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Oscar Wilde

John Stokes and Mark W. Turner (eds), The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, Vol. 6: Journalism, Vol. 1

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pg 3912Editor’s NoteEditor’s Note[PMG (7 March 1885), 5]1DINNERS AND DISHES

Editor’s Note2A man can live for three days without bread, but no man can live for one 3day without poetry, was an aphorism of Baudelaire's: you can live without Editor’s Note4pictures and music, but you can't live without eating, says the author of 5"Dinners and Dishes:" and this latter view is no doubt the more popular. 6Who indeed, in these degenerate days, would hesitate between an ode and Editor’s Note7an omelette, a sonnet and a salmi? Yet the position is not entirely Philistine; Editor’s Note8cookery is an art; are not its principles the subject of South Kensington Editor’s Note9lectures, and does not the Royal Academy give a banquet once a year? 10Besides, as the coming democracy will no doubt insist on feeding us all on 11penny dinners, it is well that the laws of cookery should be explained: for 12were the national meal burned, or badly seasoned, or served up with the 13wrong sauce, a dreadful revolution might follow.

14Under these circumstances we strongly recommend "Dinners and 15Dishes" to every one: it is brief, and concise, and makes no attempts at Editor’s Note16eloquence, which is extremely fortunate. For even on ortolans who could 17endure oratory? It also has the advantage of not being illustrated. The 18subject of a work of art has of course nothing to do with its beauty, but still Editor’s Note19there is always something depressing about the coloured lithograph of a leg 20of mutton.

21As regards the author's particular views, we entirely agree with him on Editor’s Note22the important question of macaroni. "Never," he says, "ask me to back a 23bill for a man who has given me a macaroni pudding." Macaroni is 24essentially a savoury dish, and may be served with cheese, or tomatoes, but Editor’s Note25never with sugar and milk. There are also, a useful description of how to 26cook risotto, a delightful dish too rarely seen in England, an excellent Editor’s Note27chapter on the different kinds of salads, which should be carefully studied 28by those many hostesses whose imaginations never pass beyond lettuce and Editor’s Note29beetroot, and actually a recipe for making Brussels sprouts eatable. The last 30is of course a masterpiece.

31The real difficulty, however, that we all have to face in life, is not so much 32the science of cookery, as the stupidity of cooks. And in this little handbook Editor’s Note33to practical Epicureanism, the tyrant of the English kitchen is shown in her Editor’s Note34proper light. Her entire ignorance of herbs, her passion for extracts and 35essences, her total inability to make a soup which is anything more than a Editor’s Note36combination of pepper and gravy, her inveterate habit of sending up bread-37poultices with pheasants, – all these sins, and many others, are ruthlessly Editor’s Note38unmasked by the author. Ruthlessly and rightly. For the British cook is a 39foolish woman, who should be turned, for her iniquities, into a pillar of salt 40which she never knows how to use.

pg 4041But our author is not local merely. He has been in many lands; he has Editor’s Note42eaten back-hendl at Vienna, and kulibatsch at St. Petersburg; he has Editor’s Note43had the courage to face the buffalo veal of Roumania, and to dine with a 44German family at one o'clock; he has serious views on the right method of Editor’s Note45cooking those famous white truffles of Turin, of which Alexandre Dumas Editor’s Note46was so fond, and, in the face of the Oriental Club, declares that Bombay 47curry is better than the curry of Bengal. In fact he seems to have had 48experience of almost every kind of meal, except the "square meal" of the 49Americans. This he should study at once; there is a great field for the Editor’s Note50philosophic epicure in the United States. Boston beans may be dismissed 51at once as delusions, but soft shell crabs, terrapin, canvas-back ducks, 52blue fish, and the pompono of New Orleans, are all wonderful delicacies, Editor’s Note53particularly when one gets them at Delmonico's. Indeed, the two most 54remarkable bits of scenery in the States are undoubtedly Delmonico's, and Editor’s Note55the Yosemité Valley, and the former place has done more to promote a good 56feeling between England and America than anything else has in this 57century.

58We hope that "Wanderer" will go there soon, and add a chapter to 59"Dinners and Dishes," and that his book will have in England the influence Editor’s Note60it deserves. There are twenty ways of cooking a potato, and three hundred 61and sixty-five ways of cooking an egg, yet the British cook up to the present 62moment knows only three methods of sending up either one or the other.

"Dinner and Dishes." By "Wanderer." Price 2s. 6d. (London: Simpkin and Marshall, 1885.)

