The Cook’s Decameron: A Study In Taste
Containing Over Two Hundred Recipes For Italian Dishes
Mrs. W. G. Waters
“Show me a pleasure like dinner, which comes every day and lasts an hour.” — Talleyrand circa 1901
In memory of Certain Ausonian Feasts
Montaigne in one of his essays* mentions the high excellence Italian cookery had attained in his day. “I have entered into this Discourse upon the Occasion of an Italian I lately receiv’d into my Service, and who was Clerk of the Kitchen to the late Cardinal Caraffa till his Death. I put this Fellow upon an Account of his office: Where he fell to Discourse of this Palate-Science, with such a settled Countenance and Magisterial Gravity, as if he had been handling some profound Point of Divinity. He made a Learned Distinction of the several sorts of Appetites, of that of a Man before he begins to eat, and of those after the second and third Service: The Means simply to satisfy the first, and then to raise and acute the other two: The ordering of the Sauces, first in general, and then proceeded to the Qualities of the Ingredients, and their Effects: The Differences of Sallets, according to their seasons, which ought to be serv’d up hot, and which cold: The Manner of their Garnishment and Decoration, to render them yet more acceptable to the Eye after which he entered upon the Order of the whole Service, full of weighty and important Considerations.”
It is consistent with Montaigne’s large-minded habit thus to applaud the gifts of this master of his art who happened not to be a Frenchman. It is a canon of belief with the modern Englishman that the French alone can achieve excellence in the art of cookery, and when once a notion of this sort shall have found a lodgment in an Englishman’s brain, the task of removing it will be a hard one. Not for a moment is it suggested that Englishmen or any one else should cease to recognise the sovereign merits of French cookery; all that is entreated is toleration, and perchance approval, of cookery of other schools. But the favourable consideration of any plea of this sort is hindered by the fact that the vast majority of Englishmen when they go abroad find no other school of cookery by the testing of which they may form a comparison. This universal prevalence of French cookery may be held to be a proof of its supreme excellence–that it is first, and the rest nowhere; but the victory is not so complete as it seems, and the facts would bring grief and humiliation rather than patriotic pride to the heart of a Frenchman like Brillat-Savarin. For the cookery we meet in the hotels of the great European cities, though it may be based on French traditions, is not the genuine thing, but a bastard, cosmopolitan growth, the same everywhere, and generally vapid and uninteresting. French cookery of the grand school suffers by being associated with such commonplace achievements. It is noted in the following pages how rarely English people on their travels penetrate where true Italian cookery may be tasted, wherefore it has seemed worth while to place within the reach of English housewives some Italian recipes which are especially fitted for the presentation of English fare to English palates under a different and not unappetising guise. Most of them will be found simple and inexpensive, and special care has been taken to include those recipes which enable the less esteemed portions of meat and the cheaper vegetables and fish to be treated more elaborately than they have hitherto been treated by English cooks.
The author wishes to tender her acknowledgments to her husband for certain suggestions and emendations made in the revision of the introduction, and for his courage in dining, “greatly daring,” off many of the dishes. He still lives and thrives. Also to Mrs. Mitchell, her cook, for the interest and enthusiasm she has shown in the work, for her valuable advice, and for the care taken in testing the recipes.
The First Day
The Second Day.
The Third Day.
The Fourth Day
The Fifth Day.
The Sixth Day.
The Seventh Day
The Eighth Day
The Ninth Day.
The Tenth Day.
Part II — Recipes
1. Espagnole or Brown Sauce.
2. Velute Sauce.
3. Bechamel Sauce.
4. Mirepoix Sauce (for masking).
5. Genoese Sauce.
6. Italian Sauce.
7. Ham Sauce (Salsa di Prosciutto).
8. Tarragon Sauce.
9. Tomato Sauce.
10. Tomato Sauce Piquante.
11. Mushroom Sauce.
12. Neapolitan Sauce.
13. Neapolitan Anchovy Sauce.
14. Roman Sauce (Salsa Agro-dolce).
15. Roman Sauce (another way).
16. Supreme Sauce.
17. Pasta marinate (for masking Italian Frys).
18. White Villeroy.
19. Clear Soup.
20. Zuppa Primaverile (Spring Soup).
21. Soup alla Lombarda.
22. Tuscan Soup.
23. Venetian Soup.
24. Roman Soup.
25. Soup alla Nazionale.
26. Soup alla Modanese.
27. Crotopo Soup.
28. Soup all’Imperatrice.
29. Neapolitan Soup.
30. Soup with Risotto.
31. Soup alla Canavese.
32. Soup alla Maria l’ia.
33. Zuppa d’Erbe (Lettuce Soup).
34. Zuppa Regina di Riso (Queen’s soup).
35. A Condiment for Seasoning Minestre, &c.
36. Minestra alla Casalinga.
37. Minestra of Rice and Turnips.
38. Minestra alla Capucina.
39. Minestra of Semolina.
40. Minestrone alla Milanese.
41. Minestra of Rice and Cabbage.
42. Minestra of Rice and Celery.
43. Anguilla alla Milanese (Eels).
44. Filletti di Pesce alla Villeroy (Fillets of Fish).
45. Astachi all’Italiana (Lobster).
46. Baccala alla Giardiniera (Cod).
47. Triglie alla Marinara (Mullet).
48. Mullet alla Tolosa.
49. Mullet alla Triestina.
50. Whiting alla Genovese.
51. Merluzzo in Bianco (Cod).
52. Merluzzo in Salamoia (Cod).
53. Baccala in Istufato (Haddock).
54. Naselli con Piselli (Whiting).
55. Ostriche alla Livornese (Oysters).
56. Ostriche alla Napolitana (Oysters).
57. Ostriche alla Neneziana (Oysters).
58. Pesci diversi alla Casalinga (Fish).
59. Pesce alla Genovese (Sole or Turbot).
60. Sogliole in Zimino (Sole).
61. Sogliole al tegame (Sole).
62. Sogliole alla Livornese (Sole).
63. Sogliole alla Veneziana (Sole).
64. Sogliole alla parmigiana (Sole).
65. Salmone alla Genovese (Salmon).
66. Salmone alla Perigo (Salmon).
67. Salmone alla giardiniera (Salmon).
68. Salmone alla Farnese (Salmon).
69. Salmone alla Santa Fiorentina (Salmon).
70. Salmone alla Francesca (Salmon).
71. Fillets of Salmon in Papiliotte.
Beef, Mutton, Veal, Lamb, &c.
72. Manzo alla Certosina (Fillet of Beef).
73. Stufato alla Fiorentina (Stewed Beef).
74. Coscia di Manzo al Forno (Rump Steak).
75. Polpettine alla Salsa Piccante (Beef Olives).
76. Stufato alla Milanese (Stewed Beef).
77. Manzo Marinato Arrosto (Marinated Beef).
78. Manzo con sugo di Barbabietole (Fillet of Beef).
79. Manzo in Insalata (Marinated Beef).
80. Filetto di Bue con Pistacchi (Fillets of Beef with Pistacchios).
81. Scalopini di Rizo (Beef with Risotto).
82. Tenerumi alla Piemontese (Tendons of Veal).
83. Bragiuole di Vitello (Veal Cutlets).
84. Costolette alla Monza (Veal Cutlets).
85. Vitello alla Pellegrina (Breast of Veal).
86. Frittura Piccata al Marsala (Fillet of Veal).
87. Polpettine Distese (Veal Olives).
88. Coste di Vitello Imboracciate (Ribs of Veal).
89. Costolette di Montone alla Nizzarda (Mutton Cutlets).
90. Petto di Castrato all’Italiana (Breast of Mutton).
91. Petto di Castrato alla Salsa piccante (Breast of Mutton).
92. Tenerumi d’ Agnello alla Villeroy (Tendons of Lamb).
93. Tenerumi d’ Agnello alla Veneziana (Tendons of Lamb).
94. Costoletto d’Agnello alla Costanza (Lamb Cutlets).
Tongue, Sweetbread, Calf’s Head, Liver, Sucking Pig, &c.
95. Timballo alla Romana.
96. Timballo alla Lombarda.
97. Lingua alla Visconti (Tongue).
98. Lingua di Manzo al Citriuoli (Tongue with Cucumber).
99. Lingue di Castrato alla Cuciniera (Sheep’s Tongues).
100.. Lingue di Vitello all’Italiana (Calves’ Tongues).
101. Porcelletto alla Corradino (Sucking Pig).
102. Porcelletto da Latte in Galantina (Sucking Pig).
103. Ateletti alla Sarda.
1O4. Ateletti alla Genovese.
