1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cookery

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COOKERY (Lat. coquus, a cook), the art of preparing and dressing food of all sorts for human consumption, of converting the raw materials, by the application of heat or otherwise, into a digestible and pleasing condition, and generally ministering to the satisfaction of the appetite and the delight of the palate. We may take it that some form of cookery has existed from the earliest times, and its progress has been from the simple to the elaborate, dominated partly by the foods accessible to man, partly by the stage of civilization he has attained, and partly by the appliances at his command for the purpose either of treating the food, or of consuming it when served.

The developed art of cookery is necessarily a late addition—if it may be considered to be included at all—to the list of “fine arts.” Originally it is a purely industrial and useful art. Man, says a French writer, was born a roaster, and “pour être cuisinier, il a besoin de le devenir.” The ancients were great eaters, but strangers to the subtler refinements of the palate. The gods were supposed to love the smell of fried meat, while their nectar and ambrosia represented an ideal, which, though preserved as a phrase, would hardly satisfy a modern epicure. The ancients were poorly provided with pots and pans, except of a simple order, or with the appurtenances of a kitchen, and they were sadly to seek in the requisites of a modern table. So long as men ate with their hands no dainty confection was suitable; the viands were set forth in a straightforward style fit for their requirements. “Plain cooking,” which, after all, can never become obsolete, was the only sort. Oddities, no doubt, were the luxuries; and we can see to-day in the ethnological accounts of contemporary savages and backward civilizations, a fair representation of the cookeries of the ancients. The luxuries of the Chinese are, in their way, a survival of long ages of a cookery which to western civilization is grotesque. Even if it is an historic impertinence, it is impossible for the countries of western civilization to regard the fine flower of their own evolution as other than the highest pitch of progress. Autres temps, autres mœurs. To the Chinaman French cooking may possibly be as grotesque as to an Englishman the Chinaman’s hundred-year-old buried egg, black and tasteless. The history of comparative cookery is bound up with the physical possibilities of each country and its products; and if we attempt to mark out stages in the evolution of cookery as a fine art, it is necessarily as understood by the so-called civilized peoples of the West in their culmination at the present day.

It is obvious that opportunity has dominated its history, for the art of cookery is to some extent the product of an increased refinement of taste, consequent on culture and increase of wealth. To this extent it is a decadent art, ministering to the luxury of man, and to his progressive inclination to be pampered and have his appetite tickled. It is thus only remotely connected with the mere necessities of nutrition (q.v.), or the science of dietetics (q.v.). Mere hunger, though the best sauce, will not produce cookery, which is the art of sauces. For centuries its elaboration consisted mainly of a progressive variety of foods, the richest and rarest being sought out; and their nature depended on what was most difficult to obtain. The Greeks learnt by contact with Asia to increase the sumptuous character of their banquets, but we know little enough of their ideas of gastronomy. Athens was the centre of luxury. According to our chief authority Athenaeus, Archestratus of Gela, the friend of the son of Pericles, the guide of Epicurus, and author of the Heduphagetica, was a great traveller, and took pains to get information as to how the delicacies of the table were prepared in different parts. His lost work was versified by Ennius. Other connoisseurs seem to have been Numenius of Heraclea, Hegemon of Thasos, Philogenes of Leucas, Simonaclides of Chios, and Tyndarides of Sicyon. The Romans, emerging from their pristine simplicity, borrowed from the Greeks their achievements in gastronomic pleasure. We read of this or that Roman gourmet, such as Lucullus, his extravagances and his luxury. The name of the connoisseur Apicius, after whom a work of the time of Heliogabalus is called, comes down to us in association with a manual of cookery. And from Macrobius and Petronius we can gather very interesting glimpses of the Roman idea of a menu. In the later empire, tradition still centred round the Roman cookery favoured by the geographical position of Italy; while the customs and natural products of the remoter parts of Europe gradually begin to assert themselves as the middle ages progress.

