Sydney Watts, assistant professor of history at the University of Richmond, presented some of the results of her research on the rise of meat consumption in 18th century Paris and the role played by the city's butchers. An outline of her talk appears later in this issue. In keeping with the program topic, Bob Magee provided a delicious dish of steak sauteed in butter and further enhanced with spirits and black pepper for all of us to taste.
Gina Jenkins will be talking about bananas to the Library of Congress Cooking Club on October 10 at noon. Her recently published book, Bananas: An American History, is being translated into Korean and will be published in Korea this fall.
John Ferry's article "Food For Thought - A View Toward a Richer Interpretation of the House Museum Kitchen" appeared in the July 2000 issue of Cultural Resource Management. The issue is entitled "What's For Lunch? Food In American Life" and contains 12 articles, two of them by Sandy Oliver. The web site is http://www.cr.nps.gov/crm/vol24-04. Cultural Resource Management, which promotes and maintains high standards for preserving and managing cultural resources, is published by the National Park Service as information for parks, federal agencies, Indian tribes, states, local governments, and the private sector.
Dianne Hennessy King was in Roanoke in August to meet with members of the faculty at Virginia Tech where the Peacock-Harper Culinary Collection is being established in the University Library. Nearly two centuries of culinary arts are documented in the collection which includes 11 pre-1900 imprints and 40 pre-1950 imprints, and ranges from 1829 to 1994. To access the collection: http://spec.lib.vt.edu/culinary/PHCulinary.
If you would like to contribute to the relief efforts for those in the food industry who have lost their lives or their livelihoods, here are some possibilities:
Windows on the World Family Relief Fund: Among the thousands killed or missing in New York are 79 foodservice employees of the fabled Windows on the World restaurant, located on the 107th floor of the Trade Center. In addition, an unknown number of food industry personnel who worked throughout the huge complex in numerous corporate dining rooms and other small foodservice establishments are among the missing. In an effort to provide aid to their families, Windows owner David Emil and the restaurant's executive chef, Michael Lomonaco have established a fund which you can support by sending a check to : Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund, c/o David Berdon & Co., LLP, 415 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10001.
Fund For The World Trade Center Greenmarket Farmers: On September 11, approximately 25 market farmers had their produce displays set up at the WTC Greenmarket at Church and Liberty Streets. These market farmers came in from Long Island and upstate New York, from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. It has been reported that the greenmarket master and all of the participating farmers survived but most of them lost all of their vehicles, displays, produce, cash and personal belongings. Insurance coverage for these losses is limited at best. Checks or money orders made payable to "Fund for the WTC Greenmarket Farmers" may be sent to The Farmers' Market Federation of New York, 2100 Park St., Syracuse, NY 13208. The website for The Farmers' Market Federation of New York is: www.nyfarmersmarket.com. Contribution information and possible other means to help these farmers will be posted there.
Having seen an advance reader of Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky (Walker & Company, New York, 2001) the editor of CHoWLine was looking forward to the book's publication because Kurlansky's earlier book, Cod: A Biography of the FIsh That Changed The World (1977), told such a fascinating story. So it was a surprise to see a book review in the Washington Post recently on Salt: Grain of Life by Pierre Laszlo, translated from the French by Mary Beth Mader and published by Columbia University. A quote from the review:
French chemist Pierre Laszlo has long been fascinated by salt, a substance rich in history and metaphor. In "Salt: Grain of Life," he speaks of the salt in the sea, in living cells, and in blood, sweat and tears. He describes salt as a preservative of game and fish, with a power to make flesh incorruptible that must have astonished early man. This leads him to the many transformations of salt in cooking and to their scientific basis. Then there are stories of salt as money and tax payment; of salt in industry, art and language; of salt mines and nomads' salt-trade roads; Roman soldiers paid in salt; Gandhi's march to make salt from the sea; wars caused by salt and national boundaries set by it.It will be interesting to see what these two books can add to our knowledge of a substance that has seemed so ordinary that it has received little attention from culinary historians in the past.
