Browsing through my edition of Larousse Gastronomique, possibly the height of my experience in print, of the swoon, is not a diversion lightly permitted to appear in these pages. The act scales the best-defended battlements of discipline we know, only to deposit one in the embrace of the suavest seductions of the faculties since, well, Ratty and Mole punted downriver with their stupefying hamper of treats. Yet here all the ripples of the cadenced dip of the blade only enrich the flux of one’s journey, and deepen one’s immersion in what rings true as a noun, but coarse as an adjective, le volupté.
The Princess was certainly bred to the part, by circumstances quite naturally beyond her control. Illegitimacy, courteously revised, bristled enthrallingly on both sides of her provenance, and the destiny of her marriage, albeit curtailed within a year by the terminal ravages of her bridegroom’s recreational distemper, left her with one of the very greatest fortunes the continent had ever known, two or three bankers beyond the Pale excepted. Whence, it appears, she committed herself utterly to the charms of two mistresses, Marie Antoinette and good food, not to draw an undue distinction.
Tred carefully, therefore, Reader, through the Larousse Gastronomique. Consult it at your peril, in planning a roasting of a New Year’s rack of lamb, lest you tumble into the mode of the Princesse de Lamballe with a brace of quail en papillote. Ignore virtuously her way with garden peas, admitting they are a marginal risk of this season. You may require all your strength to endure her genius with the very nature of the prey our own Dick Cheney blew a friend’s face apart, to dine upon with less commitment. O tempore, o Republicans!
Thereafter, the process is simplicity, itself. Prepare the stuffed quail en papillote, lining the base of each parchment paper case with a julienne of mushrooms and truffles blended with cream. Add some port to the pan juices in which the quails were cooked, blend in some crème fraîche, and pour the resulting sauce over the quails.
Ratty and Mole could have handled all this, with a simple hibachi in the stern, and still kept tempo with the dappling light of their riparian frolic. But the birds would coo to be so cosseted, and one can pack only so many of an afternoon, the lamb course still to come.
And why am I not dining with the Princesse de Lamballe? Because the mob devoured her head while we weren't looking, in 1792. Tossed out of a proceeding for declining to take an oath misrepresenting the conduct of her Queen, the alien target of the mob's revenge, her head was paraded around Paris on a pike as the demand still went forth, to swear the precise testament of the new insanity. No, although Montesquieu's Persian Letters were already in circulation, and all of Europe had adored The Abduction from the Seraglio of Mozart, the compulsory phrase was not yet Radical Islamic Terrorism. How this mania differs from the blood lust lunacy of the alt right networks and lemmings who've exalted an idiot over us, boils down to quibbling about the origin of restaurants.
Clarkson Potter, 2009©
The Wind in the Willows
Limited Editions Club, 1940©