105. Testa di Vitello alla Sorrentina (Calf’s Head).
106. Testa di Vitello con Salsa Napoletana (Calf’s head).
107. Testa di Vitello alla Pompadour (Calf’s Head).
108. Testa di Vitello alla Sanseverino (Calf’s Head).
109. Testa di Vitello in Frittata (Calf’s Head).
110. Zampetti (Calves’ Feet).
111. Bodini Marinati.
112. Animelle alla Parmegiana (Sweetbread).
113. Animelle in Cartoccio (Sweetbread).
114. Animelle all’Italiana (Sweetbread).
115. Animelle Lardellate (Sweetbread).
116. Frittura di Bottoni e di Animelle (Sweetbreads and Mushrooms).
117. Cervello in Filiserbe (Calf’s Brains).
118. Cervello alla Milanese (Calf’s Brains).
119. Cervello alla Villeroy (Calf’s Brains).
120. Frittuta of Cervello (Calf’s Brains).
121. Cervello alla Frittata Montano (Calf’s Brains).
122. Marinata di Cervello alla Villeroy (Calf’s Brains).
123. Minuta alla Milanese (Lamb’s Sweetbread).
124. Animelle al Sapor di Targone (Lamb’s Fry).
125. Fritto Misto alla Villeroy.
126. Fritto Misto alla Piemontese.
127. Minuta di Fegatini (Ragout of Fowls’ Livers).
128. Minuta alla Visconti (Chickens’ Livers).
129. Croutons alla Principessa.
130. Croutons alla Romana.
Fowl, Duck, Game, Hare, Rabbit, &c.
131. Soffiato di Cappone (Fowl Souffle).
132. Pollo alla Fiorentina (Chicken).
133. Pollo ali’Oliva (Chicken).
134. Pollo alla Villereccia (Chicken).
135. Pollo alla Cacciatora (Chicken).
136. Pollastro alla Lorenese (Fowl).
137. Pollastro in Fricassea al Burro (Fowl).
138. Pollastro in istufa di Pomidoro (Braized Fowl).
139. Cappone con Riso (Capon with Rice).
140. Dindo Arrosto alla Milanese (Roast Turkey).
141. Tacchinotto all’Istriona (Turkey Poult).
142. Fagiano alla Napoletana (Pheasant).
143. Fagiano alla Perigo (Pheasant).
144. Anitra Selvatica (Wild Duck).
145. Perniciotti alla Gastalda (Partridges).
146. Piccioni alla Diplomatica (Snipe).
147. Piccioni alla minute (Pigeons)
148. Piccioni in Ripieno (Stuffed Pigeons).
149. Lepre in istufato (Stewed Hare).
150. Lepre Agro-dolce (Hare).
151. Coniglio alla Provenzale (Rabbit).
152. Coniglio arrostito alla Corradino (Roast Rabbit).
153. Coniglio in salsa Piccante (Rabbit).
154. Asparagi alla salsa Suprema (Asparagus).
155. Cavoli di Bruxelles alla Savoiarda (Brussels Sprouts).
156. Barbabietola alla Parmigiana (Beetroot).
157. Fave alla Savoiarda (Beans).
158. Verze alla Capuccina (Cabbage).
159. Cavoli fiori alla Lionese (Cauliflower).
160. Cavoli fiori fritti (Cauliflower).
161. Cauliflower alla Parmigiana.
162. Cavoli Fiori Ripieni.
163. Sedani alla l’armigiana (Celery).
164. Sedani Fritti all’Italiana (Celery).
165. Cetriuoli alla Parmigiana (Cucumber).
166. Cetriuoli alla Borghese (Cucumber).
167. Carote al sughillo (Carrots).
168. Carote e piselli alla panna (Carrots and peas).
169. Verze alla Certosina (Cabbage).
170. Lattughe al sugo (Lettuce).
171. Lattughe farcite alla Genovese (Lettuce).
172. Funghi cappelle infarcite (Stuffed Mushrooms).
173. Verdure miste (Macedoine of Vegetables).
174. Patate alla crema (Potatoes in cream).
175. Cestelline cli patate alla giardiniera (Potatoes).
176. Patate al Pomidoro (Potatoes with Tomato Sauce).
177. Spinaci alla Milanese (Spinach).
178. Insalata di patate (Potato salad).
179. Insalata alla Navarino (Salad).
180. Insalata di pomidoro (Tomato Salad).
181. Tartufi alla Dino (Truffles).
Macaroni, Rice, Polenta, All Other Italian Pastes
182. Macaroni with Tomatoes Macaroni alla Casalinga.
183. Macaroni al Sughillo.
184. Macaroni alla Livornese.
186. Tagliarelle and Lobster.
188. Polenta Pasticciata.
190. Risotto all’Italiana.
191. Risotto alla Genoxese.
192. Risotto alla Spagnuola.
193. Risotto alla Capuccina.
194. Risotto alla Parigina.
196. Ravioli alla Fiorentina.
197. Gnoechi alla Romana.
198. Gnoechi alla Lombarda.
199. Frittata di Riso (Savoury Rice Pancake).
Omelettes and Other Egg Dishes
200. Uova ai Tartufi (Eggs with Truffles).
201. Uova al Pomidoro (Eggs and Tomatoes).
202. Uova ripiene (Canapes of Egg).
203. Uova alla Fiorentina (Eggs).
204. Uova in fili (Egg Canapes).
205. Frittata di funghi (Mushroom Omelette).
206. Frittata eon Pomidoro (Tomato Omelette).
207. Frittata con Asparagi (Asparagus Omelette).
208. Frittata eon erbe (Omelette with Herbs).
209. Frittata Montata (Omelette Souffle’).
210. Frittata di Proseiutto (Ham Omelette).
Sweets and Cakes
211. Bodino off Semolina.
212. Crema rappresa (Coffee Cream).
213. Crema Montata alle Fragole (Strawberry Cream).
214. Croccante di Mandorle (Cream Nougat).
215. Crema tartara alla Caramella (Caramel Cream).
216. Cremona Cake.
217. Cake alla Tolentina.
218. Riso all’Imperatrice.
219. Amaretti leggier (Almond Cakes).
220. Cakes alla Livornese.
221. Genoese Pastry.
223. Iced Zabajone.
224. Panforte di Siena (Sienese Hardbake).
New Century Sauce
225. Fish Sauce.
226. Sauce Piquante (for Meat, Fowl, Game, Rabbit, &c.).
227. Sauce for Venison, Hare, &c.
228. Tomato Sauce Piquante.
229. Sauce for Roast Pork, Ham, &c.
230. For masking Cutlets, &c.
The Cook’s Decameron
The Marchesa di Sant’Andrea finished her early morning cup of tea, and then took up the batch of correspondence which her maid had placed on the tray. The world had a way of treating her in kindly fashion, and hostile or troublesome letters rarely veiled their ugly faces under the envelopes addressed to her; wherefore the perfection of that pleasant half-hour lying between the last sip of tea and the first step to meet the new day was seldom marred by the perusal of her morning budget. The apartment which she graced with her seemly presence was a choice one in the Mayfair Hotel, one which she had occupied for the past four or five years during her spring visit to London; a visit undertaken to keep alive a number of pleasant English friendships which had begun in Rome or Malta. London had for her the peculiar attraction it has for so many Italians, and the weeks she spent upon its stones were commonly the happiest of the year.
The review she took of her letters before breaking the seals first puzzled her, and then roused certain misgivings in her heart. She recognised the handwriting of each of the nine addresses, and at the same time recalled the fact that she was engaged to dine with every one of the correspondents of this particular morning. Why should they all be writing to her? She had uneasy forebodings of postponement, and she hated to have her engagements disturbed; but it was useless to prolong suspense, so she began by opening the envelope addressed in the familiar handwriting of Sir John Oglethorpe, and this was what Sir John had to say–
“My Dear Marchesa, words, whether written or spoken, are powerless to express my present state of mind. In the first place, our dinner on Thursday is impossible, and in the second, I have lost Narcisse and forever. You commented favourably upon that supreme of lobster and the Ris de Veau a la Renaissance we tasted last week, but never again will you meet the handiwork of Narcisse. He came to me with admirable testimonials as to his artistic excellence; with regard to his moral past I was, I fear, culpably negligent, for I now learn that all the time he presided over my stewpans he was wanted by the French police on a charge of murdering his wife. A young lady seems to have helped him; so I fear Narcisse has broken more than one of the commandments in this final escapade. The truly great have ever been subject to these momentary aberrations, and Narcisse being now in the hands of justice–so called–our dinner must needs stand over, though not, I hope, for long. Meantime the only consolation I can perceive is the chance of a cup of tea with you this afternoon.
Sir John Oglethorpe had been her husband’s oldest and best friend. He and the Marchesa had first met in Sardinia, where they had both of them gone in pursuit of woodcock, and since the Marchesa had been a widow, she and Sir John had met either in Rome or in London every year. The dinner so tragically manque had been arranged to assemble a number of Anglo-Italian friends; and, as Sir John was as perfect as a host as Narcisse was as a cook, the disappointment was a heavy one. She threw aside the letter with a gesture of vexation, and opened the next.
“Sweetest Marchesa,” it began, “how can I tell you my grief at having to postpone our dinner for Friday. My wretched cook (I gave her seventy-five pounds a year), whom I have long suspected of intemperate habits, was hopelessly inebriated last night, and had to be conveyed out of the house by my husband and a dear, devoted friend who happened to be dining with us, and deposited in a four- wheeler. May I look in tomorrow afternoon and pour out my grief to you? Yours cordially,
“Pamela St. Aubyn Fothergill.”
