My Cookery Books by Elizabeth Robins Pennell
IT is when I look at my Latin books that I am most convinced of my sincerity as collector. My English books I can read and enjoy. But my pleasure in these old vellum-covered quartos and octavos, printed in a language I cannot understand, is purely bibliographical. Were their pages blank, my profit as reader could be no less. But without them, my pride as collector would not be so great.
They are not many, or it would be nearer the truth to say they are very few. But these few are of rare interest, and at least one would satisfy the collector of Early Printed Books. Indeed, since I have been collecting, I begin to believe that the real achievement of the Renaissance was not the discovery of the world and man, as historians fancy, but the discovery of the kitchen, so promptly were cookery books put on the market. The earliest, Platina's De Honesta Voluptate, I cannot mention without a sigh, remembering how once at Sotheby's I came within a miserable pound of having the edition dated 1475 for my own, — such an exceptionally fine copy too! However, I take what comfort I can from
Apicius Coelius, which I have in two editions. One, the first, is only eleven years younger than the Platina; and 1486 is a respectable date, as these matters go. When the first chapter on My Cookery Books was printed in The Atlantic, I had only the 1498 edition, my copy, as I described it, quite perfect save for the absence of the title-page. For long I tried to convince myself that this absence was welcome as one of the marks by which the Early Printed- Book may be known. Besides, I could see no need for a title-page, when there, on the last page, was the name of the printer, and the date, while the space left for the capital letter at the beginning of every division was still another mark as distinctive of the primitive press, though 1498 might be a little late to look for either one or the other. But M. Vicaire and his Bibliography refused to leave me in my comfortable ignorance. The 1498 edition, when perfect, has a titlepage; one, moreover, with a fine printer's mark, — an angel holding a sphere. The curious may be referred to the example at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. But not even M. Vicaire can put me out of countenance when it comes to my first edition,1 printed by Bernardino of
Venice. That, anyway, is in order: title-page in place, the spaces, all except one, filled with decorative capitals by the wood-cutter; the pages untorn and unsoiled, only mellowed by time to a rich yellow; here and there, on the margin, a note, and once some verses, in beautiful old handwriting; the binding of vellum. I have the further satisfaction of knowing that it is more complete than any that has come in M. Vicaire's way. On the title-page there are three titles: Apitii Celli de re Coquinaria libri decem ; Suetonius Träquillus De Claris Grämaticis; Suetonius Träquillus De Claris Rhetoribus. M. Vicaire calls attention to the fact that the two treatises under the heading Suetonius, etc., do not appear. But in my copy they do, combined in one essay. And whenever I am discouraged by the condition of some of my rare books into asking myself whether, after all, they are anything more than Mr. Lang's “twopenny treasures,” a glance at the 1486 Apicius restores my confidence in my collection.
TITLE: FIRST EDITION OF COELIUS APICIUS.
Judging the books by their appearance, I should say the 1498 edition was far the earlier. Certainly it is the first with a date, and, I am happy to say, is excessively rare.
When I consider what the mere possession of the book
means to me, it seems unreasonable to waste my time in regretting the further pleasure I might have, if only I could read it. But what a triumph, if I could decide the vexed question as to whether one of the three men who, in the days of Roman Emperors, made the name Apicius the synonym for gluttony, was the author, and, if so, which; or whether, as Dr. Martin Lister and Dr. Warner agreed over a hundred years ago, the book was the work of a fifteenth-century student of cookery who borrowed the ancient name to advertise his own performance. And what a satisfaction if I could demolish the irreverent critics who declare the receipts to be full of “garbage,” — of vile concoctions, with assafœtida for motif! The few words I can understand — asparagus, carrots, wine, oil, melons, pork — sound innocent, even appetizing. But to argue from such meagre premises would be about as wise as to criticise a picture, in Morellian fashion, after seeing it only in the photograph.
I have also Dr. Lister's edition, with numerous notes: not the first published in London in 1705, but the second, printed in Amsterdam four years later, limited to a hundred copies. This is the book which set Dr. King to writing his Art of Cookery in imitation of Horace, and
filled scholars who could not secure it for themselves with despair lest they might be dining in defiance of classical rule. The notes are so many that they turn the thin little old quarto into a fat octavo. For their learning, as they too are in Latin, I must take the word of Dr. Lister's admirers. But, without reading them, I know they are sympathetic. Dr. Lister was not only physician to Queen Anne, but her adviser in the Art of Eating, and it was his privilege to inspire the indigestions it became his duty to cure. The frontispiece calls for no interpreter, though the scrupulous housekeeper might think it needs an apologist. It shows a kitchen with poultry, fruit, and vegetables strewn over the floor as none but the artist would care to see them, and cooks, in the scantiest drapery, posing in the midst of the confusion; prominent in the foreground, a Venetian plaque exactly like one on my dining-room mantelpiece, or for that matter like dozens shining and glittering from the darkness of the cheap little fish-shops of Venice.
