Robinson Crusoe Quote

"He preferred, however, "gourmandization," was an idolater of a certain decent, commodious fish, called a turtle, and worshipped the culinary image wherever he nozed it put up."
---The Contradiction (1796)

Monday, 30 May 2011

Trouble in Paradise

A fellow researcher at the Freemason's Lodge sent me this reference last week, dating from the 1720s.  (Thanks, Andrew.)

"We had a good dinner, and, to their eternal honour, the brotherhood laid about them very valiantly. They saw then their high dignity; they saw what they were, acted accordingly, and shewed themselves (what they were) men. The Westphalia hams and chickens, with good plum pudding, not forgetting the delicious salmon, were plentifully sacrificed, with copious libations 90 of wine for the consolation of the brotherhood. But whether, after a very disedifying manner their demolishing huge walls of venison pasty, be building up a spiritual house, I leave to brother Eugenius Philalethes to determine.  However, to do them justice, I must own, there was no mention made of politics or religion, so well do they seem to follow the advice of that author. And when the music began to play, “Let the king enjoy his own again,” they were immediately reprimanded by a person of great gravity and science."

Handbooks dealing with the secrets of the Brethren like to point out the society's emphasis on temperance, moderation and fraternity.  But judging from this excerpt, this doesn't exactly seem to be the case.  Demolishing walls of venison pasty??  Damn.  I want in.  

But lest this makes you believe that Masonic feasts were all about indulgence, I found this very angry letter that seems to paint a somewhat different picture.  Addressed the Grand-Master of the society, it was written in May of 1791, shortly after the annual feast. 

Dear Sir,
I have receiv’d your very polite letter and in return, am to inform you that when I followed my senior to the table every chair was taken, except ONE and that of Right belonged to brother Lewis.  Not any person would make room for me, and I was reduced to the disagreeable situation at the end of the Table, where the Dishes were to be handed over my back, for 200 people, and a door continually opening at any head by which I got a violent cold and have been very ill. 
            Such treatment, I may say such rudeness to a Man near 70 years of age who hath been 25 years a loyal Officer and a laborious Servant to the Society, and who never was accustomed to scrambles for a Chair, was too mortifying and too degrading.  It did not become me to trouble the Grand Master with a complaint at that time or to enter into altercation with any person. If you saw me in that uncomfortable place, you had authority by your office to have placed one in any proper Seat. 
            I was necessitated to leave the hall before the second course was brought on, being unable any longer to bear the crowd of servants at my back. this has determin’d me to withdraw from a society, where I was treated with such disrespect....

Guess there's always a crotchety kill-joy in the pack.  But it made me wonder what exactly was going on at these dinners, and how the experience of dining might change over time.  By 1813, the "festive board" –– ie. the party –– and the Masonic ritual had been separated entirely.  Are these dinners gradually becoming more civilized?  And if so, why?   

Friday, 27 May 2011

Freemasonry and Celebrity Chefs

I've been spending time at the Freemasons Hall as of late, and ran across this newspaper clipping today.   It comes from Lloyds Evening Post, and was published on the 26th of February 1790.

“MICHAEL RUHOLD, who lately kept the Tavern at Madrass, and JOHN MOLLARD, late a Partner and cook at the London Tavern, respectfully inform the Public, that they have taken the Free Masons Tavern, in Great Queen-Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which has been rebuilt upon an enlarged Plan, and fitted up in the genteelest Style, that they have laid in a large Assortment of the choicest Wines, and propose to open their House on Thursday the 4th of March, when they solicit the Favour of their Friends and the Public, assuring them that no Pains will be spared to merit their Encouragement. 
N.B.  The largest Companies may be commodiously entertained."

A 19th century illustration of Freemason's Tavern
Making a point of Mollard's previous employer was no accident.  The London Tavern was a pretty big deal in the latter half of the 18th century, and just like today, working at a prestigious eating establishment could give a cook some much needed celebrity caché.

The same was true when it came to cookbooks.  Ten years later, Mollard came out with The Art of Cookery made Easy and Refined, which, considering the fact that it ran into five editions by 1836, didn't do so badly with the public.

I was checking it out today, and was rather impressed with its scope.  There are recipes for all the English staples: pea soups, 'meat cakes with savory jelly,' and turtle, both real and "mock."  But there are also quite a few dishes that proclaim their international flare; French names are littered throughout the book, as well as things done "the German way" or "the Spanish way."  There are even three different recipes for curry.  But I didn't really know what to make of all of this.  Was there anything particularly "Masonic" about this cookery book?

Other than being associated with the Freemason's Tavern, the cookbook never mentions the so-called "Royal Art."  Perhaps that isn't wholly surprising.  Even though the tavern was attached to the grand lodge, you didn't have to be part of the Brethren in order to enjoy a meal there.  In fact, it was often rented out for private events that had nothing to do with Freemasonry at all.

