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12 juillet 2018

A fascinating and amusing history of gastronomy

Classé dans : Cuisine, Histoire — Miklos @ 7:26
Frans Franken, The Parable of the Rich Man and Poor Lazarus (closeup).
th cent. Click to enlarge.

By Lady Morgan.

In The Book Without a Name,
by Sir T. Charles and Lady Morgan
New-York, Wiley and Putnam, 1841.

“La gastronomie n’est autre chose que la réflexion qui apprécie, appliquée à la science qui améliore.”

We live in awful times! By we, I mean we women. Power has departed from us, passions are things over which we no longer have control, love has become a calculation, matrimony a spec., and friendship (that peculiar attribute of our sex) “but a name.” Bright eyes now shine in vain when opposed to the sparkle of a cigar; the prettiest ankle may withdraw itself within the cumbrous comforts of a trailing petticoat, for it is powerless against breasts protected by egotism or a Petersham. Cinderella’s slipper might be sent round from club to club, without increasing the throb of a single heart, even in “the guards and Crockford’s.” Neither la jeune France, nor the dandyism of England, could now furnish a man to extatise over a corsage with St. Preux, or to envy with Waller the pressure of a zone: though

Give me but what that girdle bound,
Take all the rest the world goes round,

might still be applied, in the ardor of jockeyism, to the girth of the favorite of the field, it never would apostrophize the cincture that marks the symmetry, “fine by degrees, and elegantly less,” of the best dressed subject of Victorine or Carson. The days when the rape of the lock agitated society to its centre, are now like the days beyond the flood; and the times when women were all charming, and men all charmed, are as the nights of Arabian fiction.

Women of those times—where lay your secret? My own opinion is, that it lay in the kitchen!

“Ma belle,” said the gallant Henri IV. to one of Marie de Medici’s maids of honor,—“quel est le chemin à votre cœur ? Par l’église, Sire !” was the prompt and piquant reply: but had those female Sommités of the reign of his grandson, the Maintenons, the Contis, and the Soubises been interrogated before a star-chamber of coquettes, as to what was the true road to royal hearts, they might, on their own experience, have answered, par vos côtelettes, Mesdames.

It is a fact, that women never understood the kitchen better, than in that epoch of their greatest power. They understood it in its physiology, in its morality, and in its politics. The immortal côtelettes à la Maintenon of the queen-mistress of Louis XIV. were as much an expedient of the times, as her revocation of the Edict of Nantes; and her dragées and her dragonnades were alike directed to the service of her own unmeasured ambition. The best educated English women of the present day scarcely know the matériel of an entrée, or the elements which give its character to an entremet; or can tell when an hors d’œuvre should come in, or a pièce de résistance should go out 2; but this great stateswoman, this elegant writer, and best dresser of her age,—she who governed France, and influenced Europe,—was likewise capable of regulating the most modest ménage, with equal genius and equal attention to details.

There is on record a letter of Madame de Maintenon, which should be studied by all housekeepers, like their breviary. It is that, in which she lays out the expenditure of her thriftless brother’s house and table, and tries to regulate the economy of her careless, slovenly sister-in-law’s wardrobe, whom she reproaches with knowing as little of the science of the toilet as of that of the kitchen.3 Such arts may be “the scoff of fools,” but they will ever remain “the reverence of the wise;” for the woman who, under the pressure of necessity, can first dress a dinner, and then dress herself, to please the palate of the most fastidious, and the taste of the most precise, will be found adequate to every other exigency, in any combination, by which man (the creature of sense and appetite) may be saved, served, or gratified.

Women are nature’s own cooks; and the power which man has usurped in the kitchen, as in the state, arose in a temporary necessity (a necessity now giving way to steam-kitchens and hot hearths) the demand for physical force. In all epochs of society, what man eats must mainly be determined by climates and races; but in all, the manner and fitness of his meal must depend on the intelligence and science which are brought to its preparation: and there it is, that the adroitness, the patience, and the keen senses4 of the sex, are super-eminently applicable.

The children of the spicy East and dew-dropping South, are provided by nature with delicate appetites, and with all the stimulating condiments necessary to a fastidious gastronomy. The northern tribes, voracious and indiscriminate in the urgency of their brute appetites, fall foul of whatever first substantially presents itself to their cravings. To the stomach of an ostrich, the tender and too-easily digestible fibre is no joke; and to the shivering little animals of the Pole, who feed the lamp of life as other lamps are fed, imbibing heat and nourishment from the same source, a dead seal is worth a covey of partridges; and the rank savor of raw fish dried in the wind is more gratifying, than the most delicate fumet of the best preserved venison. But, amidst these coarser outlines of nature’s adaptations, there are still concealed shadings and softenings of tone ; and when circumstance and civilization commenced their triumphs over the sterner necessities, woman, with her sensitive organization, must have been the first to discover culinary improvements, and reduce them to practice.

The women, indeed, must have early found that the animal susceptibility to civilization (that is to domestication and taming) lies in the stomach; and that those species alone are capable of the process, whose will is eminently obedient to their appetites. The inference from the animal to the human stomach could not have been lost on female penetration; and its application to the purposes of influence was probably among the first uses of the discovery of Prometheus. From that day to this the most stubborn and rebellious characters have been remarkable for their indifference to the art of eating; and, from Esau’s mess of pottage, to Andrew Marvel’s shoulder of mutton, the connexion between spare diet and dogged obstinacy has remained unshaken.