With these three editions of Apicius, I am content. I know ten are duly entered in the pages of M. Vicaire, but when a book figures so seldom in sale rooms and catalogues, I think I am to be envied my good fortune in owning it at all.
My next Latin work is De Re Cibaria, by Bruyerin, which I have in the first edition, a thick, podgy octavo, published at Lyons by Sebastian Honorat in 1560. A more severe and solid page of type I have never seen. The quotations from Horace or Virgil, breaking the solidity, seem like indiscretions; an air of undue frivolity is given when, toward the end, the division into short chapters results in two, three, and even four initial letters on a single page; while a capital N, inserted sideways, and overlooked by author, printer, and proof-reader, is a positive relief as the one sign of human weakness in all the eleven hundred and twenty-nine solemn pages. Bruyerin was a learned physician who translated Averroes and Avicenna, and who was sufficiently in favor at court to attend those suppers of Francis I., which, he explains, were served by Theologians, Philosophers, and Doctors. If it was from this company he derived his theory of food, it is alarming to consider the consequences to his contemporaries. In any case, his book, to look at, is the most impressive in my library. I have also a graceful quarto, called Juris Evidentiæ Demonstratio in Materia Alimentorum et Sumptuum Litis, by Maria Francesco Cevoli, Florence, 1703, omitted from all bibliographies of cookery
books. But as it is concerned indirectly with nourishment, it seems to me eligible. Besides, it has many graces of outward form that appeal to the book lover, — a pleasant page well spaced and well printed, old paper mellowed and toned by years, a vellum binding ingeniously patched.
I may as well admit at once that unfortunate gaps occur not only in my Latin, but in all my foreign sections. Naturally, one's spoils are richest in one's own country. When I travel on the Continent I keep my eyes open, and I receive many foreign catalogues. But that is not quite the same as being continually on the spot. After my English books, my Italian are the most numerous, because mine is the rare good fortune to have had in Italy a friend who was as eager to collect for me as I am to collect for myself. Mr. Charles Godfrey Leland, who lived in Florence, for several years haunted the old bookshops and barrows there in my behalf, and to him I owe an imposing shelf of vellum-covered volumes, the titles of many in illuminated lettering on their backs, often both binding and illumination being the work of his hands. A few prizes have also been captured by me in London, and altogether, if I boast of my Italian section,
it is with reason. Curiously, however, though it includes almost every one of the amazing treatises of the sixteenth century, and though few if any of the nineteenth-century books are missing, the two intervening centuries are unrepresented, — the period, that is, to which belong by far the larger part of my English series.
But had the selection been deliberate, instead of the result of mere chance, it could not have been better. The Italian cookery books were the most important published anywhere, in the sixteenth century. Italy then set the standard of cookery, as of all the arts, for the world. Even the French looked up to the Italian chef as to the Italian painter or sculptor. Historically, these old volumes are indispensable to the student of the Renaissance. Bibliographically, too, they have their charm: being often delightful specimens of book-making, and, as often, of unquestionable rarity. For two or three I still look, but the most famous are already in my possession: the Banchetti of Christoforo di Messibugo, not in the first edition published at Ferrara in 1549, but in the second with the title changed to Libro Novo, printed In Venetia al segno di San Girolamo in 1552, — a little shabby octavo in cracked vellum; La Singolare Dottrina of Domenico
Romoli, a dignified stout octavo which I have in the first edition, bearing the date 1560, and the name of the printer, Michel Tramezino, who seems to have had something like a monopoly of cookery books in Venice; the Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, another of Tramezino's publications, also mine in its first edition, 1570, — a nice, fat, substantial octavo in its old vellum covers, but compressed into half the thickness between the shining calfskin with which Sala bound the second edition — 1598 — which I secured at his sale; Il Trinciante of Vincenzo Cervio, my only copy, Giovanni Vacchi's edition of 1593, the first having been issued by the indefatigable Tramezino in 1581; Castor Durante's Tesoro della Sanità, one of my compensations, as the first of my two editions (Venice, Andrea Muschio, 1586), is a year earlier than the first known to M. Vicaire. You see, I enjoy occasional moments of superiority, if I do suffer occasional humiliations.