One recipe, however, caught me eye: "Solomongundy."  Salmagundi, I knew, was a sort of meat-vegetable-condiment salad ... a handy way for 18th century cooks to use up all of their leftovers.  But "Solomongundy?"  It couldn't have anything to do with Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, which was so important to Masonic legend?  Could it?

Alas, dear readers.  I poked around a little more and I found this alternate spelling wasn't so unusual after all.  Dead end.  The subject of Masonic dining in the 18th century is full of tantalizing clues –– references to "demolishing huge walls of venison pasty" and "leg of mutton masons" –– but getting an idea of how food functioned in rituals and social life was harder than I thought.

It being around tea-time, I went across the street to satiate my frustration in a more contemporary English treat, meat salads being harder to come by these days.

Yet another fabulous scone with cream and raspberry jam ... 
But if you feel inspired to whip one up ...  

John Mollard's "Solomongundy:"
“Chop small and separately lean of boiled ham, breast of dressed fowl, picked anchovies, parsley, omlets of eggs white and yellow (the same kind as for garnishing), shallots, a small quantity of pickle cucumbers, capers, and beet root. Then rub a saucer over with fresh butter, put it in the center of the dish, and make it secure from moving.  Place round it in partitions the different articles separately till the saucer is covered, and put on the rim of the dish some slices of lemon.”

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Calves-Head Conundrum Continues

History has shown us that all sorts of foods we eat –– frogs, fries, falafel –– can carry quite a bit of political weight, but with all this mudslinging of the Calves Head Club, I started wondering if its traitorous and blasphemous associations carried over into England’s eating and cooking habits at large. 

What were cookery books saying about calves heads?  Who was eating them?  One would think a monarchy-friendly cookery book such as Patrick Lamb’s Royal Cookery, or the Compleat Court Cook (1726) would eschew calves head concoctions.  Right?

Not so much.  I found not one but four calves head delicacies. 

--“Roasted:” Skull and mouth stuffed with oysters and marrow, then slow roasted on a spit.

--“Hashed:” Strong gravy and white wine jus, mixed with forc’d meat balls of veal. 

--“Dressed:” brains and tongue, seasoned with sweet herbs, lemon peel.  Garnished with barberries and horseradish.

-- “Patty of Calves Brains” (In case my intrepid readers feel up to trying this at home, I included the recipe below.) 

“Clean the Brains very well, and scald them: Then blanch some Asparagus-Tops in a Sauce-pan, with a little Butter and Parsly.  When they are cold, put them in the Patty with the Brains, the Yolks of five or six hard Eggs, and some of the forc’d Meat, for which you have the Directions in Letter F. When it is bak’d, squeeze in the Juice of a Lemon, pour in some drawn Butter and Gravy: So serve it. 

So it doesn’t seem like any of the negative publicity caused cooks to raise any eyebrows.  In fact, by the 1760s, calves head had earned the status of the “mock turtle” in "mock turtle soup."  (And lest you assume by the word “mock” that this dish was intended for the lower classes, I would like to point out that even the cosmopolitan and rather aristocratic Thursday’s Club dined on it repeatedly)

Another Calves Head Image from the 1734 Riot
The head is being held above the bonfire
(See the last post for the 'view from inside')
Thus, neither the political consternation nor the visceral disgust elicited by the Calves Head Club had anything to do with the fact that one was eating ... well... a head.  It was the context –– the ritual and its treasonous tenor –– that provoked events like the image of the 1734 riot you can see on the left. 

I found only one reference to actual gustatory sensations associated with the club.  But instead of describing dinner, it describes the character of a typical "Calves Head Clubb Man." 

“…when he disputes his Principles he is as Hot as Pepper, as biting as Mustard, and as sower as Vinegar…. and snuffs up his Nose at the Name of the King, as if the very Title it self was grown offensive to his Nostrils.” 

Perhaps the sense of taste is being politically mobilized in some way or another.  But it appears in a very different way that one would expect.  

Monday, 23 May 2011

Regicidal Delights

I found this in the British Library a little while ago, and I haven't yet decided what to make of it.

“A True Bill of Fare for the Calves Head Feast, 1710”

For Bread, Beer and Ale- 3.10.0
For Fifty Calves Heads- 5.5.0
For bacon- 1.10.0
For 6 chickens and 2 capons- 1.00.0
For three joints of Veal- 1.18.0
For butter and flower- 0.15.00
For Oranges, Lemmons, Vinegar and spices- 1.0.0.
For anchovies capers and samphire- 0.5.0
For oysters and sausages- 0.15.0
For sorril, sage, paresely, sweet herbs, and onions- 0.05.0
For the use of pewter and linen- 1.0.0.
For firing in the kitchen- 0.15.0
For firing in the parlour- 0.3.0
For boat hire and porterage- 0.05.0
For cook’s wages- 0.15.0
For garnishing and stewing- 0.05.0

Total 18.6.0

That's all that's on the page, save for this additional note:

That a sett of men were wicked enough to meet and feast according to this bill of fare in the year of our Lord 1710, and that this was truly the bill of their eatables, besides drink, was attested to me by one of honour and reputation, and in a considerable publick post, who had the bill at first hand.
This I do attest,
A. Campbell, London, 1711

Fifty calves heads?  What kind of party was this?  Well, turns out it was a very anti-monarchical one indeed.
More bovine or goat-like?

