Friday, April 22, 2011

False Idols

The only Coco Chanel thing I have ever owned was a pair of sunglasses. They now rest on the bottom of Lake Ontario after leaning over the railing of a boat trying to find a cell phone signal (another reason I loath those damn mobiles). I was always indifferent about the brand until I saw Coco Avant Chanel and because of my affection for Audrey Tautou took up the Chanel banner.

Kitkat put an end to that by blogging about her, Coco not Audrey, sketchy business dealings during the war and attempts to get her business back from her partners.

Then he set his sights on Julia Child, another celebrity I took a liking too. Even as a child, I enjoyed her cooking show although by today’s standards I suppose it wasn’t as glitzy nor glamorous. To summarize though, she didn’t like the gays (despite her husband – I mean really, come on now) and even had the habit of firing anyone she found out had those tendencies.

I like to think it was her generation or things were different back then; who knows? Either way, her star may be slightly duller due to Kitkat’s expose, however she still shines bright in my eyes. The woman had fantastic recipes and I love food, what can I say?

And now, through no fault of my friend’s, I have found out my dear Mrs. Beeton may not have been all she was cracked up to be. Again, good food, so she still gets a pass, but in my eye she has been striped of her domestic goddess status.

As the English middle class found itself awash in spices it could afford, after being the domain of the upper classes for so terribly long, she steered her readers away from them all with the possible exception of salt. And that was for the purposes of preserving mainly. Even pepper, according to her, was not good for you.

Garlic was ‘offensive’, potatoes were ‘suspect’ and cheese was to be consumed only in ‘very small quantities’.

On the SAME page in her Household Management book, she complains about the dangerous failings of the tomato and then provides a recipe for stewed tomatoes labeled a “delicious accompaniment”.

What she didn’t do in carelessness and haste, she plagiarized and took credit for recipes sent in by readers. And for all her talk about servants she only had four and she thought ‘when a lady of fashion chooses her footman without any other consideration than his height, shape and tournure of his calf’ they shouldn’t be surprised to find they didn’t have attachment to the family. Yeah, but at least they were handsome!

Still, anyone who thinks a ‘small dinner party for six’ should include mock turtle soup; fillets of turbots in cream; fried sole with anchovy sauce; rabbits; veal; stewed rump of beef; roasted fowls; boiled ham; a platter of roasted pigeons or larks; and, to finish, rhubarb tartlets, meringues, clear jelly, cream, rice pudding and soufflé, can’t be all bad in my book.

While finding all this out, thanks to a suggested reading from Auntie Karen and trip to the library, I also learn the following interesting facts:

· The term room and board comes from the fact that in pre-dining room days, a board that hung on a wall at all other hours, was laid across the laps of diners at meal time.

· Many original bathrooms were communal in nature and toilets had multiple seats for ease of conversation. I love my family, but really, sitting next to my brother while he flips through the sports section? I think I’ll pass.

· And speaking of food, I refer to Julia and Mrs. B. here not the multi seat commode. Various reports from the 1600s indicate dodgy retailers stretching their foodstuffs in interesting ways. Sugar was cut with everything from plaster of paris, gypsum and sand. Butter was pumped up with tallow and lard while a cup of tea, cutting right quick to my heart, might find a person taking in anything from sawdust to powdered sheep’s dung.

· As the Victorian era progressed, the distance between master and servant grew massively. It was in this time a rear staircase became fashionable so that, for example, ‘the gentry walking upstairs no longer met their last night’s faeces coming down’.

· That the first telephones did not have a ringer. Thomas Watson, who worked for Bell, added it long after phone was already in wide spread use. Before that, the only way to know if someone trying to get through to you was pick the phone up from time to time and check.

· Brass beds did not become fashionable because they were suddenly thought stylish, but rather that they gave no harbor to bedbugs.

While Julia and Mrs. Beeton have taken a bit of a beating on the ol’ idol scale, I did learn a few interesting things along the way. And, I also found two possible replacements.

First, George Eastman, of the Kodak family, had gobs of money and had more servants than he could shake a stick at. He kept a second, private kitchen on the second floor of his house where ‘he liked to go and put on an apron and bake pies’.

Then there is Mrs. E. T. Stotesbury, aka Queen Eva, who once spent half a million dollars ‘taking a party of friends on a hunting trip simply to kill enough alligators to make a set of suitcases and hatboxes’. How devine.

I will now turn things over to Kitkat to investigate and validate my new found favourites before I set up more alters.


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