When the Marchesa had opened four more letters, one from Lady Considine, one from Mrs. Sinclair, one from Miss Macdonnell, and one from Mrs. Wilding, and found that all these ladies were obliged to postpone their dinners on account of the misdeeds of their cooks, she felt that the laws of average were all adrift. Surely the three remaining letters must contain news of a character to counterbalance what had already been revealed, but the event showed that, on this particular morning, Fortune was in a mood to strike hard. Colonel Trestrail, who gave in his chambers carefully devised banquets, compounded by a Bengali who was undoubtedly something of a genius, wrote to say that this personage had left at a day’s notice, in order to embrace Christianity and marry a lady’s-maid who had just come into a legacy of a thousand pounds under the will of her late mistress. Another correspondent, Mrs. Gradinger, wrote that her German cook had announced that the dignity of womanhood was, in her opinion, slighted by the obligation to prepare food for others in exchange for mere pecuniary compensation. Only on condition of the grant of perfect social equality would she consent to stay, and Mrs. Gradinger, though she held advanced opinions, was hardly advanced far enough to accept this suggestion. Last of all, Mr. Sebastian van der Roet was desolate to announce that his cook, a Japanese, whose dishes were, in his employer’s estimation, absolute inspirations, had decamped and taken with him everything of value he could lay hold of; and more than desolate, that he was forced to postpone the pleasure of welcoming the Marchesa di Sant’ Andrea at his table.
When she had finished reading this last note, the Marchesa gathered the whole mass of her morning’s correspondence together, and uttering a few Italian words which need not be translated, rolled it into a ball and hurled the same to the farthest corner of the room. “How is it,” she ejaculated, “that these English, who dominate the world abroad, cannot get their food properly cooked at home? I suppose it is because they, in their lofty way, look upon cookery as a non-essential, and consequently fall victims to gout and dyspepsia, or into the clutches of some international brigandaccio, who declares he is a cordon bleu. One hears now and again pleasant remarks about the worn-out Latin races, but I know of one Latin race which can do better than this in cookery.” And having thus delivered herself, the Marchesa lay back on the pillows and reviewed the situation.
She was sorry in a way to miss the Colonel’s dinner. The dishes which the Bengali cook turned out were excellent, but the host himself was a trifle dictatorial and too fond of the sound of his own voice, while certain of the inevitable guests were still worse. Mrs. Gradinger’s letter came as a relief; indeed the Marchesa had been wondering why she had ever consented to go and pretend to enjoy herself by eating an ill-cooked dinner in company with social reformers and educational prigs. She really went because she liked Mr. Gradinger, who was as unlike his wife as possible, a stout youth of forty, with a breezy manner and a decided fondness for sport. Lady Considine’s dinners were indifferent, and the guests were apt to be a bit too smart and too redolent of last season’s Monte Carlo odour. The Sinclairs gave good dinners to perfectly selected guests, and by reason of this virtue, one not too common, the host and hostess might be pardoned for being a little too well satisfied with themselves and with their last new bibelot. The Fothergill dinners were like all other dinners given by the Fothergills of society. They were costly, utterly undistinguished, and invariably graced by the presence of certain guests who seemed to have been called in out of the street at the last moment. Van der Roet’s Japanese menus were curious, and at times inimical to digestion, but the personality of the host was charming. As to Sir John Oglethorpe, the question of the dinner postponed troubled her little: another repast, the finest that London’s finest restaurant could furnish, would certainly be forthcoming before long. In Sir John’s case, her discomposure took the form of sympathy for her friend in his recent bereavement. He had been searching all his life for a perfect cook, and he had found, or believed he had found, such an one in Narcisse; wherefore the Marchesa was fully persuaded that, if that artist should evade the guillotine, she would again taste his incomparable handiwork, even though he were suspected of murdering his whole family as well as the partner of his joys.
That same afternoon a number of the balked entertainers foregathered in the Marchesa’s drawing-room, the dominant subject of discourse being the approaching dissolution of London society from the refusal of one human to cook food for another. Those present were gathered in two groups. In one the Colonel, in spite of the recent desertion of his Oriental, was asserting that the Government should be required to bring over consignments of perfectly trained Indian cooks, and thus trim the balance between dining room and kitchen; and to the other Mrs. Gradinger, a gaunt, ill-dressed lady in spectacles, with a commanding nose and dull, wispy hair, was proclaiming in a steady metallic voice, that it was absolutely necessary to double the school rate at once in order to convert all the girls and some of the boys as well, into perfectly equipped food-cooking animals; but her audience gradually fell away, and in an interval of silence the voice of the hostess was heard giving utterance to a tentative suggestion.
“But, my dear, it is inconceivable that the comfort and the movement of society should depend on the humours of its servants. I don’t blame them for refusing to cook if they dislike cooking, and can find other work as light and as well paid; but, things being as they are, I would suggest that we set to work somehow to make ourselves independent of cooks.”
“That ‘somehow’ is the crux, my dear Livia,” said Mrs. Sinclair. “I have a plan of my own, but I dare not breathe it, for I’m sure Mrs. Gradinger would call it ‘anti-social,’ whatever that may mean.”
“I should imagine that it is a term which might be applied to any scheme which robs society of the ministrations of its cooks,” said Sir John.
“I have heard mathematicians declare that what is true of the whole is true of its parts,” said the Marchesa. “I daresay it is, but I never stopped to inquire. I will amplify on my own account, and lay down that what is true of the parts must be true of the whole. I’m sure that sounds quite right. Now I, as a unit of society, am independent of cooks because I can cook myself, and if all the other units were independent, society itself would be independent– ecco!”
“To speak in this tone of a serious science like Euclid seems rather frivolous,” said Mrs. Gradinger. “I may observe–” but here mercifully the observation was checked by the entry of Mrs. St. Aubyn Fothergill.
She was a handsome woman, always dominated by an air of serious preoccupation, sumptuously, but not tastefully dressed. In the social struggle upwards, wealth was the only weapon she possessed, and wealth without dexterity has been known to fail before this. She made efforts, indeed, to imitate Mrs. Sinclair in the elegancies of menage, and to pose as a woman of mind after the pattern of Mrs. Gradinger; but the task first named required too much tact, and the other powers of endurance which she did not possess.
“You’ll have some tea, Mrs. Fothergill?” said the Marchesa. “It’s so good of you to have come.”
“No, really, I can’t take any tea; in fact, I couldn’t take any lunch out of vexation at having to put you off, my dear Marchesa.”
“Oh, these accidents will occur. We were just discussing the best way of getting round them,” said the Marchesa. “Now, dear,” –speaking to Mrs. Sinclair–“let’s have your plan. Mrs. Gradinger has fastened like a leech on the Canon and Mrs. Wilding, and won’t hear a word of what you have to say.”
“Well, my scheme is just an amplification of your mathematical illustrations, that we should all learn to cook for ourselves. I regard it no longer as impossible, or even difficult, since you have informed us that you are a mistress of the art. We’ll start a new school of cookery, and you shall teach us all you know.”
“Ah, my dear Laura, you are like certain English women in the hunting field. You are inclined to rush your fences,” said the Marchesa with a deprecatory gesture. “And just look at the people gathered here in this room. Wouldn’t they–to continue the horsey metaphor–be rather an awkward team to drive?”
“Not at all, if you had them in suitable surroundings. Now, supposing some beneficent millionaire were to lend us for a month or so a nice country house, we might install you there as Mistress of the stewpans, and sit at your feet as disciples,” said Mrs. Sinclair.
“The idea seems first-rate,” said Van der Roet; “and I suppose, if we are good little boys and girls, and learn our lessons properly, we may be allowed to taste some of our own dishes.”
“Might not that lead to a confusion between rewards and punishments?” said Sir John.
“If ever it comes to that,” said Miss Macdonnell with a mischievous glance out of a pair of dark, flashing Celtic eyes, “I hope that our mistress will inspect carefully all pupils’ work before we are asked to eat it. I don’t want to sit down to another of Mr. Van der Roet’s Japanese salads made of periwinkles and wallflowers.”
“And we must first catch our millionaire,” said the Colonel.
During these remarks Mrs. Fothergill had been standing “with parted lips and straining eyes,” the eyes of one who is seeking to “cut in.” Now came her chance. “What a delightful idea dear Mrs. Sinclair’s is. We have been dreadfully extravagant this year over buying pictures, and have doubled our charitable subscriptions, but I believe I can still promise to act in a humble way the part of Mrs. Sinclair’s millionaire. We have just finished doing up the ‘Laurestinas,’ a little place we bought last year, and it is quite at your service, Marchesa, as soon as you liketo occupy it.”
This unlooked-for proposition almost took away the Marchesa’s breath. “Ah, Mrs. Fothergill,” she said, “it was Mrs. Sinclair’s plan, not mine. She kindly wishes to turn me into a cook for I know not how long, just at the hottest season of the year, a fate I should hardly have chosen for myself.”
“My dear, it would be a new sensation, and one you would enjoy beyond everything. I am sure it is a scheme every one here will hail with acclamation,” said Mrs. Sinclair. All other conversation had now ceased, and the eyes of the rest of the company were fixed on the speaker. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she went on, “you have heard my suggestion, and you have heard Mrs. Fothergill’s most kind and opportune offer of her country house as the seat of our school of cookery. Such an opportunity is one in ten thousand. Surely all of us—even the Marchesa–must see that it is one not to be neglected.”
“I approve thoroughly,” said Mrs. Gradinger; “the acquisition of knowledge, even in so material a field as that of cookery, is always a clear gain.”
“It will give Gradinger a chance to put in a couple of days at Ascot,” whispered Van der Roet.
“Where Mrs. Gradinger leads, all must follow,” said Miss Macdonnell. “Take the sense of the meeting, Mrs. Sinclair, before the Marchesa has time to enter a protest.”
