stockfish (3)

Querini's diary

Pietro Querini (Venice, 1400? – 1448) was an Italian merchant and navigator, senator of the Venetian Republic. A Venetian Patrician (N.H.) of the powerful Querini family and therefore a member by right of the Maggior Consiglio della Serenissima. He was Lord, on the island of Candia (Crete), of the fiefs of Castel di Temini and Dafnes, famous for the production of Malvasia wine, which he traded especially with Flanders.
The voyage of the Querina
On 25 April 1431, Peter sailed from Candia to Flanders aboard the carrack Querina with a cargo of 800 barrels of Malvasia, spices, cotton, wax, rock alum and other valuable merchandise, amounting to approximately 500 tonnes. The crew consisted of sixty-eight men of different nationalities. His lieutenants were Nicolò de Michele, a patrician from Veneto, and Cristofalo Fioravante, a comitatus.

On 14 September, having passed Cabo Fisterra, they were surprised by repeated storms and were pushed further and further west, off the coast of Ireland: the rudder broke and the ship remained dismasted, drifting for several weeks, carried away by the Gulf Stream. On 17 December, the crew decided to abandon the half-sunken wreck and split up: 18 embarked on a scow (a sort of lifeboat) and 47 on a second, larger launch, including the three officers. There was no more news of the first boat, but the larger liner drifted for a long time amidst food rations and constant deaths, fortunately touching land on 14 January 1432 on the deserted island of Sandøy, near Røst in the Norwegian Lofoten archipelago, with 16 sailors surviving.

For three months of the year, that is, from June to September, the sun does not set there, and in the opposite months it is almost always night. From 20 November to 20 February the night is continuous, lasting twenty-one hours, although the moon is always visible; from 20 May to 20 August, on the other hand, the sun is always visible, or at least its glow the islanders, a hundred or so fishermen, prove to be very benevolent and servitial, eager to please more out of love than to hope for any service or gift at the meeting … they live in a dozen round houses, with circular openings at the top, which they cover with fish-skins; their only resource is the fish they take to sell in Bergen. (…) They catch innumerable quantities of fish throughout the year, and of only two species: one, which is in greater or rather incomparable quantity, is called stocfisi; the other is passable, but of admirable size, I mean weighing two hundred pounds each. The stocfisi dry in the wind and sun without salt, and because they are fish of little fat moisture, they become as hard as wood. When they want to be eaten, they beat them with the roverso of the mannara, which makes them become stretched out like sinews, then they compose butyro and species to give them flavour: and it is great and inestimable merchandise for that sea of Alemagna. To be very large, they salt them in pieces, and so they are good (…)”.

(Pietro Querini)

Here the sailors spent about four months, hosted by the community of fishermen, people who, as Querini wrote, were extremely kind and sociable:

“These of the said rocks are most pure and good-looking men, and so are their women, and so great is their simplicity that they care not to shut up any of their things, nor even of their women have regard: and this we clearly understood, because in the same rooms where husbands and wives and their daughters slept, we also lodged, and in our conspectus they undressed naked when they wanted to go to bed; and having the custom of stewing on Thursdays, they undressed at home and naked for the drawing of a basket went to find the stove, mixing with the men (. ..).”

(Pietro Querini)

But Pietro Querini did not fear scandal because, as he wrote in his diary:

“The 120 inhabitants of the island are all very faithful and devout Catholics, without any lust, so cold is the region and contrary to all lechery.”

(Pietro Querini)

On 15 May 1432, Querini was helped by fishermen to depart for Venice, taking with him dried stockfish. On the return journey he passed through Trondheim, Vadstena and London, where he was the guest of the then powerful Venetian community living on the Thames.

From there, after 24 days on horseback, the ‘capitano da mar’ finally arrived in Venice on 12 October 1432. There he imported the idea of stockfish, which immediately enjoyed great success and which the Venetians learned to appreciate, both for its gastronomic goodness and for its characteristics as a food with a long shelf life, very useful both on sea and land voyages, as well as for its characteristic of being a ‘lean food’, so that it became one of the dishes recommended during the more than 200 days of lean food, set, together with the food, on 4 December 1563, the date of the 25th and last session of the Council of Trent.

Very important in the travel report, which he later wrote for the Senate, is the description of the life of Norwegian fishermen and the technique of preserving cod that, once dried, becomes stockfish.