August 4, 2016

Food in books: in 1668 or so

      In her capacity as Buckingham's mistress, Anna Maria also attended many banquets. Charles II was a great fan of French cooking and had summoned the Gallic masterchef Francois Pierre de la Varenne to Court. Varenne favoured herbs and pepper over spices, and moved away from the sweet palette that had since Tudor times dominated aristocratic cooking. The rich savoury flavors of ragouts, soups and French sauces became de rigueur. Elaborate fricassees combined a myriad of ingredients:  pigeons, peppers, lamb, sweetbread, hard-boiled eggs, bone marrow, and even tortoise started  making appearances at noble tables. Great emphasis was placed on the presentation of food: a huge variety of dishes were required to be 'landscaped' across the dining table. The most spectacular act in this gastronomic drama was the entree, in which platters were arranged in a geometric order, the large and substantial surrounded by the small and delicate. Bone-marrow fritters, rissoles, stewed stuffed tongues, steamed bass, poached salmon, peacock, quail and game pies adorned the table; sparkling French wines, including champagne,which had recently been imported for the first time, were liberally dispensed. Many guests brought along their own servants, who walked to and fro around the table ferrying their masters' preferred food --asking for a dish to be passed personally was virtually impossible on such a heavily laden table. Since the Restoration, the sweet course had more often been known by its French name, dessert. Crystal jellies flavoured and perfumed with rose water, sugar, ginger and nutmeg glittered, while extravagant mountains of fruit threatened to eclipse diners' views of each other across the table. Tarts and pies, their pastry tops cut with Euclidean precision, were brought out ceremoniously and arranged in interlocking patterns along the table. Society hostesses often became competitive about the content and presentation of their events. Many hired professional napkin folders to transform starched fabric into fanciful pleats, elaborate scallop shells, and even the family coat of arms.

from The Mistresses of Cliveden:  three centuries of scandal, power
and intrigue in an English stately home
, by Natalie Livingstone 

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