The Art of Entertaining Part 2
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Brillat Savarin recounts a rather cruel joke perpetrated on a man who was a well-known gourmand. The idea was that he should be induced to satisfy himself with the more ordinary viands, and that then the choicest dishes should be presented in vain before his jaded appet.i.te.
This treacherous feast began with a sirloin of beef, a fricandeau of veal, and a stewed carp with stuffing. Then came a magnificent turkey, a pike, six _entremets_, and an ample dish of macaroni and Parmesan cheese. Nor was this all. Another course appeared, composed of sweetbread, surrounded with shrimps in jelly, soft roes, and partridge wings, with a thick sauce or _puree_ of mushrooms. Last of all came the delicacies,--snipes by the dozen, a pheasant in perfect order, and with them a slice of tunny fish, quite fresh. Naturally, the gourmand was _hors du combat_. As a joke, it was successful; as an act of hospitality, it was a cruelty; as pointing a moral and adorning a tale, it may be useful.
This anecdote has its historical value as showing us that the present procession of soup, fish, roast, _entree_, game, and dessert was not observed one hundred years ago, as a fish was served after beef and after turkey.
Dr. Johnson describes a dinner at Mrs. Thrales which shows us what was considered luxurious a hundred years ago. "The dinner was excellent.
First course: soups at head and foot, removed by fish and a saddle of mutton. Second course: a fowl they call galenan at head, a capon larger than our Irish turkeys at foot. Third course: four different ices,--pineapple, grape, raspberry, and a fourth. In each remove four dishes; the first two courses served on ma.s.sive plate."
These "gentlemen of England who live at home at ease," these earls by the king's grace, viceroys of India, clerks and rich commoners, would laugh at this dinner to-day; so would our clubmen, our diners at Delmonico's, our millionnaires. Imagine the feelings of that _chef_ who received ten thousand a year, with absolute power of life or death, with a wine-cellar which is a fortress of which he alone knows the weakest spot,--what would he say to such a dinner?
But there are dinners where the gradation is perfect, where luxury stimulates the brain as Chateau Yquem bathes the throat. It would seem as if the Golden Age, the age of Leo X. had come back; and our nineteenth century shows all the virtues of the art of entertaining since the days of Lucullus, purified of the enormities, including dining at eleven in the morning, of the intermediate ages.
It must not be forgotten that this simplicity which is so commended can only be obtained by the most studied, artful care. As Gray's Elegy reads as the most consummately easy and plain poetry in the world, so that we feel that we have but to sit down at the writing-desk and indite one exactly like it, we learn in giving a little, simple, perfect dinner that its combinations must be faultless. Gray wrote every verse of his immortal poem over many times. The hostess who learns enough art to conceal art in her simple dinner has achieved that perfection in her art which Gray reached. Perfect and simple cookery are, like perfect beauty, very rare.
However, if the art of entertaining makes hostesses, hostesses must make the art of entertaining. It is for them to decide the _juste milieu_ between the _not enough_ and the great _too much_.
Before breakfast a man feels but queasily, And a sinking at the lower abdomen Begins the day with indifferent omen.
BROWNING.--_The Flight of the d.u.c.h.ess._
And then to breakfast with what appet.i.te you have.
Breakfast is a hard thing to manage in America, particularly in a country-house, as people have different ideas about eating a hearty meal at nine o'clock or earlier. All who have lived much in Europe are apt to prefer the Continental fas.h.i.+on of a cup of tea or coffee in one's room, with perhaps an egg and a roll; then to do one's work or pleasure, as the case may be, and to take the _dejeuner a la fourchette_ at eleven or twelve. To most brain-workers this is a blessed boon, for the heavy American breakfast of chops, steaks, eggs, forcemeat b.a.l.l.s, sausages, broiled chicken, stewed potatoes, baked beans, and hot cakes, good as it is, is apt to render a person stupid.
