Thursday, January 12, 2006

Food for perfect felicity.

Today, January 12th …

In 1763, James Boswell, the biographer of Samuel Johnson, had been successful “in search of a woman worthy of my love”, and by this day “Louisa” had at last agreed “to bestow perfect felicity upon me”. No decent lodging place would rent rooms to unmarried folk, so they planned a subterfuge.

“We contrived to seem as if we had come off a journey, and carried in a bundle our night-clothes, handkerchiefs, and other little things. We also had with us some almond biscuits, or as they call them in London, macaroons, which looked like provisions on the road.”

He ordered “ a bowl of negus, very rich of the fruit, which I caused be set in the room as a reviving cordial”. Louisa allowed him “full possession of my warmest wishes” five times (he was proud of his “godlike vigour”) – and “At last I sunk to rest in her arms and she in mine. I found the negus, which had a fine flavour, very refreshing to me.”

Conquest achieved, by the 16th “the warm enthusiasm of love was over”, and by the 18th he had suspicious symptoms. It seems that a glass of negus can restore vigour, but not prevent “that distemper with which Venus, when cross, takes it into her head to plague her votaries”.

In case you need to bribe your way to perfect felicity, I give you a recipe for macaroons:

To one pound of blanched and beaten sweet almonds put one pound of sugar, and a little rosewater to keep them from oiling. Then beat the whites of seven eggs to a froth, put them in and beat them well together. Drop them on wafer paper, grate sugar over them and bake them. (1769)

Assuming you are (safely) successful, here is a nineteenth century recipe for negus, to serve hot or cold.

Negus: This popular beverage derives its name from its originator, Colonel Negus. The ingredients of which it is composed are either port or sherry and hot water, the quantity of the water being double that of the wine. Sweeten with lump sugar, and flavour with a little lemon juice, and grated nutmeg, and a morsel only of the yellow rind of the lemon. It is an improvement to add one drop of essence of ambergris, or eight or ten drops of essence of vanilla to every twelve glasses or so of negus.

Tomorrow: Wine for health.

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