Susan Pinkard holds a Master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Modern European History from the University of Chicago. Since 2005, she has been a full-time visiting member of the Department of History at Georgetown University. She spent most of her earlier career as a university administrator, serving as Associate Dean and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, and as Senior Lecturer in History and Assistant Dean in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Northwestern University.
Modern French habits of cooking, eating, and drinking were born in the Ancièn Regime, radically breaking with culinary traditions that originated in antiquity and creating a new aesthetic. This new culinary culture saw food and wine as important links between human beings and nature. Authentic foodstuffs and simple preparations became the hallmarks of the modern style. Pinkard traces the roots and development of this culinary revolution to many different historical trends, including changes in material culture, social transformations, medical theory and practice, and the Enlightenment. Pinkard illuminates the complex cultural meaning of food in her history of the new French cooking from its origins in the 1650s through the emergence of cuisine bourgeoise and the original nouvelle cuisine in the decades before 1789. This book also discusses the evolution of culinary techniques and includes historical recipes adapted for today’s kitchens.
The history of cuisine is full of legends, and some of the evergreens among them relate directly to the subject of this booK. Whenever I mention that I write about the rise of modern French habits of cooking, eating, and drinking, someone always responds with one or more of the following views: Fine cuisine was introduced to France by the Florentine chefs in the suite of Catherine de Medici, who married the future Henry II in 1533. In other words, the Italians taught the French how to cook. The historical role of spices and sauces was to disguise inferior ingredients, especially meat that was rotting or of otherwise poor quality.Dom Pérignon, a Benedictine monk, invented sparkling champagne. Foods introduced front the Americas quickly transformed the European diet in the century after 1492.
All of these legends turn out to be just that – beliefs unfounded in fact. The myth that haute cuisine was an Italian invention was first articulated in the eighteenth century in the context of polemics about luxury and artifice, which also gave rise to the belief that spicy seasonings and sauces functioned as masks for corruption. (Catherine de’ Medici enjoyed a reputation for gluttony and lavish entertaining during her lifetime, but the food served in her household continued a culinary style that had been established at the French court in the late Middle Ages.) Spices are ineffective as preservatives (whereas salting, drying and pickling are efﬁcient), and in any case they were so expensive in medieval and early modern times that anyone who could afford spices in quantity could easily afford to buy meat and fish of the best quality. Self-carbonated champagne that effervesced in the glass was an unintended consequence of bottling wine for storage a new technology in the seventeenth century. The American crops that ultimately had the greatest impact on the European diet and cooking (potatoes. tomatoes, and, to some extent, maize) were relatively slow to be accepted as foods for humans. The items that spread rapidly, such as the chili pepper, the turkey, and New World beans and squash, did so precisely because they fit into the culinary patterns that Renaissance Europe inherited from the Middle Ages.
These common misunderstandings raise the question of what did account for the fundamental shift in ingredients, aesthetis, and techniques that revolutionized French – or, more precisely, Parisian – cooking in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Around 1600, the food served on the tables of the elite still reﬂected the traditions of the pan-European medieval kitchen, the key elements of which merged inﬂuences from Roman, Germanic, and Arab sources. The distinction between sweet and savory, so fundamental to modern French taste, did not exist. Sauces for meat or fish typically combined sugar, honey, or other sweet ingredients with sour ones, such as vinegar or citrus juices, and aromatic spices, including cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, coriander, pepper, and saffron. Cooks strove to produce dishes that fused many layers of ﬂavor into a single, unitary whole, rendering individual ingredients unidentifiable to even sensitive palates. The techniques, equipment, and many of the seasonings used to achieve these results had been part of European practice since antiquity or dated, at the latest, from the spread of Muslim inﬂuence in the High Middle Ages.
