Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/45

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35
DIETETIC CURIOSITIES.

abbot is functional to his body only as salt is to pork — in preventing imminent putrefaction."

Essays on diet gravitate toward the Austrian abbot, it seems. But the importance of the three daily meals was indeed wonderfully enhanced by the tedium of convent-life. The god Venter, Ulrich Hutten insinuates, was ever of more consequence to the holy fraternity than all the saints of the Roman calendar, and the greatest miracle in their estimation is the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves of bread. With few exceptions the abbeys and prebendaries of mediæval Europe were strongholds of gluttony, the well-appointed receptacles of the viri amplissimi who carved the board of the dinner-table for the reception of their ample paunches, and whose faces shone at the aspect of a favorite dish as the countenance of Moses on Sinai. Their fasts in Lent were really a satire on the bona fide and chronic fasts of the poor; pastry, puddings, and eel-pies in lieu of the normal venison haunches, and butter instead of ham-fat, helped to sweeten the time of penance; and Erasmus mentions the prior of an abbey who instructed his major-domo to reduce the accustomed number of dumplings for the sake of Good Friday: "Make only ten to-day," said the pious prelate — "but," after some reflection, "you can make them — a little larger."

Of what transcendent interest the bill of fare must have been to Cardinal Dubois, who called on the dying Fontenelle at his boardinghouse! The landlord announcing asparagus for dinner, and asking instructions in regard to the desired sauce, provoked an animated controversy between the two dogmatists. Fontenelle insisted on cream, the Cardinal on melted butter, till the landlord suggested a compromise — he would divide the material and use a separate sauce for each half. But Fontenelle was not destined to eat that dinner — his day of life was ended by a stroke of apoplexy before the sun had reached the meridian. Dubois, who had recognized the sad fact with a paroxysm of grief, then rushed to the landing and shouted down the memorable words, "Mettez tous au beurre!" — (Butter-sauce for the whole lot!)

Twenty per cent, of the French revenues were ingulfed by the cuisine of Louis le Grand, and other court kitchens have furnished very strong arguments to the opponents of royalty. During the ante Napoleonic era of small German principalities, more than one of those "commanders of four faithful square miles" astonished the world by selecting a Secretary of the Treasury from his staff of French cooks; but they who wondered did not know what secrets those functionaries could have revealed to a committee of ways and means. Peter the Great, at his departure from Castle Waldeck, where he had been feasted as the guest of the sovereign proprietor for some days, was asked to give his opinion of the château. "Everything is splendid," replied the ingenuous Russian, "only the kitchen is too large."

Such kitchens and their products have often deserved the attention of the historical pragmatist. An indigestible mushroom stew provoked