Over the centuries, men and women who have chosen to live in monasteries have created a cuisine that reflects the simplicity and composure of their lives.
The recipes from the monastic tradition celebrate much of what we have lost these days as the seasonality of produce and natural processes.
The cuisine of the convents
Monks and nuns were the first to have what was needed to impart to the cuisine of the late Middle Ages, simple in a still primitive way, an acceleration toward modernity.
That is time, economic availability, raw materials, and knowledge.
They created sweets and cookies so good that they became famous everywhere in Italy. And always in those chilly and quiet kitchens, the religious create new flavor combinations and refine the techniques of using and preserving fruits and vegetables.
To these human beings of recluses that made vegetable gardens, farming, and cooking a time of work and recreation, we owe a culinary heritage that ranges from rustic soups to the most elaborate desserts. And we can’t forget the art of pharmacopeia that included the preparation of filters, elixirs, decoctions, infusions, and medicinal bitters.
Sister Caterina, a resident of the cloistered convent in Imola, was a friend of Grandma Sara. I was a young woman when she asked my grandmother to meet the granddaughter she had heard about so many times. For that reason, I went to visit her.
The grate that separated us made a deep impression on me. I still remember two good but hungry eyes peering at me in the half-light.
They looked like brushes intent on painting a portrait.
Peach leaf liqueur recipe
The monastery’s cuisine recalls home and local cooking.
In both cases, there was a connection between seasons and local traditions. The kitchen was a natural extension of the garden. And the monasteries’ pantry recalled the home cupboards. At least that of a few decades ago.
We would have recognized the smell of herbs gathered in fragrant bouquets and the strong one of cured meats. Meats and cheeses hung to dry and ripen. Again, we would have admired the color scale offered by fruits and vegetables stored in jars and those of the bottles of liqueurs that soon became one of the most sought-after preparations by visitors to the convents and were never lacking in household pantries.
At home, the pantry shelf dedicated to homemade bitters and liqueurs was always well stocked: nocino, limoncello, cedrina, and many others. Each bottle had a label bearing the name and year of preparation. The recipe for peach leaf liqueur, a mix between wine and an aromatic digestive, allowed her to use everything the orchard had to offer. She harvested the fresh, untreated leaves between spring and early fall.
Sister Catherine gave Grandma Sara her recipe for peach leaf liqueur.
I am sure because my parents celebrated it as an event at home. Whether nonna used this or the one at home, I don’t know.
Serve it cold at the end of a meal or to flavor creams, sorbets, and the dough of sideboard cakes.
Buona cucina, Monica
Cooking and reading
I wrote in the post with the recipe dedicated to fricandò about the importance and beauty of gardens that have blossomed in monasteries. That dish is a side from Romagna that is born there among the veggies of the Summer.
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Peach leaf liqueur recipe
for about 1 l
30g untreated peach tree leaves
100ml white spirit or grappa
700ml still white wine
Wash the leaves, dry them, and put them in a glass jar, then add the other ingredients and close the jar.
Store in a cool place away from light for one month.
Every week, open the jar and stir the preparation.
After the resting time has elapsed, strain and bottle.
Serve this liquor chilled.
You can use some tablespoons to flavor doughnuts, cakes, and cookies.