Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Tobacco Course.

One of the most important and famous food writers of recent times was the vaguely aristocratic and adventurous British woman, Elizabeth David (1913-1992). Elizabeth David convinced the British that French (or French provincial food) was, in fact, no only OK, but quite interesting and do-able, thereby changing British attitudes and tastes forever.

David was slightly shocking for her time – she left home to be an actress, had many lovers, and got involved in some mildly naughty diplomatic incidents (at one stage being deported from Italy, where she was living, to Greece – and that was only the start of her wartime adventures.)

She was also, apparently, not shy of lending her name for marketing purposes. In the 1950’s, at the peak of her fame and influence, her name headed some “suggested menus” in the classified ads section of The Times in London. The menu ideas were sponsored by a tobacco company, so naturally, the meals ended with a tobacco course.

On this day in 1955, the advertisement read:

Diner                                                        13 Aôut
Consommé glacé à l’estragon
Canard aux olives
Pommes de terre fondantes
Côte Rôti 1951
Tarte aux pêches
Château Filbot Sauternes, 1947
Lambert & Butler’s Straight Cut Cigarettes
Henry Clay Cigars
What can I say but “Oh Dear!”
David’s contribution to cuisine in general and food writing in particular – her tobacco endorment notwithstanding – is enormous, as I am sure every reader is aware. In her honour, I give you the following recipe to assist you to repeat the menu above. It is a classic from that other famous cook – Auguste Escoffier.

Pommes de Terre Fondantes.
Cut the potatoes to the shape of large, elongated olives, and let each weigh about 3 oz. Gently cook them in butter, in a sautépan, and take care to turn them over.
When they are cooked, withdraw them, so as to flatten them slightly with a fork without breaking them. Drain away their butter; return them to the sautépan with 3 oz fresh butter per every 2 lb. of their weight, and cook them with lid on until they have entirely absorbed the butter.

Quotation for the Day.

In the 20th century, the French managed to get a death on the myth that they produce the world's best food. The hype has been carefully orchestrated, and despite the fact that the most popular food in the last quarter has undoubtedly been Italian, the French have managed to maintain that mental grip.
Clarissa Dickson Wright, 'Food' (1999)


George Nakami said...

Love this site!! I am very passionate about food and these brief history clips are as yummy as the recipes that you provide! Where can I find more information on David's menu? Meaning, more instructions on how to cook some of the foods on the menu.


The Old Foodie said...

Hello George. These ads ran on about a fortnightly basis for a number of years. Sometimes they were dinner menus, sometimes luncheon. There was no commentary - just the small classified advert. In the later years there was sometimes a recipe, but most of the years there was just a menu.
The dishes seem to be mostly from the classical tradition, and using any of the cookbooks upwards from the last decades of the 19th C would do. There are a lot online at Google Books and the Interneta Archive.