It is, however, not till the Renaissance, and then too with Italy as the starting-point, that the history of modern cookery really begins. Meanwhile cookery may be studied rather in the architecture of kitchens, and the development of their appurtenances and personnel, than in any increase in the subtleties of the art; the ideal was inevitably gross; the end was feeding—inextricably associated in all ages with cooking, but as distinct from its fine fleur as gluttony from gastronomy.

Montaigne’s references to the revival of cookery in France by Catherine de’ Medici indicate that the new attention paid to the art was really novel. She brought Italian cooks to Paris and introduced there a cultured simplicity which was unknown in France before. It is to the Italians apparently that later developments are originally due. It is clearly established, for instance (says Abraham Hayward in his Art of Dining), that the Italians introduced ices into France. Fricandeaus were invented by the chef of Leo X. And Coryate in his Crudities, writing in the time of James I., says that he was called “furcifer” (evidently in contemptuous jest) by his friends, from his using those “Italian neatnesses called forks.” The use of the fork and spoon marked an epoch in the progress of dining, and consequently of cookery.

Under Louis XIV. further advances were made. His maître d’hôtel, Béchamel, is famous for his sauce; and Vatel, the great Condé’s cook, was a celebrated artist, of whose suicide in despair at the tardy arrival of the fish which he had ordered, Madame de Sévigné relates a moving story. The prince de Soubise, immortalized by his onion sauce, also had a famous chef.

In England the names of certain cookery-books may be noted, such as Sir J. Elliott’s (1539), Abraham Veale’s (1575), and the Widdowe’s Treasure (1625). The Accomplisht Cook, by Robert May, appeared in 1665, and from its preface we learn that the author (who speaks disparagingly of French cookery, but more gratefully of Italian and Spanish) was the son of a cook, and had studied abroad and under his father (c. 1610) at Lady Dormer’s, and he speaks of that time as “the days wherein were produced the triumphs and trophies of cookery.” From his description they consisted of most fantastic and elaborately built up dishes, intended to amuse and startle, no less than to satisfy the appetite and palate.

Louis XV. was a great gourmet; and his reign saw many developments in the culinary art. The mayonnaise (originally mahonnaise) is ascribed to the duc de Richelieu. Such dishes as “potage à la Xavier,” “cailles à la Mirepoix,” “chartreuses à la Mauconseil,” “poulets à la Villeroy,” “potage à la Condé,” “gigot à la Mailly,” owe their titles to celebrities of the day, and the Pompadour gave her name to various others. The Jesuits Brunoy and Bougeant, who wrote a preface to a contemporary treatise on cookery (1739), described the modern art as “more simple, more appropriate, and more cunning, than that of old days,” giving the ingredients the same union as painters give to colours, and harmonizing all the tastes. The very phrase “cordon bleu” (strictly applied only to a woman cook) arose from an enthusiastic recognition of female merit by the king himself. Madame du Barry, piqued at his opinion that only a man could cook to perfection, had a dinner prepared for him by a cuisinière with such success that the delighted monarch demanded that the artist should be named, in order that so precious a cuisinier might be engaged for the royal household. “Allons donc, la France!” retorted the ex-grisette, “have I caught you at last? It is no cuisinier at all, but a cuisinière, and I demand a recompense for her worthy both of her and of your majesty. Your royal bounty has made my negro, Zamore, governor of Luciennes, and I cannot accept less than a cordon bleu” (the Royal Order of the Saint Esprit) “for my cuisinière.”