By 1700, this ancient way of doing things had all but disappeared from the kitdwens of the nobility and aspiring Parisian bourgeoisie, displaced by what one of its progenitors called ”the art of cooking foods delicately. » This meant discarding seasonings and techniques that tended to obscure the natural taste and texture of principal ingredients. Mild garden herbs replaced aromatic spices; acidic or sweet-sour sauces were jettisoned in favor of subtle, silky ones rich in butter and cream (fats tend to magnify the flavor of the foods they accompany); roasted meats were sauced with their own deglazed juices; vegetables, which had traditionally been boiled into mush, were now served “half cooked, » that is, still green and slightly crisp to the tooth. Sugar, which was more plentiful and cheaper than ever (thanks to plantations in the Americas), was now segregated into the dessert course or was consumed between meals in the newly fashionable colonial drinks (coffee, tea, and chocolate) and the confections served with them. In the course of a century, all the old culinary rules of thumb had been discarded by Parisian chefs, and the new ones adopted in their place form the foundation of Frendw cooking – and much of modern European and American cooking – as we know it today. Whereas medieval culinary practice privileged sharp contrasts of ﬂavor and texture, the new cooking stressed hannonious combinations of natural ﬂavors. « Make it simple” and “let things taste of what they are » are famous dictums of the twentieth-century gastronome Curnonslty; the aesthetic they express Came into its own in the kitchens of the ancien régime.
Given the deep cultural roots and staying power of the medieval culinary tradition – not to mention the fundamental human preference for eating foods that are familiar from an early age – an interesting historical question is, how and why did traditional cuisine lose its place in the daily lives of Europeans (starting with the French) and get replaced with a new approach to cooking that was (and is) in many respects its antithesis? That this transformation took place in a relatively short period of time (three generations, more or less) in a pre-industrial society makes it all the more remarkable. A sufficient answer, I would argue, would necessarily involve both the history of material culture and the social history of ideas.
The chapters that follow touch on a wide range of subjects, from demographic and economic developments to changes in medical theory and from the history of horticulture to Rousseau’s ideas about the virtue of simplicity. There is much analysis of recipes, culinary techniques, and equipment, but also of the social context in which these evolved. The ancien regime was an era in which the diets of the rich and poor became even more sharply differentiated than had previously been the case. Among the elites, refinement came to count, along with high birth, as essential to a noble way of life, and a household’s cuisine functioned as a marker of distinction for the upwardly mobile as well as the established aristocraq. The century and a half that followed the emergence of delicate cooking in the 1650 was characterized by increasingly radical waves of desire to live in a manner that appeared to be ever closer to nature – simpler, more authentic, less artificial. The historical moment that created the pomp of Versailles also longed for its opposite, a world without ceremony, in which informal manners, sincerity, and friendship ruled. These ideas about what constituted the good life inevitably affected the way people wanted to eat and drink as well as their behavior at the table. This desire to experience the wonderful variety of the natural world and to live in harmony with it was articulated with increasing clarity and force as the age of Louis XIV gave way to the Enlightenment, and, perhaps more than any other single factor, it confinned the preference for authentic tastes and simple presentations embodied in the delimte style and its eighteenth-century descendant, the self-described (and original) nouvelle cuisine.
I have tried to tell this complex tale succinctly, while presenting details and examples that illuminate the narrative as a whole. However, some readers may wish to focus on sections of the book that address their particular interests. For example, readers who want to learn about historical recipes and culinary techniques will find most of this material concentrated in Chapter 4, Chapter 5 (speciﬁcally the sections « Cuisine as a Systematic Art » and “Frenda Cooking in England in the Age of Massialot »), Chapter 6 (“Nouvelle Cuisine, circa 1740″ and ”Cuisine Nouvelle, Cuisine Bourgeoise »), and the Appendix. For the social milieu of Paris high society and the royal court in relationship to food and dining, see Chapter 3 (“Feeding Bourbon Paris, » “A New Standard of Luxury, » and “Dining Without Ceremony ») and Chapter 5 (« Delicate Cooking Becomes French » and « Cooking for In Cour et la Ville »). The interplay between elite cuisine and the food of the poor is explored in Chapter 2 (”Divergent Diets of Rich and Poor ») and Chapter 6 (“Anti-Cuisines”). Developments in horticulture and gardening are discussed in Chapter 2 (”Vegetable Renaissance ») and Chapter 3 (“Capturing the Variety of Nature » and ”A New Standard of Luxury »). Diet, medicine, and cooking are addressed in Chapter 1 (“Hippocratic Medicine and Dietetics »), Chapter 3 (”The Revolution in Medicine »), and Chapter 6 (“A New Science of Dietetics”). The development of modern taste, which privileges ideas of simplicity and authenticity, is treated in Chapter 3 (“Capturing the Variety of Nature » and « A New Standard of Luxury ») and Chapters 4-7.