Notes Settings

Notes

Editor’s Note
publishing history
First published in the PMG (7 March 1885), 5; repr. in PMB (13 March 1885), 29–30; repr. in Reviews, 1–13.
Editor’s Note
2–3 A man can live . . . Baudelaire's: for Baudelaire, see note to No. 10, line 68. W may have been thinking of either 'Vous pouvez vivre trois jours sans pain;—sans poésie, jamais' (Baudelaire, ii, 77–8), 'You can live three days without bread—without poetry, never' ('The Salon of 1846', Charles Baudelaire, Art in Paris 1845–1862, trans. and ed. Jonathan Mayne (London: Phaidon Press, 1965), 41); or 'Quoi d'étonnant d'ailleurs, puisque tout homme bien portant peut se passer de manger pendant deux jours,—de poésie jamais?' (Baudelaire, iii, 287), 'Anyway, what is so astonishing since all men can go without eating for two days, but not without poetry?' W re-uses the Baudelaire tag in No. 91, lines 430–2. Although in its immediate context this is simply a characteristic inversion of 'The Wanderer's' more commonplace observation, Baudelaire's aphorism was to become a favourite.
Editor’s Note
4–5 the author of "Dinners and Dishes": 'The Wanderer', pseudonym of Elim Henry d'Avigdor (1841–95), whose other works included Across Country (London, 1882), Fair Diana (London, 1885), Hunt-room Stories (London, 1885), Whims (London, 1889), and contributions to Vanity Fair.
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7 Philistine: see note to No. 7, line 95.
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8–9 the subject of South Kensington lectures: a reference to the South Kensington Museum, which has grown out of the collection of models, casts, prints and other examples purchased for the purpose of Instruction in Design and Ornamental Art in the Schools of Design. In 1851 the Board of Trade appointed a committee to select objects for purchase, notable "entirely for the excellence of their art or workmanship," to the amount of £5000, from the Great Exhibition of that year. These objects were exhibited at Marlborough House and opened in September 1852 as a Museum of Ornamental Art. It was then decided to take an annual vote for the formation of a systematic collection representing the application of fine art to industry of all periods. In 1856 Parliament voted £10,000 for the transference of the Science and Art Department . . . to the estate at South Kensington purchased by the Commissioners of the Exhibition of 1851 . . . The Museum was opened on June 22, 1857, by the Queen, accompanied by the Prince Consort. Immediately after the opening the erection of permanent buildings was commenced, and the Picture Galleries, the Schools of Art, the North and Central Courts, the Ceramic Gallery, Lecture Theatre, and Refreshment Rooms were completed and opened in successive years. (Wheatley, iii, 275)
Editor’s Note
9 Royal Academy . . . banquet: the Royal Academy traditionally holds a banquet before the opening of its annual exhibition.
Editor’s Note
16 ortolans: French songbirds about the size of a sparrow, considered a great delicacy in France when force-fed for a month, roasted, and eaten in a single mouthful. The practice was made illegal in France in 1999. At the end of 'The Critic as Artist' Gilbert proposes a supper of 'some Chambertin and a few ortolans' (Criticism, 161), while in De Profundis W recalls dining at the Savoy on 'luscious ortolans wrapped in their crinkled Sicilian vine-leaves' (149).
Editor’s Note
19 coloured lithograph: coloured lithographs, often of an extant painting, were produced by printing each colour by a separate stone, a considerable advance on the previous method of hand-colouring. The mass production of coloured lithographs increased greatly in the late 19th century as a result of cheap paper and the development of improved steam-driven printing presses. Also see No. 36, lines 57–8 and the dismissive reference to 'chromolithographic effects' in 'The Decay of Lying' (Criticism, 78).
Editor’s Note
22–3 "Never," . . . pudding": cf. 'Never ask me to back a bill for a man who has given me a macaroni-pudding; do not suggest my going into partnership with him, or lending him five pounds, or even joining him in a day's excursion. I should fear any enormity from him, because he has committed an offence against the order of Nature, and one which sooner or later must be avenged' (Wanderer, 109).
Editor’s Note
25–6 how to cook risotto, . . . in England: cf. 'Risotto and macaroni are far too much neglected' (Wanderer, 160). The instructions for cooking are on 117–19.
Editor’s Note
27 different kinds of salads: which are given by Wanderer, 158–60.
Editor’s Note
29 a recipe for making Brussels sprouts eatable: which is given by Wanderer, 143–5.
Editor’s Note
33 Epicureanism: the Greek philosopher Epicurus (342–270 bc) was often popularly associated with a doctrine of pure pleasure. However, this idea was strongly qualified and revised in the course of the 19th century as Epicureanism became redefined as a form of austerity, although that does not seem to be W's point here. (Also see Criticism, 354, 504).
Editor’s Note
34–5 her passion for extracts and essences: cf. 'English ladies should put their little feet down firmly and insist on all "essences" and "flavours" being banished from the kitchen' (Wanderer, 137).
Editor’s Note
36–7 sending up bread-poultices with pheasants: cf. 'She sends up with all game a poultice which a simple foreigner would suppose was intended to apply to chilblains or a swelled face. A spoon will stand in it. It is composed of the most innocent elements, and is, we believe, an infallible specific, when placed in a handkerchief and taken externally, for all sorts of pains and wounds. But it is meant also to be eaten, perhaps to cure the injuries inflicted by the first half of the dinner, and is then called bread sauce. It has always been a mystery to me whence originated this custom. On no grounds of economy or æstheticism can it be explained' (Wanderer, 72).
