Lo Spiedo Bresciano: The Brescian Spit
Or, Roast Game Birds
By Kyle Phillips [Licensed to About.com]
"We're hunters," came the reply when I asked about the origins of Lo Spiedo Bresciano, one of the city of Brescia's signature dishes. "But we do things differently than you do in Tuscany:" -- my accent places me -- "We set up blinds, don't use dogs, and shoot at uccelli dal becco fino," in other words fine beaked, i.e. small birds, including thrushes, meadowlarks, finches, and so on.
[Above: Making a Spiedo Bresciano: The meats have been roasting for about 4 hours. Note tray for coals to the front of roaster.]
Before you blanch at the idea of eating a songbird, some context: Lo spiedo bresciano goes back centuries, and is a holiday dish of those who were too poor to be able to afford other meats, and were also not allowed, by the ruling nobility, to hunt anything larger. Considering that one would be fined if one were caught shooting anything that walked or bounded over the land, if not worse -- the Visconti, who ruled Brescia from 1300 to 1430, had poachers mutilated -- hunters bent on providing a meal for their families naturally went after what the nobility didn't care about: Small birds.
As did farmers, both because some small birds eat the crops in the fields, and because barnyard animals that could provide commodities such as eggs, or be sold to raise cash, were much too valuable to be eaten.
Hence the classic Spiedo Bresciano.
Like any old dish, however, it has evolved with time.
*On the one hand, people aren't quite so poor as they once were, and can afford to add other meats to the spit, for example pork spare ribs, quail, and rabbit.
*And on the other, mores have changed, and it is now illegal to catch what was once allowed. Therefore, to enjoy the traditional Speido Bresciano you have to go out and catch the birds yourself, have a friend who hunts, or have access to commercially raised small game birds. Or you can adapt the recipe as many modern Bresciani do, cooking quail, rabbit, pork, chicken, and so on in the traditional way.
Historically there are three major variations on the Spiedo Bresciano:
*In the Valtrompia and the Bassa Bresciana, the flatlands extending from Brescia out into the Pianura Padana people used song birds and pieces of pork loin, figuring three birds and a couple of slices of loin per person. The birds are plucked, their eyes are removed, and they are gutted. Then they are spitted, arranging them so their heads all face the same same way, and putting the smallest birds at the ends of the spit where the heat is lower, with a slice of pork loin rolled up around a strip of lard and a sage leaf between each pair of birds. The spit is basted with melted butter.
*Around Rezzato, in the lower Gardesana (towards the Pianura Padana), they also add pieces of rabbit to the spit, and in other surrounding towns they go further, using pork spare ribs cut about 2 1/2 inches (6 cm) long, song-bird-sized pieces of chicken, and finger-thick slices of potato.
*In the alto Garda (towards the mountains) and the Valle Sabbia the Spiedo is richer; in addition to the song birds they use chicken, rabbit, duck, pork liver wrapped in lace fat, rolled up slices of pork shoulder butt (what is coppa if it's cured), which is tenderer than pork loin, and spare ribs.
Regardless of which kind of Spiedo Bresciano you choose to make, figure about three birds, and an equivalent volume of other meats, say a piece of pork loin, a spare rib, and a chicken drumstick per person, cutting the other meats to the size of the birds to insure everything cooks at the same rate (if you are omitting the songbirds, double the amounts of other meats, or add other things, for example quale and pigeon).
When you have assembled and cut your meats, spit them in repeating order: Bresciani using everything usually start with a slice of potato, followed by a rolled up piece of pork, a sage leaf, a songbird (spitted side-to-side), sage, potato, a piece of rabbit, sage, potato, a songbird, sage, potato, a piece of chicken, sage, potato, a spare rib, sage, and so on, until all is spitted. When spitting the meats, make certain the birds are all arranged facing the same way.
Lo Spiedo Bresciano is done over the coals, and there is really no other way to do it. An oven simply wouldn't give the same results.
Restaurants and people who cook for large groups of friends use a rotisserie of the kind shown here: a long metal box capable of holding several spits, which are turned by an electric motor. The coals go into a tray that runs along the front of the box, while the bottom of the rotisserie acts as a dripping pan, catching what drips from the spits above.