The Calves Head Club was ostensibly founded in celebration of the beheading of the incompetent and unlucky monarch Charles I in 1649.  The members apparently got together every January 30th (the anniversary of his execution) to drink wine out of calves heads with the brains scooped out.

Jonathan Swift summed it up most poetically (and pretty succinctly):

"The meat shall represent the TYRANT'S head
The Wine, his blood, our Predecessors shed"

I always thought King Charles' quintessential Van-Dyke beard looked rather goat-like, but a calf?  Ehh.  It's a stretch.

Anyway, back to what's important: the food.  Look at all this seasoning.  The Bill of Fare (which is really a Bill of Charges) seems to indicate that every member of the club got his own head from which to drink.  Which means that all these other items –– the bacon, the capers, the anchovies, onions and herbs –– would have gone into the seasoning.  Who knew that regicide could be so tasty?

Nevertheless, I was left with more questions.  How did this ritual work?  Did the cooks whip something up with the brains, and then leave the heads as the drinking vessels?  Did you get your own, or were they passed around in some kind of anti-royal health?  Can you even drink out of something so large and unwieldy?  How did the dish prepared compare to other calves head recipes?  And why isn't wine (a crucial part of the ritual) included in the list of expenses?

Then I ran across this print from a few decades later, which depicts the entire ritual in a very different way.  (It is based on the story of a riot that, according to the Gentleman's Magazine, actually occurred.)

"The true effigies of the calf's club" 1734 

Note that the calf's head (just one this time) is relegated to a symbolic centerpiece and stripped of its more 'practical' function.  The deceased monarch's blood is enjoyed from a rather conventional looking wine-glass.  The caption mentions a feast, but there are neither plates nor silverware nor side-dishes on the table.

What accounts for these different depictions of the ritual?  It may be that all the negative publicity spawned a lot of copy-cat societies.  Or maybe there were just a lot of very imaginative Tory polemicists out there, all of whom were eager to make their opponents look like blasphemous king-killing maniacs.

But either way, why was it in this form –– a private eating society –– that political beliefs and fears were expressed?

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Cyder Fruite RULES

In 1672, John Beale wrote to his friend, the great chemist Robert Boyle, complaining about how the English predilection for foreign wine was draining the country's wealth.

"I am told that in our late Warre with Holland, 1665, the French began to interdict trade with England, till an accomplished showed their King that by trade we were pensioners to france, merely for their wines, to the value of some millions of money yearly...."


"... that by trading for French wines, in the perilous months of Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec, we loose more shipping and more seamen than by all our other trade." 

At this rate, Beale continues, we are practically asking for a French invasion, just "as Saxons, Danes and Normans have done."

Beale is talking about one very specific commodity, but he seems to be bringing up a somewhat larger question.  How do you control one's taste?  Which tastes are morally sound, and which tastes are more questionable?  And most importantly, what was one to do about it?

For Beale, one beverage held all the answers.

"Cyder Fruite"
There are many possible explanations for the cider vogue of the 1660s and 70s, the nuances of which are far beyond the humble ruminations of a grad-student food blogger.

But what I do want to point out is that the promotion of "Cyder Fruite" is often justified and rationalized by the sense of taste.  

For example, Beale boasts that his expertise lies in his acute sensory abilities.

"I can tell you, I have a nice palate, and some famous vinters have wish’t my taste, and for 5 years or thereabouts I have heretofore confin’d myself to wines of all sorts, French, Italian, Spanish and Grecian, and upon this presumption I have busied myself to discern all essays upon cider and perry these twenty years at least."  

(Clearly, modesty was a completely foreign concept to Beale.)

Beale never actually says that the best cider tasted better than the best French Bordeaux.  Who would have taken him seriously then?  However, he argued that a very good cider was always tastier than a mediocre French wine, and leagues tastier than any pathetic English attempt to make wine.  And the many varieties of local cider apples and pears –– the "feminine" Gennet-Moyl, the hardy Red-Strake –– could support the same culture of connoisseurship that wine did.  Through aging, mixing, and the addition of sundry spices, cider could be manipulated to taste like almost anything.

