Friday, January 22, 2016

Foods of Luxury: Delicacies for the Wealthy; 1914.

Foods of Luxury: Delicacies for the Wealthy; 1914.

I invite you to read the following interesting article from The Times (London, England), of Monday, June 8th, 1914, and to then ponder upon the concept of luxury food items then and now. Please let me know your thoughts.

Foods of luxury should not be confused with foods that are expensive because they are out of season. A strawberry in the winter may cost half a crown, and prawns in a Paris restaurant are sometimes a franc apiece, but neither strawberries nor prawns are luxuries at the right time and in the right place. Caviar, oysters, and plovers’ eggs are luxuries, for they are difficult to obtain. Caviar becomes a super-luxury when, according to Cubtat’s practice in his Paris restaurant, a sturgeon is brought to table and the caviar is brought out of it on the spot. Turtles conveyed from the warm seas of the West that aldermen may dine on them rank high among luxuries, and so do their smaller cousins, the terrapins. The birds’ nests that the Chinese taught us to use in soup, and which bring to the sense of taste a memory of the sea, are food of luxury, but that other great Chinese delicacy, sharks’ fins, no one but  Chinaman can eat. The sea-slugs from the Seychelles are another delight from a far country that give a pleasant flavour to soup.
There could be no more suitable introduction to banquets, after we have trifled with the hors d’oeuvres – the anchovies Alici tartufate [Mozzarella with anchovies in truffle oil], the crayfish tails, the sardines with truffles, the Astrachan caviar, or the tunny fish à l’huile – than these soups which give a healthy glow to the system and stimulate the appetite for what follows. All manner of soups prepared for the table, from the lordly turtle to the tail of the kangaroo, the bêche de mer from Queensland, the Milanese potage d’escargot, and a host of others, are available for the Londoner, and can be enjoyed here in their full perfection, because these luxuries lend themselves so rapidly to preservation for their use. Fish in Great Britain ought not to be a luxury, for our seas and rivers teem with them. But our whitebait are not so toothsome fry as the nonnats of the Bay of Monaco, while to the ombre-chevalier of Lake Leman and the fogash of Lake Balaton we can show no equals. A fat quail is certainly a luxury, so is a canvas-back duck, and the little ortolan can creep in under that heading. Agneau de lait and the snowy white veal of Pontoise are luxuries in the wide list of meats, while asparagus, whether the great white stalks of Agenteuil or the more slender green plant of England, can claim the same distinction. Of tubers, the noble truffle is the acknowledged king. The pâtés are all in the list of luxury – the fatted geese livers of Strasburg, the ducks’ livers from the Midi of France, the pâté de Perigord aux truffles, and the woodcock pâtés of Belgium. Hams, whether Virginia peach-fed from America, or chestnut-fed and snow-cured from Traveles, near Granada, the ham of Bayonne, or of the other half-hundred varieties, come under the heading; and of fruit, British hothouse grapes and pines contest supremacy with mangoes from Bombay and Alpine strawberries. England has yet to learn the supreme delicacy of taste of the mangosteen of the Straits Settlements.
Certain luxuries depend to some extent upon mere association; thus the dainty little agone of the North Italian lakes must be eaten on a terrace overlooking Como, and we can scarcely believe that its reputation would be the same if we could enjoy it on a London breakfast table. There is a certain flat cream cheese with just a soupçon of the fragrance of wood-smoke from the forest which seems a little short of perfection, if eaten at Fontainebleau, in the vicinity of the chasselas vines, but we question if it would ever seem quite the same elsewhere. No doubt modern skill as brought within the epicure’s reach, well preserved in transparent glass, many of the delicacies of foreign lands, but it is too often found that, away from the scenes where we once considered their flavour to be so admirable they lose much of their persuasive power to tickle the palate. We can no more bottle up the sunshine than we can bring away the haunting grace of the surrounding that gave more than half their charms to many of these well-remembered dainties, and so time and place must ever have their share in the subtle effect produced by their merits. The mushroom gathered from the dewy pastures in the early morning may challenge comparison with the hothouse product of the market gardener, but to the refined taste the champignon plucked from the rings where the fairies have danced puts both into the shade by its superlative excellence.
A peacock roasted and then reclad in the skin with the superb tail feathers duly displayed no doubt made goodly show in point of decorative effect, but, apart from that, it would not command the epicure’s respect. The partridge, the pheasant, and the grouse have now become so common that we scarcely include them among luxuries, but the lark or mauviette carefully wrapped in bacon and served upon toast is a toothsome morsel, The snipe and the woodcock rank high among the smaller game birds, and many of the ducks which visit this country are splendid for the table, though they should be eaten almost raw or very lightly cooked. Though it is not given in modern times to destroy the nightingale to obtain it tongues which might be here find place, from the carefully smoked tongue of the ox to that of the reindeer or the tender tongue of the lamb, cunningly enshrined in clear aspic. Sheeps’ tongues and Russian ox tongues are among the choice viands prepared for the breakfast table, and several varieties of cooked tongue, whether rolled in glasses or collared in tins, may almost claim inclusion among the present list of dainties.
There are those who scoff at the results of the cold storage system in the matter of luxuries, and at the possibility of bringing over by this means many delicacies from foreign lands in the ice chamber. Except, perhaps, in the case of certain fruits, the success of this mode of transport is by no means free from cavil, but the plan has hardly received fair treatment from the epicure’s point of view, for as yet little has been attempted with rare and choice morsels. The aim of the importer is to convey meat and foreign produce in bulk; and hitherto, with the exception of butter, dairy produce, and fruit, the possibility of freezing and transporting table delicacies has received but little attention. It is obvious that there are difficulties to be overcome in the conveyance of the frozen products from the ship’s hold to the table, and the case is very different from that in which commodities such as entire carcasses of animals are being handled in large quantities. We do not despair of the solution of the problem in the near future, when it may be possible to enjoy the guava, the mangosteen, and many other Oriental fruits in their prime. Indeed, judging by the success with which peaches, nectarines, and other delicate fruits have been brought from South Africa and Australia the ultimate issue is no longer doubtful.
In no other department of luxuries for the table do we rely more implicitly upon the skill of the French cuisine than in the matter of sweet-meats and confectionery – whether it be the delicately flavoured chocolate of Marquis; the Parisian crystallised flowers – the acacia, the rose leaves, the orange blossom, and the violet; the glacé fruits in rings and knot, the lunettes and the mirabelles; the caramels à la vanilla, or le Rajah; the marrons glacés vanillés and a score of other delicacies. All these and a host of others, too numerous to mention, have only to be named to remind the epicure of the French capital.

Your luxury recipe for the day is from The Art of rench Cookery (1827) by Antoine Beauvilliers.

To roast Woodcocks and Snipes. Bécasses, Bécassines, &. À la Broche.
Prepare three woodcocks without opening them, take off the skin of the head, truss up their feet and use their beaks for skewering them; choose the leanest and lard it; barb the other two; pass a skewer between the thighs and fix the ends to the spit; half an hour will do them; baste them and lay three toasts in the dripping pan to receive their fat; when ready to serve take them up, dish the bread, and lay the woodcocks over it.
Another Way. Autre Manière de les servir a la Broche.

Draw or empty the woodcocks by the back, take out the neck, mince, and add about half the quantity of rasped lard with the intestines, a little minced parsley, young onions and shalots, salt and pepper; stuff the woodcocks, sew them up, cover them with slices of bacon, and finish as above. If they are to be served to the English, send to table with them a bread sauce.

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