TITLE: LA SINGOLARE DOTTRINA DI M. DOMENICO ROMOLI, 1560.
My Italian is no great thing to boast of, but, with the help of a dictionary, I have gradually read enough to learn that these old books are delightfully amusing. It is their close relationship to the church that strikes me above all. “Take pride from priests and what remains?” somebody
once said to Voltaire. “Do you then reckon gluttony for nothing?” was his answer. Certainly, in the Italy of the Renaissance, gluttony seems to have been the chief resource of Popes and Cardinals, who were no longer quite so sure that man was placed on earth to gather bitter fruit. The distinguished cooks of the period, whose names have come down to us, were with scarcely an exception as dependent on church patronage as the distinguished painters and sculptors. When they undertook to write on their art, their books were published, as every title-page records, “Col Privilegio del Sommo Pontefice,” and as a rule were dedicated to, or at least inspired by, the priest or church dignitary in whose household the author served. Messibugo, a native of Moosburg, Bavaria, who settled in Italy and wrote in Italian, was cook to the Illustrissimo et Reverendissimo Signore, il Signor Don Hippolito da Este, Cardinal di Ferrara, to whom he offered his Banchetti. Scappi was cuoco secreto (private cook) to Pius V., and his treatise was written chiefly for the instruction of Giovanni, a pupil recommended by Cardinal Carpi. Cervio and his editor Narni were each in turn trinciante, that is, carver, to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, whose name graces the dedication. Romoli was
cook to a Pope — I have not yet been able to find out which Pope — and to a Cardinal. It seems almost like heresy when Castor Durante, a physician who ventured to write on the subject, dedicated his Tesoro to a lady, la Signora Donna Camilla Peretta, and yet she, I fancy from her name, was a near relation of Pius V.
BANQUET OF CARDINALS : SCAPPI'S OPERA, 1570.
If there is one feature all these books have in common, it is a love of pageantry, eminently characteristic of the Renaissance. Popes and Cardinals, who overloaded their churches with ornament, who covered the walls of their palaces with splendid pictures and gorgeous arabesques, whose very costume added to the pageant into which they turned their daily existence, would have had no appetite for the meal that did not contribute its share to the great spectacle of life. The simplest dish was transformed into a bewildering harmony of color, a marvelous medley of spices and sweets, and when it came to the composition of the menu for a feast, the cook soared to heights of poetic imagination, now happily unattainable. It was over these menus he loved to linger at his desk as in his kitchen. Messibugo frankly confessed the subject that engrossed him in the title of his book, which, I cannot help thinking, as Lamb said of Thomson's Seasons, looks
best when, like my copy picked up by my husband in an old bookshop of Siena, it is a little torn and dog's-eared, with sullied leaves and a worn-out appearance, for its shabbiness shows that generations have had as much joy in the reading as the Cardinal had in the eating. The banquets, in which I am afraid lurked many a magnificent indigestion, covered twenty years, from the first on the 20th of May, 1529, — the feast of San Bernardino is Messibugo's pious reminder, — and were designed on a scale and with a spectacular splendor that fairly staggers the modern weakling. An Italian Inigo Jones building up the stage for a masque, one might think, not the cook dishing up his dinner. A terrace or a fair garden became the scene, cypress and orange groves the background, courses were served to the sound of “divine music” and interrupted by the wit of a pleasant farce. And yet, these were the commonplaces of feasting. Cervio's banquets were far more amazing, or, it may be, he bad a prettier talent for description. Pies from which outstepped little blackamoors bearing gifts of perfumed gloves, or rabbits with coral beads on their feet and silver bells round their necks; castles of pastry with sweetsmelling fire issuing from the ramparts; white peacocks
served in their feathers to look alive; statues of the Horse at the Capitol, of Hercules and the Lion in marchpane; a centre table of a hundred lovely ladies; a beautiful garden — bellissimo giardino — all in paste and sugar, with fountains playing, statues on terraces, trees bearing boxes of sugar plums, a fish-pond, and, for the beautiful ladies, little nets to go fishing with if they would; — such are a few of Cervio's flights of fancy for great occasions: the wedding of the Duke of Mantua, for instance, or the reception of Charles V. by Cardinal Campeggio. This was the Cardinal who, when he went to England on business connected with the divorce of Henry VIII. and Queen Katharine, was charged by the Pope with a private mission to look into the state of the kitchens of the king and of the people, so that no doubt he was qualified to appreciate Cervio's most daring fantasies. But it seems as if the two hundred and eighteen receipts for fish Scappi gives must have more than satisfied a Pope whose usual apéritif before dinner was a visit to the hospitals and practices there too unpleasant for me to repeat. Scappi, however, was an artist, and when, in his portrait, the frontispiece to his book, I see the sad ruggedness of his face and the lines with which his brow is seamed and furrowed,