The late 17th century saw an
explosion of cider related publications
So what's next?  All we have to do, Beale says, is get the King to plant a few "Cyder-Orchards" at his palaces mansions.  Knowing that taste was difficult to extricate from social emulation, the whole country would follow his example, and, he wistfully concludes, "every Peasant would be a Gentleman."  Another writer claims that cider that is excessively "vinous" or wine-like, will “make the country-man think himself a lord, as the hard apple cider will do.”  For a moment, perhaps, tastes, both elite and common, could potentially see eye to eye. 

But by the beginning of the 18th century, these dreams of a whole kingdom running on cider have pretty much disappeared.  An article in The Tatler from 1709 laments the spread of bootleg foreign luxuries, such as “Bourdeaux out of a slow" and "champagne from an apple.”  Clearly, somewhere John Beale's vision had failed.  Cider never attained the prestige that imported wines did, and it certainly couldn't replace them in elite urban circles.  So much for the authentically "English" taste.   

As reading all this cider scholarship on a nice day can make one rather thirsty, I hit up the local grocery store post Guildhall this afternoon. 

Waitrose Cider Selection, Islington

There are many tasty things in London that don't come cheap, but luckily, cider isn't one of them.  Compared to the hefty San Francisco import mark-up, 1.85 pounds at Waitrose makes Henney's dry cider both a bargain and a pleasant refreshment.  

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Sandwich-Man of Clerkenwell

In my last Treatise to the Publick, I promised my Readers that I would address a very peculiar Rumour concerning Sandwiches in Clerkenwell that are fresh, healthfull, and pleasing to both the Taste and Wallet.  My Curiosity piqu'd, and Appetite whet (I had been reading about the Lord Mayor's Banquet all Morning) I set out to taste these Sandwiches of legend.

This journey from the Archive was but severall Blocks, and when I came to the Destination (a Garage on E------ Street) my Eyes were confounded by the impressive Selection at hand.

Selection at the Sandwich-Man
Persons of all Kinds grappled for Chicken Piri-Piri Baguettes, and rifled through Hummus Wraps, and so I was loathe to excessively linger.  But just as I was about to pay for my Sandwich, I became privy to a whole Range of additional Offerings: Sallets, Samosas, Muffins, Crisps, Granola Bars and fresh Fruit.  And as the female Palate is inevitably prejudiced in Favour of the Vegetable Kingdom, I readily purchased two Sallets in addition to the Sandwich.  Total cost: 3.30.

Roast-Beef and Egg-and Cress (90p)
The Egg-Sallet hath much Flavour and a pleasing Texture.  The Roast-Beef with Arugala was a little dry to my Palate, which I believe could have been partially ameliorated by dressing the Sandwich with Mayo in addition to the French Mustard.

Halloumi Sallet (90p)

The Halloumi Sallet contain'd Tomatoes, Snap Pease, Halloumi Cheese, Spinage, Cabbage and Rice, accompany'd with a Balsamick Dressing on the Side.  While the Cheese was a little Salty to my Taste (as Halloumi is often wont to do) and the Rice slightly deficient in Flavour (and methinks slightly superfluous to the overall Sallet Composition at large) I nevertheless found the Ingredients fresh, and well worth the 90p price tag.

The Winner: Chicken Biryani
Sallet (1.50)
As my Eye's Lust had far exceeded that of my Appetite, I was not able to give you an account of the Chicken Biryani Sallet: which contain'd Rice, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Chickpeas, Sultana-Grapes and Grilled-Chicken.  However, I had the good Fortune to eat this Hindoo Delight just now, wash'd down with a goodly English Ale.  In terms of Flavour, it hath far exceeded the rest; the Chicken was tender and well season'd to the Taste, containing hints of Coriander, Mint and Lemon.

But the Hour grows late, worthy Reader, and so I put down my pen, writes,

The New Arabella,

Saturday, 14 May 2011

To Eat in or Take-Away? The Best and Worst Archive Lunches

A Meditation upon the Inimical Cost of VICTUALS in the Archives in LONDON


A QUEST for a Goodly and Healthfull LUNCH

Compleat with a Review of the Best and Worst Meals to be had in the Archives

which the Author hopes will be of Particular use to Commoners, Paupers, Labourers, and Graduate Students.

(In the Manner of CERVANTES)


It is a melancholy Object to those who walk through this great Towne or travel in the Country, when they see the Food-Carts, the Pubs, the Restaurants, crowded with Students of both Sexes, holding their Mole-Skines, their Eye-Pads, their Lap-Tops, all in Fleece and importuning each Vendor for a Sample.  These Students, unable to subsist on their meager University-Funding, are forc’d to employ all their time trolling Sainsbury’s for Two-for-One ‘Innocent’ Smoothies and Pumpkin and Sunflower Seed Oat-Cakes.  Indeed, blessed Readers, even some of the more modest London Eating Houses can wreak harm upon the Student's Purse.  And as Diogenes, the Cynick, hath so publickly (and perhaps disgracefully) shewn, Man’s Hunger cannot be sated with the mere Rubbing of his Stomack.

