History is served

‘The case of the slave cook who was accused of trying to poison her mistress’

The above title may seem to be the subject of an Agatha Christie whodunnit but it actually refers to a real crime that happened in Malta in 1724.

Yosanne Vella, an associate professor at the University of Malta and history and social studies coordinator of the Faculty of Education, came across the case while doing research work at the National Archives.

“This case captured my imagination and it’s quite a complicated one,” says Prof. Vella.

It tells the story of a slave cook, a Moor, who was accused of poisoning the food of her mistress, a certain Aloisette Rodriguez, who lived in Valletta.

Prof. Vella was fascinated by the details included in the case. Apart from describing the way of life of fairly rich residents of Valletta in that era, there are many references to the utensils used and the food cooked at the time.

“Interestingly, a number of dishes which we still cook today are mentioned, such as tarja and minestra,” she says.

There are many references to the utensils used and the food cooked at the time

Also interesting are the forensics used in 18th-century Malta. “The way they tried to determine how the food was poisoned may look like clumsy attempts today.”

Prof. Vella will present her research paper today at the conference Food as Voice: Historical Perspectives, which forms part of the Malta Historical Society’s biennial History Week.

One of the old Maltese dishes, tarja. Photos: <a href=""><a href=""></a></a>One of the old Maltese dishes, tarja. Photos:

The society has been organising History Week since 1979, providing an opportunity for academics, researchers and post-graduate students to converge and share their findings, research, knowledge and passion for various subjects.

This year’s conference views food as a cultural phenomenon, a means through which humans communicate behaviours.

The theme has drawn wide attention not only from established and emerging Maltese scholars but also from a good number of researchers on food history – from experts to doctoral students – from Europe and beyond.

The research topics provide a melange of topics. The four-day event, which kicked off on Wednesday, has included talks on the Valletta market, food rituals in Edwardian times, food as a voice of Italian national identity after World War II, food scarcity and famine in early modern Malta, and the food situation in Malta during World War II.

Today and tomorrow will cover the agro-industries from the 17th to early 19th century Malta, a description of the Inquisitor’s Palace kitchen complex, food in contemporary American photography, strategies to safeguard the fruits of the earth, changing food cultures in 1980s Athens and sugar consumption in late 18th-century Britain and France.

And do not forget the case of the slave cook. If you would like to hear how the crime unfolded, head to Aula Capitulare in Mdina today at 8pm. The event is free of charge and no pre-booking is required.

The Food as a Voice: Historical Perspectives conference comes to a close tomorrow. Sessions are being held today at the Aula Capitulare in Mdina from 6.30pm till 9pm and tomorrow from 9.30am to 12.30pm. The event is being held in close collaboration with Mgr Anton Cassar, the archpriest of the Mdina Cathedral, and the Metropolitan Chapter. For more details about the progamme, visit the Malta Historical Society Facebook page.


See our Comments Policy Comments are submitted under the express understanding and condition that the editor may, and is authorised to, disclose any/all of the above personal information to any person or entity requesting the information for the purposes of legal action on grounds that such person or entity is aggrieved by any comment so submitted. Please allow some time for your comment to be moderated.

Comments not loading? We recommend using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox with javascript turned on.
Comments powered by Disqus