Monday, March 23, 2009

The Royal “Mouth”

Some light was shed on the minor mystery of the Queen’s “mouth” in Friday’s story by a commenter who pointed out that the French term for the office responsible for provisioning the royal household was the “Bouche”, which translates literally as “the mouth.” I should have remembered – after all, I featured a lovely book called The Perfect School of Instruction for the Officers of The Mouth in a blog post some time ago.

The book was published in England in 1682 by Giles Rose, and was a translation of a French work written twenty years before. Not much is known about Rose, except that (according to the frontispiece of the book) he was one of the Master Cooks to Charles II. The book examines the roles of the senior staff responsible for feeding a large household – specifically the Maistre de Hostel (or Steward), the Master Carver, Master Butler, Master Cook, Master Confectioner, and Master Pastryman. In the previous story I gloried in both the wonderfully detailed title page of the book, and the knowledge that when I throw a kitchen towel over my shoulder while I am cooking, I am modelling the ‘ordinary Mark, and particular sign and demonstration’ of the office of the Maistre de Hostel (from which we get Maître d’hôtel, or simply Maître d).

I promised in that post to return to the book to explore the roles of the other household staff. I am belatedly doing so, now I have been reminded of its treasures. Before I move on to the Carver and Butler and so on, there is a little more of interest in the role of the Steward (to use his English job description). His job ‘especially amongst Persons of Quality’, was ‘none of the least in a Family, no more than his charge is inconsiderable’ for he had the overall responsibility of running what could be a very large household with a large number of family members, staff, visitors, and visitors’ servants. He had to maintain an inventory of the household goods, give instructions to each of the other Masters as to the catering requirements for each day, to order, organise, monitor and track the distrubution of provisions, and keep a meticulous account of expenses.

The Steward’s work was not all behind the scenes however, he did have his time in the spotlight. When the first course was dished up and ready, he would lead the procession carrying it to the table, and, ‘being come into the Hall, where the Company are to eat’, would doff his hat to his Lord before overseeing the placement of the dishes. The shoulder-towel then came into use:

‘The Company disposting themselves to wash their hands, he takes the Towel by both ends and delivers it to the Company, neatly, with care and respect, and not rudely; and when the Ceremony is ended, and all have wiped their hands, then he takes the Towel away again, and carries it to the side-Cupboard, and there leaves it.’

The Steward then took up a position behind his Master’s Chair, ‘or some one of the chiefest persons at the Table, till it be time to fetch in the second Course’ – always vigilant for a sign from his Master or Mistress as to their commands for the progress of the meal.

There cant be too many jobs available for good household stewards nowadays, but history is full of disappearances and reappearances and fashions and unfashions. In the earlier post on this topic I gave you a recipe from the book for A Tart of the Brain of a Capon, which seems unlikely to be fashionable again soon. Perhaps the following tart, also from the book, might be closer to re-invention?

A Tart of Green Sprouts.
Take your green Sprouts of green Colworts, give them a set or scald in hot Water, and lay thema draining, then mince them small, and put them in fine Paste, and garnish them with the Hearbs, season them with Lard melted, Beef-marrow, an Onion stuck with Cloves and Pepper, and some thin slices of interlarded Bacon between the laying of the Hearbs, cover it up with the same Paste, and when it is baked, put in some Gravy, and the juice of a Lemon, and serve it away.

Quotation for the Day.

A thriving household depends on the use of seasonal produce and the application of common sense.
Olivier de Serres (1539-1619)

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