Changing Appetites: The Rise of Meat in 18th-Century Paris
Sydney began with information on her background, culinary training, and work in food history at Cornell University. She also spoke briefly about the history of the potato and the history of butchers. Her interest in changing appetites led her to a search for how to account for it. Although we know the introduction of New World foods and the development of new culinary techniques resulted in changing tastes, early food writers/food historians didn't leave many written records. Some of the better-known are Brillat-Savarin ("Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you what you are"), and, later, Jean-Louis Flandrin, and MFK Fisher. But there were a few contemporary observers such as Restif de la Bretonne (1734- 1806), who wrote Les Nuits de Paris, and Louis Sebastien Mercier (1740-1814) who wrote Le Tableau de Paris (along with travel literature there are court diaries).
Sydney has discovered that there are not many studies about butchers. All available attest to their long, prominent heritage, their powerful guild, and their battles with the city government, especially over the civic concerns about the slaughterhouses. Butchers were both artisans and merchants, preparing veal, beef, and mutton and selling it both wholesale and retail. The central market served a half-million residents, many of them the powerful and wealthy elite.
Parisians ate one-and-one-half times more meat per capita than residents of other provincial cities, and nearly seven times more than the peasants in the countryside. In her outline, Sydney cited Lachiver and Philippe, the latter with the notation, "52 grams of protein that included eggs and other dairy products, not all red meat."
She compared two cookbooks by Menon: Les Soupers de la cour (1755), 4 vol., and La Cuisiniere bourgeoise (1746), pointing out that Menon represents the nouvelle cuisine that appeared in the last half of the 18th century: a rupture of medieval traditions. She also compared feasting customs in the medieval period and the late 18th century. Feasting in the former was characterized by emphasis on quantity, thick ragouts, elaborate pieces montees, and the use of heavy spices, especially saffron, and verjus. Late 18th century modern refinements included an emphasis on quality; a single roast joint with a simple jus; an accent on the savor of fats, particularly butter; dessert courses; binding sauces; vegetables such as peas, asparagus, and artichokes; and locally raised fruits.
Louis XIV's reputation for enjoying huge meals was revived by Louis XVI, who could polish off a chicken, lamb cutlets, eggs, ham, and one-and-one-half bottles of wine before setting off to hunt -- without diminishing his appetite at dinner!
New cuisine cookbooks began to appear, the first since Taillevant (14th century): La Varenne's Le Cuisinier francois (1651), followed quickly by at least ten others. In 1674, the most modern of these, L. S. R.'s L'Art de bien traiter, appeared.
In her discussion of the rise of meat, Sydney cited culinary historians Philip and Mary Hyman, and Jean-Louis Flandrin and credits Flandrin with the statement that at the time 20 to 50 percent of all dishes included meat. She pointed out that, in their writings, they elaborate on a wide variety of meats with recipes that espouse quality and freshness. Many cuts of meat are called for in both books, including organ meats -- kidney, liver, tongue, and brain. There was a hierarchy of meat and it was classified as haute boucheire and basse boucherie, with the latter characterized by Menon as "... of no use except for the lower class people; their preparation of this meat is heavy in salt, pepper, vinegar, shallot, garlic to lessen the insipid taste." Butchers reserved the haute boucherie for their elite clientele. Basse boucherie was clearly defined for the poor and included flank steak, shank brisket, tripe, heart, liver, and other similar cuts.
The growth of butchers' stalls and neighborhood shops in Paris suggests a wide distribution. There was also growth in the number of shops and eateries outside the city walls, where people could come to eat cheap meat. Some of these merchants tried illegally to bring meat into the city to sell it. As more meat became available, was there democratization of meat-eating? This raises questions about the haves and have-nots. Who was eating what type of meat and how much? How did meat become a political issue on the eve of the Revolution? Where there meat riots?
In discussing "Meat Matters," Sydney presented a quote: "Meat is a good of first necessity," and pointed out that whether it was, in fact, or wasn't, it mobilized the city authorities to regulate its quality, quantity, and price so that it met peoples' needs. It became a "public good" and "moral issue."
In the 18th century, meat became an important health food, a sort of "food therapy." Meat juices (Le suc) were thought to provide essential sustenance to the weak, the convalescent, and pregnant women. Following up on this, Sydney referred to Rebecca Spang's recent book, The Birth of the Restaurant, and the concept of food therapy and bouillon kitchens.