Marie Antoinette Online Forum

Dining In 18th Century France
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Author:  Artois [ Thu Apr 23, 2009 8:52 am ]
Post subject:  Dining In 18th Century France

Here is an overview of food eaten by royalty, the nobility and the peasantry from the middle to the end of the 18th century including a menu from a meal given for Marie Antoinette.

French Revolution foods
The years immediately preceding the French Revolution were a time of great excess and terrible poverty. Royalty feasted on rich confections and huge roasts; the starving peasants ate anything they could find, including stale bread and scraps. In 18th century France, new world foods, most notably potatoes, played a pivotal role in feeding the starving country.

The Revolution was a great culinary equalizer. The fall of the Royal regime created (by necessity) a more egalitarian cuisine. Food, and the concept of how it was eaten changed radically. During the revolution another notable French "invention" happened. The restaurant. The first restaurants were quite different from what we know today. Their initial purpose was to serve healthy restoratifs (soup!) to anybody who could pay.

"The eighteenth century was a great century for cooking, but the progress made and the refinements added to the art of cooking were briefly interrupted by the French Revolution. In 1789 the French Revolution broke out, and according to one observer at the time, it "served the soverign people a dish of lentils, seasoned with nothing but the love of their country, which did very little to improve their blandness." The interest in cooking and gastronomy was temporarily interrupted, but when things had calmed down enough in 1795, a little book entitled La Cuisiniere Republicaine was published. It was written by a Mme. Merigot, who gives recipes for potatoes (unnacceptable until then as a food by the French.)"
---The Grand Masters of French Cuisine: Five Centuries of Great Cooking, Celine Vence and Robert Courtine [G.P. Putnam:New York] 1978 (p. 55)
[NOTE: This books has much more information/recipes than can be paraphrased here. Ask your librarian to help you find this book.

The bread question

"Let them eat cake," Marie Antoinette allegedly pronounced. What was this cake and why is this phrase so important? Parisians were indeed starving in the years preceding the French Revolution. Bread, while commonly employed for its symbolic connection as the "staff of life," was not the only commodity in short supply. There were several reasons for these food shortages, number one being a population explosion. Other key factors included war (farmers pressed into service meant neglected fields), weather conditions (severe drought), and economics (inadequate distribution systems).

"A shortage of bread has been suggested as the cause of the fall of Rome, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution of 1917."
---The Story of Bread, Ronald Sheppard and Edward Newton [Charles T. Branford:Boston MA] 1957 (p. 58)

"Bread was the staple food of the masses and it was poverty which caused the [French Revolution] rebellion. The more naive than caustic comments of Marie Antoinette, 'Let them eat cake,' was explosive in an already tense atmosphere. What the people wanted was bread, with all its symbolic implications."
---Gastronomy of France, Raymond Oliver, translated from the French by Claude Durrell [Wolrd Publishing Co.:Cleveland OH] 1967 (p. 107-108)

"'The people was all roaring out Voila le boulanger et la boulangere et let petit mitron, saing that now they should have bread as they now had got the baker and his wife and boy.' The year was 1789, the place Paris, the 'baker' Louis XVI and the 'bakers wife', Marie Antoinette. The French Revolution had not...been sparked off by hunger or high prices, and Marie Antoineette's relentlessy mistranslated remark that if there was not dread, the people whould eat 'cake' was no more than one of those minor but eminently quotable political gaffes that their perpetrators are never allowed to forget. Bread shortages had always been a fact of Parisian life, productive of nothing more serious than an occasional riot. It was only after the middle classes made the first breach in the defences of the privileged elite that the ordinary people of France began to take a hand in the game. While the Constitutent Assembly discussed the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the abolition of aristocratic privileges, the market women of Paris took the opportunitiy of demonstrating their disapproval of the fact that, after a series of disastrious harvests, a four-pound loaf now cost 14 1/2 sous. The effective daily wage of a builder's labourer at the time was 18 sous. Throughout the 1790s far more serious food crises and riots were to bedevil the plans of the revolutionaries and their successors--and to sound a warning to the governments of other countries confronted with the problem of expanding towns and an unprecedented increase in population. The problem was more one of distribution than production since agricultural developments were taking place that promised to make shortages a thing of the past."
---Food in History, Reay Tannahill [Three Rivers Press:New York] 1988 (p. 283)

