Littell's Living Age/Volume 1/Issue 1/On French Cookery


Of Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders—Othello.

To the Editor of time London Magazine.

SIR,—I am an alderman and button-maker in the city, and I have a taste for sea-coal fires, porter, roast-beef, and the LONDON MAGAZINE. My son Bob, and my daughter Fanny, on the contrary, used to dislike all these good things—the last excepted: and prevailed with me to go and spend a month or two in Paris in the spring of this year. I knew that my son loved me as well as French cookery—and my daughter nearly as well as a French gown: so I unfortunately and affectionately complied with their desire—and have repented it ever since. However, my journey has not been altogether thrown away, as it has reconverted Bob to beef, and as it gives me an opportunity of relating the wonders of French cookery—a matter which in all your articles upon the French you have unaccountably neglected. The subject strikes me as highly important in all points of view: and it is a favorite theory of mine that the manners and tastes of a nation may be known from their cookery even better than from the bumps on their heads. The French Revolution was no doubt brought about by the national fondness for necks of mutton and men à l' ecarlate: and the national hatred to the English is still visible in their attempts to poison them with their dishes—a consummation not at all to my taste, even with the prospect of being buried in Pére la Chaise. As for me, I am a plain man, alderman and button-maker, and should prefer being interred in Aldermanbury.

It has long been the reproach of the French, and you are among those wlso have echoed it, that they are not a poetical people. But at least their cooks are. Must not a cook, Mr. Editor, be inflamed with the double fires of the kitchen and poetry, where he conceives the idea of fountains of love, starry anniseed, capons’ wings in the sun, and eggs blushing like Aurora—followed (alas! what a terrible declension!) by eggs à la Tripe? I consider their beef in scarlet, their sauce in half mourning, and their white virgin beans, as examples of the same warm and culinary fancy.[1]

Their ingenuity is sometimes shown in the invention of new dishes, as well as in the epithets they attach to them—another poetical symptom. Not to say any thing of the vulgar plates of frogs, nettles, and thistles, what genius there is in the conception of a dish of breeches in the royal fashion, with velvet sauce—tendons of veal in a peacock’s tail—and a shoulder of mutton in a balloon or a bagpipe! Sometimes their names are so fanciful as to be totally incomprehensible, especially if you look for them in a dictionary: such as a palace of beef in Cracovia—strawberries of veal—the amorous smiles of a calf—a fleet with tomata sauce—and eggs in a looking-glass.[2]

But there are many of their dishes which are monstrous; and in my mind not only prove the French capability of eating poisons, but their strong tendency to cannibalism. Great and little asps—fowls done like lizards—hares like serpents—and pigeons like toads or basilisks—are all favorite dishes: as are also a hash of huntsmen, a stew of good Christians, a mouthful of ladies, thin Spanish women, and four beggars on a plate.—One of their most famous sauces is sauce Robert, which I remember to have read of in Fairy Tales as the sauce with which the Ogres used to eat children. My daughter found one dish on the carte which alarmed us all—Eglefin à la Hollandaise: and after trying a long time, she remembered it was something like the name of somebody of whom she had taken lessons of memory. I suppose they had taken the poor devil from his name to be a Dutchman, and had accordingly drest him à la Hollandaise.[3]

They like liver of veal done to choke you, and pullets like ivory—so called, I suppose, from their toughness and hardness. Other dishes are, on the contrary, quite shadowy and unsubstantial: such as an embrace of a bare on the spit—partridge’s shoe-soles—a dart and a leap of salmon—the breath of a rose—a whole jonquil—or biscuits that would have done honor to the Barmecides feast.[4]

The French have a way of serving up their dishes which is as extraordinary as the rest. What should we think of whitings in turbans—smelts in dice boxes—a skate buckled to capers—gooseberries in their shifts, and potatoes in their shirts?—Should we not think any Englishman very filthy whose cook should send up cutlets in hair-papers—truffles in ashes—and squirted seed-cakes?—and whose dinner-hell should announce to us what they call a ding-dong in a daub?[5]

The military dispositions of the French are discoverable even in their cookery. They have large and small bullets—carbonadoes innumerable—syrup of grenades—and quails in laurels: and I have often heard dishes called for, which sounded to my ear very like “ramrods for strangling,” and “bayonets for the gendarmes.”[6]

But I may easily have been mistaken in French words, when I can’t understand what they call English ones—some of which seem to have undergone as complete a change by crossing the Channel, as most of our country-women. Who could recognize, for example, in wouelche rabette, hoche-pot, panequet, misies paës, plomboudine, or mache potetesse, the primal and delightful sounds of Welch rabbit, hotch-potch, pancake, mince-pies, plumb-pudding, and mashed potatoes? But the French seem fond of far-fetched dishes: they get their thistles from Spain, and their cabbages from Brussels, and their artichokes from Barbary in Turkish turbans.’[7]

The French boast that their language is the clearest in the world. I should like to know what they mean by a skate fried raw, or big little peaches?[8] I can easily comprehend mouton à la Gasconne, however: and an epigramme d’agneau is as insipid as a French epigram always is.