The earliest cookery on record will be found in the history of the Hebrews; and it is there stated that the collation set before the angelic visitants of Abraham was prepared by Sarah;—a proof of the superior science of the future mother of nations. That the patriarchal women presided over the confection of bread may be inferred from the form it received, which was long and tapering, such as is still called “lady’s fingers.” The Jews, therefore, broke their bread, having no necessity for cutting it; and their bread was so eminently good, that it was adopted as a general expression for viands of all descriptions. The Hebrew Cordons bleus also excelled in confectionary. So early as the mission of Moses, offerings of confectionary were ordained by the law; and cakes of honey, flour, and oil, evince the ingenuity and savoir vivre of the fair descendants of Sarah.

That gastronomy was not neglected among the Egyptian sciences, we have proofs in the picture histories of the country, so lately brought into evidence; and though the hardships incidental to a sojourn in the desert must have interfered with the lore derived by the Hebrew women from that quarter, there can, be little doubt that such resources as circumstances left at their disposition, were rendered more fully available, through the culinary ability which was brought to their preparation.

The refreshments offered to David by that profound intriguante, but excellent housewife, Abigail, though of a pastoral character, contained the elements of the choicest cookery—barley, beans, lentils, peas, dried figs, and grapes, butter, (or cream) honey, oil, and succulent veal; but how were these ingredients combined, and how served? Had Abigail retained a tradition, or had she, in her philosophy, reconquered a knowledge of the universality and immense capabilities of her veal? Did she subdue the conqueror of Goliah with an oreille de veau à la Tartare? or mollify him with a crême à la moelle,—the head and front of modern laitage; but also within the reach of the most rustic dairy? The solution of this question would involve the profoundest calculation of conflicting elements. A nation which wanted metals for arming its warriors, could hardly have possessed a respectable batterie de cuisine; but then the traditions of the table are amongst those most faithfully preserved; and woman, under the pressure of adverse circumstances, manifests such wonderful resources!

The Jews, however, were an obstinate race; and, where prejudice interfered, hardened their stomachs, no less than their hearts, against “the goods the gods provided them.” Thus, to the last, they remained insensible to the merits of the pig, that animal encyclopédique,—and were but little touched by the gastronomic capabilities of fish. In like manner, the Egyptians abjured mutton; (they had probably no south-downs; for Wales, and its delicious breed of sheep, were as yet undiscovered)—and they held beans in Pythagorean horror.

Not, however, that such self-denial is always to be placed to the account of prejudice. St. Clement of Alexandria tells us that natural reasons may, in many instances, be given for it. The abstinences imposed by law or religion, he says, have generally originated in some wholesome, or prudential consideration.

Thus Moses, Mahomet, and Father Matthew, are in the same category; for the swine, the wine, and the whiskey inhibited by each on religious grounds, were alike injurious to the health, or to the morality of the parties, to whom they were forbidden. It is always easier to fanatise, than reason man into virtue.

Whatever progress was made in the culinary code of the Hebrews, women appear to have taken the initiative. The spices, gums, and essences introduced by Queen Sheba into the kitchens of Jerusalem, were valuable innovations; and the syrup of Guimauve of modern times, is said to be made after one of the receipts furnished to “les offices” of Solomon, by that great woman. Cleopatra, that first-rate petite rnaîtresse and efficient stateswoman, was not ignorant of the resources which the kitchen offers to ambition and to coquetry, to politics or passion. The exquisite luxury of her banquets was among the instruments by which she reigned over the hearts of her lovers, and subdued the enemies of her country. The suppers she gave to Caesar obtained for her the honors of a Roman Empress; and Anthony’s love of fish and of fishing was made instrumental to her deep political purposes. In spite of the religious prejudices of her subjects, she accompanied him in his piscatory excursions; and, her frolicksome habits taken into consideration, she may have assisted in dressing the salmon she had helped to catch.

Among the means by which Agrippina subjugated the Emperor Claudius, her receipt for dressing mushrooms was not the least important. Claudius loved this dish, “not wisely, but too well;” and died,—not because the fungus was poisoned, but—because he was a glutton. The close alliance between the edible and the poisonous species of this genus is a sharp lesson given by nature to the gluttonous appetite; but its daily admonitions have been very uniformly set at nought; and we have abundant classic authority for supposing that Claudius’s case was by no means a rare one among the Romans.

The masters of the world, however, were not master-cooks; and the now popular entremet of the champignon à la crême was a delicacy little dreamed of in their philosophy.5 That delicious dish is now de rigueur, in the second course of the spring and autumn menu of all civilized tables; and the woman who is ignorant of the poco meno and poco piu of its constituent elements, (so essential to the digestion and health of her husband and his guests,) is unworthy, not only of an imperial throne, but to sit at the head of any board, more dignified than the cod’s-head and shoulder table of a Bow-bell amphitryon. Such a woman is fit for nothing but the perpetration of a “toad in the hole,” or a participation in the mysteries of the apple-dumpling, which, if they “perplexed a monarch,”6 are intelligible to the meanest capacities of kitchen-maids and servants of all work.

