tasted pretty good on a homemade roll. Of all the family members who tried it, the biggest fan was my 12 year-old nephew!

Working with blackberries can be very messy but this sauce is easy to make. I encourage even the beginner cooks out there to give it a try and let me know what you think!


Sources

Featured Image photo by Photofarmer.