In 1823 a French liberal economist called Jérôme-Adolphe Blanqui visited England and Scotland. The narrative of his travels was later published under the title Voyage d’un jeune Français en Angleterre et en Ecosse, pendant l’automne de 1823. The book was discussed at length and quoted from quite extensively in The Westminster Review (Vol. 4, 1825,) a quarterly British publication founded by the political radical Jeremy Bentham.
The editors of The Westminster Review justified their interest in the book thus:
The book we are now going to notice is neither the work of a slanderer of our women, our institutions and our manners, like the famous performance of the Knight of the Hulks, alias the Chevalier Pillet; nor is it the production of an outrageous Anglomane, furious in defence of everything English, for no other reason than because he misunderstands our language, and can misapply some misquoted passages from our poetry: but it is the genuine effusion of a genuine Frenchman, sufficiently inclined to libéralisme of all kinds, and equally disposed to regard with indulgence the barbarism of our customs, and with horror our treatment of his great idol Bonaparte. It is in short a publication, which will be looked upon in the French provinces, and among certain classes in the French capital itself, as an authority on the subject of England; and it is on this account, and because we know that it expresses the opinion of nine-tenths of the French, on the subject of English manners, that we shall notice it at so much length here.
Naturally, what is of most interest to us here on this blog is the French visitor’s view of English food:
…. At last the author is introduced, "avec le cérémonial inévitable, dans la salle à manger (dining-room).
“The dinner, without soup, consists of a raw and bloody beef-steak, plentifully powdered with pepper and spices, and covered with slices of horse-radish, similar, in appearance and size, to the chips which come from under the plane of the carpenter. The beef-steak is immediately followed by a plate or two of vegetables in naturalibus, that is to say, plain boiled: then a cruet-stand with five or six bottles, containing certain drugs, out of which you choose the ingredients necessary for giving some taste to the insipid mess. Sometimes a fowl succeeds these dishes of the primitive ages: but the English themselves agree that chickens with them, are tougher than beef, and therefore they prefer ducks. I was thus enabled to understand, why our deck on quitting Havre was so crowded with French fowls. [We appeal to every one who has ever been in France, whether the flesh of French fowls does not resemble ivory in all but whiteness.] The dinner finishes with a heavy tart made of cherries, plums, or apples, according to the season— taking care always to leave the stones in them.”
So much for the dinner—now for the wines and the dessert:
“The English have rather more variety in their drinks: the porter, the small beer, and the ale, which is between the two, and better than either. The wines in use are port, madeira, and sherry, which they drink always without water, though abundantly charged with brandy. From thence, perhaps, arises the bright scarlet complexions, injected with blue, and the carbuncled noses of almost all the English gastronomes. After the raw beef and potatoes were removed, we were consoling ourselves, in our absence from France, by talking of its glory and its pleasures, when the waiter appeared with the dessert, consisting of an enormous cucumber, flanked with four raw onions bedded in watercresses: des gateaux de plomb (plumb-cakes) worthy of their name, and what he called Cheshire cheese. At the sight of these preparations for poisoning us, we all deserted the table. Let it not be said that the description of a dinner is an unimportant matter: besides, English good cheer being absolutely the same in every inn, tavern, and hotel, in the three kingdoms, it is right to prepare Frenchmen for the enjoyments they are to expect on the other side of the channel.”
One of the most popular English cookery books at the time of M. Blanqui’s visit was Apicius Redivivus, or the Cook's Oracle, by the eccentric Dr. William Kitchiner, first published in 1817. The 1823 edition (I am not sure about the earlier editions) includes a recipe for “Potatoes fried in Slices or Shavings” – which you may or may not agree are a form of “chips,” “crisps,” or even “French Fries.” Take that, M. Blanqui.
Potatoes fried in Slices or Shavings.
Peel large potatoes, slice them about a quarter of an inch thick, or cut them in shavings round and round, as you would peel a lemon; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or dripping. Take care that your fat and frying-pan are quite clean; put it on a quick fire; watch it, and as soon as the lard boil, and is still, put in the slices of potatoe, and keep moving them until they are crisp; take them up and lay them to drain on a sieve; send them up with a very little salt sprinkled over them.
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