Giacomo Constantino Beltrami has entered my consciousness and thus my life. Over the years I’ve wondered why my nearby neighborhood is called Beltrami, a name shared with a county in Northern Minnesota. My curiosity was piqued, mostly because I’m generally curious about neighborhood names. So I was at the ready when I heard Cathy Wurzer on MPR this morning interviewing Kay Mack, Beltrami County Auditor-Treasurer. Describing how her county is preparing for a possible gubernatorial recount Mack indicated she would be pulling out her “2008 Recount Soup”, an Italian delicacy popularly known as Count Beltrami Recount Soup. Ms. Mack not only manages the recount but supplies the soup – and the recipe. (below)
The Count would be so pleased, I thought, as I dug for my modest research on the 19th Century author and explorer, best known in these parts for his claim to have discovered the source of the Mississippi in 1823.
Though it’s the mere glimpse of the story of this fascinating man, my surface research has divulged a good deal about Beltrami: Born in 1779 in Bergamo, Italy, Beltrami spent his early professional life in the Napoleonic judicial system where he established both a sizeable fortune and a liberal world view. With the downfall of Napoleon Beltrami retreated to his farm where his liberal thoughts soon put him at odds with the paper government. Tired of the scrutiny and accusations, Beltrami, basically in exile, embraced a life of adventure on the Continent and in the new world.
Beltrami hit his adventuresome stride as an intrepid explorer of foreign lands, their botanical and literary treasures. He visited most if not all of the European nations as well as Mexico, Haiti, and of most interest of Minnesotans, the headwaters of the Mississippi. As curious as he was fearless, Beltrami took time to study the locales he explored and to chronicle his findings for posterity. His voluminous writings, banned in Italy, are readily accessible in libraries and archives today. Among other chronicles Beltrami collected botanical and geological samples and is responsible for the discovery of the only existing texts to provide Latinate translations from the Aztec language.
As the story goes, Beltrami landed in Philadelphia on December 20, 1822, after what must have been a treacherous Atlantic crossing. From there he set out for Louisville and St. Louis where he encountered American Indians for the first time. In April 1823 he set out for Fort St. Anthony. Spurred by a vivid imagination and a vision of making history by discovering the source of the Mississippi Beltrami ventured solo up river, slowed but not discouraged by the fact that he was unable to balance himself in a birch bark canoe which he eventually decided to tow. His quest led him to a small lake which he called Lake Julia and which Beltrami was convinced was the source of both the Mississippi and the Red rivers. Though he wasn’t quite accurate in claiming the discovery, he deserves credit for a mighty effort.
In time Beltrami retired to his farm in Italy where he died in 1855, just five years short of the creation of the Italian nation. Though he never saw any of his works published in Italy modern scholars continue to pore over the volumes. Of particular interest to today’s scholars are Beltrami’s writings about American Indians he encountered in his travels.
Count Giacomo Constantino Beltrami, like his name, is bigger than life, an untapped reservoir of imagination, scholarship and energy. He is the only adventurer of record for whom a staple of Minnesota’s electoral process is named. The recipe for Count Beltrami Recount Soup, as supplied by Beltrami County Auditor-Treasurer Kay Mack, is irresistible on this or any wintry day. It would seem just right if the residents of Beltrami neighborhood in Northeast Minneapolis stirred up a pot of soup in solidarity with the voters of Beltrami County.
Count Beltrami Recount Soup
1 lb. ground Italian sausage – hot, mild or a mix.
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
3 leaves fresh basil
1 15 can butter beans
1 15 oz can black beans
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups beef broth
Grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
Cook sausage until done, add garlic and basil. Saute 4 minutes
Add beans, tomato, broth. Cover and simmer 10-15 minutes.
Sprinkle with cheese.
Serve with Italian or garlic bread or Panini.
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