" France...there was a new investment by the state in solving problems of food distribution that had previously been the responsibility of individual cities...French monarchs int eh eighteetnh century became increasingly concerned with the possibility of popular uprisings due to bread shortages. To forestall that possibiltiy, they stocked wheat and promulgated new laws governing the sale of grain. Both responses appear to have improved the situation, but not everyone agreeed that this was the case. In The Bakers of Paris and the Bread Question, 1700-1775, Steven Kaplan has shown that when merchants followed the king's orders to stockpile grain, their actions were often interpreted as attempts to corner the market in order to drive up prices. Large-scale wheat purchases did in fact raise prices on local markets and force some people to go hungry, and critics saw this as evidence of a "famine conspiracy." Furthermore, laws promoting free trade in grain, which ultimately stimulated new cereal production, had to be withdrawn or modified on several accasions in the face of vehement protests by various groups: the best known of these episodes was the "flour war" of 1775...Was the French government right to intervene in the food distribution system rather tahn lieave it, as in the past and as in some other coutnries, in the hands of municipal governments and private interests? It would have been difficult to have acted differently: whereas popular protest in the seventeenth century had been directed mainly against taxes, int eh eighteenth century it was directed maily against shortages of bread. Although these disturbances were not as severe as in previous centuries, they could not be neglected. Thus the bread question became the paramount political issue of the day, just as wheat came to dominate agriculture and the popular diet...Antoine Parmentier, suggested making bread with flour from potatoes, which could be grown in fallow fields between grain harvests and with helds tow to three times greater than that for wheat. But in many parts of Europe people did not yet feel miserable enough to accept such fare, which was considreed fit only for hogs, eveni if it could be turned into bread."
---Food: A Culinary History, Jean-Louis Flandrin & Massimo Montanari [Columbia University Press:New York] 1999 (p. 354-355)

