Most of us have done a little (or a lot) too much eating and drinking over the last week or so, as we tend to do at this time of the year. Over the Christmas season, words used in descriptions of the annual eating frenzy – words such as gourmet, gourmand, glutton, epicure and so on - are tossed around with careless abandon in newspapers and magazines, leading me to ask ‘What do each of these words mean, specifically?’
I give you one man’s opinion on the meaning of these words – and a few more - the brilliant and entertaining wordsmith and food-lover, Mr. Charles Dickens, editor of All the Year Round, Vol. 20 (1868.)
Gourmands And Gormandising.
The word the French use as a term, if not of honour, certainly of approval, is with us changed into a term of reproach: so much, even in small matters, do the two nations differ. The dictionary of the Academy defines a Gourmand, as Dr. Johnson also does, as synonymous with a glutton. In the Encyclopaedia, gormandising is translated as "a demoralised love of good cheer;" but the Abbé Robaud, in his synonymes, is more favourable to gourmands, describing them as "persons who love to eat and make good cheer." They must eat, but not eat without selection. Below the judicious and self-restraining epicure, the sensible and tolerant abbé places four classes of people. First, the Friand, the person who likes all sorts of dainties, especially sweetmeats and dessert. The Goinfre is a monster who has an appetite so brutal that he swallows with ravening mouth everything he comes near; he eats and eats for the sake of eating. Next appears the Goulu (the shark), the wretch who snatches with avidity, swallows rather than eats, and gobbles rather than chews. Last of all comes that very discreditable creature the Glutton, who eats with an audible and disagreeable noise, and with such voracity that one morsel scarcely waits for another, and. all disappears before him, absorbed as it were in a bottomless abyss. Such are the subtleties of the highly refined language of our neighbours. For all these expressions we have but the feeble epithets of epicure, alderman, greyhound, wolf. We are obliged, indeed, to borrow from the French, the two words Gourmand and Gourmet. By the first, meaning those who eat largely, without much regard to quality; by the second, those who study and appreciate the higher branches of cooking.
A friend of Dreikopf’s has ascertained, after twenty years' experiments, that it takes thirty-two movements of the upper and lower jaws to cut and grind a morsel of meat sufficiently to allow it to be safely swallowed. The age and strength of the person, and the quality of the molars and incisors, are also, of course, to be taken into account, which drives one to algebra and vulgar fractions; but the rule is a good general one, and may be trusted to. This is philosophy indeed; and yet a man may use his teeth very well without knowing a word of it. It would not have helped that notorious eater, the Abbé de Liongeac, who, as the legend in Paris restaurants goes, would often for a wager eat thirty-six dozens of small pâtés. The abbé was, moreover, a little fragile-looking man, who looked as if a jelly would not melt in his mouth.
To be an epicure, a man should be rich; a poor epicure (unless he steal) must lead the life of twenty Tantaluses rolled into one. Elwes, the miser, was that unhappy creature: an epicure restrained from indulging in one vice, by the preponderance of another. People who laid traps for his rusty guineas used to bring him luxurious dishes, which he spoiled by his meanness. On one occasion a prudent lady sent the old miser a plate of richly stewed carp, of which he was known to be fond. It arrived cold. The difficulty was how to warm it. Elwes had no coal; he was not going to waste a fire; nothing would induce him to do that. What should he do? A happy thought struck him. He took the dish, covered it with another, and sat down on it patiently like a hatching hen until it got tolerably warm, and the generous port wine flavour was elicited from the gravy.
There was a story current some years ago in Paris, of a Gascon equally fond of good living, but from much more tangible reasons unable to indulge his taste. On a search for a dinner at some one's expense, our wily Gascon one day entered a restaurant where a pompous gourmand of the parvenu kind was just finishing a solitary but elaborate dinner, and sat surrounded by trophies of the strength of his jaws. The gourmand was just then annoyed at some doubts of the power of his appetite.