I attribute these signs of care to his despair over the Pope's hair shirt and all it stood for. He himself shared the ideal of his contemporaries. Not one could surpass him in the ceremonial banquet he prepared for the “Coronation” of Pius V., or for Cardinals in Conclave; not one could equal him in the more informal feasts he suggested for an August fast day after vespers in a vineyard, or for a May afternoon in a garden of the Trastevere, or for the cool of a June evening in Cardinal Carpi's vineyard on Monte Cavallo. And there is the intimate charm of the “petits soupers” of the French court a couple of centuries later in his light collations served, one at an early hour of a cold December morning after a performance of Plautus, another at Cardinal Bellaia's after a diverting comedy played in French, Spanish, Venetian, and Bergamesque. Whatever Pope Pius might do, Scappi kept up the best traditions of the Vatican. His book has the further merit of taking one behind the scenes; in an unrivaled series of illustrations, it shows the Vatican kitchen, airy and spacious as he says a kitchen should be, the Vatican scullery, cellar, and dairy, and every pot, pan, and conceivable utensil a Papal or any other cook could ever be in need of. Domenico Romoli,
though less gorgeous than Messibugo and Cervio, less charming than Scappi, outdid them in ambition. For to the inevitable description of occasional feasts, he added, in anticipation of Baron Brisse, three hundred and sixtyfive menus for the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year, and served them in the noble fashion of “those divine Florentine geniuses,” his fellow citizens, who were masters of table decoration. In his treatise, however, one is conscious of the mummy at the feast. The private cook of Pope or Cardinal has need to keep his eyes open, he says with a sigh, and adds that he never goes to bed at night without thanking God for still another day passed in safety. The fear of poison haunted him, as it must have haunted many another man in his responsible position. Sala, on a fly-leaf of his copy of Scappi, noted his surprise to find no trace of poisons in the book. But I think there is more than a trace in Scappi's advice to build the kitchen apart from the house that none might enter unseen and tamper with the food. The Italian cook's bed in those days was not one of roses.
THE VATICAN KITCHEN : SCAPPI'S OPERA, 1570.
It would be a mistake to think there were no frugal intervals in these old books. Even the prevailing flamboyancy had its degrees. The feast might begin with
nothing more elaborate than melon and a slice of ham or sausage served together, for all the world as at the last breakfast I ate in the trattoria at Lecco, where the Milanese go for a Sunday outing in summer. Simple salads and salmis had their place among the intricate devices at Cardinal Ferrara's table, and Messibugo himself gives ten different kinds of maccheroni, not leaving out the most frequent if least simple of all in to-day's bill of fare, Maccheroni alla Napoletani. Scappi is prodigal in his receipts for soups and fish, and caters specially for the convalescent. Such plain fare as the English veal pie — alla Inglese — was at times imported, though before it reached the Italian table olives and capers had been added. But still, the principal attention was paid to feasting, the main tendency of the cookery book was toward excess and exaggeration, until the protest, which Durante's Tesoro probably seemed when it appeared in 1586, was sorely needed. It was time to teach, not how to eat, but how, in eating, to preserve health.
The next book in my Italian series marks a radical change. If in the sixteenth century the Italian kitchen was paramount, in the seventeenth, the tables had turned and French cookery had become supreme. It is therefore
appropriate that my one Italian book of the period should be the translation of La Varenne's famous Cuisinier François, since described as “the starting point of modern cookery.” My copy of il Cuoco Francese was published in Venice in 1703, but the first edition appeared in 1693 in Bologna, and so the book belongs by right to the same century as the original. Of the century that followed, my record is almost as barren. But, here again, had the choice been left to me, I should have preferred to all others the books that happen to have found their way to my shelves. For they include the principal works of Francesco Leonardi, who wrote them with that naïve want of reserve peculiar to distinguished cooks. The most elaborate is the Apicio Moderno in six volumes, to the collector an indispensable sequel to the fifteenth century Apicius. My copy is dated 1807, but the first edition appeared before 1800. Another is the Pasticciere all' Uso Moderno, Florence, 1797, written when, after serving the Maréchal de Richelieu, and going through several campaigns with Louis XV., Leonardi had become chef to Catherine II., Empress of all the Russias, to whom his French training did not prevent his serving many Italian dishes. But he excelled even himself in the Gianina
ossia la Cuciniera delle Alpi (the date carefully blotted out on the title-page of my copy, and the book, to my astonishment, unknown to M. Vicaire). It was a legacy, he says, left him by an accomplished lady whom he described as the hostess of an inn on the Mont Cenis, but whom I suspect to have been one of his own inventions. Not over his most inspired dish did he grow so lyrical as over the story of her happy wooing by the chef Luneville in the kitchen of her father's inn at Neustadt. He makes you feel there is more romance in the Courtship of Cooks than in all the Loves of the Poets or Tragedies of Artists' Wives, and, if only for the sake of the grandiloquent Preface that tells the tale, I recommend this work, his masterpiece.