As I have got a corner of my paper still blank, my son Bob begs me to let him spoil it with a few verses which he says are German to French cookery: I therefore hasten to conclude my epistle with the expression of my best wishes, and the assurance that I am, with great esteem and respect, Sir, your very obedient humble servant,

Button-maker and Alderman.


It has often been printed in books,
    And I’m going to say it once more,
That the French are a nation of cooks,—[9]
    Though I never believed it before.
But now I can make it quite clear—
    For who but the devil’s own legion
Would stew down a virgin, as here,
    And broil out a good Christian’s religion!

They say that John Bull o’er his beef
    And his beer is a terrible glutton:
Does he eat toads and asps, or the leaf
    Or the roots of an oak with his mutton?
Do serpents or basilisks crawl
    From his kitchen to lie on his table?
Or lizards or cats does he call
    By all the lost nicknames of Babel?[10]

We like our Beef-eaters in scarlet,
    Not our beef—nor the sauce in half-mourning:
We don’t eat a Fanny or Charlotte,
    Nor a mouthful of ladies each morning—
(This it shocks all my senses to utter,
    Yet with Holy Writ truths you may rank it:)
And they eat a Ray fried in black butter,
    And can make a meal on a fowl blanket.[11]

If we don’t like our beef in balloons,
    Or a shoulder of lamb in a bagpipe;
Sweet wolves’ teeth, or twin macaroons,
    Or truffles which they with a rag wipe:
If we don’t look for eggs of Aurora,
    Nor sheeps’ tails prepared in the sun;
And prefer a boil’d cod far before a
    Tough skate which is only half done:[12]

If we don’t want our veal done to choke us,
    Nor ivory fowls on our dish:
If gendarmes in all shapes should provoke us,
    And we like Harvey’s sauce with our fish:
If mutton and airs à la Gasconne
    Don’t agree with the stomachs at all
Of Englishmen—O need I ask one?—
    Let us cut Monsieur Very’s, and Gaul.[13]


  1. ^  Puits d'amour.——Anis etollé.—Ailes de poularde au Soleil.—Œufs à l'Aurore.—Bœuf à l'écarlate.—Sauce en petit deuil—Haricots Vierges.
  2. ^ Culotte à la Royale, sauce velouté.—Tendons de veau en queue de paon.—Epaule de mouton en ballon, en musette—Palais de bœuf en Cracovie—Fraises de veau.—Ris de veau en amourette—Flotte, sauce Tomate.—Œufs au miroir.
  3. ^ Grand et petit Aspic—Poulet en lézard.—Lièvre en serpent—Pigeon à la Crapaudine, en basilic—Salmi de Chasseurs—Compote de bons Chretiens.—Bouchée de Dames.—Espagnoles maigres.—Quatre mendians.
  4. ^  Veau à l'étouffade.—Poulets à l'ivoire—Accolade de lièivre à la Broche—Semelles de Perdrix—Une darde et un sauté de Saumon—Souffle de rose—Une jonquille entière.—Biscuits manqués.
  5. ^  Merlans en turban.—Eperlans en Cornets—Raie bouclée aux câpres—Groseilles at pommes de terre en chemise—Cotelettes en papillotes.—Truffes à la cendre—Massepains seringués—Dindon en daube.
  6. ^  Gros et petits boulets—Carbonades de mouton, &c.—Sirop de grenades—Cailles aux lauriers. In the last two names our worthy correspondent probably alludes to Ramereaux à l'étouffade, and Beignets à la gendarme.
  7. ^  Cardons d’Espagne.—Choux de Bruxelles—Artichauts de Barbarie en bonnet de Turc.
  8. ^  Raie frite à cru.—Peches grosses-mignonnes.
  9. ^  Bob calls cooks “the devil’s own legion,” from the well-known fact of their being sent from even a hotter place than they occupy upon earth. He alludes in the last part of the verse to the kind of bean called vierge, which the French stew, and to the bon Chrétien grillé.
  10. ^  Pigeons à la crapaudine—Aspic de veau.—Feuilletage—Tendons de mouton aux racines.—Lièvre en serpent—Pigeon en basilic.—Poulet en lézard.—Civet do lièvre.
  11. ^  Bœuf à l’écarlate—Sauce en petit deuil—Fanchonnettes—Charlotte de pommes.—Bouchée de Dames, a kind of cake—Raie au heurre noir—Blanquette de volaille.
  12. ^  Bœuf en ballon—Epaule d’agneau en musette—Dents de loup, a sort of biscuit.—Macarons jumeaux.—Truffes à la Serviette.—Œufs à l’Aurore.—Queues de mouton au Soleil—Raie frite à cru.
  13. ^  Veau à l’étouffade.—Poulots à l’ivoire.—Noix de veau à la gendarme.—Mouton à la Gasconne.