"In the months before the storming of the Bastille the people of Paris commenced once more to greet each other with the forbidden greeting of the Jacquerie: "Le pain se leve..." What bread? There was none...most Frenchmen believed that the lack of grain was due to a conspiracy...There is no doubt that the grain speculators were making a great deal of money at the time...The unique factor was the mass delusion that the purpose of their speculation as to "exterminate the French nation."..It was said that Louis XV had already earned ten millions pounds as a result of this murderous conspiracy. The society was alleged to be buying cheaply all the grain in France, secretly exporting it, buying it again from abroad, and importing it back to France at tenfold the original price...The fact was that all export of grain from France had been prohibited for the past hundred years...Revolt was...raging in the provinces...The Bastille had been stormed--but the people of Paris did not yet have their bread...In fact, in the days after the storming of the Bastille there was an unusual shortage of flour. The people could not feed on the glory of the Revolution. Why did a four-pound bread still cost 12 1/2 sous and a white bread 14 1/2? The government provided subsidies so that the bakers would lower their price. But this did not increase the supply of bread. The angy populace lost precious hours waiting in front of the bakeries. To be sure, Parmentier's potato bread was much cheaper. But who was interested in Parmentier and his bakers' college? That was...nonsense. Parmentier's experiments--it was unjustly said--were donducted only so that the rich could cram something into the mouths of the poor. Let him eat his potates himself. "We want bread!" the people shouted...[in] August 1789...a drought had come upon France worse than any the nation remembered. The streams dried up. The result was that the mills could not run. There were windmills only in the provinces of northern France. In central and southern France all milling was done in water mills. Now the little grain there was could not be ground! The Minister of Agriculture at once ordered the erection of horse-driven mills. But this took time. In September the supply of bread in Paris dwindled away again, and the price rose shamelessly. The seething masses became convinced that the Court still had bread...In the early morning of October 5, 1789, Paris spewed her torrents of human beings out into the misty roads. They marched with pikes and scythes, barefood and in rags...The masses were obsessed with hallucinations. "Did you see the bread wagons?" "Yes, bread wagons on the horizon!"...King Louis XVI had turned off the water in the park--it was needed to run the mill. Because the water no long splashed in the fountains, the villages around Versialles had bread--though there was not enough for Paris. All at once it occurred to the marchers that perhaps the king himself had not much bread...The women's cries from bread died down...When they returned, there was general disappointment. Paris had though it would now begin to rain bread...but...Louis XVI could not conjure up bread...Fourteen hungry days passed..."Watch out for the bakers" became the watchword. "The bakers have hidden flour. They want to wait until we can pay more."...Both the National Assembly and the administrators knew that whether the nation were kingdom or republic, the people would hang all authorities who did not solve the bread problem. But the bread problem could not be solved. The National Assembly set aside 400,000 pounds for agricultural aid, but this still not solve the problem...Where was the bread? The flow of grain dwindled to a trickle, as it had when the despots reigned, and the bakers' ovens remained empty...Grain had to be procured--but how? Trade was unpopular...Traders must be speculators, therefore cheats...At great cost the city of Paris bought grain abroad...What monsters there were among the people; such individuals as those who on August 7, 1793, spirited away 7,5000 pounds of bread out of starving Paris becasue they hoped to obtain higher prices in the provinces...All the guilty men were executed...In Ocober 1793 Paris once more received flour...The Commune of Paris decreed that from then on only a single type of bread could be baked in the city--the pain d'egalite. The flour sieves of millers and bakers were confiscated, for they were a symbol of fine berads. All, poor and rich, would have bread of equally poor quality... On Decmeber 2, 1793, the bread card was introduced; and eighteen months later the Commune decided upon free distribution of bread: one and a half pounds daily to workers and the heads of families, one pound to all others. Before long all there was of bread were the cards. In 1794 the harvest was pitifully small...Men killed one another for bread...France saw no bread until peace came. The Revolution had not been able to produce it, and the war made it impossible to distrubute it. It was until the period of the Directory, from 1796 on, that the soldiers were furloughed; they returned to the fields which now no longer belonged to landowners but to themselves and their families, and they began to till these fields. Such was the role of bread in the French Revolution."
---Six Thousand Years of Bread, H.E. Jacob [Lyons Press:New York] 1997 (p. 246-254)

"For a time, food prices rose dramatically; crops planted by farmers, who were then drafted into the Republic's armies, went unharvested...Attempting to impose fraternal solidarity by means of food distribution programs, more than one revolutionary demanded that bakers stop preparing their typical range of breadstuffs and combine brown, white, and rye flours together to make one single "Bread of Equality." In the capitol, in Feburary 1792, shortages led to the outbreak of popular street protests, but, as William Sewell has noted, the men and women of Paris were rioting not for bread, the totemic staff of life, but for sugar, soap, and candles. Sewell's point is particualrly well take, for the radical revolutionary rhetoric of "subsistence" has long led historians to believe that the danger of famine was the driving force behind many of the National Convention's economic policies. True, the Convention passed "the Maximum" in September 1793, putting it in effect a broad series of...price-fixing regulations... That these "necessities" included not only bread and wine, but cheeses, butter, honey, and sausages as well..."Subsistence" was certainly at the heart of much revolutionary rhetoric; but revolutions do not subsist on bread alone."
---The Invention of the Restaurant, Rebecca L. Spang [Harvard University Press:Cambridge MA] 2000 (p. 106-107)

Noble food
The 17th century marked the genesis of classic French Cuisine. Food historians tell us the nobles of this period followed this new trend, supporting the chefs and their ideas wll into the 18th century. By the 18th century, the noble and wealthy classes were dining in the manner of "Grand Cuisine." Multi-course meals and elaborate service were the hallmarks of this style. Notable chefs/cookbook authors included Massialot, La Chappelle, Marin, and Menon.

