Thursday, June 18, 2009

“Potted Luck”

The whole concept of a “pot luck” acquired new and magnificent meaning to me recently. The realisation dawned as I was browsing the pages of The Epicure’s Year Book and Table Companion of 1869. The author includes a chapter headed Picnic Reform, in which he bemoans the fact that “half the picnics given under the uncertain sky of England are failures”. He gives the main reason as the fact that “The thorough picnic nature is not common amongst us. We cannot unbend easily.” He goes on to “submit a few observations on picnic gastronomy”.

“The art of lying on the grass, of dispensing with knife or fork, of making yourself generally useless, - is not to be mastered in an afternoon. … there is vast room for improvement in the art of dining with nothing between you and the pendent caterpillar – in a gastronomic direction. … The English picnic, as now ordered, may be described as an incongruous company brought together to eat anything, and everything, in the open.”

The author then pleads for us to learn the art of composing a Menu sous les Feuilles (a ‘menu under the leaves’). He describes how he rescued a batchelor friend “besieged” by female relatives demanding to be entertained at lunch in his chambers, by demonstrating how it was possible (even for a batchelor) to “throw together” a bill of fare from the resources offered by the purveyors of London. He came up with a magnificent feast that included three potages, Russian caviare, butter from Milan, chaud-froid of beef, truffled foie-gras, and many other delicacies, in addition to a large selection of wines and cognac. His “Potted Luck” as he calls it inspires “the ladies” so much that “they resolve to imitate it”. In the fullness of summer, on June 13, in 1868, he is invited to a Potted Luck in Belvedere Park. The day is more than a success - “the oldest picknicker present cordially pronounced our day sous les feuilles to be a glorious revolution.

The menu was as follows:

Potage: Crécy. Vermouth de Turin.
Hors d’oeuvres. Salade d’anchois; salade de homarde; caviare; saucisson de Brunswick; saucisson de Strasbourg aux truffes; salame de Milan; salame de Bologna; olives d’Espagne, anchois frais; écrivisse; potted tongue.
Punch à la Romaine.
Entrées: Pâté de gibier de Yorck; pâté de volaille; pâté de veau; potted Strasbourg meat; poulet aux truffes; jambon de Yorck; gigot d’agneau à ‘Anglais; boeuf.
Wines: Xérès; Bordeaux; Champagne; Carlowitz; Rudesheimer.
Dessert: Fraises; patisserie; Gruyère; Roquefort.
Estratto de tamarindo.

See what I mean about a whole new perspective on the idea of “pot lucks”?

Ham or Tongue Potted.
Cut a pound of the lean of cold boiled ham or tongue, and pound it in a mortar with a quarter of a pound of the fat, or with fresh butter (in the proportion of about two ounces to a pound) till it is a fine paste (some season it by degrees with a little pounded mace or allspice) put it close down in pots for that purpose and cover it with clarified butter a quarter of an inch thick; let it stand one night in a cool place. Send it up in the pot or cut out in thin slices.
The Cook’s Own Book; N.K.M. Lee, 1832

Quotation for the Day.

If the rain spoils our picnic, but saves a farmer's crop, who are we to say it shouldn't rain?
Tom Barrett.


KT said...

So, apparently "canned food" was very upper crust back then. Wonder if the bachelor got lucky?

~~louise~~ said...

Oh my goodness, Janet. This post would be an ideal "dish" to bring to my online picnic in celebration of International Picnic Day. We're playing the Picnic Game. I'm going on a picnic and I'm bringing...

Please, please consider "playing." I'm sure we could work around the choosing of the letters. "P" "H" and "M" are already spoken for however, I so want to include this post in the Picnic Day celebration. I could even link as an introduction to Picnic Day. Then we don't need a letter:)

Here's the link for the "rules" in case you have the notion to play.

Thanks Janet, can you tell, I adore this post...