Editor’s Note
38–40 a foolish woman . . . never knows how to use: a reference to the story in Genesis 19:26 of how Lot's wife, on looking back at the city of Sodom, 'became a pillar of salt'. Cf. 'Strictly speaking, there should be no occasion to add salt to anything at table. The salting should be done in the kitchen. But so accustomed are the English people to its absence beforehand, that they help themselves to salt with everything almost mechanically' (Wanderer, 69).
Editor’s Note
42 back-hendl at Vienna: cf. 'In spring and early summer back-hendl is the favourite Viennese delicacy. It is a diminutive and very meagre chicken chopped up as described, and fried in suet with bread-crumbs, head, claws, gizzard, and all. The prevailing flavour is feathers and suet. Of course there is not much flesh on the poor thing, and what there is full of bone-splinters' (Wanderer, 85–6).
Editor’s Note
42 kulibatsch at St. Petersburg: cf. 'There follows a pasty containing cabbage and hard-boiled eggs fried in a quantity of butter; it is called kulibatsch, and half a square inch can be eaten safely. But Russians eat huge slices of it, and even the Russian stomach requires some stimulant after all this food' (Wanderer, 42–3).
Editor’s Note
43 buffalo veal of Roumania: cf. 'Oh traveller, beware of Roumanian veal! It is made of buffalo-calf . . . Of all horrible meats I have ever eaten, buffalo veal is the most disgusting. It is brown, flabby, stringy, pink at the edges even when well done, and has a peculiarly nauseous and offensive taste' (Wanderer, 104–5).
Editor’s Note
43–4 dine with a German family at one o'clock: cf. 'But the next day, and on all other days, your quondam host sits down with his family to his soup, bouilli, and sauerkraut at one o'clock' (Wanderer, 93).
Editor’s Note
45–6 white truffles of Turin, of which Alexandre Dumas was so fond: cf. 'The white truffle looks like a kidney potato. It should be thoroughly washed and cleaned with a brush, so as to remove every particle of dirt adhering to it, but not peeled. It must then be sliced very thin, and in our opinion should be eaten raw' (Wanderer, 121). Also cf. 'Alexandre Dumas gives several receipts for cooking white truffles, and I refer those who wish to try the experiment to his valuable and amusing work' (Wanderer, 122). Alexandre Dumas (1802–70), novelist and playwright. His Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine (Paris, 1873) was published posthumously.
Editor’s Note
46 Oriental Club: founded in 1824, the Oriental Club, then situated in Hanover Square, drew its membership from the East India Company and public officials who had served in India.
Editor’s Note
46–7 Bombay curry . . . Bengal: cf. 'The excellence of the respective curries of Madras and Bengal is one of the numerous bones of contention between the two Presidencies . . . to avoid unpleasantness I have always answered that I prefer the Bombay curry, which is generally pooh-poohed and considered to be out of the race altogether' (Wanderer, 59).
Editor’s Note
50–2 Boston beans . . . soft shell crabs, terrapin, canvas-back ducks, blue fish, and the pompono [sic] of New Orleans: American dishes that W must have encountered on his visits. Boston beans are baked or stewed with pork and molasses. Soft shell crabs are cooked and eaten in the transitional stage between the growth of one hard shell and the next. Terrapin are a species of turtle widely eaten in 19th-century America but no longer. Canvasback ducks, a once common migratory bird, were also considered a delicacy in the 19th century but hunting is now restricted. Bluefish are migratory and are found off the east coast and can be prepared in many different ways. Pompano fish are also to be found off the east coast, particularly in the Gulf of Florida, and can be baked or grilled.
Editor’s Note
53 Delmonico's: a famous New York restaurant founded in 1837 and said to be the first in America. W dined there in 1882 (see Ellmann, 199).
Editor’s Note
55 Yosemité Valley: the Yosemite Valley (it is not clear why W adds an acute accent) is a spectacular glacial valley in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California that became part of America's first national park in 1864. Communications improved as a result, particularly with the development of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, and hotels began to appear. In a letter dated 27 March 1882 W describes how, in the course of a four-day train journey, he travelled 'up the Sierra Nevadas, the snow-capped mountains shining like shields of polished silver in that vault of blue flame we call the sky, and deep cañons full of pine trees' (H & H-D, 158).
Editor’s Note
60–1 twenty ways of cooking a potato . . . ways of cooking an egg: cf. 'There are twenty ways of cooking potatoes, of which three only are known in England, and one alone, that of boiling, extensively practised. Many of the other methods involve nothing but care and a little butter. But care and accuracy are qualities we have a right to expect from a carpenter, a butler, or a groom, but of course not from a cook' (Wanderer, 71). Also cf. 'Eggs can be cooked in three hundred and sixty-six different ways. At least so say the French cookery-books. But in England there are three modes of cooking them, and three only, to be found in most houses. They are boiled, fried, or poached. Of the omelette and its infinite varieties it would be waste of printer's ink to discourse at length. It appears to be a hopeless task to teach an English cook how to make one' (Wanderer, 161).
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