With Leonardi, I bring the record of my Italian books to an end. The nineteenth century produced a large library on the subject of cookery, and most of the volumes in it I have, but they open an entirely new chapter in the literature of the kitchen.
My French books have been chosen as kindly by chance as my Italian. I still wait for the collector's prizes — Taillevent's Viandier (about 1490), the Roti-Cochon (about 1696), Le Pastissier François (1655), and I suppose
I shall go on waiting till the end, so extremely rare are they. But in the history of cookery they do not hold the indispensable place of the three most famous books of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries : La Varenne's Cuisinier François (1651), Les Dons de Comus (1739), La Cuisinière Bourgeoise (1746), and these I do own in interesting editions. The change that had come over the spirit of the kitchen is at once revealed in the rank of its new patrons. The church had ceased to be the controlling power. La Varenne was maître d'hôtel to the Marquis d'Uxelles ; Marin, author of Les Dons de Comus, was chef to the Maréchal de Soubise, who did pay his cooks, however other men in his service might fare; and if the author of La Cuisinière Bourgeoise preferred to remain anonymous, his claim to favor was no ecclesiastical recommendation, but his own excellence as cook. Here was change indeed. But there was a still more vital difference. The Italian cookery books of the sixteenth century were as flamboyant as the kitchen they immortalized. In the French of the seventeenth, the genius of the French people for order, for harmony of balance, in a word, for style, had asserted itself. Perfection of form — that is what the French have striven for
in all their arts, and cookery was no exception. Even under Louis XIV., who was blessed with a phenomenal appetite and more phenomenal capacity, dinner became a work of art, admirably rounded out, compared to the unspeakable medleys and discords, the barbarous profusion in which Popes and Cardinals a century earlier had found their pleasure. It was for a great principle Vatel killed himself when the fish did not arrive in time for the royal dinner at Chantilly. And the cooks brought the same order to their books. If La Varenne's has been described as “the starting point of modern cookery,” it is because there is a method in his treatment of the subject, never before attempted, seldom since surpassed. And he wrote it at a time when, in England, Queen's Closets and Cabinets were being opened by titled dilettanti and obsequious courtiers. Compared to contemporary English books, it is as the masterpiece of Claude to the little pictures that many accomplished ladies besides Mrs. Pepys and Pegg Penn were turning out for the edification of their friends. He went to work as systematically as a chemist classifying gases and acids, or as an astronomer designing a chart of the heavens. Soups, Fish, Entrées, Roasts, Sauces, — a whole “artillery of sauces,”
— Entremets, were treated in their respective sections and correct order. His dishes did stand upon the order of their serving and his book was a training in itself. Its pages may be turned with the same confidence that carries the student through the galleries of French paintings in the Louvre — the certainty that all will be accomplished, correct, distinguished. Nor do I find that this method put a curb upon La Varenne's imagination, a restraint upon the expression of his individuality. He was a man of conscience, who wrote because he felt it right the public should profit by his experience and share his knowledge. But though his style has greater elegance and restraint than Sir Kenelm Digby's or Lord Ruthven's, it is as intimate and personal. “Bien que ma condition ne me rende pas capable d'un cœur héroique,” he tells the Marquis d'Uxelles in a dedication that is stateliness itself, “elle me donne pourtant assez de ressentement pour ne pas oublier mon devoir;” and he concludes with the assurance that the entire work is but a mark of the passion with which he has devoted, and will ever devote, himself to the service of Monseigneur, whose very humble, very obedient, very grateful servant he is. Here and there in the text, he interrupts his technical directions
for such a graceful little touch as the advice to garnish sweet dishes with the flowers that are in season, or the reminder that heed paid to any other such “petites curiosités” can but add to the honor and respect with which the great should be served. It is pleasant to find his successors profiting by these pretty hints, as well as by his masterly method. It was a distinct compliment to La Varenne, when Massialot, in the Nouvelle Instruction pour les Confitures, les Liqueurs, et les Fruits (1692; I only have it in the 1716 edition), gave one entire section as guide to the flowers in season, month by month, for the decoration of dishes, and another to the “delicate liqueurs,” made from roses, violets, pinks, tuberoses, jasmine, and orange flowers, for all the year round.
