1940s Archive

An Alphabet for Gourmets

continued (page 5 of 6)

On the other hand I can, and do, double the butter or chicken fat when I make kasha, and treble the wine in aspic, and cut the cooking time in half for almost any fish…all those are personal tricks which time has verified for my own taste, once I admit, as heaven knows I do, that I must first obey what the great cooks have found out for me

What Brillat-Savarin said in 1825 about frying is still true, because it is based on nature’s laws, and the same holds for a master like Escoffier on sauces and roasting, for any thoughtful cook, derivative or not, who bows to law and does not wildly say, “Twice as much butter, or garlic, or zubzubzub must be twice as good…If a pinch of nutmeg picks up this dish of spinach, two pinches…” and so on.

We who must eat such well-meant messes can do no better than refuse them, and then beseech all such misguided cooks to stop and consider, to ponder on the reasons as well as the results, and to decide for themselves and also for our stomachs’ sakes to follow the rules based on common sense and experience, the rules set down by great chefs, whatever their sex and in whichever of these last two centuries they have worked.

We must hold out the torch to these taste-blinded friends of ours and promise them that they too can throw away few, if not all, of their gastronomical hearing-aids…they too, once they have learned how to walk among the pots and pipkins, can add saffron where Escoffier said thyme, or put kirsch instead of maraschino into a soufflé…once they have rightly learned what saffron tastes like, and what a soufflé is…

R is for romantic…

…and for a few of the reasons why gastronomy is and always has been connected with its sister art of love.

Or perhaps instead of reasons, which everyone who understands anything about digestion and its good and bad endocrinological effects will already know, I should discuss here, with brief discretion, a few direct results of the play of the five senses, properly stimulated by food, upon human passion. The surest way, if not the best, is to look backward…

Passion, here at least, means the height of emotional play between the two sexes, not the lasting fire I felt for my father once when I was about seven and we ate peach pie together under a canyon oak…not the equally lasting fire I felt for a mammoth woman who brought milk-toast to me once in the dusk when I was seventeen and very sick…not the almost searing gratitude I felt for my mother when she soothed me with buttered carrots and a secret piece of divinity fudge, once when 1 had done wrong and was in Coventry…and not the high note of confidence between two human beings that I felt once on a frozen hillside in France, when a bitter old general broke his bread in two and gave me half.

This other kind of passion that I speak of, romantic if ever such brutal thing could be so deemed, is one of sex, of the come-and-go, the preening and the prancing, and the final triumph or defeat, of two people who know enough, subconsciously or not, to woo with food as well as flattery.

The first time I remember recognizing the new weapon, I was about eight, I think. There was a boy named Red, immortal on all my spiritual calendars, a tall, scoffing, sneering, dashing fellow perhaps six months older than was I, a fellow of withdrawals, mockery, and pain. I mocked back at him, inadequately, filled with a curious tremor.

He followed me home every afternoon from school, a good half block behind, and over the giggles of my retinue of girl friends came his insults and lewd asides to a train of knee-britched sycophants. We must have looked very strange to the relics of the Quaker settlers of our little town, who pulled aside their parlor curtains at our noise, but if our pipings were still audible to their ancient ears they would not have felt too shocked, for as I recall it all we said, in a thousand significantly differing tones was, Oh yeah? Huh! Oh yeah?

My friends gave me advice, as doubtless Red’s gave him, and our daily marriage-march continued until February fourteenth, that year, without much variation. Then Red presented me with the biggest, fanciest, and most expensive Valentine in the class box. We knew, because it still said 50c on the back, in a spidery whisper of extravagance marked down thoughtfully in indelible pencil by the bookstore man, and left carefully unsmeared by my canny lover.

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