Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Furnishing the Table.

It seems to be the trendy restaurant thing nowadays to specify the provenance of the ingredients used in each dish. The idea hooks into so many modern movements or campaigns – eating authentically, locally, organically etc. – and if the origin can be specified down to the actual farm, so much the better.

Once upon a time, eating anything other than local was, of course, the rule. The only exceptions were for foods with naturally long shelf-lives (such as root vegetables, for example), or which could be preserved by the more limited methods available at the time. Naturally, food transported long distances were more expensive too, so generally speaking the non-local food was only available for the wealthier folk.

That is not to say that in the past there was not a sense of foods from some locations being preferable to others, or of some varietals being better – and these therefore should be specified and sourced if at all possible. The following recipe from The whole duty of a woman, or, an infallible guide to the fair sex, of 1737, demonstrates this well. The recipe words are italicized as they are in the original. Notice also how concerned she is that the dish is pleasant to the eye as well as the taste.

Boiled Venison.
Having a Haunch of Venison, salt it well, and let it remain a Week, then boil it and serve it with a Furniture of Cauliflowers, Russia Cabbages, some of the Hertfordshire Turnips cut in Dice, and boiled in a Net, and tossed up with Butter and Cream, or else have some of the yellow French Turnips, cut in Dice, and boiled like the former, or we might add some red Beet Roots boiled in Dice, and buttered in the same Manner. Place these regularly, and they will afford a pleasant Variety both to the Eye and the Taste.

I do like the use of the word ‘furniture’ in this context too. The OED gives one explanation of ‘furniture’ as being ‘a decoration, an embellishment’, as well as ‘a provision, stock, or supply of anything’.

Quotation for the Day.

Fishes considered as a food, make a considerable addition to the furniture of the table.
Thomas Best, A Concise Treatise on the Art of Angling, 1787


Helen T said...

A case of plus ca change! A wonder really that it has taken us so long to get back to local food though.

Ms Alex said...

I love the idea of vegetables being described as furniture rather than decoration proper. Seems more dignified, I think. :)