So much food writing today seems to focus on the fearful – the real or imagined or uncertain dangers of eating this or that or the other. Whether it be obesity-inducing, environmentally damaging, ethically unconscionable, or ruinous to health it seems that there is scarcely a food which we are not invited or exhorted to avoid. Even simple salad greens are now claimed to be a method of using vast tracts of farmland to deliver water with negligible nutrients to the table – especially as the evidence is that most of it is tossed out long before it gets into the bowl.
How refreshing to read the words of a champion – and a medical man at that - of the multi-course dinner! Our writer’s words are admittedly tongue-in-cheek, but I challenge you not to smile and nod as you read the following extract from the Evening Post (Wellington New Zealand) of December 29, 1910
DOCTORS DEFENCE OF LONG MENU.
A spirited defence of the modern many-course dinner was made in a highly instructive lecture on “Eccentricities of Diet,” by Dr. Soltau Fenwick at the Institute of Hygiene, London, recently. The dinner menu of today, Dr. Fenwick explained, was not the result of custom or fashion, but had gradually been evolved from the scientific study of the true needs of digestion.
The various roles played by the different courses are shown below:-
Hors d’Oeuvres. – A delicate, salty attempt to stimulate the flow of saliva in the mouth, and to warm the various digestive organs to get ready.
Soup.- The greatest digestive stimulant known to physioologists – that is, a solution of meat extract in hot water.
Fish and Entrée. Both soft-fibred and easily digestible articles, to lead up to the
Meat and Vegetables. – The relatively indigestible, filling part of the meal.
Game.- An attempt to tickle the waning appetite and quench the last pangs of hunger.
Savoury. A final salty stimulus to the flagging digestion.
Sweets have no real place in the scientific dinner, as they only dull the sense of taste. Ices, Dr. Fenwich condemns as only fitted for filling cavities in hollow teeth. Their origin, he suggests, can probably be traced back to some misanthropic and dyspeptic chef.
Just as an animal sometimes will fall asleep even before a heavy meal is completed (on account of the anaemia of the brain during digestion), so man often suffers from post-prandial somnolence very detrimental to the talkativeness society demands of the diner-out. To counteract this, coffee ends the meal, because it stimulates the higher nervous centres and keeps us awake.
The English love of the savoury last course (historically) is well-known. The following would be entirely suitable for a final course at dinner, or at supper.
A Pretty Savoury Dish.
Put a potato border round a dish an inch and a half high, make four compartments with the potatoes barred across the ashet [large flat plate], brush them over with yolk of egg, and Press mashed potatoes through a fine cullender all over them; brown nicely, either in the oven or before the fire, and fill them with different small stews; a curry of small stewed veal cutlets, mutton kidneys broiled, palates in shapes in white sauce, and sweet-breads sliced and fried; dressed vegetables often fill up one or two of the spaces, and pastry may be used instead of potatoes.
Cookery and Domestic Economy (Glasgow 1862) by Mary Somerville.