Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Minding the belly.

Today, December 13th …

Samuel Johnson – “the second most quoted man in the world” - died on this day in 1783. His admirers around the world have formed societies to celebrate his life and work, the first one (The Johnson Society) being formed in London in 1884. Every year it held a supper of steak and ale on the anniversary of his death.

Some of his most deliciously quotable sayings are on the topic of food:

“Some people have a foolish way of not minding, or pretending not to mind, what they eat. For my part, I mind my belly very studiously and very carefully, for I look upon it that he who does not mind his belly will hardly mind anything else”

“A man seldom thinks with more earnestness of any thing than he does of his dinner; and if he cannot get that well dressed, he should be suspected of inaccuracy in other things."

"A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing."

Sam’s magnum opus was, of course, his dictionary, and his definitions are far wittier than most:

Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.

Kickshaw: A dish so changed by the cookery that it can scarcely be known.

The word “kickshaw” comes from the French “quelque chose”, and came to mean any dish so frivolous it could not possibly have an English origin.

The authorship of Hannah Glasse’s famous “Art of Cookery made plain and easy …”, published in 1747, was the subject of much debate at the time, with Samuel himself weighing in on the side that said it was written by a man, for “women can spin very well, but they cannot make a good book of cookery.” He thought that he himself could write a very good cookbook, because he would write it upon “philosophical principles”.

In spite of her vigorous condemnation of the fad for French cooks, Hannah did include a recipe for a “kickshaw” in her book:

Make puff paste, roll it thin, and if you have any moulds work it upon them; make them up with preserved pippins: you may fill some with gooseberries, some with raspberries, or what you please: then close them up, and either bake or fry them; throw grated sugar over them, and serve them up.

Tomorrow: A prophet in the kitchen.

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