OF CABBAGES AND KINGS (from the archives: May 2003)

As you may have seen, the Italian royal family have now been allowed back into Italy, having been exiled in 1946, following on from the referendum whereby the Italians decided they wanted to be a Republic from then on. This of course, following on from a number of incidents that need not detain us at this juncture.

The decree of expulsion, or whatever it was called, stated that the male members of the Savoy family were never more to set foot on Italian soil. It never actually said anything about the females, and so presumably they have been tripping back and forth, first from Portugal and more recently from Switzerland, with no probs. It was the guys what had the beef.

The change of law, not — it has to be said — welcomed with overwhelming joy by much of the Italian public, took effect in March and we are likely to be seeing more of whatever-their-names-are than we did in the past. Which was usually at the hairdressers, the place where monstrous intellectual snobs like me get the chance to read those magazines that make Hello! look like the New York Review of Books.

I’ll leave the who’s-doing-what-to-whom-and-how-often to those who specialize in this kind of thing. The constitutional issues can remain the domain of the constitutionalists, or whatever it is they call themselves.

It occurred to me that it might be fun to concentrate on what the Savoy family have contributed to Italian cuisine. Not that they were particular wizzes with the pots and pans, of course, but — as happens a lot anywhere — things get named after famous people.

The first example, of course, is Pizza Margherita, everybody’s favorite, with just tomato and mozzarella (basil is optional). This was named for Margherita who was born in Turin in 1851 and died at Bordighera in 1926. She married her cousin Umberto di Savoia, the son of Vittorio Emanuele II, in 1868, becoming queen in 1878. The key part of the story, for our purposes, of course is that Umberto and Margherita went to Naples in 1889 and — ate a pizza! Savoiardi biscuits are presumably named for the Savoy family. More on these sponge fingers used, among other things for making tiramis, at http://www.italianmade.com, the website of the Italian Trade Commission (ICE) in New York.

As I prepared to write this piece, I recalled having read — in the May 2003 issue of the monthly Viaggi&Sapori magazine — about some sweets named after Marie José. So I went to look. And could I find it? You guessed. What I did find, though, was a reference, in a long piece on coffee — one of my favourite subjects — to Vezzi di Madama Reale. These are grains of dark chocolate covered in powdered coffee and sugar, and sound quite regal enough for me. It is just as well that they are only available at the Confetteria Barbero in a village way off the beaten track in the Piedmont, called Cherasco.

As it happens, I have been there: a couple of years ago, a friend took me to the wonderful antiques fair that is held there one Sunday a month. It was fabulous, and would have been even better had we known that, at Via Vittorio Emanuele 74, we would have been able to find these little darlings. Check them out, check out Cherasco next time you are in the area of Serralunga, Dogliani, Barolo, and thereabouts, and check out Viaggi&Sapori, which is published monthly by Editrice Quadratum (www.viaggisapori.it).

I am sure there are lots more, but the other one I found was the Savoy cabbage. In my Merriam Webster’s dictionary, this is described as one having “a compact head with curly and crinkled leaves”. I am not too sure how thrilled one might be at having one of these named after one.

Perhaps they just derive the moniker from the Savoy area of southeast France that borders Italy, from where the cabbages — and the family — originated. This would seem to be the most diplomatic way of getting round this question. One would not want to be accused of lèse majestŽé, would one? I mean, let’s face it, it must give you quite a thrill to be back in your old kingdom. You could get ideas above your station. And I wouldn’t want to run the risk of being on the wrong end of an “off with her head!” scenario.

© May 2003 Roberta Kedzierski

P.S. Just in case you were wondering where the title of this piece came from, the answer is Lewis Carroll’s Through the looking glass. Thanks to Henry for the suggestion, and for the extract below:

“The time has come”, the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes – and ships – and sealing-wax
Of cabbages – and kings
Of why the sea is boiling hot
And whether pigs have wings”.

Meanwhile, “off with her head” comes from Alice in Wonderland, of course.