Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Holy Water Recipe.

I cannot fathom the recipe I am giving you today. It is from Officers of the Mouth, by Giles Rose, published in 1682 (the English translation of Riboule's L'escole parfait of 1662). We have had some fun with this book earlier this year (March 23-27), but barely touched on the recipes. This one really puzzles me. It is time for you to do some of the work around here, and suggest some explanations. Here it is:

Partridges a leau beniste, or Holy Water.
Take Partridges and rost them, and when they are rosted, cut them into little pieces, and put them into a Dish with a little fair Water and Salt, and make them boyl a little, and serve them away.

I presume ‘a leau beniste’ is ‘à l’eau bénite’, which does mean Holy Water (when it is not a brand of Belgian Beer. Seriously. What a marketing idea.)

I know that ‘fair Water’ simply means pure clean water. It does not, as far as I am aware, imply any degree of holiness.

Roast partridges are probably heavenly, but not as heavenly as if they had been stuffed with foie gras and truffles, and basted with butter and ancient cognac as they cooked, and followed with chocolate and champagne.

Not having access to the original French text, and in any case being illiterate in French, I don’t know if this is a translation error or not.

So, tell me the connection between this recipe and Holy Water, please.

Quotation for the Day.

A cook, when I dine, seems to me a divine being, who from the depths of his kitchen rules the human race. One considers him as a minister of heaven, because his kitchen is a temple, in which his ovens are the altar.
Marc Antoine Desaugiers (1772-1827).


Foose said...

I offer this cautiously because of the source ... the French Wikipedia entry on "eau benite" says that one of the meanings is "natural water to which salt is added, equally holy, which recalls the salt thrown into the waters by the prophet Elisha to cure them of their sterility" ("Eau naturelle à laquelle on peut ajouter du sel, également bénit, qui rappelle le sel jeté dans les eaux par le prophète Élisée pour les guérir de leur stérilité").

In this case, the salt combined with the "fair water" makes it "l'eau benite"?

Lauren Hairston said...

I got out my unabridged French-English dictionary to check this one out to see if there was a meaning of which I wasn't aware. No such luck. I have to throw my lot in with Foose. I think it's interesting that the partridges are roasted and then cooked in salted water. Also, if anyone has a copy of Larousse Gastronomique, it might have an explanation.

I just discovered your blog this morning and I'm really enjoying it. I can't wait to read your book about pie.

Bart said...

A short search on several (though not always too official-looking) French sites seems to suggest the same thing: holy water can be made by adding salt to clear water and blessing both. It is rather odd, however, that other language searches show no connection between holy water and salt other than the fact that they are often used together in cleansing rituals.

Foose said...

Something else I turned up in looking at Google Books for French-language references was that "eau benite" seems to have been a standard dressing or seasoning: Antoine de Beauvilliers' 1814 L'Art du Cuisinier says "Le vinaigrier, que l'on appellait saucier, fournissait des assaisonnemens ... il fournissait la remoulade, la provencale, la Robert, la dondine, le cameline, le saupiquet, la galantine, la poidevine, l'eau benite ..." ("The vinegarer, who was called the sauce-man, furnished the seasonings ... he furnished the remoulade, the provencal, the Robert, the cameline sauce, etc., etc., holy water ..")

I ran across mention of the medieval master chef Taillevant as having a "recette" for "eau benite" but the one I found is not just salt and water:

Recette pour faire l'eau bénite : Un demi-verre d'eau de rose, Un demi-verre de verjus, Du gingembre, de la marjolaine : Bouillir le tout ... [Recipe for making holy water: a half-glass of rose water, a half-glass of verjuice, some ginger, some marjolaine: Boil the whole ...]

William Rubel said...

I found a couple mineral bath sites that use the term to describe their waters which I interpreted to mean a lightly mineralized water.

William Rubel said...

I found a couple mineral bath sites that use the term to describe their waters which I interpreted to mean a lightly mineralized water.

William Rubel said...

I would surmise that the author of the recipe assumed that his readers would bring a certain sense of irony to the recipe. A certain playfulness. Things are dipped into holy water -- hands -- and holy water is dropped onto things -- babies, for example. In this recipe the partridge is partially roasted and then finished up in lightly salted water -- a gesture that, to the author and the culture that spawned the recipe was reminiscent of holy dippings. I would surmise, too, that there may be a reference -- if distant -- to inversions and unholy mockeries of church practice.

Multiple step cooking processes, with roasting being the first, are not at all unusual during Giles Rose' period.

"Pigeon à l'eau bénite" is referenced in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal By William and Robert Chambers, 1845, page 74. You can find this on Google Books. The passage with the dish is, "he passed on to a leg of mutton with onion-sauce ; then filled up the crevices with a few pickings of stewed pigeons à l'eau bénite, and a larded quail ; finishing the meal with a quince tart, and a cream au miel..."

You seem to have been in a flip mood when you wrote your post. The recipe was published in a period and place where people knew their partridges. And, they knew their roasting. This is a recipe that one could read as hugely modern, one that is entirely driven by the perfection of the key ingredient and for which the author has infinite respect.

Note that the partridge is cut into "little pieces." Here we get the holy water gesture. Also, note that they are "put into a dish with a little fair water and salt" and then "boiled a little." There is emphasis in this well written recipe on care.

Truffles and fois gras might sometimes have their place, but here is a recipe that is saying, lightly roast a lovely plump partridge, remove from the spit, when cool, cut into bite-sized pieces, and simmer in a small quantity of lightly salted water just long enough to finish the meat and infuse it with the flavor of partridge water. Serve immediately and dream of an early morning walk through fields when partridges are about, feel the dew on your clothing, see the mist still in the trees. Breath deeply of the morning air and let your cares fall away. Blessed it be the taste of the partridge dipped lightly in holy water.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Everyone - thankyou for your comments - I apologise for the dealy in responding, I have been busy dealing with the work and errands precipitated by the premature arrival of my grandson.
William - thankyou for your thoughtful response (and I take on board your mild admonishment!) - one thing that puzzles me about this is - would not some clerics interpret the use of the term Holy Water in a cookery recipes as almost sacrilegious, in that era?

Anonymous said...

This is not going to help you at all, but in the first of the Chalet School books by Elinor M Brent-Dyer, an English girl muddles up her German in a hairdresser's salon and asks for holy water instead of hot water. This is terribly funny, to staff and hairdresser and other girls alike: such that the faux pas is constantly repeated in reminiscence, throughout all fifty-eight books of the series...

Also, yay grandson!

The Old Foodie said...

lovely story desperance!