There’s one ancient Venetian winter drink almost never mentioned in cookbooks. It seems it has disappeared at all, and yet it was so popular in Venice until 100 years ago. Dosa calda. Literally, this is a spice and fruit drink popular in Venice before vin brule became popular in town. In Venetian, vin brule means vino caldo spezia’. Vino spezia’ has a predecessor, if you will, and that’s the version not flavored with alcohol, or just a tiny bit with grappa.
Before Venetians went to celebrate the Mass at the Basilica della Salute, they kept themselves warm with a drink called dosa calda, whose recipe dates back to the 14th century. It was also a favorite during the Venetian winter fairs, for the end of November and early December were dedicated to fairs and exhibitions at the Rialto and other campi in town.
Treasures, garments, artefacts, carpets, curtains and the latest spice trends and boxes the Merchants of Venice had shipped to the Lagoon just before winter were exposed during these fairs. The Merchants conceded themselves a winter break and usually, no cogs left the Lagoon until 01 March, the day on which the Venetian New Year was celebrated.
Dosa Calda is the drink you would have enjoyed at the Rialto Market and during the Festa della Salute. You would have bought it on Campo della Salute just where today stalls are located next to the Grand Canal, selling sweets and the long white candles called ceri. Dosa Calda was also sold in the bacari and at the stalls which popped up along the Erbaria in winter. Here, you could buy frittelles, arancini di riso and dosa calda. And later, hot chocolate !
Retracing this recipe wasn’t easy but I found a trace in A tola co i nostri veci. I also discovered a recipe for a similar drink which had survived in the northern Lagoon where Grandmother lived as a child: We are now sharing this family recipe with you.
Our variant of dosa calda survived in a corner of the northern Lagoon, in Iesolo to be precise, in a family cooking journal written around 1880. Iesolo isn’t just the pine-fringed beaches on the Adriatic coast. Part of it is the Lagoon and looks west, towards the area now called L’Orto del Doge, the Doge’s Garden, comprising Lio Piccolo, Lio Mazor and Le Vignole. Many refined and well-known recipes were created in this area of the northern Lagoon.
Dosa Calda – Venetian Fig and Citrus Winter Drink
Cut three dried or fresh figs into thin slices, put them into a pan and add two tablespoons uva passa (raisins) and half a teaspoon liquorice root. Instead of liquorice root, you could also use a teaspoon aniseed. Bring the ingredients to the boil with two cups of water. Leave to simmer for five minutes, then take the pan off the heat. Leave to stand for five minutes in a warm place and stir in one teaspoon honey (we use miele di acacia) and another teaspoon grated lemon peel. Cover the pan with a lid, add a hint of cinnamon and 1-2 cloves and leave the ingredients to infuse for another five minutes. Now, your Venetian winter drink, la dosa calda, is ready, taking you right back to the early years of the 17th century when La Festa della Salute was first celebrated in Venice.
Dosa calda not only restores warmth after being exposed to the humidity of late November in Venice (or anywhere in the world!) but has also got all the natural benefits to strengthen your immune system. Figs and citrus fruit, coming in small doses provide Vitamin C, and the spices do the rest.
During the days preceding and following La Festa della Salute, people ate a special menu, and it wasn’t just all castradina. Castradina, a mutton stew cooked with cabbage, was the main dish amongst other autumn food made from ingredients easily retrieved in orchards. Join and travel to Venice virtually when she celebrates La Festa della Madonna della Salute on 21 November in this article.