FRONTISPIECE : LES DONS DE COMUS, 1758.
La Varenne's book was an immediate and continued success. By 1652 there was a second edition, by 1654, a third. M. Vicaire counts seventeen before he finishes his list. I have the fourth, published at the Hague by Adrian Vlacq and ranked by some collectors with La Varenne's more famous Pastissier François in the Elzevir edition. The Cuisinier François never fetched three thousand dollars. In special binding, it has gone up to over a hundred, but ten is the average price quoted by bibliographers.
I paid six for mine, bought, in the way Mr. Lang deplores, from a catalogue, without inspection. But I have no quarrel with the little duodecimo, yellow and worn, more than doubled in size by the paper of nearly the same date bound up with it. A few receipts in old German writing explain the object of this paper, but its owners, many or few, have left it mostly blank, the envy now of every etcher who sees it. I also delight in a later edition, without a date, but published probably somewhere between 1695 and 1715, by Pierre Mortier in Amsterdam. It has a curious and suggestive frontispiece, an engraving of a fine gentleman dining at a table set directly in front of the kitchen fire, with the chef himself in attendance, and it includes other works attributed to La Varenne. One is Le Maistre d'Hostel et le Grand Ecuyer Tranchant, a treatise originally published in L'Ecole Parfaite des Officiers de Bouche, which was appropriated and translated into English by Giles Rose in 1682, with the same dramatic diagrams of trussed birds and skewered joints, the same wonderful directions for folding napkins into beasts and birds, “the mighty pretty trade” that, when it reached England, enraptured Pepys. Thanks to this volume, my works of La Varenne are
almost complete, if my editions, bibliographically, leave something to be desired.
PLATE FROM LE GRAND ECUYER TRANCHANT.
When Marin wrote his book, a little less than a hundred years afterwards, the art had made strides forward in the direction of refinement and simplicity. Louis XIV. ate well, but the Regent and Louis XV. ate better. It was probably due to the Grand Monarque's abnormal stomach, which, I have seen it stated, was discovered after death to be twice the average size, that a suspicion of barbarity lingered in his day. But with the return of the royal organ to normal limits quality triumphed over quantity. I have not forgotten that Dr. Johnson, when he visited France, declared the French kitchen gross. But then Dr. Johnson was not an authority in these matters. If the word of any Englishman carries weight, I would rather quote a letter Richard West wrote to Walpole in the very year that Marin's book was published, as a proof that the distinction between English and French ideals was much the same then as now. “I don't pretend,” he says, “to compare our supper in London with your partie de cabaret at Rheims; but at least, sir, our materials were more sterling than yours. You had a goûté forsooth, composed of des fraises, de la crême,
du vin, des gâteaux, etc. We, sir, we supped à l'Angloise. Imprimis, we had buttock of beef and Yorkshire ham; we had chicken, too, and a gallon bowl of sallad, and a gooseberry tart as big as anything.” Might not that have been written yesterday? But more eloquent testimony is to be had from the French themselves. Moderation ruled over those enchanting little feasts of theirs that, in memory, cannot altogether die: Madame Geoffrin's suppers for the elect, of chicken, spinach, and omelette; Madame du Châtelet's with Voltaire at Cirey, “not abundant, but rare, elegant, and delicate,” — and yet, it was Madame du Châtelet who rejoiced that God had given her a capacity for the pleasures of the table; a hundred others to us as irresistible. Or go to court, where the king's mistresses and courtiers were vying with one another in the invention of dishes graced with their own names, where even the more serious Queen played godmother to the dainty trifles we still know as Petites Bouchées a la Reine, where the famous tables volantes recalled the prodigies of Cervio — there too barbaric excess had gone out of fashion. I have space but for one example, though I could quote many as convincing, — Madame du Barry's dinner to the King: Coulis
de faisans; croustades du foie des lottes; salmis des bécassines; pain de volaille à la suprême; poularde au cresson; écrevisses au vin de Sauterne; bisquets de pêches au Noyau; crême de cerneaux; — the dinner that won for the cook the first cordon bleu. What an elegant simplicity compared to the haphazard profusion approved by Popes and Cardinals!
