1940s Archive

An Alphabet For Gourmets

continued (page 2 of 8)

Given the fact that I have found a male of about my own age, healthy, not too nervous, fairly literate, in other words one I would like to have cleave unto me for reasons of pleasure if not reproduction: I would soon discover his likes (first catch your wolf…), and more gradually his dislikes, the deepseated kind based on the fact that his grandmother made him eat cold turkey one day when it thundered, and his father once called stuffed goose neck rattlesnake meat, and that sort of thing.

By then I would know what he thought he admired and what he really did. If he fancied himself as a bored diner-out, I would gradually tease and excite him by bewilderment and serve him what he thought he hated, in a quiet, lonely room. If he thought he could not possibly eat anything with onion in it, I would prove my own control of the situation without his knowing it and prepare a few artful dishes to lead him to realize that he loved what he most abhorred. If he hated company, I would insinuate two or three or even five arresting characters into his prandial pattern.

In other words, I would quarrel with him, on a celestially gentle plane.

I would placate his early inhibitions and flatter his later ones, and in the end I would have educated him without pain to the point where some such menu as the following would culminate in the flowering of mutual desire, whether social, financial, or impurely intramural:

Good Scotch and water for him, and a very dry Martini for me…

A hot soup made of equal parts of clam juice, chicken broth, and dry white wine, heated just to the simmer.

A light curry of shrimp or crayfish tails. The fish must be peeled raw, soaked in rich milk, and drained, and the sauce must be made of this milk, and the fish poached for at best six minutes in the delicately flavored liquid. This is a reliable trick.

Rice for the curry, and a bland green salad…that is, with a plain French dressing containing more than its fair share of oil.

A dessert based on chilled cooked fruits, with a seemingly innocent sauce made of honey, whole cinnamon, and brandy poured over and around them at boiling point and allowed to chill.

By preference I would serve a moderately dry champagne, from the curry on through the last course. To most men, this wine has a hundred naughty connotations, and it is least dangerous in the Shakespearean sense of doubling their desire and halving the pursuit thereof. If I had no champagne, I would produce a bottle of some chilled light wine. I would later serve hot black coffee in great moderation lest, to put it bluntly, it dampen the fire with cold reason.

Thus, depending on the man, the surroundings, and the general conditions of light and shade, I would go about my business…in a time-honored gastronomical fashion which indeed has much of the wanton and therefore unchaste about it, more in the telling than in the dreamed performance, but which still need not be either lewd or licentious, at least in one woman’s lexicon.

X is for xanthippe…

…and the sure way any shrewish woman can put poison in the pot for her mate, whether or no he be as wise as Socrates and must call her Xanthippean or merely Sarah-Jane-ish or Francescan, routinely vituperative, or just undergoing “one of her bad days.”

Probably no strychnine has sent as many husbands into their graves as mealtime scolding has, and nothing driven more men into the arms of other women than the sound of a shrill whine at table. Xanthippe’s skill at being ill-tempered is largely legendary, and I do not know how much of her nastiness took place over the daily food she served forth to Socrates, but I am convinced that there is no better culture for the quick growth of the germs of marital loathings than the family board. Even the bed must cede position to it, for nighttime and the occasional surcease of physical fatigue and languor can temper mean words there.

Brillat-Savarin has said as much and most straightforwardly. But each man has the right to add his own version of it, and as a two-time widow, both grass and sod, I can vouch for the fact that every man who ever confided to me, as all men eventually will to a seemingly lone woman, that he has not been well understood by his wife, has in the end confessed that try as he would to come home patient and kind for dinner, Sarah-Jane or Frances would serve it forth to him with such a mish-mosh of scowls and scoldings that he must, to save himself, flee from her.

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