Friday, December 02, 2005

Eating backwards.

Today, December 2nd …

This was the day in 1936 that King Edward VIII made his final decision to marry the divorced American, Wallis Simpson. After spending the day discussing the impending constitutional crisis with the PM, he had dinner that eveing with Wallis and her cousin and aunt. This was the menu:

Clear Turtle Soup
Lobster Mousse with Light Piquant Sauce
Roast Pheasant
Potatoes Soufflé Mixed Green Salad
Bordeaux Wine
Frozen Fresh Pineapple and Toasted Cheese Savoury
Coffee and Liqueur

This habit of finishing a meal with a savoury – always hot, often “devilled”, and usually with cheese, salted or smoked fish, or bacon – is a peculiarly masculine English one. The idea, supposedly, was to cleanse the palate of the sweet course (the ladies having already left the room), before seriously tackling the port and cigars. A less colourful and much older explanation relates to the ancient belief that hard cheese “closed up the digestion” and therefore was sensible at the end of a large meal.

Edward and Wallis went into exile in France after his abdication. Meanwhile, the Vicomte de Mauduit a Frenchman with aristocratic origins, and self-styled “wandering nobleman”, had made the opposite journey some time before. He was “a born cook” and wrote several books about food while living in England in the 1930’s before mysteriously disappearing back in his native country the 1940’s. He said:

“Savouries are essentially an English dish, and are to the English what hors d’oeuvres are to the French, only backwards, in the sense that hors d’oeuvres begin a French meal and savouries end the English dinner.”

His recipe for “Welsh Rarebit” in “The Vicomte in the Kitchen” (1933) is quite acceptable, except for its name, for the dish should properly be called Welsh Rabbit (a full explication will have to wait until the completion of my “Almost Definitive History of Welsh Rabbit”, which, like so many other projects, is “pending”). As a matter of high principle, I cannot give this incorrectly titled recipe. I suppose a Frenchman can be trusted with fish and cream sauce however, especially if it is “en cocotte”.

Finnan en Cocottes.
Take the meat off a raw finnan haddock, cut it into fine flakes, and divide them into individual china dishes. Mix some whipped cream with some parmesan, salt, and cayenne, then pour this over the fish and bake in a quick oven for about ten minutes.

On Monday … A long experiment.

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