Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Aristology and Aristologists.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines aristology as “the art or ‘science’ of dining,” and gives the etymological explanation that it comes from the Greek words for ‘breakfast, luncheon’ and ‘discourse.’ The first reference cited is from The Art of Dining; and the Art of Attaining High Health: With a Few Hints on Suppers (Philadelphia, 1835) by Thomas Walker, Esq.

 I thought an extract from this work might be interesting to you:

According to the Lexicons, the Greek for dinner is Ariston, and therefore, for the convenience of the terms, and without entering into any inquiry, critical or antiquarian, I call the art of dining Aristology, and those who study it, Aristologists. The maxim, that practice makes perfect, does not apply to our daily habits; for, so far as they are concerned, we are ordinarily content with the standard of mediocrity, or something rather below. Where study is not absolutely necessary, it is by most people altogether dispensed with; but it is only by an union of study and practice, that we can attain any thing like perfection. Anybody can dine, but very few know how to dine, so as to ensure the greatest quantity of health and enjoyment —indeed many people contrive to destroy their health; and as to enjoyment, I shudder when. I think how often I have been doomed to only a solemn mockery of it; how often I have sat in durance stately, to go through the ceremony of dinner, the essence of which is to be without ceremony, and how often in this land of liberty I have felt myself a slave!
There are three kinds of dinners - solitary dinners, everyday social dinners, and set dinners; all three involving the consideration of cheer, and the last two of society also. Solitary dinners, I think, ought to be avoided as much as possible, because solitude tends to produce thought, and thought tends to the suspension of the digestive powers. When however, dining alone is necessary, the mind should be disposed to cheerfulness by a previous interval of relaxation from whatever has seriously occupied the attention, and by directing it to some agreeable object. As contentment ought to be an accompaniment to every meal, punctuality is essential, and the diner and the dinner should be ready at the same time. A chief maxim in dining with comfort is, to have what you want when you want it. It is ruinous to have to wait for first one thing and then another, and to have the little additions brought, when what they belong to is half or entirely finished. To avoid this a little foresight is good, and, by way of instance, it is sound practical philosophy to have mustard upon the table before the arrival of toasted cheese. This very omission has caused as many small vexations in the world, as would by this time make a mountain of misery. Indeed, I recommend an habitual consideration of what adjuncts will be required to the main matters; and I think an attention to this, on the part of females, might often be preventive of sour looks and cross words, and their anti-conjugal consequences. There are not only the usual adjuncts, but to those who have any thing of a genius for dinners, little additions will sometimes suggest themselves, which give a sort of poetry to a repast, and please the palate to the promotion of health. As our senses were made for our enjoyment, and as the vast variety of good things in the world were designed for the same end, it seems a sort of impiety not to put them to their best uses; provided it does not cause us to neglect higher considerations. The different products of the different seasons, and of the different parts of the earth, afford endless proofs of bounty, which it is as unreasonable to reject, as it is to abuse. It has happened, that those who have made the gratification of the appetite a study, have generally done so to excess, and to the exclusion of nobler pursuits; whilst, on the other hand, such study has been held to be incompatible with moral refinement and elevation. But there is a happy mean, and as upon the due regulation of the appetite assuredly depends our physical well-being, and upon that, in a great measure, our mental energies, it seems to me that the subject is worthy of attention, for reasons of more importance than is ordinarily supposed.

… I will now give you, dear reader, an account of a dinner I have ordered this very day at Lovegrove’s, at Blackwell, where if you never dined, so much the worse for you. This account will serve as an illustration of my doctrines on dinner giving better than a long abstract discourse. The party will consist of seven men besides myself, and every guest is asked for some reason, - upon which good fellowship mainly depends, for people, brought together unconnectedly, had, in my opinion, better be kept separate. Eight I hold to be the golden number, never to be exceeded without weakening the efficacy of concentration. The dinner is to consist of turtle, followed by no other fish but white bait, which is to be followed by no other meat but grouse, which are to be succeeded simply by apple fritters and jelly; pastry on such occasions being quite out of place. With the turtle, of course there will be punch, with the white bait champaign, and with the grouse, claret: the two former I have ordered to be particularly well iced, and they will all be placed in succession upon the table, so that we can help ourselves as we please. I shall permit no other wines, unless, perchance, a bottle or two of port, if particularly wanted, as I hold variety of wines a great mistake. With respect to the adjuncts, I shall take care that there is cayenne, with lemons cut in halves, not in quarters, within reach of every one, for the turtle, and that brown bread and butter in abundance is set upon the table for the white bait. It is no trouble to think of these little matters beforehand, but they make a vast difference in convivial contentment. The dinner will be followed by ices, and a good dessert, after which coffee and one glass of liqueur each, and no more; so that the present may be enjoyed rationally without inducing retrospective regrets. If the master of a feast wishes his party to succeed, he must know how to command, and not let his guests run riot, each according to his own wild fancy. Such, reader, is my idea of a dinner, of which I hope you approve; and I cannot help thinking that if parliament were to grant me 10,000 a year, in trust, to entertain a series of worthy persons, it would promote trade and increase the revenue more than any hugger-mugger measure ever devised.

… the dinner at Blackwall, mentioned before, was served according to my directions, both as to the principal dishes and the adjuncts, with perfect exactness, and went off with corresponding success. The turtle and white bait were excellent; the grouse not quite of equal merit; and the apple fritters so much relished, that they were entirely cleared, and the jelly left untouched. The only wines were champaign and claret, and they both gave great satisfaction. As soon as the liqueurs were handed round once, I ordered them out of the room; and the only heresy committed was by one of the guests asking for a glass of bottled porter, which I had not the presence of mind instantly to forbid

There was an opinion broached that some flounders water-zoutcheed, between the turtle and white bait, would have been an improvement, - and perhaps they would. I dined again at Blackwall as a guest, and I observed that my theory as to adjuncts was carefully put into practice, so that I hope the public will be a gainer.

… Paulus Emilius, who was the most successful general, and best entertainer of his time, seems to have understood this well ; for he said that it required the same sort of spirit to manage a banquet as a battle, with this difference, that the one should be made as pleasant to friends, and the other as formidable to enemies, as possible.

As the recipe for the day, I give you a fine water-zouchy from the 1830’s:

Dabs and flounders and other small fish may be fried, or else prepared in water zouchy as follows :—Clean the different kinds of fish, and put them altogether into the saucepan with water sufficient to cover them, a parsley root, a bay-leaf, a couple of onions quartered, some pepper corns, and plenty of salt. Let them boil very gently until they are done. Plaice, and even soles, may be cooked in this way, either mixed with other fish, or alone. The fish are put into the dish with their liquor, which forms an excellent gravy for bread and butter. If required to be eaten with potatoes, the liquor may be thickened with some butter rolled in flour.
This mode of dressing fish, though very primitive, is in great favour among the most wealthy and luxurious, at whose tables the water-zouched fish is served up accompanied by plates of white and brown bread and butter.

The Magazine of Domestic Economy, Volume 4 (London,1839)

No comments: