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)

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?