It would be better if this meal could be rendered less heavy, and that a visitor should always be given the alternative of taking a cup of tea in her room, and not appearing until luncheon.
The breakfast dishes most to be commended may begin with the omelet.
This the French make to perfection. Indeed, Gustav Droz wrote a story once for the purpose of giving its recipe. The story is of a young couple lost in a forest, who take refuge in a wood-cutter's hut. They ask for food, and are told that they can have an omelet:
"The old woman had gone to fetch a frying-pan, and was then throwing a handful of shavings on the fire.
"In the midst of this strange and rude interior Louise seemed to me so fine and delicate, so elegant, with her long _gants de Suede_, her little boots, and her tucked-up skirts. With her two hands stretched out she sheltered her face from the flames, and from the corner of her eye, while I was talking with the splitters, she watched the b.u.t.ter that began to sing in the frying-pan.
"Suddenly she rose, and taking the handle of the frying-pan from the old woman's hand, 'Let me help you make the omelet,' she said. The good woman let go the pan with a smile, and Louise found herself alone in the position of a fisherman at the moment when his float begins to bob. The fire hardly threw any light; her eyes were fixed on the liquid b.u.t.ter, her arms outstretched, and she was biting her lips a little, doubtless to increase her strength.
"'It is a bit heavy for Madame's little hands,' said the old man. 'I bet that it is the first time you ever made an omelet in a wood-cutter's hut, is it not, my little lady?'
"Louise made a sign of a.s.sent without removing her eyes from the frying-pan.
"'The eggs! the eggs!' she cried all at once, with such an expression of alarm that we all burst out laughing. 'The eggs! the b.u.t.ter is bubbling! quick, quick!'
"The old woman was beating the eggs with animation. 'And the herbs!'
cried the old man. 'And the bacon, and the salt,' said the young man.
Then we all set to work, chopping the herbs and cutting the bacon, while Louise cried, 'Quick! quick!'
"At last there was a big splash in the frying-pan, and the great act began. We all stood around the fire watching anxiously, for each having had a finger in the pie, the result interested us all. The good old woman, kneeling down by the dish, lifted up with her knife the corners of the omelet, which was beginning to brown.
"'Now Madame has only to turn it,' said the old woman.
"'A little sharp jerk,' said the old man.
"'Not too strong,' said the young man.
"'One jerk! houp! my dear,' said I.
"'If you all speak at once I shall never dare; besides, it is very heavy, you know--'
"'One little sharp jerk--'
"'But I cannot--it will all go into the fire--oh!'
"In the heat of the action her hood had fallen; she was red as a peach, her eyes glistened, and in spite of her anxiety, she burst out laughing. At last, after a supreme effort, the frying-pan executed a rapid movement and the omelette rolled, a little heavily I must confess, on the large plate which the old woman held.
"Never was there a finer-looking omelet."
This is an excellent description of the dish which is made for you at every little _cabaret_ in France, as well as at the best hotels. That dexterous turn of the wrist by which the omelet is turned over is, however, hard to reach. Let any lady try it. I have been taken into the kitchen in a hotel in the Riviera to see a cook who was so dexterous as to turn the frying-pan over entirely, without spilling the omelet.
However, they are innumerable, the omelet family, plain, and with parsley, the fancy omelet, and the creamy omelet. Learn to make every sort from any cooking-book, and your family will never starve.
Conquer the art of toasting bacon with a fork; it is a fine relish for your egg, no matter how cooked. To fry good English bacon in a pan until it is hard, is to disfigure one of Fortune's best gifts.
Study above all things to learn how to produce good toast; not all the cooks in the great kingdom or empire or republic of France (whatever it may be at this minute) can produce a good slice of toast. They call it _pain roti_, and well they may; for after the poor bread has been burned they put it in the oven and roast it. No human being can eat it. It is taken away and grated up for sawdust.
They make delicious toast in England, and in a few houses in America.