"Louis XVI did not inherit Louis XV's delicate taste in food. Like the Sun King, he was a glutton...During their reign Louis and Marie-Antoinette dined every Sunday in public. But the queen only pretended to eat...She dined afterwards in her apartments, among her intimates."
---An Illustrated History of French Cuisine, Christian Guy [Bramhall House:New York] 196 (p. 86)

Supper given...for Marie Antoinette of this supper from the imperial archives quoted by L'Almanach des Gourmands pour 1862, by Charles Monselet. Her Majesty's Dinner, Thursday 24 July 1788 at Trianon:

Four Soups
Rice soup, Scheiber, Croutons with lettuce, Croutons unis pour Madame
Two Main Entrees
Rump of beef with cabbage, Loin of veal on the spit
Sixteen Entrees
Spanish pates, Grilled mutton cutlets, Rabbits on the skewer, Fowl wings a la marechale, Turkey giblets in consomme, Larded breats of mutton with chicory, Fried turkey a la ravigote, Sweetbreads en papillot, Calves' heads sauce pointue, Chickens a la tartare, Spitted sucking pig, Caux fowl with consomme, Rouen duckling with orange, Fowl fillets en casserole with rice, Cold chicken, Chicken blanquette with cucumber
Four Hors D'Oeuvre
Fillets of rabbit, Breast of veal on the spit, Shin of veal in consomme, Cold turkey
Six dishes of roasts
Chickens, Capon fried with eggs and breadcrumbs, Leveret, Young turkey, Partridges, Rabbit
Sixteen small entremets
(menu stops here)

---Gastronomy of France, Raymond Oliver, translated from the French by Claude Durrell [Wine and Food Society:Cleveland OH] 1967 (p. 300-1)
Middle class food

"The difference that existed, up to the end of the seventeenth century, between ordinary, everyday bourgeois cooking and aristocratic cooking was a difference in quantity and in elaborateness of presentation. Beginning in about 1750, the cuisine of ordinary days and that of special occasions were separated by a difference in kind, quality, and method. Ordinary cuisine naturally remained closer to old-style cuisine, for reasons of cost and convenience. According to Brillat-Savarin who, who had gathered his information from the inhabitants of several departments, a dinner for ten persons around the year 1740 was composed of the following:

First service...boiled meat
an entree of veal cooked in its own juice;
an hors-d'oeuvre.
Second service...a turkey;
a vegetable dish;
a salad;
a cream (sometimes)

A pot of jam

This order, with the succession of the boiled and roasted as its prinicpal distinguising characteristic, was to remain practically the same in private homes down to the end of the nineteenth century. In Zola, it is the typical bourgeois menu."
---Culture and Cuisine: A Journey Through the History of Food, Jean-Francois Revel [Doubleday:Garden City NY] 1982, English translation (p. 193-4)
Peasant food
Daily meals for the "average" person consisted of bread, pottage (gruel from ground beans or soup with vegetables and perhaps a little meat), fruit, berries & nuts (in season) and wine. If you need to make/take something to class to signify this particular period in French history we suggest basic a loaf of French bread and a simple dish of potatoes. These would have been foods consumed daily by most of the people at that time.

Here is a recipe...with historic notes...for "Pommes de Terre a L'Econome," Cuisinier Republicaine 1795:

"Although potatoes could have been grown in France earlier, it was not until the French Revolution in 1789 that this precious vegetable was accepted by the French. The French accepted it only because famine, and the economic exigencies of the Revolution, forced it on them. The potato had long been considered poisonous in France, but once the French tried it and survived, they showed a surprising amount of enthusiasm for this "new" food. The following recipe is taken from one of the first postrevolutionary French cookbooks and is one of the earliest French recipes using potatoes.
Pommes de terre a l'econome
Ingredients: (for 4 servings): 3 sprigs parsley, finely chopped. 1 scallion, finely chopped. 4 shallots, peeled and finely chopped. 2 cupps chopped cooked meat (leftover meat or poultry). 2 pounds potatoes. 3 1/2 tablespoons butter. 1 egg. 1 egg, separated. Salt. Pepper. Flour. Oil for frying. Chopped parsley (to garnish).