“And is the proposed instructress to have no voice in the matter?” said the Marchesa, laughing.
“None at all, except to consent,” said Mrs. Sinclair; “you are going to be absolute mistress over us for the next fortnight, so you surely might obey just this once.”
“You have been denouncing one of our cherished institutions, Marchesa,” said Lady Considine, “so I consider you are bound to help us to replace the British cook by something better.”
“If Mrs. Sinclair has set her heart on this interesting experiment. You may as well consent at once, Marchesa,” said the Colonel, “and teach us how to cook, and–what may be a harder task–to teach us to eat what other aspirants may have cooked.”
“If this scheme really comes off,” said Sir John, “I would suggest that the Marchesa should always be provided with a plate of her own up her sleeve–if I may use such an expression–so that any void in the menu, caused by failure on the part of the under-skilled or over-ambitious amateur, may be filled by what will certainly be a chef-d’oeuvre.”
“I shall back up Mrs. Sinclair’s proposition with all my power,” said Mrs. Wilding. “The Canon will be in residence at Martlebridge for the next month, and I would much rather be learning cookery under the Marchesa than staying with my brother-in-law at Ealing.”
“You’ll have to do it, Marchesa,” said Van der Roet; “when a new idea catches on like this, there’s no resisting it.”
“Well, I consent on one condition–that my rule shall be absolute,” said the Marchesa, “and I begin my career as an autocrat by giving Mrs. Fothergill a list of the educational machinery I shall want, and commanding her to have them all ready by Tuesday morning, the day on which I declare the school open.”
A chorus of applause went up as soon as the Marchesa ceased speaking.
“Everything shall be ready,” said Mrs. Fothergill, radiant with delight that her offer had been accepted, “and I will put in a full staff of servants selected from our three other establishments.”
“Would it not be as well to send the cook home for a holiday?” said the Colonel. “It might be safer, and lead to less broth being spoilt.”
“It seems,” said Sir John, “that we shall be ten in number, and I would therefore propose that, after an illustrious precedent, we limit our operations to ten days. Then if we each produce one culinary poem a day we shall, at the end of our time, have provided the world with a hundred new reasons for enjoying life, supposing, of course, that we have no failures. I propose, therefore, that our society be called the ‘New Decameron.'”
“Most appropriate,” said Miss Macdonnell, “especially as it owes its origin to an outbreak of plague–the plague in the kitchen.”
The First Day
On the Tuesday morning the Marchesa travelled down to the “Laurestinas,” where she found that Mrs. Fothergill had been as good as her word. Everything was in perfect order. The Marchesa had notified to her pupils that they must report themselves that same evening at dinner, and she took down with her her maid, one of those marvellous Italian servants who combine fidelity with efficiency in a degree strange to the denizens of more progressive lands. Now, with Angelina’s assistance, she proposed to set before the company their first dinner all’Italiana, and the last they would taste without having participated in the preparation. The real work was to begin the following morning.
The dinner was both a revelation and a surprise to the majority of the company. All were well travelled, and all had eaten of the mongrel French dishes given at the “Grand” hotels of the principal Italian cities, and some of them, in search of adventures, had dined at London restaurants with Italian names over the doors, where–with certain honourable exceptions–the cookery was French, and not of the best, certain Italian plates being included in the carte for a regular clientele, dishes which would always be passed over by the English investigator, because he now read, or tried to read, their names for the first time. Few of the Marchesa’s pupils had ever wandered away from the arid table d’hote in Milan, or Florence, or Rome, in search of the ristorante at which the better class of townsfolk were wont to take their colazione. Indeed, whenever an Englishman does break fresh ground in this direction, he rarely finds sufficient presence of mind to controvert the suggestions of the smiling minister who, having spotted his Inglese, at once marks down an omelette aux fines herbes and a biftek aux pommes as the only food such a creature can consume. Thus the culinary experiences of Englishmen in Italy have led to the perpetuation of the legend that the traveller can indeed find decent food in the large towns, “because the cooking there is all French, you know,” but that, if he should deviate from the beaten track, unutterable horrors, swimming in oil and reeking with garlic, would be his portion. Oil and garlic are in popular English belief the inseparable accidents of Italian cookery, which is supposed to gather its solitary claim to individuality from the never-failing presence of these admirable, but easily abused, gifts of Nature.
“You have given us a delicious dinner, Marchesa,” said Mrs. Wilding as the coffee appeared. “You mustn’t think me captious in my remarks–indeed it would be most ungracious to look a gift-dinner in the–What are you laughing at, Sir John? I suppose I’ve done something awful with my metaphors–mixed them up somehow.”
“Everything Mrs. Wilding mixes will be mixed admirably, as admirably, say, as that sauce which was served with the Manzo alla Certosina,” Sir John replied.
“That is said in your best style, Sir John,” replied Mrs. Wilding; “but what I was going to remark was, that I, as a poor parson’s wife, shall ask for some instruction in inexpensive cooking before we separate. The dinner we have just eaten is surely only within the reach of rich people.”
“I wish some of the rich people I dine with could manage now and then to reach a dinner as good,” said the Colonel.
“I believe it is a generally received maxim, that if you want a truth to be accepted you must repeat the same in season and out, whenever you have the opportunity,” said the Marchesa. “The particular truth I have now in mind is the fact that Italian cookery is the cookery of a poor nation, of people who have scant means wherewith to purchase the very inferior materials they must needs work with; and that they produce palatable food at all is, I maintain, a proof that they bring high intelligence to the task. Italian culinary methods have been developed in the struggle when the cook, working with an allowance upon which an English cook would resign at once, has succeeded by careful manipulation and the study of flavouring in turning out excellent dishes made of fish and meat confessedly inferior. Now, if we loosen the purse-strings a little, and use the best English materials, I affirm that we shall achieve a result excellent enough to prove that Italian cookery is worthy to take its stand beside its great French rival. I am glad Mrs. Wilding has given me an opportunity to impress upon you all that its main characteristics are simplicity and cheapness, and I can assure her that, even if she should reproduce the most costly dishes of our course, she will not find any serious increase in her weekly bills. When I use the word simplicity, I allude, of course, to everyday cooking. Dishes of luxury in any school require elaboration, care, and watchfulness.”
Menu — Dinner*
Zuppa d’uova alla Toscana. Tuscan egg-soup. Sogliole alla Livornese. Sole alla Livornese. Manzo alla Certosina. Fillet of beef, Certosina sauce. Minuta alla Milanese. Chickens’ livers alla Milanese. Cavoli fiodi ripieni. Cauliflower with forcemeat. Cappone arrosto con insalata. Roast capon with salad. Zabajone. Spiced custard.
Uova al pomidoro. Eggs and tomatoes.
*The recipes for the dishes contained in all these menus will be found in the second part of the book. The limits of the seasons have necessarily been ignored.
The Second Day
Wednesday’s luncheon was anticipated with some curiosity, or even searchings of heart, as in it would appear the first-fruits of the hand of the amateur. The Marchesa wisely restricted it to two dishes, for the compounding of which she requisitioned the services of Lady Considine, Mrs. Sinclair, and the Colonel. The others she sent to watch Angelina and her circle while they were preparing the vegetables and the dinner entrees. After the luncheon dishes had been discussed, they were both proclaimed admirable. It was a true bit of Italian finesse on the part of the Marchesa to lay a share of the responsibility of the first meal upon the Colonel, who was notoriously the most captious and the hardest to please of all the company; and she did even more than make him jointly responsible, for she authorised him to see to the production of a special curry of his own invention, the recipe for which he always carried in his pocket-book, thus letting India share with Italy in the honours of the first luncheon.
“My congratulations to you on your curry, Colonel Trestrail,” said Miss Macdonnell. “You haven’t followed the English fashion of flavouring a curry by emptying the pepper-pot into the dish?”
“Pepper properly used is the most admirable of condiments,” the Colonel said.
“Why this association of the Colonel and pepper?” said Van der Roet. “In this society we ought to be as nice in our phraseology as in our flavourings, and be careful to eschew the incongruous. You are coughing, Mrs. Wilding. Let me give you some water.”
“I think it must have been one of those rare grains of the Colonel’s pepper, for you must have a little pepper in a curry, mustn’t you, Colonel? Though, as Miss Macdonnell says, English cooks generally overdo it.”
“Vander is in one of his pleasant witty moods,” said the Colonel, “but I fancy I know as much about the use of pepper as he does about the use of oil colours; and now we have, got upon art criticism, I may remark, my dear Vander, I have been reminded that you have been poaching on my ground. I saw a landscape of yours the other day, which looked as if some of my curry powder had got into the sunset. I mean the one poor blind old Wilkins bought at your last show.”
“Ah, but that sunset was an inspiration, Colonel, and consequently beyond your comprehension.”
“It is easy to talk of inspiration,” said Sir John, “and, perhaps, now that we are debating a matter of real importance, we might spend our time more profitably than in discussing what is and what is not a good picture. Some inspiration has been brought into our symposium, I venture to affirm that the brain which devised and the hand which executed the Tenerumi di Vitello we have just tasted, were both of them inspired. In the construction of this dish there is to be recognised a breath of the same afflatus which gave us the Florentine campanile, and the Medici tombs, and the portrait of Monna Lisa. When we stand before any one of these masterpieces, we realise at a glance how keen must have been the primal insight, and how strenuous the effort necessary for the evolution of so consummate an achievement; and, with the savour of the Tenerumi di Vitello still fresh, I feel that it deserves to be added to the list of Italian capo lavori. Now, as I was not fortunate enough to be included in the pupils’ class this morning, I must beg the next time the dish is presented to us — and I imagine all present will hail its renaissance with joy — that I may be allowed to lend a hand, or even a finger, in its preparation.”