This simplicity rules in Marin's book. Throughout the three fat little volumes, the method is beyond criticism. And he was more learned than La Varenne, for whom I could wish, however, that his veneration had been greater. To make a point of dating the modern kitchen but thirty years back, when La Varenne had been long in the grave, seems a deliberate insult. In the history of his art, prepared with the assistance of two accomplished Jesuits, and beginning with the first man who discovered the use of fire, he defines this modern kitchen as “chemical, that is, scientific.” But for all his science, he did not disdain the graces of style, he did not forget he was an artist. Let the cook, he says, blend the ingredients in a sauce, as the painter blends the colors on his palette, to produce the perfect harmony: as pretty a simile as I can remember in any book in my collection, given as were
the chefs of all nations to picturesque phrasing. But a wider gulf than learning separates Les Dons de Comus from Le Cuisinier François. La Varenne's book was addressed to his fellow artists; Marin's was designed not only for the officers in great households, but for the little bourgeois, who, though limited in means, was wise enough to care for good eating. The idea did not originate with him. As far back as 1691, Massialot had written his Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois (my edition unfortunately is 1714), the earliest book I know, it is but fair to add, in which the contents are arranged alphabetically: a plan copied by John Nott and John Middleton in England for their Cooks' and Confectioners' Dictionary, and by Briand, in France, for his Dictionnaire des Aliments (1750), a pretentious and learned work in three volumes. Next, Le Ménage des Champs et de la Ville, ou Nouveau Cuisinier François (1710), considered all tastes, from those “des plus grands Seigneurs jusqu'a celles des bons Bourgeois,” and was rewarded by being not only passed by the censor of the press, but recommended by him, in his official Approbation — a rare distinction. Neither of these books judged by its intrinsic merit could, however, compete with Les Dons de Comus. Marin was the genius
who, giving expression to the ideas of his time, made his treatise immediately the standard work on cookery. He was promptly flattered by wholesale imitation. In the Preface to the 1758 edition (which I have) he complains that in the twenty years since the first (which I have not), this compliment had been paid him with only too much sincerity. And, in truth, his followers did their best to capture his patron, the bourgeois, to borrow his weapons against artless extravagance, even to appropriate his similes. Menon's Science du Maître d'Hôtel Cuisinier (1749) owes everything to Marin, to the very glibness with which the art not of painting, but of music, is held up as a guide to the cook in the composition of his ragouts, and this debt Marin is quick to admit. But, perhaps because he felt it too deeply, he says nothing of the more flagrant plagiarism in La Cuisinière Bourgeoise, which was addressed solely and entirely to the bourgeois of mediocre fortune, and so scored heavily; while, remembering Massialot, the author, with a stroke of genius denied to Marin, incorporated the idea in his title, an advertisement in itself. La Cuisinière Bourgeoise appeared only six years after Les Dons de Comus, but in the competition that followed Marin was eclipsed. Even
Mrs. Glasse's Art of Cookery, credited with the greatest sale of any book in the English language, was left far behind. M. Vicaire gives forty editions, and yet he does not know three out of my five. Studied under the last Bourbons, it was popular during the first Republic — An VI de la République is the date in one of my copies; familiarly quoted by the Romanticists of 1830, the demand for it had not ceased in 1866, when the last edition I know of was issued. It was one of the first cookery books that appealed primarily to the people, and the people responded by buying it during a hundred years and more.
Even after praise of simplicity was in every mouth, there were relapses. Thus, Menon, who wrote also a Maître d'Hôtel Confiseur (1788, my edition, the second), denounces the old elaborate edifices of pastry and sugar, overloaded with ornament and grotesque in design, only to evolve, out of the same materials, gardens with trees and urns, or classical balustrades with figures of Diana, Apollo, and Æneas, or temples of Circe, with Ulysses, pigs and all. “Quel agréable coup d'œil!” he exclaims in ecstasy, “quel gout! Quelle aimable symétrie!” But it was just such masterpieces, just such exceptions to
the new rule, that encouraged French physicians in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to write on food from the hygienic point of view, as Bruyerin already had in Latin, and Castor Durante in Italian. La Varenne and Marin, Menon and Massialot, did not bother about sovereign powders and patent pills in the way of English writers on cookery. It was left to doctors to dogmatize on their own art, and lay down the rules for “rhubarb and sobriety.” Louis Lemery, physician to Louis XIV., published in 1702 a Traité des Aliments, dedicated to M. Boudin, physician to the Dauphin, a treatise translated into English, and, in the translation, passing through several editions. In 1743, Bruzen de la Martinières translated the old verses on the medical properties of meat and drink by John of Milan, a doctor, changing the title of the earlier translations, L'Art de se passer de Médecin, into the more literally true L'Art de Conserver sa Santé. In 1789, Jourdain Le Cointe published La Cuisine de Santé, a large book in three volumes, revised by a fellow physician of Montpelier, and, could Le Cointe have had his way, France would have been as barren of sauces as England in Voltaire's epigram. All these books I have, and I am not sure that I ought not to count
with them M. de Blegny's Bon Usage du Thé, du Caffé et du Chocolat (1687), since its end was the preservation of health and the cure of disease. De Blegny was Conseiller Médecin Artiste ordinaire du Roy et de Monsieur, and his book, charmingly illustrated in the fashion of the old Herbals, is dedicated to Messieurs les Docteurs en Médecine des Facultés Provincialles et Etrangères practiquant à la Cour et à Paris. If the French have got over the fancy that coffee and chocolate are medicines, throughout the provinces in France tea is still the drink that cures, not cheers.
