Today I continue where I left off yesterday, with a post inspired by an article in All the Year Round, Vol. 20 (1868,) edited by Charles Dickens. There is more to the article, but lest I you are prone to Dickens fatigue (is such a thing possible?) I give you only a second small sample of Dickens’ story about gourmets, gluttons, friands, and epicures:
But Captain A., of Chantilly, to judge from the epicurean records of Paris in the year 1805, was not much behind the Gascon in his appreciation of at least the quantity of food. Captain A. had been in the cavalry, but he quitted that service, on account of having grown so extremely corpulent that no horse could be found strong enough to bear his ponderous weight. Yet, fat as he grew, he preserved his splendid appetite in its first bloom.
The regiment in which Captain A. had long served, happening to pass Chantilly, the officers resolved to give a dinner to their old comrade. His oldest friend, who knew the captain's appetite best, asserted that though only twelve men were to sit down, dinner must be ordered for four-and-twenty. A pert young lieutenant replied that surely with a good dinner for twelve they could entertain one person more; but the old captain assured them that if Captain A. chose, Captain A. could eat the whole dinner himself. A bet was made of fifty louis by all the mess against the old captain, who instantly started in search of Captain A., to bring him at once to the spot.
He found his man at table. When he heard the cause of the visit, the captain seemed sorry.
"You've chosen a bad time, old friend," he said, with a half sigh, partly of regret, partly of repletion. "I have already taken three basins of puree, and have eaten this boiled leg of mutton, of which you see only the white handle. But, as I have long held you in esteem, I'll try and do something for you. Here, boy, my hat. Dear sir, I am at your service. At what inn are you?"
Arrived at the inn, Captain A. soon hid away the first and second course. The hostess then entered to say that a very fine pike had just arrived.
"Cook it madam," said Captain A., with the utmost gravity. "Cook it. And since, gentlemen, in your bet it was stipulated there should be no dessert, this pike can take its place."
The officers shrugged their shoulders, and seeing they had hopelessly lost, dispensed with this final proof of the captain's complaisance, secretly vowing, if they passed through Chantilly, never again to make experiments on this intrepid eater.
This reminds us of a story of those rude days of Figg and Broughton, cock-fighting, and bull-baiting, when spendthrift noblemen used to bet on eating matches. The trainer of one of these champion eaters, on one occasion having to write to Lord Sandwich, or whoever the backer was, and report progress, wrote thus:
The Norfolk Chicken is a leg of pork and a goose-pie ahead; but we shall pick up when we take to our pickles.
An epicure on the sick list is a pitiable sight. Numberless are the stories told of the expedients to which invalid epicures have resorted. The old Scotchman, limited to his glass of claret, took his dose in one of those glass wells that hold a quart. M. Delaboche, a Parisian epicure of eminence of the last century, was less fortunate. A rich financier, with all the mail couriers on his side, he had only to wish for a delicacy, to have it. He ate pâtés de foie gras as if they were cheesecakes, and truffles like cherries. But his wife, dreading widowhood, crossed him in all his tastes, so that he was obliged to shut himself up before he could eat what he liked and when he liked. At last he fell ill, and the first remedy that doctors prescribe to a gourmand is diet. The doctor's rules would have been ill observed, indeed, but for the cruel vigilance of madame, who locked up her husband and kept the keys: a nurse being her under jailer. The remedies were unpleasant but efficacious, and monsieur the financier began to amend. At last he was permitted to eat, and the doctor, knowing his patient's weakness, gave strict directions as to each day, prescribing first of all the white of a fresh egg, and a single slice of bread. The financier only wished that the egg he had to eat had been laid by an ostrich instead of a vulgar barn-door fowl, but he resolved to have his revenge on the bread. He ordered the longest baton of bread he could find in Paris; it was a yard and a half long, and weighed more than a pound. Madame would have fought over this, but there could be no doubt that the strict letter of the law had been maintained. The egg was served up with pomp, and the cook placed it on the bed of the sick man, whose eyes brightened with returning health as he sat up in bed eager for the fray. But too eagerly sucking the white of the egg, he unfortunately swallowed the yolk also. Miserable accident! unhappy precipitation! the bread was now useless. Madame instantly claimed it as forfeit, and bore it off on her shoulder with triumph, the egg-shell she clutched in her other hand. The financier fell back on his pillow, ill with sheer despair. He was not consoled until his first fit of indigestion. A year or two afterwards he died of an excess of pâtés de foie gras. It was this same artful invalid who, when the doctor had described his next dinner in writing as "une cuisse de poulet," added in a forged hand, "d'Inde,"[i.e a turkey] which gave far more solidity to the meal.
One of the most heartless things ever done was a trick once played on Pope, the epicurean actor. A wicked friend asked him to dine off a small turbot and a boiled aitchbone of beef, apologising for the humble fare with the usual feigned humility of friends. Why, it's the very thing I like," said Pope, in his reply, referring to the aitchbone. "I will come, my son, with all the pleasure in life."
He came, he saw, he ate; ate till he grew nearer the table, and could eat no more. He had just laid down his knife and fork, like a soldier tired of war's alarms, when a bell was rung, and in came a smoking haunch of venison. Pope saw the trick at once; he cast a look of bitter reproach upon his friend, trifled with a large slice, then again dropped his now utterly useless weapons, and burst into hysterical and unrestrainable tears. "A friend of twenty years' standing," he sobbed, "and to be deceived in this manner!"
One of the greatest vexations to a true epicure is to see the obtuse blunderings of an ignoramus who does not know what he is eating.
There is a good Yorkshire story admirably told by Mr. Hayward relating to this form of epicurean annoyance. At a grand dinner at Bishopsthorpe (in Archbishop Markbam's time) a dish of ruffs and reeves, that had been carefully fattened on boiled wheat, was accidentally placed in front of a silent shy young divine who had come up from some obscure nook of one of the Ridings to be examined for priests' orders, and had been asked to dine by his grace. Blushing, terribly self-conscious, and glad to occupy himself by eating any humble thing that could be got at without asking or drawing attention to his awkward and confused ways, he quietly cleared off three parts of the dish, being quite as hungry as he was nervous, till suddenly a fat rural dean, seeing the extent of the disaster, "called the attention of the company by a loud exclamation of alarm." It was too late—the last ruff had just joined the last reeve, and the young divine's hopes of speedy preferment had vanished with both. There is a rather similar story also told of a Scotch officer dining with the late Lord George Lennox, then commandant at Portsmouth. Lady Louisa Lennox, with charming artfulness, tried to lure off the gallant Scotchman to a more showy but inferior dish.
"Na, na, my leddy," was the stolid reply; "the wee birdies will do vara weel for me."
In the northern version of the story, the scene is laid at Rose Castle (where we believe it really did happen), and the unobservant divine is said to have replied, in the broadest Cumberland:
"No, thank you, my lordship, I'll stick to the lill (little) birds."
So, what was the appeal of the tiny birds called ruffs and reeves? They were tiny, and delicate, and difficult to catch, so the opposite of the large, solid, beasts of burden such as ox, nor as common and easy to rear as pigs and chickens, and therefore infinitely more desirable.
Ruffs and Reeves.
Ruffs and reeves are skewered in the same manner as quails; put bars of bacon over them; they will take about ten minutes roasting: put good gravy in the dish.
A Complete System of Cookery (1806) by John Simpson
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