Friday, May 11, 2012

Catoptrical Victuallers, Beware!

As I promised yesterday, I give you a short piece, written in his usual satisfyingly satirical style, by Dr Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin from 1713-45). It is to be found in The Works of Jonathan Swift, published in London in 1761


Sheweth, - That whereas certain virtuosi, disaffected to the government and to the trade and prosperity of this kingdom, taking upon them the name and title of the CATOPTRICAL VICTUALLERS*, have presumed by gathering, breaking, folding, and bundling up the sun-beams, by the help of certain glasses, to make, produce, and kindle up several new focus’s or fires within these his majesty's dominions, and there to boil, bake, stew, fry, and dress all sorts of victuals and provisions, to brew, distil spirits, smelt ore, and in general to perform all the offices of culinary fires, and are endeavouring to procure to themselves the monopoly of this their said invention: We beg leave humbly to represent to your honours,

That such grant or patent will utterly ruin and reduce to beggary your petitioners, their wives, children, servants, and trades on them depending, there being nothing left to them after the said invention but warming of cellars and dressing of suppers in the winter-time. That the abolishing of so considerable a branch of the coasting trade as that of the colliers will destroy the navigation of this kingdom. That whereas the said catoptrical victuallers talk of making use of the moon by night as of the sun by day, they will utterly ruin the numerous body of tallow-chandlers, and impair a very considerable branch of the revenue which arises from the tax upon tallow and candles.

That the said catoptrical victuallers do profane the emanations of that glorious luminary the sun, which is appointed to rule the day, and not to roast mutton. And we humbly conceive it will be found contrary to the known laws of this kingdom to confine, forestal, and monopolise the beams of the sun. And whereas the said catoptrical victuallers have undertaken, by burning glasses made of ice, to roast an ox upon the Thames next winter: we conceive all such practices to be an encroachment upon the rights and privileges of the company of watermen.

That the diversity of exposition of the several kitchens in this great city, whereby some receive the rays of the sun sooner, and others later, will occasion great irregularity as to the time of dining of the several inhabitants, and consequently great uncertainty and confusion in the despatch of business; and to those who, by reason of their northern exposition, will be still forced to be at the expense of culinary fires, it will reduce the price of their manufacture to such inequality as is inconsistent with common justice; and the same inconveniency will affect landlords in the value of their rents.

That the use of the said glasses will oblige cooks and cook-maids to study optics and astronomy in order to know the due distance of the said focus’s or fires, and to adjust the position of their glasses to the several altitudes of the sun, varying according to the hours of the day and the seasons of the year; which studies at these years will be highly troublesome to the said cooks and cook-maids, not to say anything of the utter incapacity of some of them to go through with such difficult arts; or (which is still a greater inconvenience) it will throw the whole art of cookery into the hands of astronomers und glass-grinders, persons utterly unskilled in other parts of that profession, to the great detriment of the health of his majesty's good subjects.

That it is known by experience that meat roasted with sun-beams is extremely unwholesome; witness several that have died suddenly after eating the provisions of the said catoptrical victuallers; forasmuch as the sunbeams taken inwardly render the humours too hot and adust, occasion great sweatings, and dry up the rectual moisture.

That sun-beams taken inwardly shed a malignant influence upon the brain by their natural tendency toward the moon, and produce madness and distraction at the time of the full moon. That the constant use of so great quantities of this inward light will occasion the growth of quakerism to the danger of the church, and of poetry to the danger of the state.

That the influences of the constellations through which the sun passes will with his beams be conveyed into the blood; and when the sun is among the horned signs may produce such a spirit of unchastity as is dangerous to the honour of your worships' families.

That mankind, living much upon the seeds and other parts of plants, these, being impregnated with the sunbeams, may vegetate and grow in the bowels, a thing of more dangerous consequence to human bodies than breeding of worms; and this will fall heaviest upon the poor, who live upon roots, and the weak and sickly, who live upon barley and rice gruel, etc., for which we are ready to produce to your honours the opinions of eminent physicians that the taste and property of the victuals is much altered to the worse by the said solar cookery, the fricassees being deprived of the haut goût they acquire by being dressed over charcoal.

Lastly, should it happen by an eclipse of an extraordinary length that this city should be deprived of the sun-beams for several months, how will his majesty's subjects subsist in the interim, when common cookery, with the arts depending upon it, is totally lost 1

In consideration of these and many other inconveniences, your petitioners humbly pray that your honours would either totally prohibit the confining and manufacturing the sun-beams for any of the useful purposes of life, or, in the ensuing parliament, procure a tax to be laid upon them, which may answer both the duty and price of coals, and which we humbly conceive cannot be less than thirty shillings per yard square; reserving the sole right and privilege of the catoptrical cookery to the Royal Society, and to the commanders and crews of the bomb-vessels under the direction of  Mr. Whiston, for finding out the longitude, who by reason of the remoteness of their stations may be reduced to straits for want of firing.

And we likewise beg that your honours, as to the aforementioned points, would hear the reverend Mr. Flamstead, who is the legal officer appointed by the government to look after the heavenly luminaries, whom we have constituted our trusty and learned solicitor.

[*relating to a mirror or to reflexion]

Recipe for the Day.

In honour of the inimitable Dean Swift, I give you a recipe from the incomparable Eliza Acton.

(A genuine Irish Receipt.)
Potatoes, to boil well together, should be all of the same sort, and as nearly equal in size as may be. Wash off the mould, and scrub them very clean with a hard brush, but neither scoop nor apply a knife to them in any way, even to clear the eyes.* Rinse them well, and arrange them compactly in a saucepan, so that they may not lie loose in the water, and that a small quantity may suffice to cover them. Pour this in cold, and when it boils, throw in about a large teaspoonful of salt to the quart, and simmer the potatoes until they are nearly done, but for the last two or three minutes let them boil rapidly. When they are tender quite through, which may be known by probing them with a fork, pour all the water from them immediately, lift the lid of the saucepan to allow the steam to escape, and place them on a trevet, high over the fire, or by the side of it, until the moisture has entirely evaporated; then peel, and send them to table as quickly as possible, either in a hot napkin, or in a dish, of which the cover is so placed that the steam can pass off. There should be no delay in serving them after they are once taken from the fire: Irish families usually prefer them served in their skins. Some kinds will be done in twenty minutes, others in less than three quarters of an hour. We are informed that "the best potatoes are those which average from five to six to the pound, with few eyes, but those pretty deep, and equally distributed over the surface." We cannot ourselves vouch for the correctness of the assertion, but we think it may be relied on. .

20 minutes to ¾ hour, or more.
Obs. —The water in which they are boiled should barely cover the potatoes.

*"Because," in the words of our clever Irish correspondent," the water through these parts is then admitted into the very heart of the vegetable; and the latent heat, after cooking, is not sufficient to throw it off: this renders the potatoes very unwholesome."
Modern Cookery in All its Branches (1845)

Quotation for the Day.

This brings to my mind the known story of a Scotchman, who, receiving the sentence of death with all the circumstances of hanging, beheading, quartering, embowelling, and the like, cried out, What need all this COOKERY?
Jonathan Swift.


Lapinbizarre said...

Admirably detailed but concise instructions from Miss Acton. A relevant point to everything she says & nothing omitted. And a question (answered) to the one point she does not understand.

The Old Foodie said...

She is a marvel, isnt she? I wonder what she was like, really? Thorough and careful and practical, or a tedious pedant? Has anyone written her bio?