Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Sinister Side of Omelets

I used to think of omelets as safe, inoffensive, and essentially rather dull food.  The sort of low-risk meal you might make for a surprise guest (in case they might be vegetarian), or your elderly Aunt Mabel, (in case she has forgotten her teeth again). A dish that is not too much effort to cook at the end of a long, hard, day, or to find the ingredients for at the end of an off-pay week. A choice you might make in a restaurant if you were too tired to choose, or too intimidated by the menu, or worried about mad cow disease. A convenient, inexpensive, healthy, reliable, and (if you add any available leftovers to the filling) environmentally friendly dish.  A dish entirely free of nasty surprises.

I have a different view of them now, since I read a story (perhaps true, perhaps myth) about the Maquis de Condorcet’s unfortunate experience after he ordered one 1794. 

In France in the revolutionary year of 1794, the Maquis, a mathematician and social reformer, was on the run from Robespierre, who had accused him of being a royalist.  He had been in hiding for eight months, but hunger got the better of him one day, and he left his refuge dressed as a peasant, in search of dinner.  His order of an omelet made the tavern owner suspicious, the authorities were notified, and the rest, as they say, is history. His mistake had been to order an omelet with 12 eggs – an omelet ‘trop imposante’, to which no peasant could have aspired (although I suspect that perhaps his cultured manners and lily-white hands might have had something to do with it too.)

In the end, the Maquis did avoid the guillotine - by taking poison two days after his imprisonment. Suffice it to say, there is a slight frisson of danger associated now with the omelet, and I cannot make or order one now without a quick glance over my shoulder.

A French Omelette.
TAKE the yolks of eight eggs, and the whites of four, a little pepper, salt, a very little nutmeg, half a tea-cupful of cream. Beat all together, and add half an onion shred small, and a little parsley boiled tender, and cut small. The frying pan being ready with some butter, put in the eggs and other materials; keep constantly moving till done enough A little grated ham will make the dish more savoury, if added before the ingredients are put into the pan.
Culina famulatrix medicinæ: or, Receipts in modern cookery (1804), by Alexander Hunter.

Quotation for the Day.

You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.
Attributed to various people, including Robespierre (1758-1794)


Elise said...

Now that's a great story. Thanks Janet!

The Old Foodie said...

It is, isnt it, Elise! I read it ages ago, and made some notes, but had absolutely, completely forgotten it - then it just poppoed back into my head, unnanounced. Funny how that happens sometimes, isnt it?

Monica said...

Having just eaten an omelet for dinner, AND having been a mathematician in a previous life, this article really struck a nerve. I'm not sure WHICH nerve, but I loved it.

Keith said...

12 eggs seems rather extravagant for anyone!

Marcheline said...

Did you know that "sinister" means "left handed" as well? Of course you did.

The Old Foodie said...

Sorry for the belated responses folks - I got distracted by a new granddaughter.
Le Loup - you are rught. I dont know how anyone could eat a 12 egg omelet. Of course, the story could be pure propaganda put out by the revolutionaries to demonstrate the greed of the aristocracy - I guess we will never know.
Marcheline - I did know that factoid, but it is always safest not to assume my (or anyone's) knowledge. I think the word somehow refers to the left hand being the hand of the devil,doesnt it?