Such specialization is not necessary, however: All you need is one or more long spits you can set in front of the coals, and a clockwork or electrically operated spit turner to turn the spits so the meat cooks evenly.
And now, to cook! First, the fire:
Though you won't be cooking over high heat, you'll be cooking for a long time, so make certain you have an ample supply of non-resinous hardwood (Bresciani use olive wood) or good quality charcoal. I wouldn't use briquettes, because they can contain all sorts of things, including sawdust. Start the fire, and when it has produced some coals, you're ready to begin.
Put the spit in your hearth over a dripping pan, arranging the spit so the heads of the birds hang down. Spread the coals you have in front of -- not directly under -- the spit so they provide an even, not too intense heat over the length of the spit. Don't start the spit turner immediately, but rather wait until the heat from the coals stiffens the necks of the birds. While this is happening, melt a cup of unsalted butter and season it with several fresh sage leaves.
When the necks of the birds have stiffened, add a few more coals to increase the heat some (but not too much; the heat should never be really intense, or the birds will dry out), start the spit turner, baste the birds with the melted butter and sage, and lightly salt them. Continue cooking, adding coals as necessary to maintain a moderate, even heat, for 4-5 hours, basting every hour or so, using both the butter, and, as they accumulate, the drippings from the dripping pan. When there's about an hour left to go check seasoning. And when it's done, remove the pieces of meat to a platter, and keep them warm. Also, gather the drippings and flavorful bits from the drippings pan, combine them with whatever butter is left in the basting pot, and put them in a warmed bowl.
And thus we have the meat: What to serve with it?
Polenta; set a pot of water to boil about an hour before the birds will be ready, and make a nice batch of not too firm polenta. You may also want to make a tossed green salad seasoned with olive oil, salt, and good white wine vinegar. And, of course, you should procure wine: A Terre di Franciacorta Rosso DOC would be quite nice, as would a Garda Bresciano Rosso DOC, or, if you wanted to go a little further afield, a Valpolicella Superiore.
The actual serving is simple: Each person gets a couple birds and other kinds of meat (here, rabbit and spareribs), and some polenta, flavored by pressing into the polenta with the back of a spoon and filling the resulting well with seasoned drippings.
Festive food fit for king!
Lo Spiedo Bresciano: The Brescian Spit
Friday, June 20, 2008
Lo Spiedo Bresciano: The Brescian Spit
Friday, June 6, 2008
This excavation really brings to the light of day a long history of a very complex pagan tradition, based on the earth in relation to the stars. A "cult of the serpent" based on the Ofiuco constellation. Witches performing ceremonies under the ground in the dark of night. This may be a little to heavy for some, but it's indeed part of our history. It appears that the ancient Camunni began this tradition, and later the Celts added their brand of paganism and Druidic tradition to the mix.
The archaeological site of Cevo
Within the boundaries of Cevo, Val Saviore, in the province of Brescia, Italy, an group of amateur searchers has identified an extensive archaeological site consisting of:
* Megalithic circles (Androla, Molinello, Dòs Merlin);
* A "sacred" path linking a megalithic circle to a chalybeate spring;
* An altar in the form of a serpent's head, placed half-way towards the Molinello circle and the chalybeate spring;
* A dolmen formation;
* Stones arranged possibly as finders for astronomical observations.
A study of the circle remains made using a computer Cad system has revealed that the stones form three circles and a sinistral spiral.
Moreover, local legends and feasts of the pagan hinterlands have survived and give the idea of an ancient cult linked with the serpent.
Thus the necessity to make this find known with all the necessary caution marking the operations of those who have worked with amatorial intent, so that whoever has the interest and intention may deepen their knowlege of the area and its archaeological and anthropological importance.
Il colle dell'Androla
From many points of view, the hill with the name of Androla can be considered a probable place of worship and astronomical observatory. There are many traces to support this theory, starting from the geographical position. In fact, the hill is in such a position to allow anyone standing on its summit to dominate the valley with a 360 degree view of all the surrounding mountains. Further to being a natural observation post for defence purposes, this makes it an ideal spot for watching the sky (observing the movements of the sun, moon and stars). This was the direction first taken by our observation in an attempt to identify eventual signs that would reveal the presence of finders used for measuring the time, the seasons and the movements of heavenly bodies. The existence of what may be the remains of stone masses arranged in a circle can be seen from the aerial photograph of the hill and has been further confirmed by a first superficial prospecting of the area surrounding the small church standing at the top of Androla.