With the Roman empire fell, in Europe, the great but unscientific kitchen of antiquity. The secrets of Vitellius were lost, the prize dishes of the Aventine fell from the memory of man, and the leaves of the imperial “Almanac des gourmands,” like those of the sibyl, were scattered to the winds; one solitary volume only finding its way to posterity, and that one rescued from oblivion by a physician of the 18th century.7 Long, however, before the final extinction of the Roman power, gastronomy shared the fate of the other sciences, and faded by degrees, with the fading genius and virtue of the people. The learning of the Romans was, indeed, all second-hand—borrowed from the more civilized countries, which their ferocious valor overthrew: and their start from savagery to refinement, in the table as in their other tastes, is more marked by caprice and expense, than by a true sense of the beautiful or the sublime. The culinary precision of Geta, who placed his dishes alphabetically, was not learning, but pedantry; and though the secretary of Heliogabalus passed his life in writing out receipts and bills of fare, art owed little or nothing to that extravagant despot, with whom il n’était de sauce, que la cherté. His patés de crête de coq, and his têtes de papageux, prove that to be an Emperor, is not enough to constitute a good cook. The plain good woman’s dish,—the alouettes en salmi, à la bonne bourgeoise—,would leave all the inventions of the imperial gastronome at an immeasurable distance.

The irruption of the barbarians extinguished the last lingering lights of the kitchen (such as they were) with all other lights; and their intellectual couvre-feu operated on the fires of the hot earth, as on those of poetic and of scientific inspiration. The northern races, “hungry as the sea, could devour as much;” and quantity, with them, was a far more important consideration than quality. Antiquarian lore has dived laboriously into the culinary arrangements of those days; but, to appreciate the barbarian kitchens of the fifth century, it is enough to have tasted the national cookery of the same races in the nineteenth: sour crout, pickled herrings, and lusciously sweet puddings, followed by the final leg of mutton, obligato, are still the staple of a German dinner; and “even unto this day,” the national dinners of the Saxon heptarchy may be traced in a genuine English bill of fare of their descendants.

There may be some excuse for northern ignorance on this point, in “the divinity which hedged in” their women, and which deemed it sacrilege to devote them to any coarse employment. The north men would have blushed to turn their noble wives into turnspits; so the men took the cookery to themselves, and a pretty mess they made of it. The crude fibre of an old ox satisfied the tastes of the rude worshippers of Odin; and the heroes of Thor, like those of Homer, disdained not to prepare it with their own hands.

The women, indeed, were consulted as oracles; but it was on all subjects, save that which concerned the daily interests and comforts of the community.

Charlemagne, to whom no source of social civilization was wholly unknown, was the first of his race to turn cookery to political purposes; and to act upon that maxim, so extensively amplified by one of the last of his descendants, that la majesté du trône est dans la cuisine. He first taught his peers to eat like gentlemen; and raised the culinary profession to a state dignity, by instituting a domestic order, still found in European courts,—les officiers de la bouche. He made sovereign princes his waiters “for the nonce;” he put Paladins into his pantries, and Bishops over his butteries; and set the democratic example of degrading the privileged classes, by reducing them to menial servitude, and turning their “mean ambition” to the “pride of kings”—the valetaille of Louis XIV. was the highest development of the schemes of Charlemagne.8

To the festivities of this monarch, the women were recalled; and something of their taste and ingenuity became soon visible in the Imperial table. Pheasants were served at Aix la Chapelle with gilt spurs; and peacocks were dished with their gorgeous tails in full fan. The service, says a chronicler, was attended, par des jeunes petits pages, chamarrés d’or, et par de gentes pucelles.

Admitted to the table, the women were soon found necessary to the government of the kitchen; and females of the highest rank (les plus titrées) occupied themselves with the interior of their households, in preparing aliment for their families, and for stranger guests. Amidst the barbaric pomp of their knightly husbands, some touches of refinement were thus introduced to vary the homeliness of their ancient fare. Under the deviceful imagination of the sex, eels appeared with the darts of serpents and the eyes of basilisks; and dwarfs jumped out of pasties, with aultres joyeusitées pareilles; which, absurd as they may now appear, were then well fitted to set the table in a roar.

Scarcely had the merchants of Venice re-introduced the spices into Europe, when the women introduced them into their domestic cookery; and when the perfumes of Araby the blest breathed their odors over the ill-scented chambers of royalty, they were transported to the kitchen, till even the fish was quelquefois cuit à l’eau rose.

But the Church also took a considerable part in culinary reform, and joined the women in forwarding the social entertainments of their flocks. The great abbeys were schools of gastronomy; the learning of the Benedictines was applied to the refectory; and many lady abbesses, canonized for their fasts and vigils, better deserved a place in the album sanctorum for their confectionary and their compounds. Monasteries were indeed the asylums of culinary, as of all other learning; and to this day “latin de cuisine” is applied to express what in English is called dog latin—as intimating the imperfect latinity of those friars, who, in their devotion to gastronomic studies, had necessarily become less perfect proficients in their humanities, than their brethren, who knew no other proof of the pudding than the eating.

But, in spite of the priests and of the women, the progress of the art was slow and vascillating. Though the potages must have been of early date in monasteries and in hospitals, soup, in its modern acceptation, was perhaps first historically noticed in the commencement of the fifteenth century. The charming chronicler, Monstrelet, describing the festivities on the marriage of Catharine de Valois with our Henry the Fifth, mentions that the Archbishop of Sens, at the head of a procession of the clergy of his diocese, served up the soup and wine to the bridal chamber of the royal pair.

About the same epoch, accident favored les droits de la bouche, in France, by raising its ministers to a high position. During the insanity of Charles the Sixth, the Comte de St. Paul raised a militia in Paris of five hundred garçons bouchers, commanded by their own officers, the master proprietors of la boucherie. This corps, having fought well at the battle of Azincourt, retained their military grades and plunder; and from these knights of the marrowbones and cleaver, descended some of the noble houses of France—the illustrious families of Saint-Yon, Thibeaut, “et autres” says the chronicler, owe their origin to la grande boucherie de Paris of the fifteenth century.