Our History is rife with tales of foolish Hidalgos, and innocent Maidens, who are seduc’d by the most ludicrous and puerile Romances.  Yet permit me to inquire, my gentle Reader, which be more inimical to the Imagination: the Romance? Or the Bill of Fare?  What happens to the young and impressionable Lady, who, occasion’d by this strange and unnatural Hobby-Horse, hath ingested too many Cookery Books?  Alas, dear Reader, I pity the poor Soul who hath developed a Taste for Haunches of Venison and Croquants of Pine Apple, but is unjustly compell’d to subsisteth on Ale and Butter’d Bread!  The wicked and hungry Eye may causeth humble Chicken-Fingers to look like Roast Fowles with Bacon, or common Cyder to look like Champagne, just like the dying Man in the Desert believes he sees Water where there existeth nothing but Sand.  But the Palate never deceiveth.  And so these cursed Souls are coerc’d by Necessity to practice the Virtues of Pythagorus, but never by Lady Taste alone. 

I have painted for my Readers a woefull Picture.  However, for the Benefit of the wise and judicious Publick (particularly those in want of Monies) I hath compil’d a few Words regarding the Midday-Fare in the Archives of London, so that they may have an agreeable and oeconomical Meal.

Best: The Royal Society on Carlton Terrace.  A Grand-Sallet unrivalled by those of Mr. Evelyn costeth but 2.0.45.  Don’t expect too much from the Made-Dishes (Fish Currie over a Jacket Potatoe = not the best)  but when it comes to traditional English Fare, even the most delicate Palates will be pleas’d with the Cod, Chips and Mushy Pease

Worst: The Wellcome Institute on E------ Road.  The Café is catered by Peyton and Byrne, which generally pleaseth the Palate … if your Appetite is not suppress’d by the great Expense (ie. you’re going to shell out 10-15 bones).  Furthermore, the Variety and Selection is far inferior to that of the British Library, and if one dare to bringeth his own Lunch, he can only eat it in the corner of the Lobby, adjacent to a scientifick Exhibit on “DIRT.” 

If Any Body wishes to lend his Thoughts and Opinions upon this very urgent Matter, please either write to the Lady of Quality or leave a Comment to the Publick, requests

Your humble and obedient Servant,


Post-Script- My next Treatise will address a very peculiar Rumour that there are healthfull and pleasing Sandwiches near the Archive in Clerkenwell that costeth but 90d.  

Stay Tuned.   

Friday, 13 May 2011

Another Mystery Menu

As promised, below is the 'bill of fare' for dinner on the 26th of December, 1755.  

His Majesty’s Dinner on the Following Day

First Course
A Fool’s head with a Lilliputian Sauce, garnish’d with Oaths.
A roasted Turnspit
The revenue of being proud in a pye
The Grand Seignour’s Dominions roasted
Side Dishes
An unruly Member
The best part of an Office
The inside of a Snuff Box roasted
A Maid with Jump Sauce, surrounded with Beaus fool’s Coats
A Dutch princesses pudding

Second Course
The Conveyors of Venus roasted
A couple of Threshing poets
The Divine part of Mortals fry’d
The Supposters of a Squeaker Stew’d

Third Course
Three Dragons swimming in Cows blood and Indian powder
Quagmires, quintessence of Toes, sweet Turds and a transparent Cock standing in the middle
Three fiery Devils smother’d in their own Dung
Side Dishes
Two Quakers hashed
A Sign in the Zodiack butter’d

The Desert
A plate of Oxford scholars
A plate of Couplers
A plate of prize Fighters
A plate of Mischief Makers
A plate of Two hundred thousand pounds 

The Joke of a puppet Shew
Counterfeit Agony
The twelfth part of a Chaldron of Coales
A Soliders Habitation, with a pretty Lady in it

Half a hundred of the best plantation to play upon the hinden part of a Hog

But is there any logic behind this?  

"The Divine Part of Mortals fry'd?"  
-- Does he mean a fried soul?  (The philosopher René Descartes famously claimed the soul to be located in the pineal gland.)  Even at the time, however, he got a lot of flack for this.  So is the writer trying to imply that a dish of fried brains is on the menu?  
-- Or is this a sole?  (Soles were certainly consumed in 18th century England... in one cookery book alone, I found recipes to boil them, fry them, fricassee them, and bake them into a pie.)  

"A Sign of the Zodiack butter'd?"
-- Well, we know that many of the twelve astrological signs were edible.  
-- Could this mean a butter'd goat (Capricorn) bull (Taurus) or fish (Pisces)?   