The Herbs and the Meat: Mix the finely chopped parsely, scallion, and shallots with the chopped meat. The Potatoes: Boil the potatoes in their jackets (skins) for thirty minutes in lightly salted water. Peel while still hot; then mash with a fork. The Patties: Combine the mashed potatoes and the chopped ingredients. Add the butter, egg, and egg yolk. Salt and pepper to taste. Shape into medium patties. (If they are too small, they will be too crunchy, and if too large, the centers will not cook thoroughly.) Beat the egg white until it begins to stiffen. Dip the patties into the egg white; then roll them in flour. Cooking the Patties: Place the patties in a frying pan with very hot oil. Turn so that they will brown on all sides. To Serve: Drain well, and serve garnished with parsley."
---The Grand Masters of French Cuisine: Five Centuries of Great Cooking, Celine Vence and Robert Courtine [G.P. Putnam:New York] 1978 (p. 253)

"In July 1789, only a few days after the storming of the Bastille, the Marquis Charles de Villette proposed that the new ideal of fraternity could be achieved by common dining in the streets. The rich and poor could be united, and all ranks would mix...the capital, from one end to the other, would be one immense family, and you would see a million poeple all seated at the same table...' And then, standing on its head the ancien regime traditon of the royal family dining au grand couvert, Villette goes on to add: On that day, the nation will hold its grand covert'. Ironically, of course, the proposal would have represented just as much a manipulation of the meal in service of the state as anything ever staged at Versailles. That flirtation with the communal meal as emblematic of a new age of equality and faternity was to continue to ebb and flow through the early, more extreme, years of the Revolution. On 14 July 1790, the first anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, a Festival of Federation was staged, prefaced the previous day by two thousand spectators watching members of the National Assembly share an open-air patriotic meal' in the circus of the Palais Royal...The left-overs from this fraternal repast were distributed to the poor...All of this was to be as dust within a few years, yet what occurred in the priod after 1789 fundamentally shaped developments around the table down to our own day. A primary effect was to dissolve the equation of cuisine and class. Henceforward cuisine of a kind seen as the prerogative of royalty and nobility would be available to anyone who could afford to pay for it."
---Feast: A History of Grand Eating, Roy Strong [Harcourt:New York] 2002 (p. 274-6)

"The French Revolution marks, in its first years, a certain slowing down in the "culinary" evolution of the coutnry...But not for long. Soon the arts of the gourmet and the pleasures of the table reclaimed their prestige; the new leaders of France quickly tired of Spartan virtues. People began to eat well again, not only in Paris, but also in the provinces. Cooks whos masters had emigrated were snapped up. Great houses reorganized. New restaurants were opened. The cuisine of France regained the grandeur it had enjoyed during the reign of Louis XV. However, what with wars and the gory horrors of the Terror, famine raged again for several years. In 1793 and ordinance prohibited more than one pound of meat a week per person...There was no bread and the potato crop was poor. But restrictions are never applied to all-under any regime. And while plain people...were rushed to the guillotine, there were feasting and carousing in the mansions of Barras and Fouche. The following is a menu of a dinner served by Barras in the winter of 1793:

With a little onions, a la ce-devant minime
Second Course
Steaks of sturgeon en brochette
Six Entrees
Turbot saute a l'homme de confiance
formerly Maitre-d'hotel
Cucumber stuffed with marrow
Vol au vent of chicken breast in Bechemel sauce
A ci-devant Sait-Pierre sauce with capers
Fillets of partridge in rings (not to say in a crown)
Two Roasts
Gudgeons of the region
A carp in court-bouillon
Fifth Course
Lentils a la ci-devant Reine
Beets scalded and sauted in butter
Artichoke bottoms a la ravigote
Eggs a la neige
Cream fritters with orange water
Celery en remoulade
Twenty-four different dishes"

Article reprinted:
© Lynne Olver 2000
12 April 2009

Author:  Délicate fleur [ Thu Apr 23, 2009 11:57 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Dining In 18th Century France

Goodness me...thank you Artois, for compiling this interesting information for us. I'm sure many students and interested parties will feast upon this. Merci. :book:

Author:  jimcheval [ Thu Apr 23, 2009 3:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Dining In 18th Century France

For anyone who wants to try cooking at least the entrees from the menu for Marie-Antoinette, I amused myself by finding equivalent recipes for them some time back:

As some posters here know, I also have two collections of 18th century recipes out, the second vegetarian. There's a great deal to say on this subject, but I can only be scattered in a brief response:

"Although potatoes could have been grown in France earlier, it was not until the French Revolution in 1789 that this precious vegetable was accepted by the French.