The Ancient Roots of Medieval Cooking
THE TASTE FOR COMPLEXITY
This book aims to explain how and why it was that cooking, eating and drinking in seventeenth-century France took a radically different turn from the standards of wholesomeness and good taste that had dominated European culinary traditions for more than two millennia creating the foundations of the styles of cooking we know and appreciate today. In order to grasp the scale and scope of this transformation, we must first explore the ideas and practices concerning the preparation and consumption of food that dominated kitchens all over Europe from ancient times to the Renaissance.
As Alberto Capatti and Massimo Montanari have pointed out the aesthetic of modern European cooking (which first emerged in France and then took root in other parts of the continent and the British Isles) is analytic.
it tends to distinguish between ﬂavors (sweet, salty, tart, sour, or spicy) reserving a separate place for each, both in individual dishes and in the order of courses served at a meal. Linked to this practice is the notion that the cook should respect as much as possible the natural ﬂavor of each food: a ﬂavor that is distinct and different should be kept separate from other ﬂavors. [Alberto Capatti, Italian Cuisine : A cultural history, 2003]
Thus, the modern cook aims to capture the taste, texture, and aroma of principle ingredients and uses sauces and seasonings to complement these without disguising them. From this point of view, the success of any dish rests primarily on the quality of the main ingredient (whether this is an artidtoke, a salmon trout, or a roast of veal), and a good cook’s special skill resides in her ability to highlight the character of ﬁne foodstuffs.
The cuisines of the ancient Mediterranean took an approach that was the opposite of this modern one: they revolved around a preference for complex, multi-layered ﬂavors that were achieved through the proliﬁc use of strong seasonings, and they favored modes of preparation and presentation that transformed the taste, texture, color, and shape of principal ingredients. The aim was to turn raw materials of all sorts into confections unlike anything in nature:
A perfect dish was thought to be one in which all ﬂavors were simultaneously present. The cook was expected to perfonn an intervention on “natural” products by altering their traits, sometimes in a radical way. Cooking was perceived as an art of combination that aimed at modifying and transforming the « natural » taste of foods into something different or ’’artificial. » [Alberto Capatti, Italian Cuisine : A cultural history, 2003]
Cuisine was artiﬁce: perfection was achieved when ﬂavors fused so completely that it was hard to guess what the individual components were. This idea of cuisine as a transformative art and the love of spicy complexity that went along with it were not unique to the ancient Mediterranean world. Throughout human history most of the great culinary traditions of the world have been marked by their taste for deep, layered ﬂavors that fuse many ingredients and seasonings. We experience and appreciate this culinary aesthetic today in the cuisines of Mexico, North Africa and the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, and many parts of China. The quality of cooking in Indian homes is often judged by the subtlety of custom-ground spice mixtures that give each dish a unique taste that cannot be traced to any single seasoning. Mexican kitchen lore claims that if one can identify a recipe’s ingredients by smelling the steam rising from the pot, the mixture must cook longer to achieve a perfect blend of ﬂavors. Fernand Braudel, the great historian of everyday life, pointed out long ago that the dominant taste for spicy complexity is linked to the fact that most people in most of the world have always consumed mist of their mlories in the fonn of cereals and legumes. He quoted a Hindu poet as saying. When the palate revolts against the insipidness of rice boiled with no other ingredients, we dream of fat, salt, and spices. Rice, beans, noodles, porridges, breads, and corn masa are bland in themselves but they make excellent carriers for other ﬂavors. Sauces and condiments concocted from small amounts of meats or ﬁsh, vegetables, herbs, spices, and fats transfonn bland starches into delicious foods of infinite variety. Complex spicy cooking relieves the monotony of diets dominated by carbohydrates.The aesthetic preference for strong seasonings in ancient Mediterranean cooking was associated with the dominant role of cereals in the diet: barley, which grew well in Greece; wheat from the region of the Black Sea and Sicily; and millet, chestnuts, and other « minor grains » that varied from place to place according to the topography and climate. As we shall see medial theory also played a significant role, because it was widely agreed that health was preserved or restored by the calculated modification of basic foodstuffs by seasonings that rendered them easily digestible and amenable to the constitution of the person for whom they were prepared. Finally, culinary practices that strove to transfonn the fundamental character of principal ingredients were perceived as one of the markers that separated civilized peoples from barbarians. When, in the fifth century BC, the Greek geographer and historian Herodotus tried to convey the otherness of the nomadic tribes who lived beyond the Black Sea, he explained that they drank the milk yielded by their herds (instead of making it into cheese, in the Greek manner) and that they ate huge joints of meat roasted and seasoned only with salt – a practice that recalled the legendary past described by Homer but was foreign to the Greek kitchen of classical times, which featured fish, small cuts of meat and poultry, and vegetarian foods that were often highly seasoned and elaborately sauced. The Greeks of Herodotus’s day, like their Persian adversaries and their Roman heirs, ate foods that had been unmistakably altered – and civilized – by the artistry of the cook.