“Veal, with the possible exception of Lombard beef, is the best meat we get in Italy,” said the Marchesa, “so an Italian cook, when he wants to produce a meat dish of the highest excellence, generally turns to veal as a basis. I must say that the breast of veal, which is the part we had for lunch today, is a somewhat insipid dish when cooked English fashion. That we have been able to put it before you in more palatable form, and to win for it the approval of such a connoisseur as Sir John Oglethorpe, is largely owing to the judicious use of that Italian terror–more dire to many English than paper-money or brigands–garlic.”
“The quantity used was infinitesimal,” said Mrs. Sinclair, “but it seems to have been enough to subdue what I once heard Sir John describe as the pallid solidity of the innocent calf.”
“I fear the vein of incongruity in our discourse, lately noted by Van der Roet, is not quite exhausted,” said Sir John. “The Colonel was up in arms on account of a too intimate association of his name with pepper, and now Mrs. Sinclair has bracketed me with the calf, a most useful animal, I grant, but scarcely one I should have chosen as a yokefellow; but this is a digression. To return to our veal. I had a notion that garlic had something to do with the triumph of the Tenerumi, and, this being the case, I think it would be well if the Marchesa were to give us a dissertation on the use of this invaluable product.”
“As Mrs. Sinclair says, the admixture of garlic in the dish in question was a very small one, and English people somehow never seem to realise that garlic must always be used sparingly. The chief positive idea they have of its characteristics is that which they gather from the odour of a French or Italian crowd of peasants at a railway station. The effect of garlic, eaten in lumps as an accompaniment to bread and cheese, is naturally awful, but garlic used as it should be used is the soul, the divine essence, of cookery. The palate delights in it without being able to identify it, and the surest proof of its charm is manifested by the flatness and insipidity which will infallibly characterise any dish usually flavoured with it, if by chance this dish should be prepared without it. The cook who can employ it successfully will be found to possess the delicacy of perception, the accuracy of judgment, and the dexterity of hand, which go to the formation of a great artist. It is a primary maxim, and one which cannot be repeated too often, that garlic must never be cut up and used as part of the material of any dish. One small incision should be made in the clove, which should be put into the dish during the process of cooking, and allowed to remain there until the cook’s palate gives warning that flavour enough has been extracted. Then it must be taken out at once. This rule does not apply in equal degree to the use of the onion, the large mild varieties of which may be cooked and eaten in many excellent bourgeois dishes; but in all fine cooking, where the onion flavour is wanted, the same treatment which I have prescribed for garlic must be followed.”
The Marchesa gave the Colonel and Lady Considine a holiday that afternoon, and requested Mrs. Gradinger and Van der Roet to attend in the kitchen to help with the dinner. In the first few days of the session the main portion of the work naturally fell upon the Marchesa and Angelina, and in spite of the inroads made upon their time by the necessary directions to the neophytes, and of the occasional eccentricities of the neophytes’ energies, the dinners and luncheons were all that could be desired. The Colonel was not quite satisfied with the flavour of one particular soup, and Mrs. Gradinger was of opinion that one of the entrees, which she wanted to superintend herself, but which the Marchesa handed over to Mrs. Sinclair, had a great deal too much butter in its composition. Her conscience revolted at the action of consuming in one dish enough butter to solace the breakfast-table of an honest working man for two or three days; but the faintness of these criticisms seemed to prove that every one was well satisfied with the rendering of the menu of the day.
Menu — Lunch
Tenerumi di Vitello. Breast of veal. Piccione alla minute. Pigeons, braized with liver, &c. Curry
Menu — Dinner
Zuppa alla nazionale. Soup alla nazionale. Salmone alla Genovese. Salmon alla Genovese. Costolette alla Costanza. Mutton cutlets alla Costanza. Fritto misto alla Villeroy. Lamb’s fry alla Villeroy. Lattughe al sugo. Stuffed Lettuce.
Dindo arrosto alla Milanese. Roast turkey alla Milanese. Crema montata alle fragole. Strawberry cream. Tartufi alla Dino. Truffles alla Dino.
The Third Day
“I observe, dear Marchesa,” said Mrs. Fothergill at breakfast on Thursday morning, “that we still follow the English fashion in our breakfast dishes. I have a notion that, in this particular especially, we gross English show our inferiority to the more spirituelles nations of the Continent, and I always feel a new being after the light meal of delicious coffee and crisp bread and delicate butter the first morning I awake in dear Paris.”
“I wonder how it happens, then, that two goes of fish, a plateful of omelette, and a round and a half of toast and marmalade are necessary to repair the waste of tissue in dear England?” Van der Roet whispered to Miss Macdonnell.
“It must be the gross air of England or the gross nature of the–“
The rest of Miss Macdonnell’s remark was lost, as the Marchesa cried out in answer to Mrs. Fothergill, “But why should we have anything but English breakfast dishes in England? The defects of English cookery are manifest enough, but breakfast fare is not amongst them. In these England stands supreme; there is nothing to compare with them, and they possess the crowning merit of being entirely compatible with English life. I cannot say whether it may be the effect of the crossing, or of the climate on this side, or that the air of England is charged with some subtle stimulating quality, given off in the rush and strain of strenuous national life, but the fact remains that as soon as I find myself across the Channel I want an English breakfast. It seems that I am more English than certain of the English themselves, and I am sorry that Mrs. Fothergill has been deprived of her French roll and butter. I will see that you have it to-morrow, Mrs. Fothergill, and to make the illusion complete, I will order it to be sent to your room.”
“Oh no, Marchesa, that would be giving too much trouble, and I am sure you want all the help in the house to carry out the service as exquisitely as you do,” said Mrs. Fothergill hurriedly, and blushing as well as her artistic complexion would allow.
“I fancy,” said Mrs. Sinclair, “that foreigners are taking to English breakfasts as well as English clothes. I noticed when I was last in Milan that almost every German or Italian ate his two boiled eggs for breakfast, the sign whereby the Englishman used to be marked for a certainty.”
“The German would probably call for boiled eggs when abroad on account of the impossibility of getting such things in his own country. No matter how often you send to the kitchen for properly boiled eggs in Germany, the result is always the same cold slush,” said Mrs. Wilding; “and I regret to find that the same plague is creeping into the English hotels which are served by German waiters.”
“That is quite true,” said the Marchesa; “but in England we have no time to concern ourselves with mere boiled eggs, delicious as they are. The roll of delicacies is long enough, or even too long without them. When I am in England, I always lament that we have only seven days a week and one breakfast a day, and when I am in Italy I declare that the reason why the English have overrun the world is because they eat such mighty breakfasts. Considering how good the dishes are, I wonder the breakfasts are not mightier than they are.”
“It always strikes me that our national barrenness of ideas appears as plainly in our breakfasts as anywhere,” said Mrs. Gradinger. “There is a monotony about them which–“
“Monotony!” interrupted the Colonel. “Why, I could dish you up a fresh breakfast every day for a month. Your conservative tendencies must be very strong, Mrs. Gradinger, if they lead you to this conclusion.”
“Conservative! On the contrary, I–that is, my husband–always votes for Progressive candidates at every election,” said Mrs. Gradinger, dropping into her platform intonation, at the sound of which consternation arose in every breast. “I have, moreover, a theory that we might reform our diet radically, as well as all other institutions; but before I expound this, I should like to say a few words on the waste of wholesome food which goes on. For instance, I went for a walk in the woods yesterday afternoon, where I came upon a vast quantity of fungi which our ignorant middle classes would pronounce to be poisonous, but which I–in common with every child of the intelligent working-man educated in a board school where botany is properly taught–knew to be good for food.”
“Excuse me one moment,” said Sir John, “but do they really use board-school children as tests to see whether toadstools are poisonous or not?”
“I do not think anything I said justified such an inference,” said Mrs. Gradinger in the same solemn drawl; “but I may remark that the children are taught from illustrated manuals accurately drawn and coloured. Well, to come back to the fungi, I took the trouble to measure the plot on which they were growing, and found it just ten yards square. The average weight of edible fungus per square yard was just an ounce, or a hundred and twelve pounds per acre. Now, there must be at least twenty millions of acres in the United Kingdom capable of producing these fungi without causing the smallest damage to any other crop, wherefore it seems that, owing to our lack of instruction, we are wasting some million tons of good food per annum; and I may remark that this calculation pre- supposes, that each fungus springs only once in the season; but I have reason to believe that certain varieties would give five or six gatherings between May and October, so the weight produced would be enormously greater than the quantity I have named.”
Here Mrs. Gradinger paused to finish her coffee, which was getting cold, and before she could resume, Sir John had taken up the parole. “I think the smaller weight will suffice for the present, until the taste for strange fungi has developed, or the pressure of population increased. And before stimulating a vastly increased supply, it will be necessary to extirpate the belief that all fungi, except the familiar mushroom, are poisonous, and perhaps to appoint an army of inspectors to see that only the right sort are brought to market.”