On the top of the hill, there is a heeled stone perfectly in line with the South and East-West. This stone is of triangular shape (tetrahedric). The church itself is an indirect testimonial of the ancient use of Androla as an observatory. The oldest part is in fact a square construction with four openings in line with the four cardinal points. Furthermore, this small church is an introduction to the ancient cultural use of Androla. The first part of the building has in fact been constructed in the point where local beliefs indicate the witches' meeting ground to be. In this respect, D.A.Morandini writes: “An ancient tradition tells that, under the Androla Chapel, there were copper mines known as ramine (copper flakes). The Androla Chapel is perhaps the best viewpoint in the whole of Valle Camonica. Once the copper mines were exhausted, they were abandoned, leaving the deep and frightening tunnels. Well: those people who imagined a serpent with a golden ring, that no-one could approach because its look would kill, inhabited those witches' caverns. These fantastic frightening creatures, during the fury of the tempests, left their subterranean dominions to perform the strangest of dances under the rain in the meadows on Androla. Three important elements can be deduced from Morandini's tale: the existence of copper mines, the reference to a “serpent people” and the presence of witches.
Copper mines and witches dancing under the "fury of the tempest" could be connected, since, as testified by local sayings, Colle dell'Androla is still struck by many bolts of lightning even today. The fact that the hill attracts lightning (the withces dancing?) can obviously be related to the presence of caverns or metal mineral mines.
Regarding the presence of stone rings, since remotest times, in various parts of the world, Colin Wilson reports the opinion of the archaeologist Lethbridge who states "magic was the great purpose to achieve through witches' rites, and their way of reaching their objective was to turn to collective excitement. The rings of stone on our hills and the frenetic dances of the witches had this great scope. It was the same in all the ancient world. The magic power, at least thus it was believed, was generated by these dances and was contained and directed towards its objective by stone circles, arranged so that the power could not be dispersed in the surrounding countryside".
The name Androla, after all, could derive from antrum, antro, cavity or cave. The derivation from antrum, antro, seems to concern also Andrista, the village immediately below Androla and which can be reached from the hill by means of a rocky path that passes near to the caverns or mines inhabited by the witches.
Andrista = Antrum istum = this cavity
Androla = Antrum illum = that cavity.
According to tradition, the witches guarded the serpent of the golden ring in the Androla caves and the serpent is an element of great importance for the study of local traditions and in identifying possible ancient cults. In Andrista, for example, the tradition of the Basilisc is still observed.
The tradition of the Basilisc
In January, according to traditions, the Brescian valleys and countryside, especially in Val Saviore and in Franciacorta, see the arrival of the Basilisc, a serpent that the legend says is stumpy with cows horns on its goatskin head, born from an egg laid by an old cockerel and hatched by a poisonous toad.
*The Cernunno is associated with many animals, but particularly with the bull and the stag and is similar to the mythical serpent with a ram's head (goat – ram).
*Usually the Cernunno is represented with stag's horns, accompanied by a serpent with a ram's head.
The Basilisco is sometimes depicted with a cockerel's head and snake's tail.
In medieval bestiaries, the Basilisco (from basilìskos, little king – the king of serpents) appears as a crowned serpent, honoured by its subjects. However, some interpretations would have the horned serpent as symbol of lust, and in fact, in the 1400s lues was known as “basilisco disease”. In Val Saviore there are still traces of ancient pagan rites dedicated to the “divin biscio”(divine snake) and Cevo retains the memory of a legend that would have the “serpente dell’anello” protected in a cavern by a cove of witches. Angelo Moreschi, recalling the rite held on 5 January in Andistra, a division of Cevo, speaks of “Badilisc” as a hairy serpent, with a huge head, two enormous eyes and a gigantic mouth. Mouth which pronounces, after a procession accompanying the "monster" through the village streets, all the most important events of the year to the mockery of the people (the “discorso del Badilisc”) (Badilisc's speech). G.P. Salvini (Giornale di Brescia) describes the mysterious beast as “short and stumpy like a salami, with or without claws” and recalls how its look enchants and its venomous breath "scorches" the grass: “its whole aspect wrinkles the skin, and turns hair as bristly as a chestnut husk”.