If the servants of the abattoirs of Paris were thus mounting the baronial coronet, an English Queen (but a French woman) raised her cook to the rank of an English gentleman. Éleanor de Provence, the consort of Henry the Third of England, struck by the superior art of Richard de Norreys, her sergeant cook, induced the king to grant him the manor of Ockholt, or Ockwell, in Berkshire. From this eminent artist, so generously appreciated by his royal mistress, descended a family, which, in the days of Elizabeth, ranked high in the state; and represented that class—their country’s boast and pride—the gentry of England, under its most respected phasis.

About one mile from the ancient town of Bray, immortalized in story by its versatile, yet ever-consistent vicar, still rises for the delight of the antiquary and the triumph of the gastronome, one of the most perfect and interesting specimens extant, of the old English manor-houses of the middle ages: it was erected by John de Norreys, the direct descendant of Richard, the queen’s cook. John de Norreys bequeathed, by will, a large sum for the completion of this mansion: or, as he expresses it, for the “full building and making uppe of the said chappel, with, the chambers adjoining, within my manor of Ocholt, in the parish of Bray, not yet finished.” Of the portions of this manor-house still existing, its gables, porches, and beautiful windows of six bays, the most remarkable feature is the quartering of the arms of the historical cook with the armorial bearings of the proudest peers of England. Here, among the antelopes of Henry the Sixth, the eagles of Margaret d’Anjou, the crests of the Beauforts, and the lambriquins of the Beauchamps, are still to be seen the beaver of Richard de Norreys, with the appropriate motto of “faithfully serve,” borrowed from the calling of the founder of the family.

The wars of the Roses were unfavorable to the arts; and the English kitchen retrograded with the rest. The “household bokes,” so carefully kept by the Lancasters, were lost or destroyed; though that of the old Countess of Hereford9 is still extant; and the sensual but thriftless Yorks, as careless of their domestic details, as of those of the state, left few lights behind them to guide the researches of posterity. Still, Edward the Fourth, all voluptuary as he might be, was a cautions one; and sinning by rule, he escaped the penalty of excess. “The docteur of physique stondeth much in the king’s presence at his metes, counselling or answering to the king’s grace, which diet is best according; and to tell the nature and operation of all metes. And much he should talke with the steward, chamerlayn, asserver, and the maister cook, to devise, by counsayle, what metes and drinks is best according with the king”10.

The elevation of the Tudors, accompanied, as it probably was, by the introduction of Welsh mutton, formed an epoch in the science; and, while it served the parsimonious habits of the seventh Henry, it may have afforded a not-neglected hint to his luxurious successor. But it was the feasts of the field of gold that gave a more decided impulse to culinary progress in England, by the many and vast improvements, then and there borrowed from the cooks of more civilized France, which, even before the time of Louis the Eleventh, had preceded all the northern states in gastronomy. It was one of the Preux of that nation, who introduced the shalot from the plains of Ascalon; and La belle chatelaine la dame de ses pensées first employed it in the ragouts of her table. Parsley was brought from Italy, with the first rudiments of that Opera Buffa, which still bears, in Paris, its original name; while the saucisseuses of the fifteenth century gave a promise of fame and fortune, from their manipulation of pork, which the charcutiers of the seventeenth are well known to have realized.

But the epoch of la renaissance (a term which has shed round Francis the First a glory denied him on the plains of Pavia) founded a professional chair for cookery, which has never since been vacated, in all the revolutions of French fortunes. Francis the First again, for the third time, brought back the women to the court, whence the ferocious Louis the Eleventh had banished them. His Italian daughter-in-law, Catherine de Médicis, being placed at the head of the royal household, brought to her lofty position all the lights and science of the Italian “office,” then the first in the world. Confectionary, the poetry of the kitchen, was at its acme; and les pâtisseurs de la Dauphine shed a glory on the whole order, by the ingenuity they displayed in their architectural and allegorical structures. They were soon incorporated into a company; and, in the reign of Charles the Ninth, the son of this foundress of l’art sucré, they received a statute, “où l’on remarque le privilège de fabriquer le pain a chanter messe.”

The French cookery displayed in the field of gold made an obvious impression upon Wolsey, the greatest man, and most liberal Amphitryon of his age; to whom his brute king was not worthy to be a scullion. He saw, at once, the advantage of a reform in the rude English kitchen; and the “Butcher’s cur,” the “honeste poore man’s sonne,” who, from the heights of his own great mind, must have looked down on the ferocious descendant of Owen Tudor, soon introduced the elegancies of the French table among the other civilizing influences of learning and art. In his Palace of Hampton, the Cardinal Minister may be said to have established a college of gastronomy, of which the halls and offices still standing give the best idea. They are the last subsisting monument in the country of priestly magnificence, and of the household arrangements of churchmen, at the time when they accumulated in the hands of the same individual, the highest offices of the church and the state.

Among the thousand domestics who crowded the vastness of Hampton Court, many were noble peers, knightly gentlemen, and gallant squires,

“The liv’ryed army, and the menial lords.”