“Yes, and that will give pleasant and congenial employment to those youths of the working-classes who are ambitious of a higher career than that of their fathers,” said Lady Considine, “and the ratepayers will rejoice, no doubt, that they are participating in the general elevation of the masses.”
“Perhaps Mrs. Gradinger will gather a few of her less deadly fungi, and cook them and eat them herself, pour encourager les autres,” said Miss Macdonnell. “Then, if she doesn’t die in agonies, we may all forswear beef and live on toadstools.”
“I certainly will,” said Mrs. Gradinger; “and before we rise from table I should like–“
“I fear we must hear your remarks at dinner, Mrs. Gradinger,” said the Marchesa. “Time is getting on, and some of the dishes to-day are rather elaborate, so now to the kitchen.”
Menu — Lunch.
Risotto alla Genovese. Savoury rice. Pollo alla Villereccia. Chicken alla Villereccia. Lingue di Castrato alla cucinira. Sheeps’ tongues alla cucinira.
Menu — Dinner
Zuppa alla Veneziana. Venetian soup. Sogliole alla giardiniera. Sole with Vegetables. Timballo alla Romana. Roman pie.
Petto di Castrato alla salsa di burro. Breast of mutton with butter sauce. Verdure miste. Mixed vegetables.
Crema rappresa. Coffee cream.
Ostriche alla Veneziana. Oyster savoury.
THE FOURTH DAY
THE Colonel was certainly the most severely critical member of the company. Up to the present juncture he had been sparing of censure, and sparing of praise likewise, but on this day, after lunch, he broke forth into loud praise of the dish of beef which appeared in the menu. After specially commending this dish he went on–
“It seems to me that the dinner of yesterday and to-day’s lunch bear the cachet of a fresh and admirable school of cookery. In saying this I don’t wish to disparage the traditions which have governed the preparation of the delicious dishes put before us up to that date, which I have referred to as the parting of the ways, the date when the palate of the expert might detect a new hand upon the keys, a phrase once employed, I believe, with regard to some man who wrote poetry. To meet an old friend, or a thoroughly tested dish, is always pleasant, but old friends die or fall out, and old favourite dishes may come to pall at last; and for this reason I hold that the day which brings us a new friend or a new dish ought to be marked with white chalk.”
“And I think some wise man once remarked,” said Sir John, “that the discovery of a dish is vastly more important than the discovery of a star, for we have already as many stars as we can possibly require, but we can never have too many dishes.”
“I was wondering whether any one would detect the variations I made yesterday, but I need not have wondered, with such an expert at table as Colonel Trestrail,” said the Marchesa with a laugh. “Well, the Colonel has found me out; but from the tone of his remarks I think I may hope for his approval. At any rate, I’m sure he won’t move a vote of censure.”
“If he does, we’ll pack him off to town, and sentence him to dine at his club every day for a month,” said Lady Considine.
“What crime has this particular club committed?” said Mrs. Sinclair in a whisper.
“Vote of censure! Certainly not,” said the Colonel, with an angry ring in his voice. Mrs. Sinclair did not love him, and had calculated accurately the carrying power of her whisper. “That would be the basest ingratitude. I must, however, plead guilty to an attack of curiosity, and therefore I beg you, Marchesa, to let us into the secret of your latest inspiration.”
“Its origin was commonplace enough,” said the Marchesa, “but in a way interesting. Once upon a time–more years ago than I care to remember–I was strolling about the Piazza Navona in Rome, and amusing myself by going from one barrow to another, and turning over the heaps of rubbish with which they were stocked. All the while I was innocently plagiarising that fateful walk of Browning’s round the Riccardi Palace in Florence, the day when he bought for a lira the Romana homocidiorum. The world knows what was the outcome of Browning’s purchase, but it will probably never fathom the full effect of mine. How do his lines run?”
I picked the book from. Five compeers in flank Stood left and right of it as tempting more– A dog’s-eared Spicilegium, the fond tale O’ the frail one of the Flower, by young Dumas, Vulgarised Horace for the use of schools, The Life, Death, Miracles of Saint Somebody, Saint Somebody Else, his Miracles, Death and Life.”
“Well, the choice which lay before me on one particular barrow was fully as wide, or perhaps wider than that which met the poet’s eye, but after I had espied a little yellow paper-covered book with the title La Cucina Partenopea, overo il Paradiso dei gastronomi, I looked no farther. What infinite possibilities of pleasure might lie hidden under such a name. I secured it, together with the Story of Barlaam and Josaphat, for thirty-five centesimi, and handed over the coins to the hungry-eyed old man in charge, who regretted, I am sure, when he saw the eager look upon my face, that he had not marked the books a lira at least. I should now be a rich woman if I had spent all the money I have spent as profitably as those seven sold. Besides being a master in the art of cookery, the author was a moral philosopher as well; and he addresses his reader in prefatory words which bespeak a profound knowledge of life. He writes: ‘Though the time of man here on earth is passed in a never-ending turmoil, which must make him often curse the moment when he opened his eyes on such a world; though life itself must often become irksome or even intolerable, nevertheless, by God’s blessing, one supreme consolation remains for this wretched body of ours. I allude to that moment when, the forces being spent and the stomach craving support, the wearied mortal sits down to face a good dinner. Here is to be found an effectual balm for the ills of life: something to drown all remembrance of our ill- humours, the worries of business, or even family quarrels. In sooth, it is only at table that a man may bid the devil fly away with Solomon and all his wisdom, and give himself up to an earthly delight, which is a pleasure and a profit at the same time.'”
“The circumstances under which this precious book was found seem to suggest a culinary poem on the model of the ‘Ring and the Book,”‘ said Mrs. Sinclair, “or we might deal with the story in practical shape by letting every one of us prepare the same dish. I fancy the individual renderings of the same recipe would vary quite as widely as the versions of the unsavoury story set forth in Mr. Browning’s little poem.”
“I think we had better have a supplementary day for a trial of the sort Mrs. Sinclair suggests,” said Miss Macdonnell. “I speak with the memory of a preparation of liver I tasted yesterday in the kitchen–one of the dishes which did not appear at dinner.”
“That is rather hard on the Colonel,” said Van der Roet; “he did his best, and now, see how hard he is trying to look as if he didn’t know what you are alluding to!”
“I never in all my life–” the Colonel began; but the Marchesa, fearing a storm, interfered. “I have a lot more to tell you about my little Neapolitan book,” she went on, “and I will begin by saying that, for the future, we cannot do better than make free use of it. The author opens with an announcement that he means to give exact quantities for every dish, and then, like a true Neapolitan, lets quantities go entirely, and adopts the rule-of-thumb system. And I must say I always find the question of quantities a difficult one. Some books give exact measures, each dish being reckoned enough for four persons, with instructions to increase the measures in proportion to the additional number of diners but here a rigid rule is impossible, for a dish which is to serve by itself, as a supper or a lunch, must necessarily be bigger than one which merely fills one place in a dinner menu. Quantities can be given approximately in many cases, but flavouring must always be a question of individual taste. Latitude must be allowed, for all cooks who can turn out distinguished work will be found to be endowed with imagination, and these, being artists, will never consent to follow a rigid rule of quantity. To put it briefly, cooks who need to be told everything, will never cook properly, even if they be told more than everything. And after all, no one takes seriously the quantities given by the chef of a millionaire or a prince; witness the cook of the Prince de Soubise, who demanded fifty hams for the sauces and garnitures of a single supper, and when the Prince protested that there could not possibly be found space for them all on the table, offered to put them all into a glass bottle no bigger than his thumb. Some of Francatelli’s quantities are also prodigious, as, for instance, when to make a simple glaze he calls for three pounds of gravy beef, the best part of a ham, a knuckle of veal, an old hen, and two partridges.”
Menu — Lunch
Maccheroni al sugillo. Macaroni with sausage and tomatoes. Manzo in insalata. Beef, pressed and marinated. Lingue di vitello all’Italiana. Calves’ tongues.
Menu — Dinner.
Zuppa alla Modanese. Modenese soup.
Merluzzo in salamoia. Cod with sauce piquante. Pollastro in istufa di pomidoro. Stewed chicken with tomatoes. Porcelletto farcito alla Corradino. Stuffed suckling pig. Insalata alla Navarino. Navarino salad. Bodino di semolino. Semolina pudding.
Frittura di cocozze. Fried cucumber.
The Fifth Day
The following day was very warm, and some half-dozen of the party wandered into the garden after lunch and took their coffee under a big chestnut tree on the lawn. “And this is the 16th of June,” said Lady Considine. “Last year, on this very day, I started for Hombourg. I can’t say I feel like starting for Hombourg, or any other place, just at present.”
“But why should any one of us want to go to Hombourg?” said Sir John. “Nobody can be afraid of gout with the admirable diet we enjoy here.”
“I beg you to speak for yourself, Sir John,” said Lady Considine. “I have never yet gone to Hombourg on account of gout.”
“Of course not, my dear friend, of course not; there are so many reasons for going to Hombourg. There’s the early rising, and the band, and the new people one may meet there, and the change of diet–especially the change of diet. But, you see, we have found our change of diet within an hour of London, so why–as I before remarked–should we want to rush off to Hombourg?”