If the serpent-dragon has a ram's head and cow's horns, this could mean that the legend was created to indicate that the time it refers to was that in which the Dragon's head (Spring equinox) was similar to Aries (Age of Aries) when this still had the cow's horns (Torus), Age of Torus. Therefore a period close to the recent passage (or in act) from the Torus epoch to that of Aries. The period in question is 2220 a.C. (Torus from 4.380 B.C. to 2.220 B.C. and Aries from 2.220 B.C. to 60 B.C.). This was followed by the Pisces era (present) which we are leaving to enter that of Aquarius. The period in question is that of a transition between eras.
Names given to the Basilisco are among the most various: Bés fuì, Bés Galilì (in Franciacorta), Carbon (in Carnia), Talzelwurm or Stollwurm (in Austria and in Switzerland) and, in scientific terms, “Eloderma europaeum”, relation of the Eloderma sospectum, a large poisonous lizard from the American deserts, otherwise known as Gila. The scientific name was attributed to the Basilisco by an Austrian zoologist after newspapers in the 30s had described the animal as being 50 to 90 centimetres in length, with a short tail and squat legs, stumpy, with an aggressive character and ill-meaning look. Salvini recalls that even the Austrian Ministry of Agriculture was forced to investigate and in the text by Willi Ley, “Animal Legends and Stories”, published by Bompiani in 1951 (quoted by Salvini) there are the testimonials of who actually saw and photographed the Basilisco. Basilisco is also mentioned in number three of “Brescia rivista”, the monthly magazine directed by Carlo Agarotti and printed by the Rothari publishing house in Leno. In this case the serpent is associated with the Bissaboga (winding road) and the Besolà (from which ‘mbesolat, entwined) or Bossolà, a cake that is well-known to Brescian tables.
The cult of the serpent
The serpent of the golden ring, guarded by the witches under Colle dell’Androla, is associated with the serpente della “preda” (serpent of stone), visible, according to tradition, among the woods opposite the locality of Molinello where we have found the remains of a settlement which was probably used for the cult and to observe the stars.
The cult of the serpent can probably be ascribed to the Celtic influence, as has in any case been shown by a rock incision in the locality of Naquane which represents the god Cernunno accompanied by a serpent and with a torques hanging from his right arm. E. Anati attributes the incision to a period from between 1100 and 16 B.C. (last period in which the Camuni incisions were made).
The Camuni Cernunnos is the Celtic Lug, the luminous, who in the Gundestrup Caldaia (cauldron?) is depicted with stag's horns, a torques in his right hand (the traditional ring?) and a serpent in his left hand. The Celtic influence is witnessed anyway by the incisions representing the four-wheeled carriage again dated by Anati as belonging to the last period of Camuni production (roughly after 1000 B.C.).
Traditions linked to the serpent recall Cernunnos, as we have seen, and this is an aspect of great importance to be investigated inasmuch as it concerns the Celtic civilisation.
The reference to the serpent, however, could infer stars of particular interest when aligning the megalithic circles. The symbols of the Zodiac, correctly interpreted, should be based on 13 and not 12 signs. In fact, the ecliptic, in fact, after Libra enters Scorpio which occupies only a few degrees (241-248) and then in Ofiuco, which occupies from 248 to 266 degrees. Sagittarius arrives after Ofiuco. The Ofiuco constellation, associated with that of the Serpent, is represented by a human figure holding a serpent in his hands and sometimes entwined with it. The name derives from the Greek ofiòkos, or “he who holds the serpent”. In the period between November and January, Ofiuco is particularly evident in the sky to the East, before sunrise. Therefore it is not improbable that "he who holds the serpent" or Cernunno, was identified with Ofiuco.
If we observe the sky of 1998, we see that the sun rises (at 7.40) for the first time in Ofiuco, abandoning Scorpio, on December 1st and rises for the last time in Ofiuco (at 7.55) on 18 December. The day after, 19 December, the sun rises in Sagittarius. In 1998, therefore, the period influenced by the presence of Ofiuco as a reference for sunrise goes from 1 to 18 December. If we now leap back to 500 B.C., in this period the Celts at Cevo could observe the sky through their megalithic finders. The sun rose at 6.50 in Ofiuco on 1 November leaving Scorpio where it had remained until 31 October. The sun remained in Ofiuco until 18 November (when it rose at 7.15), then to pass, on 19 November, into the sign of Sagittarius. The period influenced by the presence of Ofiuco in 500 B.C. was therefore that between the 1st and the 18th of November.
