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)

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Bringing on the Sauce

Well before the early 19th century culinary celebrity Antonin Careme postulated the four classic French "mother sauces," France enjoyed an international reputation for its rich and flavorful seasonings.  The introduction of fricassees and ragouts into the British culinary lexicon was lauded by bon-vivants, yet decried by cultural commentators.  "I look upon a French ragout to be as pernicious to the stomach as a glass of spirits ... [f]or as I in everything love what is simple and natural," Isaac Bickerstaff observed in the Tatler in 1709, "so particularly in my food."

From the Classified Section, The Daily Post, Wed, January 6 1731.

Fortunately for us, the naysayers didn't prevail.  If we take a look at contemporary newspapers, it becomes obvious that cosmopolitan Londoners loved to season their food with exotic sauces and condiments.  So important were these novel commodities that in 1739, the London and Country Journal felt compelled to report the breakage of a single bottle of soy sauce at the Custom House.  "Soy is a rich catchup," the article explained, "the best is made in India, and gives the highest Gust of any Sauce in the World."

By the late 18th century, enthusiasm for bottled condiments seemed to reach its height.  Many of these bottled sauces were advertised especially for merchants, traders, and men in the navy.  And while the condiments weren't exactly 'English,' this doesn't mean that there wasn't some sort of patriotic message implied –– why shouldn't people on the go be able to enjoy the fruits of the British commercial empire?

I did a little sleuthing, and found five major condiment retailers operating in late 18th century London:

1.  T. Young, 44 Bond Street.  While many vendors obtained their goods from abroad, this guy whipped up his sauces in-house.  On April 4, 1788, he advertised a concoction of "extracts from the Gorgona Anchovies.  This sauce, which is most general, and one of the best Sauces for most kinds of fish, has many advantages over the common mode made use of."  He followed up on the success of his "essence of anchovies" with a new sauce specifically designed to be eaten with "real and mock Turtle, Game Pies, and roasted Game and Fowl or any kind, but is a great heightened and finisher of all kinds of Fricandos, Harricoes, Daubs, Stews, and Hashes."

I also noticed a dramatic rise of "sauce-boat"
advertisements in the 18th century
(Here's a simple pewter one)
2.  Skill and Son, Italian and French Warehouse, 15 Strand, near Charing Cross.  While they touted themselves as the cheese-merchants to the Prince of Wales (the hard partying glutton later to be crowned George IV) the tone of their ads seem to cater more so to the polite middle classes, emphasizing their "family friendly" nature and convenience –– using their products, a meal could reputedly take only two minutes time to prepare.  They also win out in terms of variety; 16 different sauces and 12 different vinegars –– ranging from "imperial sauce" to "walnut ketchup" to "chilly vinegar" –– appear in their ads.

3.  J. Burgess, No 107 Strand.  He competed with T. Young to prepare the best essences of anchovies, which produced "an excellent sauce in a few minutes, for all kinds of Tendons, Harricots, French Pyes, Ragouts, Cutlets, Collops, Stewed Beef, Pigs Ears and Feet, Broiled and Brazed Poultry of all kinds."  Added bonus: each bottle of sauce came with printed recipe suggestions.  J. Burgess also dealt in a bunch of other foreign delicacies as far flung as "Bengal Currie Powder" to authentic reindeer tongues from Russia.

Purveyers of sauce had to innovate to stay relevant
The World (1787) 
4.  The New Warehouse for Foreign Rarities, No, 79, New Bond-Street.  Seemed to specialize in "sauce verte a la d'Artois" priced at 4 shillings a bottle.  Ouch!  For that, one could buy a whole dinner at a nice tavern.  
** If any kindly readers of this Blog happened to know what exactly that entailed, as contemporary cookery books abounded in different versions of 'green sauce,' and would care to share this important information with the Authoress, she would be incredibly grateful.  

5.  The Depository, No 34, St James Market.  Didn't advertise as much but touted its "sauce a la Provencal" 'Saluci tout fait" and "Remoulade."  With these three sauces, the ad explains, "there is scarcely three dishes in French, English or Italian Cookery, that cannot be made either with any one, or any two of them combined."

One mere bottle can fashion boring old beef-steaks into specialties of three different culinary traditions? Well, who can argue with that?