Friday, July 24, 2009

A Foodie Birthday.

This day, Juy 24, was the birthday in 1802 of Alexandre Dumas (père), the French author of The Three Musketeers. Dumas was a dedicated and famous gourmet (‘foodie’, if you like), and wished to be remembered for his Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine – finally published two years after his death – rather than his novels. He left a legacy of some of the best nineteenth century French food stories and quotations, many of which have been fodder for this blog in the past.

Here is a selection of my favourite quotations from the birthday boy:

“Wine is the intellectual part of a meal, meats are merely the material part.”

“When I eat truffles, I become livelier, happier, Ifeel refreshed. I feel inside me, especially in my veins, a soft voluptuous heat that quickly reaches my head. My ideas are clearer and easier.”

"The most learned men have been questioned as to the nature of this tuber [the truffle], and after two thousand years of argument and discussion their answer is the same as it was on the first day: we do not know. The truffles themselves have been interrogated, and have answered simply: eat us and praise the Lord."

Dumas was inordinately proud of his salad recipe which we have featured in a previous post. He was moderately famous in his own time – at least amongst his friends – for this salad, which he prepared with his own hands. He was also in possession of “a certain recipe for stewed carp” which has retained the air of mystery it had in his own time, and has refused to reveal itself (to me, at any rate.)

Instead, I give you a recipe for fish named in his honour by the very famous nineteenth century chef, Alexis Soyer. The dish will also perfectly fit the bill for those of you in parts of the world where it is still July 23rd and therefore still Neptunalia (see “yesterday’s” post.)

Filets of Mackerel à la Dumas.
Fillet your mackerel as you would whitings by passing the knife down the back bone, lay your fillets in a buttered sauté-pan (the skin side upwards) with two tablespoonfuls of oil, two of port wine, and season with a little pepper and salt; place them over a sharp fire ten minutes, then turn them and place them over again five minutes longer, or till they are done; take them out cut each fillet in halves and dish them round on a dish without a napkin; then put twelve tablespoonfuls of brown sauce (No. 1) into the sauté-pan, let it boil five minutes then add a teaspoonful of chopped mushrooms half ditto of chopped parsley, a little lemon juice, and a small quantity of sugar ;chop the roe of the mackerel and put in the sauce, let it simmer five minutes; pour it over the fillets cover them lightly with bread crumbs, brown lightly with the salamander and serve very hot. The sauce must not be too thick.
The Gastronomic Regenerator, by Alexis Soyer

Quotation for the Day.

I think fish is nice, but then I think that rain is wet, so who am I to judge?
Douglas Adams.


Kim - Easy French Food said...

I can see I have a lot to learn here. What a fun site you have. There are people who fish for carp here near Paris, but I think I'll skip for now myself. Mackeral on the other hand should be manageable. I'll be back for more fun. Thanks.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Kim, nice to meet you (and find your site!)

Unknown said...

I didn't see this mentioned, but Alexander Dumas, père, was also responsible for writing the version of "The Nutcracker" used by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky in his Ballet of the same name. Actually the title Dumas used was "L'Histoire d'un Casse Noisette" (The Story of a Hazelnut-cracker). The story was originally penned by E. T. A. Hoffman entitled "Nussknacker und Mausekönig" or the “Nutcracker and Mouseking” and the story was a little too dark not truly meant for youngsters, while Dumas wrote something more palatable for children. Speaking of palatable, the plethora of illusions to food in this story has always been of genuine interest to me. You have
The Spanish Dance (Chocolate)
The Arabian Dance (Coffee)
The Russian Dance (Trépak)
The Chinese Dance (Tea)
The Mirliton Dance (Marzipan)
Mother Ginger & her children(Spice)
The Waltz of Flowers.(Up to your imagination, I guess)
Although the “Waltz of the Flowers” does not actually allude to food, I rather think of it as the adornment on the table top. The Russian Dance actually does not allude to food either, but is a folk dance, but if you were to think of food in so far as the Russian culture of the day and also taking into consideration the other food illusions, I'd make it either Vodka or Cherry preserves or a combinations of both, coming to this conclusion because of the Russian tradition of using preserved to sweeten tea. One last thing, if you have ever seen a picture of Dumas, he was formidable in size and I think he truly enjoyed writing about all these yummy things.

The Old Foodie said...

thanks teapowers - that's an awesomely informative comment! I had no idea that Dumas wrote this.

Unknown said...

Had you ever thought to write about this subject? I've always been so intrigued with it, along with other stories which have food references. “Alice in Wonderland” is the first thing that comes to mind. Anyway and before I completely digress, I’ve always thought of all these beautiful food allusions in the Nutcracker in all its manifestations and consider the time of year the story represents, which is Christmas. The fact that E. T. A. Hoffman was German and wrote the original story in 1816, Alexandre Dumas, père was French and wrote his version in 1845 and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was Russian and composed his immortal ballet in 1891-1892; I mean - the food possibilities are endless and in particular as it may pertain to the historic time periods. For example and please correct me if I am in error, but I am under the impression that in the early part of the nineteenth century Chocolate was almost always a drink, in the 1840s Cadbury introduces the first chocolate bar. So in theory Dumas could have known about it although I do not think the dates actually coincide, but certainly Tchaikovsky could have enjoyed a nice chocolate candy bar or a rich chocolate cake; and being Russian what was the popular way to enjoy chocolate during that time? Also, the people of Imperial Russia had such a unique way of taking tea from most other “western” cultures. I don’t know how popular tea was in Germany in any part of the nineteenth century, but certainly it was very popular in France. What about the fact that the ballet itself is like one big confectionary shop or how we might wish to imagine one. I’d love to put together a “Nutcracker” menu with historic receipts and with all the dances represented in some form, but with all the possibilities it seems to me more than a little daunting!