Almanac des Gourmands by Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurent Grimod de La Reynière by Agatha Wara
Jejunus Raro stomachus vulgaria Temnit.
A stomach that is seldom empty despises common food.
-Horace (65 BC – 8 BC). Satires, II, 2, 38.
Gourmands and Gourmandise
If we are to believe the dictionary of the academy, a Gourmand is synonymous with greediness and gluttony.
We believe that this definition is not accurate or rigorous; we should reserve the words greedy and glutton to characterize the insatiable greed and intemperance, and that the word Gourmand has received in recent years in the world, a meaning much less unfavorable, dare we even say, much more noble.
A Gourmand is not only one that Nature has gifted with an excellent stomach and a huge appetite; all sturdy and well-built men posses this; a Gourmand is the one who in addition to these benefits has an enlightened taste whose first principle lies in a singularly delicate palate, matured by long experience. In him, all the senses have to be in constant tune with taste, because he must reason with his cuts [of food], even before approaching them to his lips. This means that his glance needs to be penetrating, his ear, alert, his touch, fine, and his tongue, able. Thus the Gourmand, painted by the academy as being rude, is on the contrary a gifted character of extreme delicacy; and only his health must be vigorous.
But it would be a mistake to believe that the constant attention required by a Gourmand to all parts of the culinary art, to which his senses are exclusively directed, makes him materialist and narrow-minded. On the contrary, we believe he is more resourceful than others to appear pleasant, and to be forgiven by sober men — usually quite envious — of the superiority of his taste and appetite.
Father Roubaud, in his synonyms, is a bit more favorable to Gourmands than the Academy. He compares the Gourmand to the Glutton, the Greedy, and the Wolverine, and shows how different they are from one another. According to him, “the Gourmand loves to eat good food; he must eat, but not without selection. The Glutton’s appetite is so huge, or rather, so brutal, that he eats, mouth-full, guzzled, and gorges himself with food quite indiscriminately; he eats, and he eats to eat. The Greedy eats with such avidity, he swallows rather that eats; he twists and swallows, as we say; he does not chew, he gulps. The Wolverine runs to eat and eats with an unpleasant noise, and with such voracity that a cut can’t wait, he moves to the next cut and soon everything before him is gone, he devours, it seems.
This definition, though it might probably be written with more delicacy and a better tone, is sensible enough, and we think the differences the author noted between the four terms he undertook to define, lack neither accuracy nor truth. But at the time he wrote this, Gourmands weren’t playing the role they are today; they weren’t enjoying the recognition they are now, and Gluttony hadn’t become a state yet.
However, from the time of the old Encyclopedia, Gluttony started to be recognized for what it is, as it is defined as a sophisticated and muddled love for good food.
Father Roubaud, more severe about gluttony than the Encyclopedia, pretends that «it might be too much (of a definition), that state corresponds better to one fond of good food, who likes the delicate cuts, savors them and knows about them». His critique, as we can see, centers around the idea of sophistication introduced by the Encyclopedia. We consider this idea as spot-on, and we dismiss the muddled part, as it better fits greediness than gluttony, the latter is sophisticated in its tastes.
We will probably be criticized for having waited so long to properly define the Gourmand, and for attempting to fix the best idea attached to it. Many readers might think this discussion should have introduced our first edition, and we agree that there is some truth in that. But what we said about Gourmands in our two previous editions helped them be recognized for what they truly are, so we will be forgiven for waiting until today to properly define them.
We can say that fruits are for dessert, and vegetables are for entremets (to be served between courses), that is to say there is an infinity of preparations more or less famous, more or less sophisticated, and more or less appreciated. Each season brings us its share, in this category like in others, and it’s been said for a long time that the Halle de Paris market is the most beautiful orchard of Europe. This is the place where the most precious gifts of Pomone come each day, and their arrival precedes the sunrise. This is the most amazing thing to watch, and not so many Parisiens can claim to have seen it, as at all seasons they are deep asleep. But the real Gourmands sometimes enjoy this show in the longest days of summer, which is near the times of the red berries.