It is as well the books of the nineteenth century do not enter into my present scheme. There would be too much to say of the new development in the literature of cookery that began toward the end of the eighteenth, with Grimod de la Reynière, the Ruskin of the kitchen. A new era opened with his Almanach des Gourmands; a new school of writers was inaugurated, which, before it was exhausted, had counted Brillat Savarin, the Marquis de Cussy, and Dumas Père among its masters.
In the books of other countries my poverty is more marked. I have but two or three German works, none of special note. I have nothing American earlier than
1805, but then comes an irresistible little volume bristling with patriotism, proclaiming independence in its very cakes. I have nothing Hungarian, Russian, Portuguese, or Dutch. A manuscript Romany cookery book, compiled by Mr. Leland, the Romany Rye, makes up as a curiosity for many omissions. The only other country with a definite cookery literature that contributes to my shelves is Spain, and that, merely to the extent of a dozen volumes. These are spoils brought home by my husband from a tour of the old bookshops of Madrid and Toledo. Few of my treasures do I prize more than the Arte de Cocina, though it is in the fifteenth edition, with the date on the title-page provokingly effaced. The first edition was published in 1617, and its author was Francisco Martinez Montiño, Cocinero Mayor del Rey — this particular Rey being none other than Philip IV. Here, then, you may learn what the Spaniard ate in the days when Velasquez painted. As yet, the facts I have gleaned are few, my Spanish being based chiefly on that comprehensive first phrase in Meisterschaft, which, though my passport through Spain, can hardly carry me through Spanish literature. I can make out enough, however, to discover that Montiño, in the fashion of the
Italian writers of the Renaissance, supplies menus for great occasions, but that he had not forestalled the French in writing with method. His book is a hodge-podge, Portuguese, English, German, and Moorish dishes thrown together anyhow, the whole collection ending unexpectedly with a soup. But his pious Laus Deo on the last page covers many sins, and his index shows a desire for the system he did not know how to achieve. No less interesting is the Nuevo Arte de Cocina, by Juan Altimiras. Thanks, I suppose, to the law of compensation, while my Montiño is in the fifteenth edition, my copy of Altimiras is dated 1760, though M. Vicaire knows none earlier than 1791. It has the attraction, first, of vellum covers with leather strings still in condition to be tied, and, next, of an edifying dedication to San Diego de Alcala, — Santo Mio is the author's familiar manner of address, and he makes the offering from the affectionate heart of one who hopes to enjoy the saint's company some day in heaven. After this, it is not surprising that the work should have been approved by high officials in the king's kitchen, and that a point is made of Lenten dishes and monastic menus.
TITLE : NUEVO ARTE DE COCINA, 1760.
My remaining Spanish books, in comparison, seem commonplace.
There is a little Arte de Reposteria, by Juan de la Mata, Madrid, 1791, a small quarto in vellum covers that gives a whole chapter to the Aguas Heladas de Frutas, still one of the joys of Spain, and a recipe for Gazpachos, still one of its wonders. There is the Disertacion en Recomendacion y Defensa del Famoso Vino Malagueño Pero Ximen, Malaga, 1792, with a wood-engraved frontispiece that looks like the beginning of the now familiar cigar-box labels. But the other big and little volumes are of too late a date for my present purposes. Many are translations of the French books of 1830, and they reproduce even the lithographs and other illustrations published in the original works.
Of course, it will be understood that I write solely of the books in my own collection, which I am not foolish enough to represent as exhaustive. Indeed, if I were, M. Vicaire's Bibliography would betray me at once. But for the collector the evil hour is when, folding his hands, he must admit his task completed. As long as there are gaps on my shelves, life will still hold the possibility of emotion.
1 I speak of it as the first out of deference to the authorities. [Return to text]