- potatoes had come into fashion before the Revolution, thanks to the efforts of Parmentier (as in hachis Parmentier); some other side dishes, such as tomatoes, were starting to be used in practice but are not mentioned in cookbooks from the period
In 1789 the French Revolution broke out, and according to one observer at the time, it "served the soverign people a dish of lentils, seasoned with nothing but the love of their country

- lentils had been eaten by the upper classes since Louis XV's wife began to favor them (and little red lentils were known as "lentilles a la reine"). (An alternative word for them, not found in many dictionaries, was "nantilles".)
- The great majority of the French ate vegetables, largely in soup (de Maupassant wrote much later of "the respect every peasant has for his soup" - he was describing a character modeled on Rodin.) So eating lentils during the Revolution might (if that actually happened) have been an improvement.
"Let them eat cake," Marie Antoinette allegedly pronounced. What was this cake and why is this phrase so important?

- any reference to the bogus tale of "Let them eat cake" makes some of us here grit our teeth, since it's both a mistranslation and a misattribution. ("let them eat brioche" was the original, cited by Rousseau before Marie-Antoinette came along.) But certainly if the tale has legs it was largely because it resonated with very real misery.
most Frenchmen believed that the lack of grain was due to a conspiracy

- Conspiracy theories in general were big at the time. One modern theory is that the Duke d'Orleans had a hand in this, as part of his attempt to displace his cousin.

Author:  Artois [ Thu Apr 23, 2009 8:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Dining In 18th Century France

Jim: I'm not certain about this, but it's my understanding that the French also considered corn in the 'unfit for consumption' category along with potatoes. It was used only for feeding livestock.

I find the quantity of food prepared almost obscene; I picture huge roasts, whole pigs on spits, and so on, the majority of which went untouched by the 10 or 11 people present (except if Louis was coming; I understand that you could hear his yummy noises in the Galerie des Glaces). Hopefully when they mention 'roasts' they mean a few slices of a roast, a few slices of ham from a previously cooked pig on a spit. sort of like a buffet. Do you have any ideas about portion allocation, amount of food prepared, etc?

Author:  jimcheval [ Thu Apr 23, 2009 9:27 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Dining In 18th Century France

Bear in mind that cookbooks tended to be for the wealthiest classes or people who hoped to emulate them. A far safer guide to what real people ate is probably to be found in accounts by travelers such as Arthur Young,M1,M1,M1,M1

Or Tobias Smollet:
The bourgeois of Boulogne have commonly soup and bouilli at noon,
and a roast, with a sallad, for supper; and at all their meals
there is a dessert of fruit. This indeed is the practice all over
France. On meagre days they eat fish, omelettes, fried beans,
fricassees of eggs and onions, and burnt cream [known better in English today as "creme brulee"]. The tea which
they drink in the afternoon is rather boiled than infused; it is
sweetened all together with coarse sugar, and drank with an equal
quantity of boiled milk.

