Open main menu

Page:Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management.djvu/146

This page has been validated.

which the useful or mechanical arts had been incidentally developing themselves, when trade and commerce began. Through these various phases, ONLY TO LIVE had been the great object of mankind; but by and by comforts were multiplied, and accumulating riches created new wants. The object, then, was not only TO LIVE, but to live economically, agreeably, tastefully and well. Accordingly, the art of cookery commences; and although the fruits of the earth, the fowls of the air, the beasts of the field, and the fish of the sea, are still the only food of mankind, yet these are so prepared, improved and dressed by skill and ingenuity, that they are the means of immeasurably extending the boundaries of human enjoyment. Everything that is edible and passes under the hands of the cook is more or less changed, and assumes new forms. Hence the immense influence of that functionary upon the happiness of a household.

In the luxurious ages of Grecian antiquity Sicilian cooks were the most esteemed, and received high rewards for their services. Among them, one called Trimalcio was such an adept in his art, that he could impart to common fish both the form and flavour of the most esteemed of the piscatory tribes. A chief cook in the palmy days of Roman extravagance had about £800 a year, and Antony rewarded the one who cooked the supper which pleased Cleopatra with the present of a city. With the fall of the Empire, the culinary art sank into less consideration. In the middle ages cooks laboured to acquire a reputation for their sauces, which they composed of strange combinations, for the sake of novelty.

Excellence in the Art of Cookery as in all other things is only acquired by experience and practice. In proportion, therefore, to the opportunities which a cook has had of these, so will be his excellence in the art.


English v. French Cookery.—It is not easy to treat separately English and French cookery, because, in the first place, by dint of borrowing across the Channel, the two have become inextricably mixed up, as is evidenced by our habitual use of French terms, and by the common, though less constant, use of English terms in French cookery-books; and because, in the second place a good deal of what is distinctive in French cookery is founded on the nature of things, and cannot be transplanted.

Perhaps the difference is greatest in the cooking of meat. We are accused of eating meat raw, and we retort that roast meat out of England is uneatable. The damp climate and the broad pastures, the turnip crops that flourish under our rainy skies, the graziers who for many years have worked to make British cattle and British sheep renowned through the world; these all have made our cookery what