The first fruit that the Divine Providence gives to our tables, and considered in Paris as the most distinguished, is the strawberry. It is also one of the fruits which we enjoy for a longer time as they appear here in late April, and we can still eat strawberries in September, sometimes even later. This fruit is no less healthy as it is pretty. Strawberries are balsamic, refreshing, slightly laxative true; it can be corrected when seasoned with sugar and a little wine, and make friends with almost all stomachs. However, since strawberries are in general, quite cold, we recommend avoiding any excess, especially after a large dinner; but in the morning on an empty stomach, and generally when the process of digestion is completed, they are regarded as very salutary. The strawberries are eaten raw, with powdered sugar, and, as we have said, sometimes with a little wine. We tried to make compotes, jams, etc. but so far without success. Fire takes away nearly all its fragrance.
Cherries appear soon after strawberries. Presented in quadrangular pyramids that form a very fine presentation for desserts. But we often leave these pyramids untouched. The acidity of the fruit is more enjoyable on an empty stomach than following a dinner. This is one of the healthiest lunches we can do, and it is a fruit of which the excess is less dangerous when ripe. The best cherries come to Paris from the valley of Montmorency; but we note that in recent years the right species is significantly less abundant. We planted many British cherry trees, whose fruits are more brown than red, more bitter than acid, and which have neither sweetness nor the delicacy of those known as Gobets with a short tail, and which their fans will always prefer.
The Royal Ann cherries and sweet cherries, although less enjoyable than (regular) cherries, are more expensive in Paris for the same size. The first are known to be indigestible, and both to be a bit fever-inducing. For the sweet cherries, because of the sugar they contain, they taste pleasantly to many. We will do well in general to refrain from Royal Anns and to eat sweet cherries with moderation.
We make with cherries, especially in their prime, excellent compotes; pretty good jams; cherries dry in the oven, we fill them with fine sugar, add half-sugar for preservation, they are prepared with spirits, dragees candies, packed into pies and desserts, etc. It is a fruit that offers the most resources to cooks, especially in confectioneries.
With cherries, butter, sugar and toasted bread crumbs, we make a dessert dish still little known in Paris, but that deserves to be, because when well done it is delicious. This dessert is named Cherry Soup; we can fondly recommend it.
Apricots follow closely to the cherries, and they offer even more varieties to cooks, especially for pastries and confectioneries; raw or stewed, they form an excellent dish for dessert which is always appreciated. Apricot jam is the most famous jam, and is frequently used by pastry cooks in their pies and sweets and in many candies. We use them in spirits, and they crystallize both dry and wet.
Apricots were still very rare in Paris twenty-five years ago, but they are now quite common, as farming has been extended. Bigger, juicier than regular apricots, they have a taste and a scent that is particular to them, but to which many connoisseurs, not influenced by fashion, prefer free-range apricots, much better in general than those grown indoors, though smaller.
The very ripe apricots are softening, nourishing, refreshing and slightly relaxing. Often one of the two halves is more ripe, therefore some people will avoid eating the other half without the skin. As for the cooked apricot, it is given to people in recovery, because this fruit has less acidity than most others.
The raspberry has a delicious but very strong fragrance that does not appeal to everyone; when eaten raw, they are usually mixed with strawberries or currants. They are made into jams, ice cream, marmalade, dragees candies, and syrups.
We flavor with vinegar syrup, and one can say that the cooks and confectioners make much use of this fruit. Raspberries are nourishing, cordial, refreshing, stimulating, soothing and slightly melting; it’s all a very healthy food, and few people have the stomach so sensitive to be forced to abstain. However, because of their refreshing property, we do not recommend eating it a lot after dinner.
Peaches are regarded, rightly, as the most beautiful and most distinguished fruit produced under our climate. Though there is a very great number of different species, we might somehow reduce to two: those that leave the stone, and those who do not leave it. The latest are the Clingstone; but the other, more succulent and with better taste, and are also much easier to digest.
The town of Montreuil, near Paris, is able to send us the best peaches that are eaten in France, and probably in Europe. The inhabitants focus their efforts exclusively on this kind of culture, and have perfected it. The Minion is the first peach which appears in Paris, usually towards the end of July; but the one known under the name of Teton de Venus (Venus tits) which ripens in late August, is regarded rightfully as the best of all.
guide in the ways of good food
By an old amateur.
Containing several articles on morals and Gourmand manners; a sensible description of major fruits served at the table; the second culinary Walk of a Gourmand in Paris; new discoveries of 1804; several culinary recipes; many anecdotes on Gourmet; hygiene principles and savoir-vivre; and letters to the author, etc. etc.
Agatha Wara is a Bolivian-born, U.S.-raised artist and writer based in Oslo.