"Nothing can be more parsimonious than the
oeconomy of these people: they live upon soupe and bouille, fish
and sallad: they never think of giving dinners, or entertaining
their friends; they even save the expence of coffee and tea,
though both are very cheap at Boulogne. They presume that every
person drinks coffee at home, immediately after dinner, which is
always over by one o'clock; and, in lieu of tea in the afternoon,
they treat with a glass of sherbet, or capillaire. In a word, I
know not a more insignificant set of mortals than the noblesse of

The usual price is thirty sols for dinner, and forty for
supper, including lodging; for this moderate expence they have
two courses and a dessert. If you eat in your own apartment, you
pay, instead of forty sols, three, and in some places, four
livres ahead. I and my family could not well dispense with our
tea and toast in the morning, and had no stomach to eat at noon.
For my own part, I hate French cookery, and abominate garlick,
with which all their ragouts, in this part of the country, are
highly seasoned: we therefore formed a different plan of living
upon the road. Before we left Paris, we laid in a stock of tea,
chocolate, cured neats' tongues, and saucissons, or Bologna
sausages, both of which we found in great perfection in that
capital, where, indeed, there are excellent provisions of all
sorts. About ten in the morning we stopped to breakfast at some
auberge, where we always found bread, butter, and milk. In the
mean time, we ordered a poulard or two to be roasted, and these,
wrapped in a napkin, were put into the boot of the coach,
together with bread, wine, and water. About two or three in the
afternoon, while the horses were changing, we laid a cloth upon
our knees, and producing our store, with a few earthen plates,
discussed our short meal without further ceremony. This was
followed by a dessert of grapes and other fruit, which we had
also provided. I must own I found these transient refreshments
much more agreeable than any regular meal I ate upon the road.
The wine commonly used in Burgundy is so weak and thin, that you
would not drink it in England. The very best which they sell at
Dijon, the capital of the province, for three livres a bottle, is
in strength, and even in flavour, greatly inferior to what I have
drank in London.

In this country I was almost poisoned with
garlic, which they mix in their ragouts, and all their sauces;
nay, the smell of it perfumes the very chambers, as well as every
person you approach. I was also very sick of been ficas, grives,
or thrushes, and other little birds, which are served up twice a
day at all ordinaries on the road. They make their appearance in
vine-leaves, and are always half raw, in which condition the
French choose to eat them, rather than run the risque of losing
the juice by over-roasting.

As for the great houses, yes, I believe they did serve huge quantities, but bear in mind too that 'regrattiers' were very common at the time. The word sometimes indicates a grocer but more properly means a reseller of food (very strictly speaking, of salt), and leftover food from great tables was often sold.
Vx. Celui, celle qui faisait le commerce du sel au détail. Depuis 1710 les regrattiers furent toujours à la nomination de l'adjudicataire des gabelles (MARION Instit. 1923).
P. ext., vieilli. Celui, celle qui fait le commerce de produits de seconde main, en petite quantité ou des restes de restaurant ou de grandes maisons.;s=869061165;

My guess is that it was a matter of prestige to put out heaps of food, whether or not anyone actually wanted to eat it.
Why invite people to supper? To show that one has an excellent cook; to display one's plate and china.,M1
(This is from a longer quote by Mercier - unfortunately, hard to find in English - complaining that meals were getting much shorter at the end of the century).

The Larousse Gastronomique also claims that the visually magnificent "Service a la Francaise" with its multiple dishes in each course meant in practice that the food was often cold by the time anyone ate it, though I have seen it said elsewhere that, the display done, servants would take the dishes off and prepare each guest's plate.

Hopefully it's not necessary, by the way, to point out that just because a meal was served to Marie-Antoinette doesn't mean she ate most of it. According to Mme. Campan, she ate very sparingly. But her hosts of course would have felt obliged to put on the best feed they could.

Author:  Artois [ Fri Apr 24, 2009 3:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Dining In 18th Century France

You're welcome, delicat fleur, it's my pleasure.

Jim: great background information; I'm learning so much. I find the selling of uneaten food distasteful and dangerous from a 21st century point of view, but perfectly logical and practical from an 18th century perspective.

I wonder if Marie Antoinette 'picked' at her food to keep her weight down or because the sight and aroma of so much made her feel a bit nautious.

Thanks for the interesting infoemation


Author:  jimcheval [ Fri Apr 24, 2009 6:12 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Dining In 18th Century France

I find the selling of uneaten food distasteful and dangerous from a 21st century point of view,

It's a safe bet that LOTS of things done back then would be both from today's point of view. Uneaten food, however, is not necessarily bad - there used to be a charity in NYC whose whole brief was to pick up food from big charity functions and distribute it to the homeless.