“I am a firm believer in that change of diet,” said Mrs. Wilding, “though in the most respectable circles the true-bred Briton still talks about foreign messes, and affirms that anything else than plain British fare ruins the digestion. I must say my own digestion is none the worse for the holiday I am having from the preparations of my own ‘treasure.’ I think we all look remarkably well; and we don’t quarrel or snap at each other, and it would be hard to find a better proof of wholesome diet than that.”
“But I fancied Mrs. Gradinger looked a little out of sorts this morning, and I’m sure she was more than a little out of temper when I asked her how soon we were to taste her dish of toadstools,” said Miss Macdonnell.
“I expect she had been making a trial of the British fungi in her bedroom,” said Van der Roet; “and then, you see, our conversation isn’t quite ‘high toned’ enough for her taste. We aren’t sufficiently awake to the claims of the masses. Can any one explain to me why the people who are so full of mercy for the mass, are so merciless to the unit?”
“That is her system of proselytising,” said the Colonel, “and if she is content with outward conversion, it isn’t a bad one. I often feel inclined to agree to any proposition she likes to put forward, and I would, if I could stop her talking by my submission.”
“You wouldn’t do that, Colonel, even in your suavest mood,” said Van der Roet; “but I hope somebody will succeed in checking her flow of discourse before long. I’m getting worn to a shadow by the grind of that awful voice.”
“I thought your clothes were getting a bit loose,” said the Colonel, “but I put that phenomenon down to another reason. In spite of Mrs. Wilding’s praise of our present style of cooking, I don’t believe our friend Vander finds it substantial enough to sustain his manly bulk, and I’ll tell you the grounds of my belief. A few mornings ago, when I was shaving, I saw the butcher bring into the house a splendid sirloin, and as no sirloin has appeared at table, I venture to infer that this joint was a private affair of Vander’s, and that he, as well as Mrs. Gradinger, has been going in for bedroom cookery. Here comes the Marchesa; we’ll ask her to solve the mystery.”
“I can account for the missing sirloin,” said the Marchesa. “The Colonel is wrong for once. It went duly into the kitchen, and not to Mr. Van der Roet’s bedroom; but I must begin with a slight explanation, or rather apology. Next to trial by jury, and the reverence paid to rank, and the horror of all things which, as poor Corney Grain used to say, ‘are not nice,’ I reckon the Sunday sirloin, cooked and served, one and indivisible as the typical fetish of the great English middle class. With this fact before my eyes, I can assure you I did not lightly lay a hand on its integrity. My friends, you have eaten that sirloin without knowing it. You may remember that yesterday after lunch the Colonel was loud in praise of a dish of beef. Well, that beef was a portion of the same, and not the best portion. The Manzo in insalata, which pleased the Colonel’s palate, was that thin piece at the lower end, the chief function of which, when the sirloin is cooked whole, seems to lie in keeping the joint steady on the dish while paterfamilias carves it. It is never eaten in the dining-room hot, because every one justly prefers and goes for the under cut; neither does it find favour at lunch next day, for the reason that, as cold beef, the upper cut is unapproachable. I have never heard that the kitchen hankers after it inordinately; indeed, its ultimate destination is one of the unexplained mysteries of housekeeping. I hold that never, under any circumstances, should it be cooked with the sirloin, but always cut off and marinated and braized as we had it yesterday. Thus you get two hot dishes; our particular sirloin has given us three. The parts of this joint vary greatly in flavour, and in texture as well, and by accentuating this variation by treatment in the kitchen, you escape that monotony which is prone to pervade the table so long as the sirloin remains in the house. Mrs. Sinclair is sufficiently experienced as a housekeeper to know that the dish of fillets we had for dinner last night was not made from the under cut of one sirloin. It was by borrowing a little from the upper part that I managed to fill the dish, and I’m sure that any one who may have got one of the uppercut fillets had no cause to grumble. The Filetto di Bue which we had for lunch to-day was the residue of the upper cut, and, admirable as is a slice of cold beef taken from this part of the joint, I think it is an excellent variation to make a hot dish of it sometimes. On the score of economy, I am sure that a sirloin treated in this fashion goes a long way further.”
“The Marchesa demolishes one after another of our venerable institutions with so charming a despatch that we can scarcely grieve for them,” said Sir John. “I am not philosopher enough to divine what change may come over the British character when every man sits down every day to a perfectly cooked dinner. It is sometimes said that our barbarian forefathers left their northern solitudes because they hankered after the wine and delicate meats of the south, and perhaps the modern Briton may have been led to overrun the world by the hope of finding a greater variety of diet than he gets at home. It may mean, Marchesa, that this movement of yours for the suppression of English plain cooking will mark the close of our national expansion.”
“My dear Sir John, you may rest assured that your national expansion, as well as your national cookery, will continue in spite of anything we may accomplish here, and I say good luck to them both. When have I ever denied the merits of English cookery?” said the Marchesa. “Many of its dishes are unsurpassed. These islands produce materials so fine, that no art or elaboration can improve them. They are best when they are cooked quite plainly, and this is the reason why simplicity is the key-note of English cookery. A fine joint of mutton roasted to a turn, a plain fried sole with anchovy butter a broiled chop or steak or kidney, fowls or game cooked English fashion, potatoes baked in their skins and eaten with butter and salt, a rasher of Wiltshire bacon and a new- laid egg, where will you beat these? I will go so far as to say no country can produce a bourgeoises dish which can be compared with steak and kidney pudding. But the point I want to press home is that Italian cookery comes to the aid of those who cannot well afford to buy those prime qualities of meat and fish which allow of this perfectly plain treatment. It is, as I have already said, the cookery of a nation short of cash and unblessed with such excellent meat and fish and vegetables as you lucky islanders enjoy. But it is rich in clever devices of flavouring, and in combinations, and I am sure that by its help English people of moderate means may fare better and spend less than they spend now, if only they will take a little trouble.”
Menu — Lunch
Gnocchi alla Romana. Semolina with parmesan. Filetto di Bue al pistacchi. Fillet of beef with pistachios Bodini marinati. Marinated rissoles.
Menu — Dinner.
Zuppa Crotopo. Croute au pot soup.
Sogliole alla Veneziana. Fillets of sole. Ateletti alla Sarda. Atelets of ox-palates, &c. Costolette di Montone alla Nizzarda. Mutton cutlets. Pollo alla Fiorentina. Fowl with macaroni. Crema tartara alla Caramella. Caramel cream. Uova rimescolati al tartufi. Eggs with truffles.
The Sixth Day
The following morning, at breakfast, a servant announced that Sir John Oglethorpe was taking his breakfast in his room, and that there was no need to keep anything in reserve for him. It was stated, however, that Sir John was in no way indisposed, and that he would join the party at lunch.
He seated himself in his usual place, placid and fresh as ever; but, unharmed as he was physically, it was evident to all the company that he was suffering from some mental discomposure. Miss Macdonnell, with a frank curiosity which might have been trying in any one else, asked him point-blank the reason of his absence from the meal for which, in spite of his partiality for French cookery, he had a true Englishman’s devotion.
“I feel I owe the company some apology for my apparent churlishness,” he said; “but the fact is, that I have received some very harrowing, but at the same time very interesting, news this morning. I think I told you the other day how the vacancy in my kitchen has led up to a very real tragedy, and that the abhorred Fury was already hovering terribly near the head of poor Narcisse. Well, I have just received from a friend in Paris journals containing a full account of the trial of Narcisse and of his fair accomplice. The worst has come to pass, and Narcisse has been doomed to sneeze into the basket like a mere aristocrat or politician during the Terror I was greatly upset by this news, but I was interested, and in a measure consoled, to find an enclosure amongst the other papers, an envelope addressed to me in the handwriting of the condemned man. This voix d’outre tombe, I rejoice to say, confides to me the secret of that incomparable sauce of his, a secret which I feared might be buried with Narcisse in the prison ditch.”
The Marchesa sighed as she listened. The recipe of the sauce was safe indeed, but she knew by experience how wide might be the gulf between the actual work of an artist and the product of another hand guided by his counsels, let the hand be ever so dexterous, and the counsels ever so clear. “Will it be too much,” she said, “to ask you to give us the details of this painful tragedy ?”
