Friday, July 21, 2006

Feasting with Hemingway.

Today, July 21st …

Ernest Hemingway was born on this day in 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. In December 1921, already a war veteran, he arrived in Paris determined to be a writer, and hungry to experience the flourishing artistic life of the city. It was not as easy as he thought, and his hunger was rather more physical for rather too long before he made his mark.

Hemingway clearly loved eating, and his writing is full of evocative descriptions of food. There is no better example than the posthumously published “Moveable Feast” - by which he meant the city of Paris itself. One day, when he was very hungry, he suddenly received 600 francs from a German publisher. He went straight to the Brasserie Lipp, which still specialises in dishes from Alsace, and ordered a meal. Here is his classic description:

The beer was very cold and wonderful to drink. The pommes à l'huile were firm and marinated and the olive oil delicious. I ground black pepper over the potatoes and moistened the bread in the olive oil. After the first heavy draft of beer I drank and ate very slowly. When the pommes à l'huile were gone I ordered another serving and a cervelas. This was a sausage like a heavy, wide frankfurter split in two and covered with a special mustard sauce.
I mopped up all the oil and all of the sauce with bread and drank the beer slowly until it began to loose its coldness …

The German influence is clear in this meal, with its use of potatoes and mustard. It is apt then, that the first known European recipe for potatoes, in 1581, comes from a German cookbook. Or does it?

The recipe is in “Ein new Kockbuch” by Marx Rumpolt (1581), and it is for “Erdapfel” or “Earth Apples”. The recipe reads:

Earth apples. Peel and cut them small, simmer them in water and press it well out (strain it?) through a fine cloth; chop them small and fry them in bacon that is cut small; take a little milk thereunder and let it simmer therewith so it is good and welltasting.

For a long time “earth apples” were assumed to be potatoes. Food historians are now unsure, and some feel that they were a type of squash. With either ingredient, and however the instructions are interpreted, it is a good hearty dish, eminently suitable for hungry writers.

On Monday: Dining with MarieAntoinette.

Quotation for the Day …

Just give me a potato, any kind of potato, and I'm happy. Dolly Parton


Kim said...

Hi, I've just come across William Sitwell's chapter about Marx Rumpolt's recipe and he clearly thinks that they are potatoes. Do you know which food historians think that they are squash?

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Kim. I think it is pretty well accepted by most food historians that Rumpolt was referring to a type of squash.