The French Revolution was temporarily a blow to Parisian cookery, as to everything else of the ancien régime. “Not a single turbot in the market,” was the lament of Grimod de la Reynière, the great gourmet, and author of the Manuel des amphitryons (1808). But while it fell heavily on the class of noble amphitryons it had one remarkable effect on the art which was epoch-making. It is from that time that we notice the rise of the Parisian restaurants. To 1770 is ascribed the first of these, the Champ d’oiseau in the rue des Poulies. In 1789 there were a hundred. In 1804 (when the Almanach des gourmands, the first sustained effort at investing gastronomy with the dignity of an art, was started) there were between 500 and 600. And in 1814, to such an extent had the restaurants attracted the culinary talent of Paris, that the allied monarchs, on arriving there, had to contract with the two brothers Véry for the supply of their table. Among the great gastronomic names of Napoleon’s day was that of his chancellor Cambacérès, of whose dinners many stories are told. Robert (the eponym of the sauce Robert), Rechaud and Mérillion were at this period esteemed the Raphael, Michelangelo and Rubens of cookery; while A. Beauvilliers (author of Art des cuisines) and Carême (author of the Maître d’hôtel français, and chef at different times to the Tsar Alexander I., Talleyrand, George IV. and Baron Rothschild) were no less celebrated.[1] Perhaps the greatest name of all in the history of the literature of cookery is that of Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755–1826), the French judge and author of the Physiologie du goût (1825), the classic of gastronomy.

In England Louis Eustache Ude, Charles Elmé Francatelli, and Alexis Soyer carried on the tradition, all being not only cooks but authors of treatises on the art. The Original (1835) of Thomas Walker, the Lambeth police magistrate, is another work which has inspired later pens. Like the Physiologie du goût, it is no mere cookery-book, but a compound of observation and philosophy. Among simple hand-books, Mrs Glasse’s, Dr Kitchener’s and Mrs Rundell’s were standard English works in the 18th and early 19th centuries; and in France the Cuisinière de la campagne (1818) went through edition after edition. An interesting old English work is Dr Pegge’s Forme of Cury (1780), which includes some historical reflections on the subject. “We have some good families in England,” he says, “of the name of Cook or Coke.... Depend upon it, they all originally sprang from real professional cooks, and they need not be ashamed of their extraction any more than Porters, Butlers, &c.” He points out that cooks in early days were of some importance; William the Conqueror bestowed land on his coquorum praepositus and coquus regius; and Domesday Book records the bestowal of a manor on Robert Argyllon, by the service of a dish called “de la Groute” on the king’s coronation day.

At the present time, whatever the local varieties of cooking, and the difference of national custom, French cooking is admittedly the ideal of the culinary art, directly we leave the plain roast and boiled. And the spread of cosmopolitan hotels and restaurants over England, America and the European continent, has largely accustomed the whole civilized world to the Parisian type. The improvements in the appliances and appurtenances of the kitchen have made the whole world kin in the arts of dining, but the French chef remains the typical master of his craft. Schools of cookery have been added to the educational machine. The literature of the subject has passed beyond enumeration.

It is unnecessary here to pursue so vast a practical subject into detail; but the following notes on broiling, roasting, baking, boiling, stewing and frying may be useful.

Broiling.—The earliest method of cooking was probably burying seeds and flesh in hot ashes, a kind of broiling on all the surfaces at the same time, which when properly done is the most delicate kind of cooking. Broiling is now done over a clear fire extending at least 2 in. beyond the edges of the gridiron, which should slightly incline towards the cook. It is usual to rub the bars with a piece of suet for meat, and chalk for fish, to prevent the thing broiled from being marked with the bars of the gridiron. In this kind of cookery the object is to coagulate as quickly as possible all the albumen on the surface, and seal up the pores of the meat so as to keep in all the juices and flavour. It is, therefore, necessary thoroughly to warm the gridiron before putting on the meat, or the heat of the fire is conducted away while the juices and flavour of the meat run into the fire. Broiling is a simple kind of cookery, and one well suited to invalids and persons of delicate appetites. There is no other way in which small quantities of meat can be so well and so quickly cooked. Broiling cannot be well done in front of an open fire, because one side of the meat is exposed to a current of cold air. A pair of tongs should be used instead of a fork for turning all broiled meat and fish.