One domestic official there was who strutted in pre-eminent importance through its halls, in doublet and cloak of crimson velvet, rich gold chain, and feathered cap, to whom men took off their bonnets as he passed, reverently observing, “There goes my ford cardinal’s master cook.” This personage held under his rule two first and six under cooks, a yeoman and groom of the larder, a yeoman and two grooms of the scullery, two yeomen and two grooms of the buttery, three yeomen and three pages in the cellary, two yeomen in the chandry, two yeomen and two grooms of the ewery, and two yeomen in the wafery.11

To the sumptuous banquets prepared by this Vatel of the mighty and munificent churchman, the fairest ladies in England12 were invited; and they studied under his lessons the dishes and devices, which, passing from Italy to France, afforded them opportunities for improving their own culinary science—a science, which no great lady then neglected. What model sweetmeats must have been carried away! What subjects of domestic discussion for the tapestry chambers and oriel windows of the country mansions, to which the delighted guests returned from these more than royal festivals!

The culinary traditions of Hampton Court were long preserved in the neighboring palace of Sheen. The nutritive and delicious crême à la frangipane (borrowed from the receipts of Catherine de Médicis) suggested, to one of the courtly maids of honor of the dying Queen Elizabeth, that mysterious delicacy suited to her declining appetite and wasted health, which has reached posterity, under the name (marking the station of its ingenious inventor) of “the Maid of Honor.”

For more than two centuries, successive generations have offered their annual homage at the shrine of this noble cordon bleu, of the wafery of Richmond. The patron saint of hungry children, and of child-cramming mothers, still shares the triumphs of that exquisite spot, “which nature’s choicest gifts adorn.”

While the haggis, cocky-leeky, and Scotch broth13 introduced from Holyrood House into Whitehall, by James the First, threw back English cookery to its brute elements, France steadily pursued the golden career, which had opened to her kitchen at the renaissance, by the genius of her Italian Queen, and by the quick apprehensions of her spirituel women.

From that epoch, says a learned and elegant writer on the subject, “étant bien certain que les dames Françaises se sont toujours plus ou moins mélées de ce qui se faisait dans leurs cuisines, on doit en conclure que c’est à leur intervention, qu’est due la préeminence indisputable qu’a toujours eue en Europe la cuisine Française, et qu’elle a principalement acquise, par une quantité immense de préparations recherchées, légères, et friandes, dont les femmes seules ont pu concevoir l’idée.”

Under these happy auspices, the gorgeous siècle de Louis XIV. began; and the gastronomic science, obeying the impulse of progression common to the period, the kitchen took its place beside the altar and the throne. Sumptuous banquets and royal fêtes were not, however, the pierres de touche of the highest effort of art of the times. It was for the petit couvert of retired royalty, it was for the sonpers fins of the elegant and the tasteful, that the artist brought forward his best skill, and was emulous of rival superiority. Madame de Sévigné’s poulard and plat de légumes (enjoyed with the Rochefoucaulds, and the La Fayettes, in her Hôtel de Carnavalet), were as exquisitely dressed, as the most complicated dishes of the grand couvert of Versailles.

The declining years of Louis the Fourteenth brought with them a decline of appetite and of taste; and he was so subject to weaknesses of the stomach, that a species of cordial was invented for his use by Madame de Maintenon, consisting of distilled spirits, sugar, orange flowers, and other perfumes. This was the origin of the various modern compounds known by the general name of liqueurs—the “chasse,”— without which there is no chance of digestion for the high-born and wealthy of our own times. The success of this invention originated a school of valetudinarian cooks, of which Madame de Maintenon was the foundress. Her famous côtelettes en papillotes, which protected the stomach against grease, and Louis le Grand from indigestion, spared him from many a fit of bile and penitence, and increased the influence of the favorite, to the despair of Louvois, and of the princesses, and to the triumph of Père la Chaise and the Jesuits.

The charming and very espiègle Princesse de Conti had almost exhausted her art in the attempt to save her husband and brother-in-law from the King’s resentment, and from that punishment which their vices were drawing on them, when she suddenly thought of attacking the royal mercy through the royal stomach; and invented the famous dish, still so popular in France, under the style and title of Carré de mouton à la Conti.14 This was a dish in which the coarser fat and fibre disappear, under the flavor of the natural juices, and of bouquets de fines herbes, mushrooms, and anchovies. The whole was so digested in the casserol, that it left nothing for the royal organs to perform, save to enjoy.

The old king threw aside his insipid potage à la vierge (a palling purée of chicken, veal, cream, and eggs) and fell upon his piquant carré with the appetite of former times, when his en cas de nuit (a cold fowl) was left at his bed-side, lest he should awake hungry. The court was amazed at his lenity to the crimes of the Conti and Bourbon; and Madame de Maintenon becoming alarmed, called the Père la Chaise to her aid. The result of this consultation was the “Canard au Père Douillet” which then first took its place at the royal table; and the king’s conscience was awakened by it to a new sense of—orthodox cookery. Thenceforth, every new dish came labelled with a saintly name; and the many excellent morceaux à la Ste. Menehould date from the reign of the Saint Françoise de Maintenon.

If the science remained stationary during the last unfortunate days of Louis the Fourteenth, it took a rapid stride under the Regency, when some of the greatest ladies of the day lent their names to dishes of their invention or adoption. Piquées, d’une finesse extrême, were ascribed to the Duchesse de Berri; and the Dinde truffée was brought into vogue by the pretty wife of a Fermier-General,15 to the consummation of high cookery and the injury of weak digestions.

The reign of Louis the Fifteenth, with its long peace, was favorable to female influence in the cabinet and in the kitchen; and the order arid regularity in which a modern table is served in the palaces of royalty, and the mansions of the great, date from that epoch.

