Robinson Crusoe Quote

"He preferred, however, "gourmandization," was an idolater of a certain decent, commodious fish, called a turtle, and worshipped the culinary image wherever he nozed it put up."
---The Contradiction (1796)

Friday, 30 December 2011

Resolutions for Blue-Stockings

Worthy Readers of this Blog might hath detected the Absence of the Hungry Quixote, who, being much engaged in the writing of her Dissertation, hath cruelly neglected to report upon her Peregrinations around the various Libraries and Archives of this Empire, all in the Service of finding pleasing, healthfull and oeconmical Lunches to be enjoy'd by young Scholars.

Fortunately, the Hungry Quixote has had the Opportunity to spend last week at the Huntington Library of San Marino, in hopes of educating her Self upon the Dishes most enjoyed by fashionable Gentlemen and Ladies of Leisure during the 18th century.  I particularly relished the letters penned by the well-known London socialite and Blue-Stocking, Elizabeth Montagu.  Her early letters don't betray many enlightened musings upon the flavors of the age; seems like girlfriend pretty much lived on tea and spa water from Bath and consumed, as a daily exercise regimen, "two dishes of chocolate" then a "walk round the garden, and at home before the family goes to breakfast."  However, as any promising young socialite is wont to do, she was all too eager to lend her opinions on the eating habits of others.

She looks pretty good:
Bath Water = Enlightenment Kombucha?
In 1740, she infers that a man's prodigious appetite might belie an unhealthy penchant for frugality, suggesting, "I believe, in his oeconomy, he saves a dinner when he is invited to supper, for he eat a forequarter of lamb, a chicken with a plentiful portion of ham, potted beef and jellies innumerable..." 

And then a few months later, she couldn't wait to be rid of an overly zealous locavore:

"We this day had an Epicure to dine with us who talk'd so much of eating that his conversation gave one a dinner, the Gentleman was just come from abroad and declared he thought nothing he had met in travelling equal to a Haunch of English Venison, and declared for his part he preferr'd England to any other Country because Eatables of all sorts were here in the greatest perfection.  He was so loquacious and so voracious it was impossible to determine whether he eat or talk'd most, but for two hours his unwarried employment was the praise and practice of eating..." 

Reading all of this talk of Gormandizing, however, made it impossible for me to suppress the growing Hunger in my Stomack.  And as long-time Readers of this Blog know that its Authoress is particularly fond of Salleting, around 12 of the clock I retired to the Botanick Gardens, lusting after the Delights of the Vegetable Kingdom.

The Desert Garden

The Chinese Garden offer'd pleasing Exotick Fare
But the prodigious Line hinder'd all Hope of Expediency
In the Rose Garden, I finally stumbled upon a Cafe, where the Reader will learn there were plenty of the choicest Sallets and sundry Dainties to be found:

Day One: The Holyday Special
Chicken, Blew Cheese, Pecans, Cranberries and Balsamick
Day Two: Thai Tofu Sallet:
Cashews, Cabbage, Carrots and Scallions
While I found the latter to be more grateful to my Taste, both Sallets were compos'd of the freshest of Ingredients and garnish'd with the most agreeable of Sawces.  To compleat my Felicity, I was not obligated to wait in Line for the Grill'd Items, but passed through the Cafe with expeditious Ease. This allowed me to pass my Lunch-Hour, as a Blue-Stocking would, among the Gayer and Politer Enjoyments of the Gardens.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Merriment in 1734

Who knew that ECCO could contain such a wealth of 18th century musings on Christmas?

 "Round about the Cole Fire, or, Christmas Entertainments"
By Dick Merryman, 1734
Old customs might fade during periods of social and economic change, but one can usually still find traces of them rigidly adhered to in songs, children's games, and holiday traditions.  So I wasn't completely surprised to find that 18th century commentators, many of whom lived in such a rapidly transforming environment, liked to wax nostalgic about Christmas and the demise of old Holy Day customs.  You must understand, good People, one 1734 commentator tells us, that the manner of celebrating this great Course of Holydays is vastly different now to what it was in former Days.

How so?

Well, he tell us, an English Gentleman at the opening of this great Day, had all his Tenants and Neighbors enter'd his Hall by Day-break, the Strong-Beer was broach'd, and the Black-Jacks went plentifully about with Toast, Sugar, Nutmeg, and good Cheshire Cheese.

