A brief account of the Fruit, Herbs & Vegetables of Italy was written in 1614 by Giacomo Castelvetro (1546-1616) and dedicated to Lucy, Countess of Bedford. Trinity holds three manuscript versions, now digitised, and a copy of the gorgeous 1989 translation, The fruit, herbs & vegetables of Italy: an offering to Lucy, Countess of Bedford by Gillian Riley with a foreword by cookery writer, Jane Grigson. The three manuscripts were described by M. R. James as (an) Italian culinary tract (R.14.19, dated 14 June 1614) and Racconto Delle Radici Etc (R.3.44, dated 28 June 1614 with alterations, and R.3.44a, dated 28 September 1614).
Giacomo Castelvetro came to England in 1613, after his anti-papal activities in Venice brought him to the attention of the Inquisition. He was imprisoned in 1611 and freed only on condition that he left Venice; Sir Dudley Carleton, English Ambassador, having cleverly argued his case. Sir John Harington initially supported Castelvetro financially. He had been taught Italian in Venice by Castelvetro and was the brother of the Countess of Bedford. Castelvetro also taught Italian for a term at Cambridge, but when Harington died in 1614, there was apparently no other obvious source of income available to him.
At the time he wrote A brief account he was living at Charlton, near Greenwich, home of Sir Adam Newton whose wife, Katherine Puckering, was the daughter of Sir John Puckering, the Lord Keeper. Although dedicated to Lucy, Countess of Bedford, herself an enthusiastic gardener, Castelvetro’s appeal to her for assistance was made too late, not least because she had inherited huge debts from her father and had additional money problems of her own. Castelvetro died in 1616 in penury. In 1691 Sir Adam’s son, Sir Henry Puckering (formerly Newton) gave his library to Trinity College and this included several manuscripts in Castelvetro’s hand.
As Gillian Riley indicates, he wrote A brief account to encourage the English to improve their diet by eating more fruit and vegetables and less meat. In Spring he advises eating spinach, sprouting broccoli, artichokes and peas ‘the noblest of vegetables’ and to:
‘take the plumpest spears of asparagus and having oiled them well, roll them on a plate in salt and pepper . . . roast them on a grid. Lavishly sprinkled with bitter orange juice, this makes a most delicate dish.’
John Martin, ‘Castelvetro, Giacomo (bap. 1546, d. 1616)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
Giacomo Castelvetro, The fruit, herbs & vegetables of Italy: an offering to Lucy, Countess of Bedford, translated with an introduction by Gillian Riley (Viking 1989).