The petits soupers of Marli surpassed in elegance and refinement its “grands collations” in the last days of Louis Quatorze. The great ladies of the court purchased the inventions of dishes from some obscure cook of genius; and edited Matelottes and Salmis, as great English ladies now edit or appropriate works of far less taste and science.

The Princesse de Soubise lent her historical name to that excellent dish, which first brought the purée d’oignon into fashion; and proved that the greatest vegetable condiment of the kitchen might be deprived by art of all that was offensive in its odor, without losing the piquant acidity of its flavor.

The success of the Côtelette à la Soubise, and the rising favor of its inventress, alarmed the ambitious jealousy of the celebrated Duchesse de Mailly. She saw something behind the cutlet greater than the cutlet; and, recalling the old spirit of political intrigue of the Soubise women in the former reign, which had so long agitated all Europe, she resolved to meet the princess on her own ground; and she gave to the royal menus and to the world her immortal gigot à la Mailly ! !

In the reign of Louis the Sixteenth, the alimentary philosophy had reached the very acme of its perfectibility! Cookery assumed all the dignity of a science, and stood half-way between physic and chemistry. The most distinguished savans16 did not think it beneath their consequence to occupy themselves with its processes; and they every where introduced improvements, from the simple pot au feu of the poor mechanic, up to the elaborate combinations which are served in dishes of crystal and vases of gold.17

The language of the kitchen then became as polished as that of les belles lettres: cookery-books and “almanacs” were composed with the wit of Voltaire and the graces of Sévigné. Receipts for purées were written with the purisms of the academy; petils plats were named “epigrams;” and the very genius of pastoral poesy reigned over the technicalities of the second course and the dessert. Women of all classes now aspired to mingle (in the most material sense of the words) the utile dulci; and, while great ladies exercised themselves in drawing out elaborate bills of fare, with a unity of design that would have well become an epic poem, those of humbler houses, where no chef was kept, rivalled the master-spirits of the times by their inventions, and gave their names to some of the best dishes of the age. “La Cuisine Bourgeoise” was published in the latter part of the reign of Louis the Sixteenth; and it required all the wit of La Reynière to make head against one of the best cookery-books ever published for the edification of posterity.

The pretensions of the sex to meddle with an art, for which, it is said, “nature had never intended them,” produced, however, a violent opposition on the part of their masters; and Madame de Genlis, having boasted that she had taught a German Count at Vienna to dress seven delicious French dishes, in return for his hospitality, she drew down upon her presumption the sarcasms of the coterie de Holbach. It was accordingly predicted that the cuisinières of Paris would soon usurp the chairs of the chefs; the précieuses of the pantry were subjected to general ridicule; and

Toute Française, à ce que j’imagine
Sait, bien ou mal, faire une cuisine,

was an epigram borrowed from a fashionable comedy of the day, and in every body’s mouth.

But the women persevered; and the order of the Cordon Bleu was founded, which passed through the storms of the revolution, of the restoration, and les trois jours, still flourishing in France, when all other orders have been trampled underfoot.

England, meantime, made so little progress in the culinary art, that the household which could not afford lo import a French cook remained where the wisdom of its ancestors had left it in 1688. Queen Anne, however, though a dull woman and a weak sovereign, was a divine-righted cook. The kitchen, not the cabinet, was her vocation. There, indeed, she admitted no rival near the throne; there no Duchess of Marlborough ruled her counsels, no Mrs. Masham undermined them. There she found her own level; and all who are acquainted with the culinary literature of the day, or who possess a cookery-book published by Tonson or by Curl, will find that by far the best receipts, in their prescriptions for indigestion, are those headed with, “after Queen Anne’s fashion.” “La Reine Anne étoit très gourmande, et ne dédaignait pas à s’entretenir avec son cuisinier,” says a French historian of the kitchen; and, it is curious to add, that Lord Bolingbroke, with whom her majesty secretly worked for the overthrow of the Whigs, and the restoration of the Pretender, was married to the favorite niece of the great inventress of the côtelettes à la Maintenon.

The accession of the House of Hanover did little for cookery. The Fatimas of the seraglios of the two first Georges, good fussy Frows, bourrées with their German kitchen, were little calculated to improve the taste of the nation in any respect; and the fine gentlemen, the travelled men of the day, the Chesterfields, the Walpoles, and the Montagues, preached the pre-eminence of France in all matters of social enjoyment—from the kitchen to the boudoir, from a toilet to a tourte. At their dictation, it soon became an admitted axiom that, to procure a good dinner in England, it was necessary to procure a good cook from France—that the most paltry second-rate gargotier of a Parisian restaurant was preferable to the best cook, male or female, bred in the English kitchen.

This universal preference of the foreigner preserved and increased the deficiencies in which it arose. English cookery, if in any respect it remained stationary, derived the advantage from the fact that it could scarcely retrograde: till, finally, the wars of the French Revolution, by cutting off all communication with the Continent, caused the memory to fade even of the material elements of gusto, in the land, where, though there were twenty religions, there was but one sauce,18 and that one—melted butter!!! Fines herbes were no longer known in the English garden; gravies were made with water, entrées were cooked on blazing fires, and black pepper and allspice were the sovereign condiments. Salads were dressed with cream and hard eggs, and soups (reserved for great occasions) were flavored with ketchup, and seasoned with Cayenne. Mrs. Glass’s volume of hashes and hodgepodges became the church and state manual of orthodox cookery; and was not to be superseded, even by Kitchener’s once popular kitchen-stuff; so that the actor, Quin’s, sarcastic summary of a particular dinner, might have been adopted as a universal definition of all ordinary feasting—“The soup was cold, the ice hot, and every thing sour in the house, but the vinegar.”

