Thursday, October 18, 2007

Monsieur Buffet.

Today, October 18 …

Monsieur Pierre-Aphonse Buffet did not exist. Or if he did, he lived and disappeared with no obvious trace in the late seventeenth or first half of the eighteenth century. Even if he did exist, he certainly did not give his name to the word “buffet” in any of its incarnations.

“Buffet” means three things, according to the OED. It means a blow or punch (did you play ‘Blind Man’s Buff’ as a child?), a three-legged stool (on which Miss Muffet probably sat - rather than a tuffet - eating her curds and whey, which were probably cruds and whey), and of course a sideboard or cabinet (and ultimately the food served from it).

The OED does not even venture a guess as to the origin of the word, and I therefore hold it partly responsible for the perpetuity of the myth of Pierre-Alphonse. It is a colourful myth, reminiscent of the one about the English Earl of Sandwich giving his name to sandwiches. It says that the usage came about because he was a Parisian gambler-gourmet who ensured that food was laid out on his sideboard so that he and his guests did not need to leave the gaming table in order to eat.

There are faint suspicions that the word is French in origin – and the custom of using a sideboard or cupboard to make an ostentatious display of one’s gold and silver knick-knacks probably did start in France, maybe in the sixteenth century. It became an obvious location for the placement of elegant filled dishes of fine food when one entertained, and eventually, by the early nineteenth century, the word came to apply to the meal served from it.

Once upon a time, buffet parties were elegant and refined. Now we have the ‘all you can eat’ kind, which have inspired the invention of elastic-waisted ‘buffet-pants' and may have played their own small part in the obesity epidemic.

From ostentation to elegance to gross in a mere few centuries. Mrs. Beeton lived in the time when a buffet was on the cusp between ostentation and elegance. She thought they were very appropriate for suppers.

“Where small rooms and large parties necessitate having a standing supper, many things enumerated in the following bill of fare may be placed on the buffet. Dishes for these suppers should be selected which may be eaten standing without any trouble. The following list may, perhaps, assist our readers in the arrangement of a buffet for a standing supper.

Beef, ham, and tongue sandwiches, lobster and oyster patties, sausage rolls, meat rolls, lobster salad, dishes of fowls, the latter - all cut up; dishes of sliced ham, sliced tongue, sliced beef, and galantine of veal; various jellies, blancmanges, and creams; custards in glasses, compotes of fruit, tartlets of jam, and several dishes of small fancy pastry; dishes of fresh fruit, bonbons, sweetmeats, two or three sponge cakes, a few plates of biscuits, and the buffet ornamented with vases of fresh or artificial flowers. The above dishes are quite sufficient for a standing supper; where more are desired, a supper must then be laid and arranged in the usual manner.”

Her suggestion of sausage rolls seems a little out of place to me; sausage rolls may be delicious, but they are hardly elegant. Here is her recipe for them.

1 lb. of puff-paste No. 1206, sausage-meat No. 837, the yolk of 1 egg.
Make 1 lb. of puff-paste by recipe No. 1206; roll it out to the thickness of about ½ inch, or rather less, and divide it into 8, 10,or 12 squares, according to the size the rolls are intended to be. Place some sausage-meat on one-half of each square, wet the edges of the paste, and fold it over the meat; slightly press the edges together, and trim them neatly with a knife. Brush the rolls over with the yolk of an egg, and bake them in a well-heated oven for about ½ hour, or longer should they be very large. The remains of cold chicken and ham, minced and seasoned, as also cold veal or beef, make very good rolls.

To every lb. of flour allow 8 oz. of butter, 4 oz.of lard, not quite ½ pint of water.
This paste may be made by the directions in the preceding recipe, only using less butter and substituting lard for a portion of it. Mix the flour to a smooth paste with not quite ½ pint of water; then roll it out 3 times, the first time covering the paste with butter, the second with lard, and the third with butter. Keep the rolling-pin and paste slightly dredged with flour, to prevent them from sticking, and it will be ready for use.

(Author's Oxford Recipe)
837. 1 lb. of pork, fat and lean, without skin or gristle; 1 lb. of lean veal, 1 lb. of beef suet, 1/2 lb. of bread crumbs, the rind of 1/2 lemon, 1 small nutmeg, 6 sage-leaves, 1 teaspoonful of pepper, 2 teaspoonfuls of salt, 1/2 teaspoonful of savory, 1/2 teaspoonful of marjoram.

Chop the pork, veal, and suet finely together, add the bread crumbs, lemon-peel (which should be well minced), and a small nutmeg grated. Wash and chop the sage-leaves very finely; add these with the remaining ingredients to the sausage-meat, and when thoroughly mixed, either put the meat into skins, or, when wanted for table, form it into little cakes, which should be floured and fried.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Nut by Any Other Name

Quotation for the Day ...

I went to this restaurant last night that was set up like a big buffet in the shape of an Ouija board. You'd think about what kind of food you want, and the table would move across the floor to it. Steven Wright

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, seems cool.