Toast? Sugar? Nutmeg?  Not too different from the challah French toast enjoyed nowadays.  There was no Christmas tree (that was a 19th century German import) but the decor was distinctly festive nonetheless:

The Rooms were embower'd with Holly, Ivy, Cypress, Bays, Laurel, and Mistleto, and a bouncing Christmas Log in the Chimney glowing like the Cheeks of a Country Milk-maid.

This surely put everyone in a celebratory mood, and our commentator assures us that the Lasses were as blithe and buxom as the Maids in good Queen Bess's Days, when they eat Sir-Loins of Roast Beef for Breakfast.   People are busy in the welcoming of guests, the man-servants were scuttling about preparing for the feast: drinking, carousing, womanizing.  Yes, all is happy in the household.

Minc'd Pye: Always a Favorite
After the toast and nutmeg, what else was consumed?  Dick Merryman, our Christmas expert, informs us that: every one in the Country where a Gentleman resided, possessed at least a Day of Pleasure in the Christmas Holydays; the Tables were all spread from the first to the last, the Sir-Loyns of beef, the Minc'd Pies, the Plumb Porridge, the Capons, Turkeys, Geese, and Plumb-Puddings, were all brought upon the board; and all those who had sharp Stomaches and sharp Knives eat heartily and were welcome...

Indeed, he makes quite a fuss about this Holy Day being an occasion for the landed gentry to revel in the spirit of generosity, and it is quite possible that this –– the slow but ceaseless erosion of old class hierarchies –– is what he is really complaining about when he longingly speaks of the old traditions.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Make Room for the Fat Alderman

I have spent the past few posts exploring the social dynamics of two rival 17th-18th century dining clubs, both of which met every Wednesday at separate rival taverns in the City of London.  But there were countless clubs and societies that met on a regular basis for the purposes of eating, drinking, conspiring and merry-making.  What makes the Wednesday's Club and the Centenary Club especially pertinent to the social history of dining?

One of the keys, I believe, resides within the professional identities of the men on the attendance rosters.  In addition to merchants, tradesmen, lawyers and doctors, I noticed that the number of aldermen represented in both clubs was uncommonly high.  Who were they?

Along with the Lord Mayor, these officials, each of whom represented one of London's 26 wards, wielded executive political authority within the Corporation of London.  This title was limited to an elite few; one had to own a sizable estate in order to even qualify for nomination.  Once appointed, aldermen held their offices for life.  To call them oligarchical would be of an understatement.

Coincidentally, the City Alderman possessed a unique cultural connection to the art of eating well, or, perhaps too well, I suppose.
A City Feast: Notice all the wasted food being ravaged by dogs in the corner
Gluttony and political corruption often went hand in hand

'Moderation' was an alien term to City politicians
Rowlandson, 1801 

  Just for kicks, I entered the term "fat alderman" into ECCO.  These were some of the hits I got:

Aldermen were often depicted as victims to
the medical consequences of overindulgence

"A fat alderman and a gluttonous knave have become synonymous terms."
          -- "The Batchelor, or Speculations of Geoffrey Wagstaffe" (1769)

"Next the fat alderman, 
whose pond'rous paunch,
is swell'd with turtle,
and with sav'ry haunch
as the last City-feast insur'd his fate,
where for the Public good he sweat
 –– and ate." 
       -- Ewan Clark (1769) 

These condemnations were often laced with accusations of political corruption.

"When shall the time come that an English alderman, like a Roman citizen, shall be contented with a frugal mess of turnips, ready to sacrifice his life for the good of his country, not the interest of his country to his belly?"
        -- "Freemasonry, the High Way to Hell" (1768)

So it's no great surprise that I started exploring these club records with an eye out for details of exquisite banquets and hefty bills.  Foodstuffs themselves are mentioned very sparingly in these two accounts, but I often ran across some curious notes.

In the summer for 1747, for example, the Wednesday's Club spent 6 pounds, 9 shillings, and 6 pence over the allocated 10 pounds for a dinner at Putney.  This record was accompanied by the grumbling resolution that these additional costs would be, in the future, collectively shared by all of the club members. 