"Eh bien, gentlemen," he said, carefully selecting a toothpick. "My waistcoat strings are ready to fly, and yet I could recommence now, if any one would offer me a wager."
The Gascon leaped at him. "I accept the wager, monsieur," he cried, throwing down the carte he had been hungrily scanning. "I'll meet you, though I had formed a project of fasting for a week, for only three days ago I began at a tremendous wedding feast, which has lasted from then till now."
The gourmand, either through politeness or pride, inquired no more, feeling sure of victory in whatever condition his adversary might be. The bet was made. Whoever gave up first was to pay for both dinners. The Gascon ate like a Lou. He was a goinfre at the soup, a goulu at the fish, a gourmand at the entremets, a gourmet at the wine, a friand at the dessert. Unfortunately, his stomach, like a dry balloon, could not expand quite quick enough. The Gascon felt there was something going wrong internally, but on he plunged, a hero to the last, and knowing that, victorious or defeated, he could not pay, he ate until he fell in a swoon of repletion.
The waiters felt that here was the beaten man, to whom they had to look for the bill. They surrounded the prostrate champion, partly to find his address, partly to sound his purse, and make sure of their money, but, alas! the Gascon had not enough even to pay Charon for the ferry over the gloomy river. The restaurateur, in his despair, appealed to the witnesses whether the living ought not to pay for the dead. Gourmands are generally good-natured easy people. This epicure, delighted at his victory, though it had ended in the death of his terrible opponent, drew out his purse, and smiling blandly at the prostrate Gascon, quietly paid.
The generous creature had hardly left, before the Gascon, who had remained forgotten in a corner, came to himself, and comprehending from a few words dropped by the nearest waiters that the bill was settled, was so overjoyed that he began to move, which instantly brought every one round him. The universal cry was, "Give him an emetic!" "Bring a stomach pump!"
The poor wretch turned pale, pulled himself together, and, with one bolt, dashed like a harlequin through the glass doors into the street.
"I am all right," he said, when he was safe; "Cadedis, I'll take good care of myself, for I am cured now for a good week more."
That Gascon was evidently a great undeveloped epicure, who only wanted a good income to have sipped his ortolan soup with the best. We can scarcely doubt that in the old Greek times he would have worn his tongue in a little case, like the Sybarite mentioned by Athenseus, who was anxious to preserve the purity and sensitiveness of that useful and favoured organ.
There is more in this article, so perhaps I will continue it tomorrow, but in the meanwhile, I want to focus on the word ‘friand.’ Today, in the English language, it is more likely to indicate a small cake of French (or presumed French) heritage than a “person who likes all sorts of dainties, especially sweetmeats and dessert.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word is derived from the French friend meaning dainty, and is “an alteration of friant, past participle of frire, the primary sense being ‘qui grille (d'impatience)’ The OED gives two usages
1. Dainty; delicious to the palate; fond of delicate food. First known usage in written English is given as occurring in 1599.
2. A person of dainty taste in food, an epicure. First known usage in 1598.
So, the OED has not caught up with the cake-noun yet. Time (and insufficient language skills) prevents me from performing an exhaustive search for the development of the friend-as-cake, but I did find an interesting associated word.
In The Menu Book of Practical gastronomy, a menu compiler and register of dishes (Chicago, 1908) by Charles Herman Senn is a couple of mentions of something called a friandine. Senn gives the derivation of this word as “French, from Old French friant, from present participle of frire to fry, roast.” His description of the items will serve as our recipe for the day:
These are made of puff-paste, rolled out thinly with a 2-inch fluted round cutter ; a portion of prepared mince or salpicon of meat or game, etc., is placed in the centre of each round ; this is covered with a round of paste, egged, dipped in crushed vermicelli, and fried in clarified butter, lard or dripping.
Friandines de volaille. - Chicken friandines.
- de fole-gras. - Goose liver friandines.
- de glbler. - Game friandines.
- de homard - Lobster friandines.
- aux huitres. - Oyster friandines.
- de poisson. - Fish friandines.
- de ris de veau. - Sweetbread friandines.
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