Today, August 6th
The Savoy Hotel opened in London on this day in 1889. It could hardly fail, considering it had the right position (on The Strand), the right manager (Cesare Ritz), and the right chef (Auguste Escoffier). It was the first British hotel to be fully electrically lit, and to have private baths. A welcome sanctuary for the weary nineteenth century traveller.
The site was another sort of sanctuary for several centuries in the past – a sanctuary for far more disreputable (I hope!) guests. Debtors and other escapees from the law to be exact. First, I need to tell you something about the name of the hotel. Have you ever wondered why ‘Savoy’? The House of Savoy was the oldest dynasty of royals in Europe, with a history of a thousand years of rule over an area that now encompasses part of South East France, part of Switzerland, and part of Italy. The dynasty was formally ended in 1946 when their residual empire (the Kingdom of Italy) became a republic, but a thousand years of influence ensured that the name ‘Savoy’ retained its regal connotations.
There was a Savoy Palace on the site long before there was a hotel. It was built by the Earl of Savoy in 1245, and had a long and colourful history and numerous incarnations – which are well beyond the scope of this site, and well beyond my range of knowledge. At some point in medieval times, it became an official place of sanctuary. There were a number of these in London – others were around the Carmelite Friary of Whitefriars, the Mint, the Inns of Court, and the area around the Clink prison (you’d think that would have been too close for comfort for escapees from the law, wouldn’t you?). The right of sanctuary ended in 1697, at least until the travellers version became available on the site with the opening of the hotel.
There are a number of foods with the ‘Savoy’ name – and aside from the cabbage, which presumably grew well in the mountains of the Savoie, most of the others are dishes which have some elegance or extravagance about them. We have:
- Savoy Biscuits: long finger-shaped sponge biscuits (sometimes called Ladies Fingers), the batter being piped out from a Savoy bag; often iced or joined in pairs, and sometimes forming the basis of a trifle.
- Savoy Cakes: something like a pound cake or a sponge cake, baked in shaped Savoy moulds (one nineteenth century menu describes them as being ‘like turbans’)
- Savoy Pudding: made with stale Savoy Cake.
I briefly misread the title of the recipe I give you today as ‘Savoy Toasts’, not ‘Savoury Toasts’ as it immediately precedes the Savoy Biscuit recipe in Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (1870s). I decided to give it to you anyway, because ‘Savoy Toasts’ makes leftovers on toast sound very posh and royal.
Savoury toasts may be served as relishes at breakfast or luncheon, or they may fill a corner at the dinner table. They may be varied at pleasure, and if agreeably flavoured, will constitute appetising trifles at small expense. To prepare them, cut some slices of crumb of bread, half an inch thick, toast them, butter thickly, and spread upon them any highly-seasoned savoury mixture. Put them into the oven to make them hot, and serve. Any cold ragôut or stewed vegetables heated in thick sauce, grated ham or tongue beaten up over the fire with egg and cream till thick, truffles or mushrooms, stewed in butter, seasoned and minced, or any similar preparation may be used to spread upon the toasts. Anchovies pounded may be used in this way also. They are prepared as follows: - Wash and bone the anchovies, mince them finely, and pound them to a paste in a mortar with a little piece of butter and a moderate quantity of cayenne. Work the whole to a smooth paste, spread it upon the buttered toast, and put it into a Dutch oven till it is quite hot.
I’ll give you a real Savoy cake recipe another day, I promise. Next week, in fact. Even better, I'll also give you Potage à la Savoyade. Next week we are going to dine in mid-nineteenth century France for the whole week. Now that's something to look forward too!
Tomorrow’s Story …
Wasting Food is an Offence.
Quotation for the Day ….
England is merely and island of beef swimming in a warm gulf stream of gravy. Katherine Mansfield; The Modern Soul