Or take an example from the Centenary Club in 1765, when one member, "Mr Darker," bet a bottle of claret that the club had enjoyed two "venison dinners" in the past year.  But apparently Mr. Darker's memory had escaped him; we learn that he lost the bet.

And then there's the guy who tries to get out of being a paying club member and asks for "honorary status" instead by claiming that he has a bad case of gout.  Hmm.  Wonder why?  

What does one make of these excerpts?  They show us that eating well was certainly on the 18th century alderman's mind.  But is this evidence of insatiable bouts of gluttony?  Hardly.  Perhaps the image of the "fat alderman" is somewhat of an exaggeration.  Or perhaps the keeper of the books was particularly skilled in the arts of understatement.   

Saturday, 10 December 2011

The Anatomy of Betrayal

In my last post, I brought up a very peculiar attendance record that seemed to indicate some degree of unhealthy strife among the Wednesday's Club members.  Here it is again.  Seems like the club basically stopped recording its meetings after a few months.  By 1695, eleven of these 20 members had been erased from the records.

The Wednesday's Club seemed to go on hiatus in April of 1694: Buy why?
But what happened?  Where did these men go?  To get to the bottom of this, I decided to look at the seven pages of rules instituted in 1695, designed “by the severall persons of this clubb for the better rule and government of this loving society.”

The first "rule" was particularly intriguing.  It states:

For Dismissing Old Members

“Wheras Mr. Johnson Senior, Mr Thatcher, Mr Hinde, Mr Johnson Junior, Mr Pooler, Mr Pickering, Mr Todd, Mr Dudson, Mr Barnes, Mr Owen and Mr Cheshire, former members of this Clubb have discontinued their appearances at this Clubb for Some time, and have met at a Separat Clubb at the Castle Tavern in Paternoster Row after the Place of meeting was by the majority of the votes of this Clubb upon on noting for that purpose given, fixed to be at the Fountaine Tavern at Aldersgate.  It is Ordered the said persons so discontinuing their appearances shall be dismissed from being members of this Clubb and that for the future this Clubb shall to consist of twenty members and no more. 

What have we here?  Up to now, I had thought that most of these eating clubs had decided to institute rules in order to prevent non-paying "stangers" from showing up to the tavern unannounced and mooching off of the pre-paid dinner.  The institutionalization of the Wednesday's Club –– manifested in its many rules governing dining, comportment and membership ––  apparently resulted from decidedly less happy circumstances.

Distance from the Fountain to the Castle Tavern
Courtesy of Google-Maps
But why did these guys leave and start their own club?  It certainly couldn't have been the commute; A quick search revealed that the walking distance between the the locations of the two taverns amounted to a paltry five minutes.

But as vast social, religious and political divisions can make themselves apparent within the smallest of distances, it was worth asking why the defectors went to Paternoster Row of all places.  In the early 18th century, this street was a mecca for booksellers and printers.  One contemporary described the streets being so jam packed with gentleman's coaches that regular folks couldn't even find a place to walk.  And apparently the Castle Tavern, the venue to which the members deserted, was a pretty classy place; a 1699 newspaper remarked that a Man and Woman could order "1/2 dozen Potch'd Eggs which were brought upon a Plate with as many Silver Spoons." 

But I still needed to know more about the circumstances of this desertion.  I tried to search the names of the deserters in order to answer this question, but I didn't come up with much.

Except for one thing:    
First Year of the Centenary Club: Looks like the defectors ended up here!
I know this is a little hard to read, but if you look closely, my efficacious readers will notice that the exact same names of the deserters showing up in founding document of the Centenary Club in 1695!  Because the rules and organization of both clubs were so similar, I had been convinced for some time that the two clubs had some sort of relationship with one another.  This document said it all.  

Still, the circumstances regarding this betrayal remain a mystery.  Was it a matter of religion?  (After all, London in the late Stuart age was marked by religious strife among Anglicans, Catholics, and myriad Dissenting groups; the Sacheverell riots were looming in the not too distant future.)  Or perhaps politics caused the split?  (The Centenary Club entertained Tory loyalties, but I am not sure as of yet where the Wednesday's Club allegiances lied.)  Or could this division have resulted from a personal squabble among a once cohesive group of friends?

More on this matter next time.