Festivities linked to the serpent, therefore, will all probability can be collocated in the period between November 1 and 18 (now December 1 and December 18). A period in which there was the Celtic New Year which began at Samain (the solar rising of Antares with the Moon in a particular position) granting the possibility of contact between the human world and the divinities. The period was dedicated to Lug in his acceptance of Cernunno and the goddess Morrigan.
The Celts at Cevo
The Celts were firmly established in the Po Valley before the start of the IV century B.C. and according to Livio, they arrived there in the era of Lucio Tarquinio the Superb who governed Rome from 534 to 508. Some scholars such as Alexandre Bertrand, as Peter Berreford Ellis recalls, backdate their descent to northern Italy to the years around 1000 B.C. The same Livio in fact writes that “they [the Celts] crossed the Alps passing through the lands of the Taurini and the valley of the Dora Baltea, winning the battle against the Etruscans near to the Ticino. And hearing that the place in which they had stopped was called Piana degli Insubri, that is, with the same name of a sub-tribe of the Edui, in this they saw a prediction which they seconded by founding a city”. The reference to the Insubri makes us think that during the conquest of Belloveso and Elitovio, the Celts had encountered settlements made previously by Celtic people.
Populations that, as stated by A.Bertrand (La religion des Goulois - The Religion of the Gauls) had supplanted the megalithic populations through a gradual unification. If so, the Celts living in Italy before the conquest of Belloveso could belong to the culture of the Campi di Urne, or rather, people dedicated to agriculture, living in small communities and expert in the working of bronze and, later on, of iron. In many places, they lived on fortified hills and used to bury their dead, after cremation, in clay urns. In theVIII century B.C., the evolution of iron works enabled the Celts to fabricate prestigious axes, scythes and other equipment which they used to work the ground with relative ease. Cevo, from this point of view, represents an ideal place for a settlement. Colle dell’Androla dominates Valle Camonica and Val Saviore appears to be easily defendable. Up and down valley from Cevo there are mineral mines rich in iron and Colle dell’Androla conceals copper mines.
The area has generally a particularly mild climate and the slopes facing South are almost always exposed to the sun. The locality of Molinello and surrounding lands are fertile and have continued to render crops of wheat, rye and barley, and the raising of animals. Therefore we can believe that the ancient “serpent people” were perfectly at their ease in Val Saviore. Molinello, even recently, was the destination of annual rogations  along the viasa üsca. Traditional Christian rites have often developed in places where pagan rituality existed and it is not unlikely that reference to Roman Robigalia has sprung from more ancient traditions. The presence of a chalybeate spring nearby further qualifies the area as a possible place dedicated to ancient medicine (it is well known that the Druids were herbal experts and equally able physicians and that many sacred springs were dedicated to hydropic cures). It is not surprising, therefore, that at Molinello there is a nemeton (sanctuary), or a place of cultural and therapeutical qualification.
Molinello appears as a series of overlapping terraces supported by stone walls. Along the walls there are stones positioned in a way to recall tombs and dolmen, while others create the idea of broken menhir. This gives a strong impression of a fortified village or a castle-type structure, but these settlements were usually protected by a rocky backdrop, so that only the part towards the valley plains were vulnerable but easy to defend. Behind the terraces, not wide enough to think of agricultural exploitation, there are no rocks, but flat areas on which there are evident traces of megalithic circles. It cannot be thought that this set of stones is simply a ganda (random heap of stones). In this respect, it must be said that there are many "gandas" in the fields around Molinello, which served as a deposit for the stones removed from the meadows. An interesting detail is that the "gandas" were planted with elder (Ruis in the tree alphabet). The elder keeps its berries until late December and is associated with witches and is also the tree of the Day of Justice.
Its month is from 25 November to 22 December, day of the Winter Solstice (Justice?). So the month of the elder is that of the death of the sun and its rebirth. Wild Elder, Peith, is the herald of Ruis and is associated with the rush.