This approach to cooking endured in Europe for a very long time, spanning the rise and fall of Rome, the incorporation of Germanic and Celtic food traditions, the opening of Latin Christendom to the inﬂuence of Islamic civilization during the Middle Ages, and even the discovery of the Americas. Patterns of consumption and styles of preparation changed to acmmmodate various cultural traditions and regional differences, the religious imperatives of Christianity and Islam, and the introduction of many foods that were unknown or at least unfamiliar in the ancient Mediterranean. The pungent, sweet-sour ﬂavors that dominated the kitchens of Greece and Rome carried over into the cooking of Latin Christendom. Aromatic spices paired with sweet ingredients dominated the elite cooking of the High and late Middle Ages. This type of cuisine became even more pronounced in the sixteenth century, when supplies of sugar and exotic seasonings increased in the wake of the voyages of the Portuguese, Columbus, and other explorers. The tables of the High Renaissance combined sweet, perfumed dishes with ingredients believed to have been popular in ancient Rome, including mushrooms, cockscombs, and organ meats. But all of these stylistic variations were the products of the same broad school of thought about what turned foodstuffs into cuisine. In their embrace of complexity and artiﬁce, the cooking of the ancient Mediterranean and of medieval and Renaissance Europe could not have been more different from the approach to cooking that emerged in seventeenth-century France, which aspired to the ideals of naturalness and simplicity.
HIPPOCRATIC MEDICINE AND DIETETICS
From ancient Greece to Renaissance Europe, the culinary aesthetic that privileged artiﬁce and the creation of complex flavors was buttressed by ideas about the role of diet in preserving health and curing disease associated with the Hippocratic school of medicine. Hippocrates was a Greek physician, a native of the island of Cos, whose dates are traditionally given as circa 460-337 BC. The corpus of sixty or so texts on medicine associated with his name were certainly the work of many different authors. Composed in the ﬁfth and fourth centuries BC, they were assembled into single collection around 250 BC in the library of Alexandria, which was the great center of Greek learning in the Hellenic age. Hippocratic ideas and practices spread to Italy via the Greek colonies in Sicily and the southern part of the peninsula, and by the second century BC, emigre’ Greek physicians had attracted a fashionable clientele in Rome itself and eventually became naturalized throughout the Roman world. Hippocratic attitudes about health, disease, and diet persisted in folk remedies even after learned medicine went into decline in the wake of Gennanic migration and settlement. In the eastern Meditenanean, North Africa, and Spain, Muslim and other Arabic-speaking physicians (including the Jewish rabbi Moses Maimonides) became the principal inheritors of the Hippocratic intellectual tradition, which they reﬁned, reinvigorated, and reintroduced to Latin Christendom beginning in the eleventh century. Half a millennium later, Renaissance humanists revived a series of Hippocratic texts and focused anew on the theory of dietetics that they contained. Thus, ideas about the role of food and cooking in maintaining health and curing disease that originated in ancient Greece Continued to shape culinary practices on the cusp of modernity.
The key insight of the Greek physicians associated with the origin of the school was that the human body was ruled by the same laws as the cosmos. At a time when supernatural explanations and magical cures were routinely invoked in matters of health and disease, they insisted that medicine was a rational science, using the same tools of logical reasoning and empirical observation that helped men to understand the natural world. Furthermore, they argued that the body was composed of exactly the same kinds of matter that constituted everything else in the cosmos. The philosopher Empedocles had taught that matter consisted of four elements – earth, air, water, and ﬁre. Hippocratic physicians accepted this idea and theorized that the body was composed of four vital ﬂuids or humors (blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm) that correlated with the four elements (air, ﬁre, earth, and water, respectively) as well as the four seasons of the year (spring, summer, fall, and winter) and the four qualities of moisture, heat, dryness, and cold. ( See Illustration 1.)