Skip to Content
Search Icon
Issue 07 – Saint Rose 2021


Losing the Recipe

On the rapid degeneration of blueprints for cassettes, pyramids, and wrapped shrimp in bacon.


Garum, pyramids, Roman roads, medieval automatons: these share little in common, except that we don’t quite know how they were made. Their “recipes,” in other words, have been lost. (Garum is not an engineering marvel but a fermented condiment similar to Southeast Asian fish sauce, whose exact characteristics are not known precisely.) Then there is byssus, or “sea silk,” known throughout the Mediterranean world in antiquity and mentioned on the Rosetta Stone; it is an impossibly airy yet warm silk spun from the filaments which Pinna nobilis, a giant mollusk, uses to attach itself to rocks under the sea. The rulers of the ancient world prized byssus, and it was always a luxury good, even though the means by which it was produced were once widely known.

Today, one Sardinian woman named Chiara Vigo is believed to be the last person on the planet who knows how to harvest and process sea silk. Vigo, who is Jewish, was quoted in a B.B.C. interview saying, “Weaving the sea silk is what my family has been doing for centuries. The most important thread, for my family, was the thread of their history, their tradition.”

You must or subscribe to read the rest of the article.

About the author

Addison del Mastro