Such was the state of things, when the fall of Napoleon gave peace to Europe. The royal Amphitryon of England had, indeed, possessed great views for the elevation of the national kitchen; but he wanted the supplies. He had imported the immortal Carême, and had implored his assistance in the revival of the art, as Louis the Sixteenth had called on Necker to restore the ruined finances of France. Carême came!—he came, he saw; but he could not conquer. The ponderous batterie of Brighton (that Woolwich of the kitchen) shone out, in its vast armament of polished coppers, in vain! Troops of chuckle-headed little English aides, plump and platter-faced, as the Cupidons bouffis of the days of Louis the Fourteenth, were no aids to him; and hecatombs of constitutional English beef, and oceans of passive obedient fish, which came to be caught within view of the kiosks of the Pavilion, invoked the genius of the enlightened foreigner to no purpose. To use his own expression, he was “souffoqué.”

Carême could not but perceive at a glance that he had a school, not to reform, but to create. There were no abuses, because there were no uses. He looked out at the Smithfield fires of the royal elaboratory; and he thought of the petits feux and petits fours of France ! He listened, and discovered that there was no language capable of expressing the ideas which he would have communicated. He found that he had a vocabulary to invent, a grammar to compose; and he shrank from the herculean labor imposed upon him.

But, above all, he discovered that the women of England knew nothing of his art; that the presiding deities of the Pavilion scarcely rose above Cowslip’s appreciation of a roasted duck, with its coarse and predominating accompaniment of sage and onion. He heard, no doubt, with horror and dismay, that the culminating point of political cookery and coquetry of the great dame du palais of the Regency, was a plain peppered cutlet (anglice a mutton-chop) which the English Louis the Fourteenth went daily in his plain chariot to lunch upon—tout son saoul !

Carême, “dont l’honneur fut dans ses fournaux,” sent in his resignation; and his answer to the inquiries of French friends why he had left so distinguished a service, is well known: C’est que la cuisine de son altesse Royale, est trop bourgeoise.

The opening of the continent brought the nobility and the gentry of the British empire in multitudes, unequalled since the Crusades, to the great metropolis of gustatory excellence; and when they returned from the altars of Very to their own domestic hearths, they were as unable to relish the legitimate kitchen, as they were to sit out the legitimate drama of their native country. To the noble and the wealthy, foreign cooks, as usual, were easily attainable, at a cost triple the income they gave to the learned members of the Universities, who educated their sons, and at six times the reward they bestowed on the accomplished women who brought up their daughters. But the mass of travellers who had equally acquired all the elegant tastes of foreign refinement, could not afford to entertain a chef and his legions of subaltern bonnet-blancs; and were thus thrown beyond the lines of continental cookery.

The social want of the times, however, brought its remedy along with it; and the re-action was astounding. Then it was that the clubs arose, houses of refuge to destitute celibacy, chapels of ease to discontented husbands. There, men could dine like gentlemen and christians, upon all the friandises of the French kitchen, much cheaper and far more wholesomely, than at their own tables, upon the tough half-sodden fibres of the national roast and boiled, or on the hazardous resources of calf’s head hash, gravy soup, and marrow puddings. Moral England gave in. The English “home,” that temple of the heart, that centre of all the virtues, was left to the solitary enjoyment of the English wives; and the whole husbandry of England migrated to those splendid Duomos, served by priests bred in the cells of Les frères Robert, or educated in the cloisters of the Cancale.

From that moment, Almack’s lost its prestige; dowdies now “stept” in where angels feared to tread! tickets, once sued for in vain by suppliant duchesses, were repelled by second-class dowagers for their daughters, in the motherly consideration that

“Where none were beaux, ’twere base to be a belle:”

for younger brothers and ci-devant exquisites do not fill the ball-room, “as well as better men.”

To your casserols, then, women of Britain. Would you, “with a falconer’s voice,” lure your faithless tassels back again, apply to the practical remedy of your wrongs, proceed to the reform of your domestic government, and turn your thoughts to that art, which, coming into action every day in the year during the longest life, includes within its circles the whole philosophy of economy and order, the preservative of good health, and of the tone of good society, all peculiarly within your province! The greatest women of all ages—from a Sarah to a Sévigné—have not disdained its study and its practice. One quarter of the time which you now give to “nicknaming God’s creatures” upon canvass, if devoted to the philosophy of your larders and your pantries, to the doctrines of a pure culinary literature, would furnish your husbands’ tables with elegance and science, from which slovenly ignorance now drives them to other and better dinners. Open then forthwith seminaries, not merely for catechisms and spiritual metaphysics, so difficult to infant digestion, but for culinary instruction and physical amelioration, facile to the comprehension of all. Establish model schools, and found chairs for the dissemination of that eminently useful knowledge, the knowledge by which we may eat to live, with safety and satisfaction. Provide for the sufficient education of a convenient number of able-bodied young women, and for sending them forth as missionaries through the benighted provinces of the empire;—and when, through the philosophic researches of these female seminarists, maxims shall be attained to form a volume of reports, some female Bentham may yet arise to complete the good work, by an encyclopedic code, that will supersede forever the false guides and erring prophets of the old English kitchen;19 and prove that one exquisite little dinner, (the table round, the guests few) if dressed with, science and illumed by wit, is worth all the great feasts and fastidious banquets, that ever were given, if considered as a means to the great end of bringing those together, whom God has joined, and family dinners have put asunder.

