Thursday, November 20, 2008

Every Englishman a Cook.

Earlier this year (in the week of May 12-16), we had fun with Dr William Kitchiner and his Magazine of Taste, as described in his book The Cook’s Oracle (1817). See the links below if you wish to revisit his ideas.
Dr Kitchiner loved essences, spice mixes, and pre-made condiments of all sorts, which he used to jazz up a huge range of dishes. While acknowledging his particular passion, and the general Englishman’s love of proprietary sauces (Worcestershire, Harveys, HP etc), I had no idea that this concept of seasoning at the table was quite so – well, English - until I came across a little article in an issue of The New Monthly Magazine of 1833. The article disinguishes between seasoning in the kitchen (French) and seasoning at the table (English).
Here for your enjoyment, is most of it:
There is a very general idea abroad, that the French are peculiarly artificial in their preparation of meats for the palate, and that the English taste is distinguished by its simplicity. In this, as in so many other things, we apprehend that the superficies alone is looked at. True, the Englishman prides himself on his joint, and pretends when he sits before his mountain of flesh, that he is approaching a state of nature. But with how many condiments is he not prepared to savour his viands? Has he not vinegars and sauces innumerable, mustard, pepper, salt, horseradish, and other flavourous pungencies, which, when joined to a gravy rich and hot, altogether make up a plat, worthy of any continental epicure! This is called plain living, simply because the cookery goes on in the dining-room instead of the kitchen. A Frenchman takes his dish as it pleases the chef de cuisine to send it, and he would as soon think of tampering with his coat as his meat, - both tailor and cook are artistes, and each considered equal to his business. In England a gentleman relies upon his servant, a mere subordinate, for nothing but precise roasting and boiling, and is himself in reality his own meat-preparer. England expects every man to be his own cook. All that is trusted to the kitchen is the application of heat. The composition of flavours is supposed not only an art above the Leonora of the realms below, but to require the test of each individual’s palate. Thus it would seem that a general system of cookery serves France while the individuality of this country demands that each man should interfere in the composition of his own dish. What is called seasoning is carried to an Oriental pitch at all English tables; while in France, whe are struck by the extreme insipidity of their most elaborate chef d’oeuvres. What is called French cookery in this country, is in fact truly English: it is the table composition manufactured over the kitchen stoves, and owns no originality in France, where they strive after a variety of flavours, but to the utter contempt of what an Alderman would esteem in the way of richness …. The respect felt for French cookery in England is the respect felt for regular art above empiricism … Though an individual epicure may succeed on his own plate, by means of a variety of condiments, in fabricating a delicious compound, he can neither offer it to another, nor give it a name: the French artist on the contrary, when he has studied forth a new variety of palatable flavours, can offer it to a whole table, and sanctions and canonizes the dish for ever by imposition of a title. Here are the elements of the apparent superiority of French cookery over English!
I had better let Dr. Kitchiner have the last word; from The Cook’s Oracle (1817). Here is his advice on the roasting and seasoning of geese – in the kitchen.
Green Goose.
Geese are called Green until they are about four months old.
The only difference between roasting these, and a full-grown Goose, consists in seasoning it with pepper and salt instead of sage and onion, and roasting it for forty or fifty minutes only.
Obs. This is one of the least desirable of those insipid premature productions – which are esteemed dainties.
Dr. Kitchener’s Magazine of Taste was featured in May 2008 - here, here, here, here, and here.
Quotation for the Day …
There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavor, size and cheapness were the themes of universal admiration. Edged out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish) they hadn't ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows.
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Still the English think French food too fancy 'cause they can't mess with it while the French consider English fare too plain and insipid precisely because they don't.