The only thing that really makes sense is the structure of the 'bill of fare' itself.  From the organization of the meal –– first course, second course, liquors, desserts, etc –– we can get a sense of how the bill of fare would look on the table.  Fortunately, contemporary cookery books included many of these "maps" that orchestrated the placement of dishes for special occasions.  

Table setting for the first course
from The London Art of Cookery

I've looked at hundreds of these things, and they never actually show an illustration of the dish.  Perhaps cookery writers wanted the readers to fill in the gaps with their own gastronomic fantasy.  Or perhaps illustrations just cost too much money.  I've always interpreted them as kind of a culinary cock tease –– whetting the imagination with ideas of epicurean pleasure without actually satiating the appetite.  

But this bill of fare defies all description.  Are we supposed to be enticed or revolted?     

Monday, 9 May 2011

The King's Feast

We usually credit the Victorians with the invention of most of our Christmas "traditions. "  But when it comes to the dinner, their 18th century predecessors practiced plenty edible customs of their own.  In her best-selling cookbook from 1747, Hannah Glasse included a recipe for "a Yorkshire Christmas Pye:" a novelty gift made of turkey, goose, partridge, pidgeon, woodcock, rabbit, “and what sort of wild Fowl you can get.” [1] Mince pie was also a beloved holiday treat suitable for raucous tavern celebrations.  The Royal Society's illustrious and oh-so-exclusive dining club enjoyed it without fail every year.[2]  

Getting in the Holiday Spirit: 1763
Dinner at the Mitre Tavern, Strand
(Mince Pie generally contained currants, apples, lemons, suet, beef,
"mountain" wine and brandy)
Those of more limited means were by no means excluded from edible traditions.  Plumb pudding was standard fare even for those who toiled in the workhouses around Westminster.  And in 1802, the Foundling Hospital’s matron requested Malaga raisins, allspice, ginger, and 28 pounds of suet for the orphan children’s “Christmas Puddings.”[3]  Up and down the social scale, holiday meals meant serious business.  

Especially for royalty.  A while back, I had stumbled across two elaborate royal menus hidden away in the British Library's manuscript collection, but I fear that they won't arouse your hunger.[4]  Most of the dishes are "disguised" in elaborate word puzzles.  Many of them sound downright disgusting.  "Quintessence of Toes," anyone?  Perhaps the denizens of the 18th century would find these puzzles hilarious, but the jokes are all but lost on us modern readers.  See for yourself below.  

The King in Question:
King George II (1727-1760) 
Bill of Fare for
His Majesty’s Dinner on Christmas Day 1755

First Course
Top Dish
The House of a Bird with the Life and Death of a Calf, season’d with Lord Mayor’s pride and Welshman’s Delight, and garnished with an Old Woman of ninety.
This was a soup.
The Remove
The fleet of Conveyance
Starrs broil’d with Lawyers fees for Sauce, garnish’d with Horses
Bottom Dishes
Fragments of the preserve of Rome in a pye.
The Sign of the going out of March divided with the Debtors Security, Sweet Wine, and the produce of a Walking Stick.
Side Dishes
Eternal pikes broil’d
The Imposters Earring ragou’d

Second Course
Furrows roasted.
An unruly Member chop’t small and mix’d with reason, and confin’d in a Courtier's promise.
The Top of Corn roasted
These were the Top, bottom and middle Dishes.
Side Dishes
Colour’d Boards fricasee’d with Stationer’s Ware
The bash of a Jest burnt
A Ragou of Slops, with the Original of Eternal pikes, and the sweet support of Life and small.


If this wasn't enough to sate your appetite, our anonymous record-keeper included a second menu for the next day.  So save some room for more!    

His Majesty’s Dinner on the Following Day

First Course
A Fool’s head with a Lilliputian Sauce, garnish’d with Oaths.
A roasted Turnspit
The revenue of being proud in a pye
The Grand Seignour’s Dominions roasted
Side Dishes
An unruly Member
The best part of an Office
The inside of a Snuff Box roasted
A Maid with Jump Sauce, surrounded with Beaus fool’s Coats
A Dutch princesses pudding

Second Course
The Conveyors of Venus roasted
A couple of Threshing poets
The Divine part of Mortals fry’d
The Supposters of a Squeaker Stew’d

Third Course
Three Dragons swimming in Cows blood and Indian powder
Quagmires, quintessence of Toes, sweet Turds and a transparent Cock standing in the middle
Three fiery Devils smother’d in their own Dung
Side Dishes
Two Quakers hashed
A Sign in the Zodiack butter’d

The Desert
A plate of Oxford scholars
A plate of Couplers
A plate of prize Fighters
A plate of Mischief Makers
A plate of Two hundred thousand pounds 

The Joke of a puppet Shew
Counterfeit Agony
The twelfth part of a Chaldron of Coales
A Soliders Habitation, with a pretty Lady in it

Half a hundred of the best plantation to play upon the hinden part of a Hog

Some of these dishes are obviously intended to disgust.  It's hard to argue with the "sweet turds" and "three devils smothered in dung."  Yet after giving it some thought, I realized that some of these dishes might not be so bad after all.  Many of them seem to be in code:

"The Divine Part of Mortals Fry'd" - Might this be fried sole?"  