Moreover, to the south-west of the possible centre and lower down, near to the constructions now used as stables, there are stones arranged in such a way to suggest a finder with which to define the alignment between the stones in the circular and the heavenly vault.
With regard to the stone wall constructions, it should be noted that the Celts, as shown by recent archaeological digs, were expert builders.
The chalypeate spring
North-west of Molinello there is chalypeate spring. A series of oriented stones marked with triangular finders indicate a sinusoidal path connecting Molinello to the spring. About half-way, there is a stone mass, clearly grooved, and whose form recalls that of a serpent's head. Below the head, the mass clearly shows a stone step. Considering the survival of legends and feasts linked with the serpent, the idea cannot be ignored that the serpent's head stone could be an altar placed half-way between the megalithic circle and the chalypeate spring for cult purposes.
The possible value of Molinello regarding the cult, the chalypeate spring and Androla is strengthened also by the presence of Dòs Merlin at Saviore. Dòs Merlin, collocated between the parish church and the cemetery, and now defaced by the installation of radio repeaters, reveals the presence of a megalithic circle. With regard to this, Morandini also writes that here there was a castle named "Merlino, nor other have we of other castle-keepers than the name of a certain Merlilo. What tradition can tell us is that probably the context of things dates back to far-off times and that the Castle-keepers were the Lords and Tyrants of the land and that all was subordinated to these castles, and that for religious zeal or to contrast their tyranny, they were destroyed, especially Merlino who was burnt to ashes with his keepers by the fury of the people when, in a particular encounter with a procession, the Pagans raped and robbed the Catholic maidens”, etc. etc.
Merlino was, for the Celts, the name indicating a high Druid office. The presence of a Merlino at Saviore can indicate that the valley, in its Camuno context, occupied a particular religious importance.
Marta Loreschi tells us that: “ At about 1 Km from Saviore, on the road to Fabrezza, there is a rocky path that descends to the valley. Ascending to the left of the road, a few steps take you to a dry wall constructed with large stones which continues towards west, north-west. Near to the path, the wall seems to form a sort of elipse (the two axes are respectively 10 and 7-8 m. approximately), with two openings in east and west directions. The ground is slightly sloping. On the same path, before arriving at “Plot della Campagna” (about ten minutes), after the area confined by barbed wire, the path turns east. On the right you can note a heap of rocks and vegetation called “Castello”. At the top there are the remains of megalithic walls arranged in a semi-circle. On the sides from south-west to north, the stones have decayed and are covered with vegetation.(Bulletin from Centro Camuno di Studi Preistorici – 13-14 page 192).
Recovery of traditions
Up to now, we have given brief notes concerning an archaeological site which deserves in-depth study. However, it should not be forgotten that, further to the possible developments relative to the archaeological survey, great interest is suscitated by the recovery of traditions. An example? “At Carneval time – writes Morandini – every year through these villages those night dogs fatti sulle strade dalle donne attruppate dei filò, where with ancient unknown tongue they use their soprano voices, one to sing and the other replying in chorus as a lament, called by us "The Voices" and in Saviore "The Songs", ridiculous for us in their sense but admirable in their sweetness, their method, simplicity and more so in their ancient origins. These are remains of those ancient costumes or feasts, perhaps Pagan orgies that denote the simplicity, liberty and sincerity of those costumes”.
Visits and the first surveys can reasonably lead us to affirm that the localities Androla and Molinello (we could add Dòs Merlin at Saviore) were places dedicated to the cult and observation of the sky. It is equally reasonable to think that the megalithic circles, dolmen and stone constructions are to be associated with the traditions relative to the “serpent”, or “divin biscio” (divine snake), which represent the survival of ancient cults concerning Cernunno (the Celtic god Lug), associated with the Ofiuco constellation. The number of places visited allows us to say that Cevo, with suitable studies and appropriate surveys, should be an area of considerable archaeological and anthropological interest.
Dott. Silvano Danesi (e.mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dott. Domenico Scoppio
For their co-operation, we thank: Dott. Donatella Salvetti, Franca Leonardi, Dott. Paolo Maglio, Prof. Franco Rabbi (metallurgic analysis), Prof. Stefano Segatori (chemical analysis)
Brescia, June 30, 1999