Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Clerical Gourmet.

Today, November 17 …

On this day in 1832 the Reverend Richard Harris Barham, English writer and author of the Ingoldsby Legends, dined with the Reverend Sydney Smith, English writer and contributor to the Edinburgh Review. What did these two clerical and literary gentlemen talk about? Food, almost certainly. I offer two reasons for my opinion.

(1) Sydney was an eloquent and popular preacher who became the greatest wit and raconteur of his age. He was also a gourmet, so it is not surprising that he became a very popular dinner guest at the best tables. He left a wonderful legacy of witticisms about food:

“My idea of heaven is eating pate de foie gras to the sound of trumpets”

"Soup and fish explain half the emotions in life."

“Madam, I have been looking for a person who disliked gravy all my life; let us swear eternal friendship.”

(2) A few days after the dinner, Barham received a recipe in the mail from Smith – unsigned and without comments:


Two large potatoes passed through kitchen sieve,

Unwonted softness to the salad give;
Of ardent mustard add a single spoon,
Distrust the condiment which bites so soon;
But deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault
To add a double quantity of salt;
Three times the spoon with oil of Lucca crown,
And once with vinegar, procured from town,
True flavour needs it, and your poet begs
The pounded yellow of two well-boiled eggs;
Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,
And, scarce suspected, animate the whole;
And, lastly, on the flavoured compound toss
A magic teaspoon of anchovy sauce.
Then, though green turtle fail,
though venison's tough,
And ham and turkey are not boiled enough,
Serenely full, the epicure may say,
--'Fate cannot harm me,
-- I have dined to-day.'

N.B.-- As this salad is the result of great experience and reflection, it is to be hoped young salad-makers will not attempt any improvements upon it.

Even Sydney’s last letter was lyrical on the topic of food:

'Many thanks, my dear Sir, for your kind present of game. If there is a pure and elevated pleasure in this world, it is that of roast pheasant and bread sauce; -- barn-door fowls for dissenters, but for the real church man, the thirty-nine times articled clerk, the pheasant, the pheasant!

Thought: My own dinner guests need to lift their witticism game.

Tomorrow … Heroes in the Kitchen.

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