Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Waterloo Food.

June 18 ...

On this day in 1815 the British defeated Napoleon Bonaparte (and hence their traditional enemy, the French) once and for all near a Belgian town called Waterloo, and they (the British, that is) have celebrated the event ever since. The Duke of Wellington - he who was responsible for the victory - held a banquet on the anniversary every year at Apsley House (his London mansion) until his death. It was a grand affair, and only the elite (including King George IV in 1821) and one was only invited if one was from the elite of society, or was one of his old military comrades.

Other less grand celebrations went on, each individual or community commemorating the day as they could. The villagers of Denby Dale in Yorkshire in 1815 made the second of their famous giant pies, calling it The Victory Pie. In 1845, the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt and his team in deepest Australia had been saving their sugar bags for just this day. The starving men boiled them up with their tea, dissolving out the last sweet fugitive grains as a delicious treat.

So how shall we celebrate the day? Surprisingly, there is little named for the battle iself, so we must be content to celebrate the man who made it all happen.

There is of course, Filet of Beef Wellington, the beef covered in foie gras and truffles, the whole wrapped in golden puff pastry, and the absolute dinner party dish of the 60’s . Apocryphal stories abound as to its naming. The reality is that beef wrapped in pastry has been around for as long as there has been pastry. The particular incarnation that we refer to may indeed have been named in his honour – or is it in honour of his highly polished boots, as some say?

Nineteenth century chefs often named their dishes after famous people (living or dead) or famous events. Here is one from Queen Victoria’s chef, Francatelli – a dish which also looks to Wellington’s legs.

Legs of Fowl à la Wellington.
In this case also the legs of fowls whose fillets have already been used will serve the purpose : the legs, wings, and back-bones should be separated and neatly trimmed, placed in a deep sautapan with two tablespoonfuls of salad-oil, a sprig of thyme, one bay-leaf, a clove of garlic, a little pepper and salt. Fry the members of fowls over a sharp fire until they are done of a light-brown colour, and then, after removing the bay-leaf and thyme, shake in two tablespoonfuls of flour, and one of Crosse and Blackwell's Indian Chutnee; stir all together, moisten with half a pint of good gravy, simmer the whole over the fire for ten minutes, and serve.
[The Cook’s Guide, Charles Elmé Francatelli, 1863]

Tomorrow’s Story.

Superdreadnought food.

Quotation for the Day.

Most modern calendars mar the sweet simplicity of our lives by reminding us that each day that passes is the anniversary of some perfectly uninteresting event. Oscar Wilde.

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