"The Grand Seignor's Domains Roated" - The Grand Seigneur was none other than the Sultan of Turkey.  Guess our holiday palates have not changed as much as one might think!  

 "The Revenue of Being Proud in a Pie" - Could this be a humble pie?  Who knows what secret meat-treats lie beneath this delicate crust?  

If the history buffs and crossword-nuts out there in the blogosphere join forces, I am sure we can solve this foodie puzzle.  Happy Holidays, and Happy Sleuthing! 

[1] Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (London, 1748) 145.
[2] Royal Society Club Dinner Books (Royal Society Archives: RSC Papers.)
[3] Foundling Hospital Subcommittee Minutes, December 18, 1802. (LMA Archives: A/FH/A/3/5/25.)
[4] If you would like to check them out yourself go to MSS 15956 in the British Library.  Sadly, the library doesn't allow pictures.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Cheyne's Rules: On Punch

Allow me to introduce a new correspondent on this blog: Dr. George Cheyne, Scottish physician and nutrition guru (he even ran his own wellness spa cum resort for a while).  But he was probably most famous for his best-selling self-help books and extreme weight fluctuations (at his peak he was 450 pounds).

Kind of like the Oprah of the 1720s.

Anyway, Cheyne wrote volumes and volumes about what one should and shouldn't eat.  He had thoughts about everything from raising livestock to how to sleep properly to regulating one's bowel movements.  Nothing escaped his criticism.

Here are some of his thoughts on punch, from An Essay upon Long Life (1724).   

"Next to Drams, no Liquor deserves more to be stigmatized and banished the Repasts of the Tender, Valetudinary, and Studious, than PUNCH.  ‘Tis a Composition of such Parts, as not one of them is salutary, or kindly to such Constitutions, except the pure Element in it...”

And: "The principal Ingredient is Rum, Brandy, Arrack, or Malt Spirits, as they are called, all of them raised by the Fire... [which] retains a caustick, corrosive and burning quality for ever afterwards... [I]t is likest Opium, both in its Nature, and in the Manner of its Operation, and nearest Arsenick in its deleterious and poisonous Qualities."  

Leading him to conclude: "And so I leave it to them, Who knowing this, will yet drink on and Die."

But Cheyne was hardly the only person to hate on punch.  Beginning in the mid-17th century, foreign goods –– chocolate, tea, coffee, but also hard alcohol, or what were referred to as "spirituous liquors" –– began to take England by storm.  Imagine what a difference the latter made to a people who had for centuries pretty much subsisted on beer and cider.  Not only was punch yet another example of a foreign luxury causing drunkenness, violence and moral turpitude, but nothing in it –– the spices, the fruit, the various kinds of booze –– was native to England.  Indeed, Cheyne doesn't only criticize the actual alcohol used to make the punch, but reserves a lot of venom for the Spanish lemons and oranges in it too.  

It didn't help that punch was known as a communal party drink for rakish men rather than an emblem of civility.  Perhaps Hogarth can give us a good impression of what went down at one of these so-called punch parties.  Look on the left side, sort of towards the back.  There's a woman drinking punch in what I like to call the 'Dionysian Style' –– ie. straight out of the bowl.  

Hogarth, 'The Rake's Progress: Plate 3- The Orgy' 1732
Tom Rakewell consorts with a brothel of syphilitic prostitutes
(The entire series of the Rake's Progress, actually, is worth checking out)

Using a friend's 18th century cookery receipt, I made some a while ago (it contained batavian arrack, rum, brandy, green tea, and champagne, seasoned with coriander seeds, cinnamon, cloves, pineapples and lemons).  Below, dear readers, is journalistic proof that almost three hundred years later, the pleasures of the punch bowl continue to seduce the 21st century palate.  

Punch Consumption circa 2011

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

An Assembly of "Good Fellows"

Groucho Marx famously remarked that he would never join any club that would deign to have the likes of him as a member.  After all, what does membership even mean?  To elevate your social status through strategic associations?  To publicize the interests and values that comport with your desired identity?

Dr Johnson, by Joshua Reynolds
(Reynolds was no stranger to club
life either)  
Samuel Johnson, who was certainly no stranger to club life, defined a club in his Dictionary (1755) rather vaguely as "an assembly of good fellows, meeting under certain conditions."

Others got a little more specific.  A 19th century antiquarian wrote:

“The word club… claims a descent from the anglo saxon ... it is derived from cleofan, 'to divide,' because the expenses are divided into shares of portions – uniting to divide, like ‘cleave’...”