Roasting.—Two conditions are necessary for good roasting—a clear bright fire and frequent basting. Next to boiling or stewing it is the most economical method of cooking. The meat at first should be placed close to a brisk fire for five minutes to coagulate the albumen. It should then be drawn back a short distance and roasted slowly. If a meat screen be used, it should be placed before the fire to be moderately heated before the meat is put to roast. The centre of gravity of the fire should be a little above the centre of gravity of the joint. No kitchen can be complete without an open range, for it is almost impossible to have a properly roasted joint in closed kitcheners. The heat radiated from a good open fire quickly coagulates the albumen on the surface, and thus to a large extent prevents that which is fluid in the interior from solidifying. The connective tissue which unites the fibres is gradually converted into gelatin, and rendered easily soluble. The fibrin and albumen appear to undergo a higher oxidation and are more readily dissolved. The fat cells are gradually broken, and the liquid fat unites to a small extent with the chloride of sodium and the tribasic phosphate of sodium contained in the serum of the blood. It is easily seen that roasting by coagulating the external albumen keeps together the most valuable parts of the meat, till they have gradually and slowly undergone the desired change. This surface coagulation is not sufficient to prevent the free access of the oxygen of the surrounding air. The empyreumatic oils generated on the surface are neither wholesome nor agreeable, and these are perhaps better removed by roasting than any other method except broiling. The chief object is to retain as much as possible all the sapid juicy properties of the meat, so that at the first cut the gravy flows out of a rich reddish colour, and this can only be accomplished by a quick coagulation of the surface albumen. The time for roasting varies slightly with the kind of meat and the size of the joint. As a rule beef and mutton require a quarter of an hour to the pound; veal and pork about 17 minutes to the pound. To tell whether the joint is done, press the fleshy part with a spoon; if the meat yield easily it is done.

Baking meat is in many respects objectionable, and should never be done if any other method is available. The gradual disuse of open grates for roasting has led to a practice of first baking and then browning before the fire. This method completely reverses the true order of cooking by beginning with the lowest temperature and finishing with the highest. Baked meat has never the delicate flavour of roast meat, nor is it so digestible. The vapours given off by the charring of the surface cannot freely escape, and the meat is cooked in an atmosphere charged with empyreumatic oil. A brick or earthenware oven is preferable to iron, because the porous nature of the bricks absorbs a good deal of the vapour. When potatoes are baked with meat, they should always be first parboiled, because they take a longer time to bake, and the moisture rising from the potatoes retards the process of baking, and makes the meat sodden. A baked meat pie, though not always very digestible, is far less objectionable than plain baked meat. In the case of a meat pie the surfaces of the meat are protected by a bad conductor of heat from that charring of the surface which generates empyreumatic vapours, and the fat and gravy, gradually rising in temperature, assist the cooking, and such cooking more nearly resembles stewing than baking. The process may go on for a long time after the removal of the meat from the oven, if surrounded with flannel, or some bad conductor of heat. The Cornish pasty is the best example of this kind of cooking. Meat, fish, game, parboiled vegetables, apples or anything that fancy suggests, are surrounded with a thick flour and water crust and slowly baked. When removed from the oven, and packed in layers of flannel, the pasty will keep hot for hours. When baked dishes contain eggs, it should be remembered that the albumen becomes harder and more insoluble, according to the time occupied in cooking. About the same time is required for baking as roasting.

Boiling is one of the easiest methods of cooking, but a successful result depends on a number of conditions which, though they appear trifling, are nevertheless necessary. The fire must be watched so as properly to regulate the heat. The saucepan should be scrupulously clean and have a closely-fitting lid, and be large enough to hold sufficient water to well cover and surround the meat, and all scum should be removed as it comes to the surface; the addition of small quantities of cold water will assist the rising of the scum. For all cooking purposes clean rain water is to be preferred. Among cooks a great difference of opinion exists as to whether meat should be put into cold water and gradually brought to the boiling point, or should be put into boiling water. This, like many other unsettled questions in cookery, is best decided by careful scientific experiment and observation. If a piece of meat be put into water at a temperature of 60°, and gradually raised to 212°, the meat is undergoing a gradual loss of its soluble and nutritious properties, which are dissolved in the water. From the surface to the interior the albumen is partially dissolved out of the meat, the fibres become hard and stringy, and the thinner the piece of meat the greater the loss of all those sapid constituents which make boiled meat savoury, juicy and palatable. To put meat into cold water is clearly the best method for making soups and broth; it is the French method of preparing the pot au feu; but the meat at the end of the operation has lost much of that juicy sapid property which makes boiled meat so acceptable. The practice of soaking fresh meat in cold water before cooking is for the same reasons highly objectionable; if necessary, wipe it with a clean cloth. But in the case of salted, smoked and dried meats soaking for several hours is indispensable, and the water should be occasionally changed. The other method of boiling meat has the authority of Baron Liebig, who recommends putting the meat into water when in a state of ebullition, and after five minutes the saucepan is to be drawn aside, and the contents kept at a temperature of 162° (50° below boiling). The effect of boiling water is to coagulate the albumen on the surface of the meat, which prevents, but not entirely, the juices from passing into the water, and meat thus boiled has more flavour and has lost much less in weight. To obtain well-flavoured boiled meat the idea of soups or broth must be a secondary consideration. It is, however, impossible to cook a piece of meat in water without extracting some of its juices and nutriment, and the liquor should in both cases be made into a soup.

