Thursday, March 06, 2014

Book quotes: The Pleasures of the Table by Brillat Savarin (1825) - (1/2)


Way back in April 2013, I wrote a review of "The Physiology of Taste" (1825), a timeless classic by Brillat Savarin that covers so much, in so few pages, in so entertaining a manner.

A bit late, but as promised here some of my favourite quotes and passages from the book. The quotes are noted for their beautiful use of the English language, their wisdom and their colourful crazinesses. Topics covered include the appetite, the eating of small birds, observations on turkeys, the importance of eating truffles with ones meal, the effects of coffee and an investigation into obesity. And because the book is well out of copyright, I can cut and paste with reckless abandon!


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Aphorisms of the Professor

To Serve as Prolegomena to His Work and Eternal Basis to the Science.

I. The universe would be nothing were it not for life and all that lives must be fed.
II. Animals fill themselves; man eats. The man of mind alone knows how to eat.
III. The destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they are fed.
IV. Tell me what kind of food you eat, and I will tell you what kind of man you are.
V. The Creator, when he obliges man to eat, invites him to do so by appetite, and rewards him by pleasure.
VI. Gourmandise is an act of our judgment, in obedience to which, we grant a preference to things which are agreeable, over those which nave not that quality.
VII. The pleasure of the table belongs to all ages, to all conditions, to all countries, and to all areas; it mingles with all other pleasures, and remains at last to console us for their departure.
VIII. The table is the only place where one does not suffer, from ennui during the first hour.
IX. The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star.
X. Those persons who suffer from indigestion, or who become drunk, are utterly ignorant of the true principles of eating and drinking.
XI. The order of food is from the most substantial to the lightest.
XII. The order of drinking is from the mildest to the most foamy and perfumed.
XIII. To say that we should not change our drinks is a heresy; the tongue becomes saturated, and after the third glass yields but an obtuse sensation.
XIV. A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman who has lost an eye.
XV. A cook may be taught, but a man who can roast, is born with the faculty.
XVI. The most indispensable quality of a good cook is promptness. It should also be that of the guests.
XVII. To wait too long for a dilatory guest, shows disrespect to those who are punctual.
XVIII. He who receives friends and pays no attention to the repast prepared for them, is not fit to have friends.
XIX. The mistress of the house should always be certain that the coffee be excellent; the master that his liquors be of the first quality.
XX. To invite a person to your house is to take charge of his happiness as long as he be beneath your roof.

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On Appetite

Appetite declares itself by languor in the stomach, and a slight sensation of fatigue.
The soul at the same time busies itself with things analogous to its wants; memory recalls food that has flattered its taste; imagination fancies that it sees them, and something like a dream takes place. This state is not without pleasure, and we have heard many adepts say, with joy in their heart, “What a pleasure it is to have a good appetite, when we are certain of a good meal.”
The whole nutritive apparatus is moved. The stomach becomes sensible, the gastric juices are moved and displace themselves with noise, the mouth becomes moist, and all the digestive powers are under arms, like soldiers awaiting the word of command. After a few moments there will be spasmodic motion, pain and hunger.
Every shade of these gradations may be observed in every drawing-room, when dinner is delayed.
They are such in nature, that the most exquisite politeness cannot disguise the symptoms. From this fact I deduced the apothegm,
“THE MOST INDISPENSABLE QUALITY OF A GOOD COOK IS PROMPTNESS.”

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On Great Appetites

When we see in early books a description of the preparations made to receive two or three persons, and the enormous masses served up to a single guest, we cannot refuse to think that those who lived in early ages were gifted with great appetites.
The appetite was thought to increase in direct ratio to the dignity of the personage. He to whom the saddle of a five year old ox would be served was expected to drink from a cup he could scarcely lift.
Some individuals have existed who testified to what once passed, and have collected details of almost incredible variety, which included even the foulest objects.
I will not inflict these disgusting details on my readers, and prefer to tell them two particular circumstances which I witnessed, and which do not require any great exertion of faith.
About forty years ago, I made a short visit to the cure at Bregnier, a man of immense stature and who had a fearful appetite.
Though it was scarcely noon I found him at the table. Soup and bouilli had been brought on, to these two indispensables had succeeded a leg of mutton a la Royale, a capon and a salad.
As soon as he saw me he ordered a plate which I refused, and rightly too. Without any assistance he got rid of every thing, viz: he picked the bone of mutton and ate up all the salad.
They brought him a large white cheese into which he made an angular breach measured by an arc of ninety degrees. He washed down all with a bottle of wine and glass of water, after which he laid down.
What pleased me was to see that during the whole of this business, the venerable pastor did not seem busy. The large mouth fulls he swallowed did not prevent him either from laughing or talking. He dispatched all that was put before him easily as he would have a pair of birds.
So it was with General Bisson who drank eight bottles of wine at dinner every day, and who never appeared the worse for it. He had a glass larger than usual and emptied it oftener. He did not care for that though, for after having swallowed six ounces of fluids he could jest and give his orders as if he had only swallowed a thimble full.
This anecdote recalls to me my townsman, General P. Sibuet, long the chief aide of Napoleon, and who was killed in 1813 at the passage of the Bober.
He was eighteen years old, and had at that time the appetite by which nature announces that its possessor is a perfect man, and went one night into the kitchen of Genin, an inn keeper of Belley, where the old men of the town used to meet to eat chestnuts and drink the new white wine called in the country vin bourru.
The old men were not hungry and paid no attention to him. His digestive powers were not shaken though, and he said “I have just left the table, but I will bet that I eat a whole turkey.”
“If you eat it I will pay for it,” said Bouvier du Bouchet, a rich farmer who was present, “and if you do not I will eat what is left and you shall pay for it.”

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On Turkeys

The same researches informed us that the turkey gradually became acclimated in France. Well informed observers have told me that about the middle of the last century of twenty young turkeys scarcely ten lived, while now fourteen out of every twenty mature. The spring rains are most unfortunate to them; the large drops of rain striking on their tender heads destroy them

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On Game (the eating of small birds)

It is a pity this bird is so rare, that few others than those who live in the southern departments of France, know what it is. * Few people know how to eat small birds. The following method was imparted confidentially to me by the Canon Charcot, a gourmand by profession, and a perfect gastronome, thirty years before the word gastronomy was invented:

Take a very fat bird by the bill and sprinkle it with salt, take out the entrails, I mean gizzard, liver, etc., and put it whole in your mouth. Chew it quickly, and the result will be a juice abundant enough to permeate the whole organ. You will then enjoy a pleasure unknown to the vulgar.
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"A woodcock is never in all its glory except when roasted under the eye of a sportsman, and preferably the sportsman who killed it..."

"The time has come for this method, hitherto confined to a small circle of friends, to be made known far and wide for the happiness of mankind" (regarding a particular manner of roasting pheasants).


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On Fish 

There has been a great deal of argument about the rival merits of sea fish and freshwater fish. The question will probably never be decided for as the Spanish proverb says,sobre los gustos, no hai disputas (translates to "One can't argue about tastes").


It will be remembered that not long ago any well arranged entertainment began with oysters, and that many guests never paused without swallowing a gross (144). I was anxious to know the weight of this advance guard, and I ascertained that a dozen oysters, fluid included, weighed four ounces averdupois. Now look on it as certain that the same persons who did not make a whit the worse dinner, on account of the oysters would have been completely satisfied if they had eaten the same weight of flesh or of chicken.

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On Truffles

It is safe to say that at the time of writing (1825), the fame of the truffle is at its zenith. Nobody dares to admits having been present at a meal  which did not include a single truffled dish.

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