Enough with these prententious etymologies.  What I really want to know is why these men consistently showed up week after week to the same London tavern for dinner?  Why did they care?  What did they talk about?  How did being "clubbable" (in Johnson's words) shape their identities?

The "Wednesday's Club," which I brought up last time, didn't have quite the same social caché as the Thursday's Club.  Or at least it didn't start out this way.  On the attendance record for its first year of existence, which you can see below, there are no titled men.

Yearly attendance record from the first year of the club in 1687.
Every week you showed up you would get a 'mark' in the book.

How are we to learn more about these people?  It isn't easy; the records don't indicate the professions of new members until the 1760s.  Once that happened, I encountered a wide range of occupations: lawyers, doctors, men working in municipal government ... even a few London mayors.  There were also silversmiths, whalebone merchants, refiners, and print-sellers.  The list goes on and on.

But because many of these men were more or less 'nobodies' compared to the uber-connected R.S. fellows, it is harder to learn about their private lives: their interests, their anxieties, their relationships.  Their names consistently appear on the attendance records each week, but the lives of these men remain for now a mystery.

Can the club rules tell us anything about these men?  One rule struck me as rather peculiar:  

“Item: that if any member of this Club shall marry a wife or baptize any child or children, that such member shall on the next club night he shall appear expend upon the members of the club then present as a treat upon the account of such marriage or christening halfe a crowne, and if he shall neglect to discover the same within one month, to forfeit over and above the said charge 6d."

When we compare a rule like this to today's etiquette, it seems totally bizarre.  Shouldn't this be the other way around?  Aren't you supposed to receive gifts when you get married or have a kid?  And this rule wasn't exactly optional.  If you didn't fess up to your good fortune, you would incur additional fines.

What was the Wednesday's Club thinking when these lines were written in the rule book?  For the rule suggests that the club saw itself as something more than a mere escape or diversion from the toils of the everyday.  It doesn't ask but demands to be informed of your intimate private life.

The people with whom we choose to associate –– who we work with, who we sleep with –– always end up saying something about who we are, and how we'd like others to see us.

But what about who we eat with?  

Monday, 2 May 2011

In Da Clubb

In my last few posts, I've talked a lot about eating.  But as the four day weekend of revelry in the UK comes to an end, and the denizens of London wearily carry out their armfuls of empty champagne and Pimm's bottles (knowing the next wedding/bank holiday isn't coming for a while) I realized that I've been neglecting a very critical component of the meal.  How did the members of the Thursday's club (as well as other clubs) drink?  

18th century paintings, novels, newspapers and artifacts often give us the impression that when fashionable men of letters got together for a meal, they certainly didn't go light on the booze. 
The Jerningham Wine Cooler (1734)

For example, check out the Jerningham Wine Cooler to the right, which was made in 1734.  (I saw a replica in the V&A last week.)  It's hard to get a good sense of proportion from this picture, but this thing was bigger than a luxury sized bathtub. 

And Ned Ward (the wry chronicler of the "Vertuoso's Club" from the last post) pretty much thought that all club life was just an excuse to turn a group of otherwise respectable men into a "gang of swill belly'd wine porters" eager to succumb to "the temptations of the petticoat."   

But how do we know what is really going on?  

The Thursday's Club's official rule book stated that the price for dinner (1 shilling and 6 pence) included a "pint of wine."  But that was just the amount of wine included in the club's fund.  Members were certainly welcome to bring more.  And let's not forget about the many additional "healths drank in claret" enjoyed by the company whenever the club received a gift of venison, turtle or beef.  

 William Hogarth's A Midnight Modern Conversation (1732) 
gives a whole new meaning to the idea of "late night"

The club expense reports also contain occasional references to broken plates and glasses, which might well suggest that the Thursday’s Club liked to get an early start on the weekend.  After all, they were entertaining some of the 18th century's high rollers –– Russian aristocrats, French scientists, Laurence Sterne, Benjamin Franklin –– and they wanted to give their foreign guests a healthy dose of English hospitality.

In the past few days, however, I've been looking at the records for a very different London club that existed at the same time as the Thursday's Club.  Historians know little about it; the name of the club is actually unknown.  But for now, in honor of its regular meeting day, I'll just call it "The Wednesday's Club."

Imagine the graduate student's delight, dear readers, upon opening this book, hoping to be the very first to tread on all this virgin historical territory!  But when I started reading all the club rules, I gasped in horror.  Could measures be any more draconian?  Could there be any club that was less fun?  
For I saw that strict fines were imposed for:

-- interrupting during roll-call
-- swearing
-- using “reflecting” language
-- calling the Steward anything other than ‘Mr. Steward’  
-- sneaking in extra booze
-- initiating unapproved toasts
-- drinking toasts to anyone besides the King, the established church, and fellow members.

What kind of club was this??!