The bread should be a little stale, the slice cut thin, the fire perfect, a toasting-fork should hold it before coals, which are as bright as Juno's eyes. It should be a delicate brown, dropped on a hot plate, fresh b.u.t.ter put on at once, and then, ah! 't would tempt the dying anchorite to eat. Then conquer cream toast; and there is an exalted substance called Boston brown bread which is delicious, toasted and boiled in milk.
m.u.f.fins are generally failures in these United States. Why, after conquering the English, we cannot conquer their m.u.f.fins, I do not know. They are well worth repeated efforts. We make up on our hot biscuits and rolls; and as for our waffles, griddle-cakes, and Sally Lunns, we distance compet.i.tion. Do not believe that they are unhealthy! Nothing that is well cooked is unhealthy to everybody; and all things which are good are unhealthy to somebody. Every one must determine for himself what is healthy and unhealthy.
A foreign breakfast in France consists of eggs in some form,--frequently _au beurre noir_, which is b.u.t.ter melted in a little vinegar and allowed to brown,--a stew of vegetables and meat, a little cold meat (tongue, ham, or cold roast beef,) a very good salad, a small dish of stewed fruit or a little pastry, cheese, fruit, and coffee, and always red wine.
Or perhaps an omelet or egg _au plat_ (simply dropped on a hot plate), mutton cutlets, and fried potatoes, perhaps stewed pigeons, with spinach or green peas, or trout from the lake, followed by a beefsteak, with highly flavoured Alpine strawberries or fresh apricots or figs, then all eating is done for the day, until seven o'clock dinner. This is of course the mid-day _dejeuner a la fourchette_. At the earlier breakfast a Swiss hotel offers only coffee, rolls, b.u.t.ter, and honey.
All sorts of stews--kidney, liver, chicken, veal, and beef--are good, and every sort of little pan-fish. In our happy country we can add the oyster stew, or the lobster in cream, the familiar sausage, and the hereditary hash; if any one knows how to make good corned-beef hash she need not fear to entertain the king.
There are those who know how to broil a chicken, but they are few,--"Amongst the few, the immortal names which are not born to die."
There are others, also few, who know how to broil ham so that it will not be hard, and on it to drop the egg so that it be like Saturn,--a golden ball in a ring of silver.
Amongst the good dishes and cheap dishes which I have seen served in France for a breakfast I recommend lambs' feet in a white sauce, with a suspicion of onion.
All sorts of frica.s.sees and warmed over things can be made most deliciously for breakfast. Many people like a salt mackerel or a broiled herring for breakfast; these are good _avant gouts_, stimulating the appet.i.te. The Danes and Swedes have every form of dried fish, and even some strange fowl served in this way. Dried beef served up with eggs is comforting to some stomachs. Smoked salmon appeals to others; and people with an ostrich digestion like toasted cheese or Welsh rarebits. The fishball of our forefathers is a supreme delicacy if well made, as is creamed codfish; but warmed over pie, or warmed over mutton or beef, are detestable. The appet.i.te is in a parlous state at nine o'clock and needs to be tempted; a bit of breakfast bacon, a bit of toast, an egg, and a fresh slice of melon or a cold sliced tomato in summer, _voila tout!_ as the French say. Begin with the melon or a plate of strawberries. These early breakfasts at nine o'clock may be followed by the hot cake, but later on the _dejeuner a la fourchette_, which with us becomes luncheon, demands another order of meal, as we have seen, more like a plain dinner.
It is a great comfort to the housekeeper, or to the lady who has been imprisoned behind the tea and coffee pot that she may serve thence a large family, to sometimes escape and have both tea and coffee served from the side tables. Of course, for a small and intimate breakfast there is nothing like the "steaming urn," and the tea made by the lady at the table; and the Hon. Thomas H. Benton declared that he "liked to drink his tea from a cup which had been washed by a lady." Woman is the genius of the tea-kettle.
The Art of Entertaining Part 2
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The Art of Entertaining Part 2 summary
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