“It will not,” Sir John replied reflectively. “The last words of many a so-called genius have been enshrined in literature: probably no one will ever know the parting objurgation of Narcisse. I will endeavour, however, to give you some notion as to what occurred, from the budget I have just read. I fear the tragedy was a squalid one. Madame, the victim, was elderly, unattractive in person, exacting in temper, and the owner of considerable wealth–at least, this is what came out at the trial. It was one of those tangles in which a fatal denouement is inevitable; and, if this had not come through Mademoiselle Sidonie, it would have come through somebody else. The lovers plotted to remove madame by first drugging her, then breaking her skull with the wood chopper, and then pitching her downstairs so as to produce the impression that she had met her death in this fashion. But either the arm of Mademoiselle Sidonie–who was told off to do the hammering–was unskilled in such work, or the opiate was too weak, for the victim began to shriek before she gave up the ghost. Detection seemed imminent, so Narcisse, in whom the quality of discretion was evidently predominant, bolted at once and got out of the country. But the facts were absolutely clear. The victim lived long enough to depose that Mademoiselle Sidonie attacked her with the wood chopper, while Narcisse watched the door. The advocate of Narcisse did his work like a man. He shed the regulation measure of tears; he drew graphic pictures of the innocent youth of Narcisse, of his rise to eminence, and of his filial piety as evidenced by the frequent despatch of money and comestibles to his venerable mother, who was still living near Bourges. Once a year, too, this incomparable artist found time to renew his youth by a sojourn in the simple cottage which saw his birth, and by embracing the giver of his life. Was it possible that a man who treated one woman with such devotion and reverence could take the life of another? He adduced various and picturesque reasons to show that such an event must be impossible, but the jury took the opposite view. Some one had to be guillotined, and the intelligent jury decided that Paris could spare Narcisse better than it could spare Mademoiselle Sidonie. I fear the fact that he had deigned to sell his services to a brutal islander may have helped them to come to this conclusion, but there were other and more weighty reasons. Of the supreme excellence of Narcisse as an artist the jury knew nothing, so they let him go hang–or worse– but of Mademoiselle Sidonie they knew a good deal, and their knowledge, I believe, is shared by certain English visitors to Paris. She is one of the attractions of the Fantasies d’Arcadie, and her latest song, Bonjour Coco, is sung and whistled in every capital of Europe; so the jury, thrusting aside as mere pedantry the evidence of facts, set to work to find some verdict which would not eclipse the gaiety of La Ville Lumiere by cutting short the career of Mademoiselle Sidonie. The art of the chef appealed to only a few, and he dies a mute, but by no means inglorious martyr: the art of the chanteuse appeals to the million, the voice of the many carries the day, and Narcisse must die.”
“It is a revolting story,” said Mrs. Gradinger, “and one possible only in a corrupted and corrupting society. It is wonderful, as Sir John remarks, how the conquering streams of tendency manifest themselves even in an affair like this. Ours is a democratic age, and the wants and desires of the many, who find delight in this woman’s singing, override the whims of the pampered few, the employers of such costly luxuries as men cooks.”
“You see you are a mere worm, Sir John,” laughed Miss Macdonnell, “and you had better lay out your length to be trampled on.”
“Yes, I have long foreseen our fate, we who happen to possess what our poor brother hankers after. Well, perhaps I may take up the worm’s role at once and ‘turn’, that is, burn the recipe of Narcisse.”
“O Sir John, Sir John,” cried Mrs. Sinclair “any such burning would remind me irresistibly of Mr. Mantalini’s attempts at suicide. There would be an accurate copy in your pocket-book, and besides this you would probably have learnt off the recipe by heart.”
“Yes, we know our Sir John better than that, don’t we?” said the Marchesa; “but, joking apart, Sir John, you might let me have the recipe at once. It would go admirably with one of our lunch dishes for to-morrow.”
But on the subject of the sauce, Sir John–like the younger Mr. Smallweed on the subject of gravy–was adamant. The wound caused by the loss of Narcisse was, he declared, yet too recent: the very odour of the sauce would provoke a thousand agonising regrets. And then the hideous injustice of it all: Narcisse the artist, comparatively innocent (for to artists a certain latitude must be allowed), to moulder in quicklime, and this greedy, sordid murderess to go on ogling and posturing with superadded popularity before an idiot crowd unable to distinguish a Remoulade from a Ravigotte! “No, my dear Marchesa,” he said, “the secret of Narcisse must be kept a little longer, for, to tell the truth, I have an idea. I remember that ere this fortunes have been made out of sauces, and if this sauce be properly handled and put before the public, it may counteract my falling, or rather disappearing rents. If only I could hit upon a fetching name, and find twenty thousand pounds to spend in advertising, I might be able once more to live on my acres.”
“Oh, surely we shall be able to find you a name between us,” said Mrs. Wilding; “money, and things of that sort are to be procured in the city, I believe; and I daresay Mr. Van der Roet will design a pretty label for the sauce bottles.”
Menu — Lunch.
Pollo all’olive. Fowl with olives.
Scaloppine di rive. Veal cutlets with rice. Sedani alla parmigiana. Stewed celery.
Menu — Dinner.
Zuppa primaverile. Spring soup
Sote di Salmone al funghi. Salmon with mushrooms. Tenerumi d’Agnello alla veneziana. Breast of lamb alla Veneziana. Testa di Vitello alla sorrentina. Calf’s head alla Sorrentina. Fagiano alla perigo. Pheasant with truffles. Torta alla cremonese. Cremona tart.
Uova alla fiorentina, Egg savoury.
The Seventh Day
“It seems invidious to give special praise where everything is so good,” said Mrs. Sinclair next day at lunch, “but I must say a word about that clear soup we had at dinner last night. I have never ceased to regret that my regard for manners forbade me ask for a second helping.”
“See what it is to have no manners,” said Van der Roet. “I plunged boldly for another portion of that admirable preparation of calf’s head at dinner. If I hadn’t, I should have regretted it for ever after. Now, I’m sure you are just as curious about the construction of these masterpieces as I am, Mrs. Sinclair, so we’ll beg the Marchesa to let us into the secret.”
“Mrs. Sinclair herself had a hand in the calf’s-head dish, ‘Testa di Vitello alla sorrentina,’ so perhaps I may hand over that part of the question to her. I am very proud that one of my pupils should have won praise from such a distinguished expert as Mr. Van der Roet, and I leave her to expound the mystery of its charm. I think I may without presumption claim the clear soup as a triumph, and it is a discovery of my own. The same calf’s head which Mrs. Sinclair has treated with such consummate skill, served also as the foundation for the stock of the clear soup. This stock certainly derived its distinction from the addition of the liquor in which the head was boiled. A good consomme can no doubt be made with stock-meat alone, but the best soup thus made will be inferior to that we had for dinner last night. Without the calf’s head you will never get such softness, combined with full roundness on the tongue, and the great merit of calf’s head is that it lets you attain this excellence without any sacrifice of transparency.”
“I have marvelled often at the clearness of your soups, Marchesa,” said the Colonel. “What clearing do you use to make them look like pale sherry?”
“No one has any claim to be called a cook who cannot make soup without artificial clearing,” said the Marchesa. “Like the poet, the consomme is born, not made. It must be clear from the beginning, an achievement which needs care and trouble like every other artistic effort, but one nevertheless well within the reach of any student who means to succeed. To clear a soup by the ordinary medium of white of egg or minced beef is to destroy all flavour and individuality. If the stock be kept from boiling until it has been strained, it will develop into a perfectly clear soup under the hands of a careful and intelligent cook. The fleeting delicate aroma which, as every gourmet will admit, gives such grateful aid to the palate, is the breath of garden herbs and of herbs alone, and here I have a charge to bring against contemporary cookery. I mean the neglect of natural in favour of manufactured flavourings. With regard to herbs, this could not always have been the rule, for I never go into an old English garden without finding there a border with all the good old-fashioned pot herbs growing lustily. I do not say that the use of herbs is unknown, for of course the best cookery is impossible without them, but I fear that sage mixed with onion is about the only one which ever tickles the palate of the great English middle-class. And simultaneously with the use of herb flavouring in soup has arisen the practice of adding wine, which to me seems a very questionable one. If wine is put in soup at all, it must be used so sparingly as to render its presence imperceptible. Why then use it at all? In some sauces wine is necessary, but in all cases it is as difficult to regulate as garlic, and requires the utmost vigilance on the part of the cook.”
“My last cook, who was very stout and a little middle-aged, would always use flavouring sauces from the grocer’s rather than walk up to the garden, where we have a most seductive herb bed,” said Mrs. Wilding; “and then, again, the love of the English for pungent-made sauces is another reason for this makeshift practice. ‘Oh, a table-spoonful of somebody’s sauce will do for the flavouring,’ and in goes the sauce, and the flavouring is supposed to be complete. People who eat their chops, and steaks, and fish, and game, after having smothered the natural flavour with the same harsh condiment, may be satisfied with a cuisine of this sort, but to an unvitiated palate the result is nauseous.”
“Yet as a Churchwoman, Mrs. Wilding, you ought to speak with respect of English sauces. I think I have heard how a libation of one of them, which was poured over a certain cathedral, has made it look as good as new,” said Miss Macdonnell, “and we have lately learned that one of the most distinguished of our party is ambitious to enter the same career.”
“I would suggest that Sir John should devote all that money he proposes to make by the aid of his familiar spirit–the ghost of Narcisse–to the building of a temple in honour of the tenth muse, the muse of cookery,” said Mrs. Sinclair; “and what do you think, Sir John, of a name I dreamt of last night for your sauce, ‘The New Century Sauce’? How will that do?”
“Admirably,” said Sir John after a moment’s pause; “admirably enough to allow me to offer you a royalty on every bottle sold. ‘The New Century Sauce’, that’s the name for me; and now to set to work to build the factory, and to order plans for the temple of the tenth muse.”
Menu — Lunch.
Maccheroni al pomidoro. Macaroni with tomatoes, Vitello alla pellegrina. Veal cutlets alla pellegrina. Animelle al sapor di targone. Sweetbread with tarragon sauce.
Menu — Dinner.
Zuppa alla Canavese. Soup alla Canavese Naselli con piselli. Whiting with peas. Coscia di manzo al forno. Braized ribs of beef. Lingua alla Visconti. Tongue with grapes. Anitra selvatica. Wild duck.
Zabajone ghiacciato. Iced syllabub. Crostatini alla capucina. Savoury of rice, truffles, &c.
The Eighth Day
“We are getting unpleasantly near the end of our time,” said the Colonel, “but I am sure not one of us has learnt one tithe of what