It is January 1st and I am looking forward with great excitement and optimism to a new regime of boiled or steamed vegetables, a little fruit, white fish, lemon juice, tap water and no wine. Just a last look, if you don’t mind, at what I am without regret leaving behind.
Elizabeth David, in her French Provincial Cooking, first published in 1960, writes about the gourmandise of the Robertot family, with whom she lodged in the comfortable Parisian suburb of Passy, where she was sent to be “finished” as a sixteen-year-old: “the Robertots were both exceptionally greedy and exceptionally well fed. Their cook, a young woman called Léontine, was bullied from morning till night, and how she had the spirit left to produce such delicious dishes I cannot now imagine.”
The Robertots were Normans, and Normans in France (Auvergnats too) have a reputation for knowing the value of a franc, even a centime. But also, it seems, for consuming vast quantities of food. Escoffier’s recipe for tripes à la mode de Caen includes (note includes) “4 lb of onions, 3 lb of carrots, 2 lb of leeks, 2 quarts of cider and ½ pint of Calvados or brandy besides the four feet and practically the whole stomach of the ox”. This, however, was a mere snack compared to the meal that the English writer George Musgrave observed being consumed and which he wrote about in his book A Ramble Through Normandy in 1855.
He watched a couple (on their honeymoon, he thought) on board the river steamer at Rouen consuming a midday meal of soup, fried mackerel, beefsteak, French beans and fried potatoes, an omelette fines herbes, a fricandeau of veal with sorrel, a roast chicken garnished with mushrooms, a hock of ham served upon spinach. There followed an apricot tart, three custards, and an endive salad, which were the precursors of a small roast leg of lamb, with chopped onion and nutmeg sprinkled upon it. Then came coffee and two glasses of absinthe, and eau dorée, a Mignon cheese, pears, plums, grapes and cakes. Two bottles of Burgundy and one of Chablis were emptied between eleven and one o’clock.
Disgusting. Pass the tap water.