Stewing.—When meat is slowly cooked in a close vessel it is said to be stewed; this method is generally adopted in the preparation of made dishes. Different kinds of meat may be used, or only one kind according to taste. The better the meat the better the stew; but by carefully stewing the coarsest and roughest parts will become soft, tender and digestible, which would not be possible by any other kind of cooking. Odd pieces of meat and trimmings and bones can often be purchased cheaply, and may be turned into good food by stewing. Bones, although containing little meat, contain from 39 to 49% of gelatin. The large bones should be broken into small pieces, and allowed to simmer till every piece is white and dry. Gelatin is largely used both in the form of jellies and soups. Lean meat, free from blood, is best for stewing, and, when cut into convenient pieces, it should be slightly browned in a little butter or dripping. Constant attention is necessary during this process, to prevent burning. The meat should be covered with soft water or, better, a little stock, and set aside to simmer for four or five hours, according to the nature of the material. When vegetables are used, these should also be slightly browned and added at intervals, so as not materially to lower the temperature. Stews may be thickened by the addition of pearl barley, sago, rice, potatoes, oatmeal, flour, &c., and flavoured with herbs and condiments according to taste. Although stewing is usually done in a stewpan or saucepan with a close-fitting cover, a good stone jar, with a well-fitting lid, is preferable in the homes of working people. This is better than a metal saucepan, and can be more easily kept clean; it retains the heat longer, and can be placed in the oven or covered with hot ashes. The common red jar is not suitable; it does not stand the heat so well as a grey jar; and the red glaze inside often gives way in the presence of salt. The lid of a vessel used for stewing should be removed as little as possible. An occasional shake will prevent the meat from sticking. At the end of the operation all the fat should be carefully removed.

Frying.—Lard, oil, butter, or dripping may be used for frying. There are two methods of frying—the dry method, as in frying a pancake, and the wet method, as when the thing fried is immersed in a bath of hot fat. In the former case a frying pan is used, in the other a frying kettle or stewpan. It is usual for most things to have a wire frying basket; the things to be fried are placed in the basket and immersed at the proper temperature in the hot fat. The fat should gradually rise in temperature over a slow fire till it attains nearly 400° Fahr. Great care is required to fry properly. If the temperature is too low the things immersed in the fat are not fried, but soddened; if, on the other hand, the temperature is too high, they are charred. The temperature of the fat varies slightly with the nature of things to be fried. Fish, cutlets, croquets, rissoles and fritters are well fried at a temperature of 380° Fahr. Potatoes, chops and white bait are better fried at a temperature of 400° Fahr. Care must be taken not to lower the temperature too much by introducing too many things. The most successful frying is when the fat rises two or three degrees during the frying. Fried things should be of a golden brown colour, crisp and free from fat. When fat or oil has been used for fish it must be kept for fish. It is customary first to use fat for croquets, rissoles, fritters and other delicate things, and then to take it for fish. Everything fried in fat should be placed on bibulous paper to absorb any fat on the surfaces.

  1. See Lady S. O. Morgan’s France, 1829–1830, ii. 414, for an account of a dinner by Carême.