Thursday, July 26, 2012


The Dessert of Wafers Giclee Print
"In July 1789, only a few days after the storming of the Bastille, the Marquis Charles
de Villette proposed that the new ideal of fraternity could be achieved by common
dining in the streets. The rich and poor could be united, and all ranks would
mix...the capital, from one end to the other, would be one immense family, and
you would see a million poeple all seated at the same table...' And then, standing
on its head the ancien regime traditon of the royal family dining au grand couvert,
Villette goes on to add: On that day, the nation will hold its grand covert'. Ironically,
of course, the proposal would have represented just as much a manipulation of the
meal in service of the state as anything ever staged at Versailles. That flirtation with
the communal meal as emblematic of a new age of equality and faternity was to
continue to ebb and flow through the early, more extreme, years of the Revolution.
On 14 July 1790, the first anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, a Festival of
Federation was staged, prefaced the previous day by two thousand spectators
watching members of the National Assembly share an open-air patriotic meal'
in the circus of the Palais Royal...The left-overs from this fraternal repast were
distributed to the poor...All of this was to be as dust within a few years, yet what
occurred in the priod after 1789 fundamentally shaped developments around
the table down to our own day. A primary effect was to dissolve the equation
of cuisine and class. Henceforward cuisine of a kind seen as the prerogative of
royalty and nobility would be available to anyone who could afford to pay for it."
---Feast: A History of Grand Eating, Roy Strong [Harcourt:New York] 2002 (p. 274-6)
"The French Revolution marks, in its first years, a certain slowing down in the
"culinary" evolution of the coutnry...But not for long. Soon the arts of the
gourmet and the pleasures of the table reclaimed their prestige; the new leaders
of France quickly tired of Spartan virtues. People began to eat well again, not
only in Paris, but also in the provinces. Cooks whos masters had emigrated were
snapped up. Great houses reorganized. New restaurants were opened. The cuisine
of France regained the grandeur it had enjoyed during the reign of Louis XV.
However, what with wars and the gory horrors of the Terror, famine raged again
for several years. In 1793 and ordinance prohibited more than one pound of meat
a week per person...There was no bread and the potato crop was poor. But restrictions
are never applied to all-under any regime. And while plain people...were rushed to
the guillotine, there were feasting and carousing in the mansions of Barras and
Fouche. The following is a menu of a dinner served by Barras in the winter of 1793:

With a little onions, a la ce-devant minime
Second Course
Steaks of sturgeon en brochette
Six Entrees
Turbot saute a l'homme de confiance
formerly Maitre-d'hotel
Cucumber stuffed with marrow
Vol au vent of chicken breast in Bechemel sauce
A ci-devant Sait-Pierre sauce with capers
Fillets of partridge in rings (not to say in a crown)
Two Roasts
Gudgeons of the region
A carp in court-bouillon
Fifth Course
Lentils a la ci-devant Reine
Beets scalded and sauted in butter
Artichoke bottoms a la ravigote
Eggs a la neige
Cream fritters with orange water
Celery en remoulade
Twenty-four different dishes"
"The Revolution was not merely political: it also changed many customs of the French
people. The four meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper) were reduced to two:
breakfast and dinner. The latter was soon the more important of the two."
---An Illustrated History of French Cuisine, Christian Guy
[Bramhall House:New York] 1962 (p. 95-7)

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