1. â€œCordon bleu,” an honorary distinction conferred on the first class of female cooks in Paris, either in allusion to their blue aprons, or to the order, whose blue ribbon was so long considered as the adequate recompense of all the highest merit in the highest classes. The Fermier Général who built the palace of the Bourbon Élysée, became not more celebrated for his exquisite dinners, than for the moral courage with which he attributed their excellence to his female cook, Marie, when such a chef was scarcely known in the French kitchen; for when Marie served up a “petit diner délirant,” she was “called for” like other prima-donnas, and her health drank by the style of “Le cordon bleu.”

2. A fair friend of mine having inadvertently ordered her Irish footman to ring the bell in the middle of a first course, he replied, in the spirit of a superior savoir faire, “If I do, ma’am, sure the goose will come up!”

3. â€œSi ce calcul,” she concludes, “peut vous être utile, je n’aurais pas de regret à la peine que j’ai prise de le faire ; et du moins je vous aurai fait vour que je sais quelque chose du ménage.”—Lettres de Madame de Maintenon, v. i.

4. â€œThe pleasant sayory smell
   So quicken’d appetite, that I methought
   Could not but taste it.”—Paradise Lost.

5. As a general rule, house mushrooms are always the best and safest.

6. See—not Milton, but—Peter Pindar.

7. There were three persons who bore the name of Apicius, all celebrated for their culinary science. Cælius Apicius, who lived in the reign of Tiberius, wrote a work on Roman cookery, of which an edition was printed in the year 1705 by Doctor Martin Lister, physician to Queen Anne; undertaken probably in deference to the well-known tastes of his royal patient.

8. At the coronation dinners of the Emperors of Germany at Aix-laChapelle and Frankfort, the Imperial table was directed by the Nine Electors—the modern Kings of Europe—the Marquis of Brandebourg, “comme grande chambellain, porte un bassin d’arjent avec aiguières et des serviettes parfumées; il donna l’eau sur les mains de l’Empereur. Le Palatin dn Rhin, portant quatre plats d’argent remplis de viandes, les posa devant l’Empereur; puis le Roi de Bohème portant un tasse rempli de vin, présenta à boire à l’Empereur.” After the feast was over, these illustrious valets were left to scramble for the plunder of the table.— “Création de la Dignite Impériale, par Claude d’Alboit.”

9. The grandmother of the immortal Henry the Fifth.

10. In the Liber Niger, or household-book of Edward IV.

11. See an agreeable little volume by C. Jesse, Esq., Surveyor of Her Majesty’s Parks and Palaces, entitled, “A Summer’s Day at Hampton Court.”

The recent regulations, by which the public is freely admitted to view the curious and interesting interior of that royal palace, without “let or hindrance,” or paying for their tickets at the door, does great honor to the present Administration.

When will the reverend proprietors of Westminster Abbey take the hint?

12“This night he makes a supper, and a great one,
To many lords and ladies: there will be
The beauty of this kingdom.”

13. â€œI have consulted,” says Doctor Hunter, “Homer, Aristophanes, Aristotle, Athenæus, &c. &c. &c., in order to obtain some knowledge of the Grecian cookery, hut have not been able to collect any thing worthy of notice, beyond the black broth of Lacedæmon, which probably was the same as sheep’s-head broth, well known in our sister kingdom.”—Culina Famulatrix Medicinæ.

14. The language of cookery is French, as that of medicine is Latin. I will not presume, therefore, to spoil the Princess’s receipt by translating it. “Appropriez un carré de mouton, en levant les peaux qui se trouvent sur le filet ; prenez un quarteron de petit lard bien entrelardé, anchois lavés ; coupez les en lardons, et les maniez avec un pcu de gros poivre, deux échalottes, persil, siboulé une feuille de laurier, quatre de basalic, feuilles d’astragon, tous hachées en poudrc ; lardez tout le filet avec le lard et les anchois ; mettez le carré dans une casserole ; mouillez avec un verre de vin blanc, autant de bouillon ; dégraissez la sauce, et mettez gros comme un noix de beurre, maniée avec un pince de farine ; faites lier la sauce sur le feu, et le servez sur le carré”—” and was not that a dainty dish to lay before a king.”

15. The first turkey was brought into France in 1570, and was served at the table of Catherine de Médicis, at the marriage supper of her son,. Charles the Ninth.—See Almanack des Comestibles, 1776.

16. No man can be a good physician who has not a competent knowledge of cookery; and in this I am supported by every eminent physician from Hippocrates to Sydenham.—Dr. Hunter, Culina Famulatrix Medicinæ.

17. The wholesome pot au feu of the lower orders in France might be introduced with incalculable benefit among the same classes in England; “for, after all, the stomach is the chief organ of the human system; and upon its state the powers and feelings of each individual mainly depend.”

18. The saucy Neapolitan who made this remark of “our own, our native land,” would have shown more philosophy, had he been shocked at the characteristic of his own country, which, though it could boast of twenty sauces, had but one religion.

19. Je ne regarderai point les sciences suffisamment représentées, (said the President H——— de P——— to the celebrated La Place) tant que je ne verrai pas un cuisinier siéger à la premiere place, de l’institut.

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