In our period there's an added element to consider - the fact that it CAME from a great table would have added to its attraction. Food wasn't the only place where this applied - some very nice clothes were sold secondhand by fripiers, and an impoverished shopper could do as well there as some do today in thrift shops.

Author:  Délicate fleur [ Fri Apr 24, 2009 10:24 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Dining In 18th Century France

jimcheval wrote:
Tobias Smollet:
[...] abominate garlick [...]

A typical 18thC Englishman! :lol:

Artois wrote:
I wonder if Marie Antoinette 'picked' at her food to keep her weight down or because the sight and aroma of so much made her feel a bit nautious.

Does anyone know whether the young Antonia dined in private with her family? Goethe remarked that, 'the Habsburgs were like a large bourgeois family.' Perhaps in Versailles she found it hard to get used to public dining - especially with the close scrutiny of the palace tourists.

Author:  Anouk [ Fri Apr 24, 2009 12:14 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Dining In 18th Century France

Délicate fleur wrote:
Does anyone know whether the young Antonia dined in private with her family? They were known to interact like a bourgeois family away from Court. Perhaps in Versailles she found it hard to get used to public dining - especially with the close scrutiny of the palace "tourists".

This picture shows not a common souper in the court of Vienna but a Christmas evening. You can see how friendly is this family feast: Maria Christina (on the left) is serving cakes on a tray, the little archduke's eating gingerbread on the ground and on the table of Francis I there is a beautiful silver tea suite.

The title is: "Christmas in the Royal household of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria (1717-80) with her husband, Francis I (1708-65), and children, Maria Christine, Ferdinand I (later Duke of Modena) (1754-1806), Marie-Antoinette (1755-93) and the infant Maximilian"
By Erzherzogin Maria Christine Sachsen-Teschen (1742-1798).

christmas_household_maria_theresia.JPG [ 55.53 KiB | Viewed 24107 times ]

Author:  jimcheval [ Fri Apr 24, 2009 4:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Dining In 18th Century France

Thanks for the picture, Anouk. Not one I've seen anywhere before.

I wish I could see the breads on the table better - I'm just publishing a book on the croissant, and wonder if they are kipfel (gipfel), though I think not.

In general, the Queen seemed to find French etiquette crushing. I thought it was MMe. Campan who had said she ate little during public meals and had her actual meal after, but I can't find that just now. These two quotes though might be of interest here:

The Queen possessed in a high degree two valuable qualities — temperance and modesty. Her customary dinner was a chicken, roasted or boiled, and she drank water only ... #PPA133,M1

[The visting King of Sweden] came one day uninvited and unexpected, and requested to dine with the Queen. The Queen received him in the little closet, and desired me to send for her clerk of the kitchen, that she might be informed whether there was a proper dinner to set before Comte d'Haga, and add to it if necessary. The King of Sweden assured her that there would be enough for him; and I could not help smiling when I thought of the length of the menu of the dinner of the King and Queen, not half of which would have made its appearance had they dined in private. The Queen looked significantly at me, and I withdrew. In the evening she asked me why I had seemed so astonished when she ordered me to add to her dinner, saying that I ought instantly to have seen that she was giving the King of Sweden a lesson for his presumption. I owned to her that the scene had appeared to me so much in the bourgeois style, that I involuntarily thought of the cutlets on the gridiron, and the omelette, which in families in humble circumstances serve to piece out short commons. She was highly diverted with my answer, and repeated it to the King, who also laughed heartily at it.

Author:  Anouk [ Fri Apr 24, 2009 5:59 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Dining In 18th Century France

Thanks, Jim, for these quotes. Mme Campan is useful, as usual :D

Author:  Rosalie [ Mon Apr 27, 2009 7:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Dining In 18th Century France

Yes, it was Mme Campan in her Moemoirs: I remember reading it some months ago! If I fnd the actual quote I'll write it...

Author:  Délicate fleur [ Tue Apr 28, 2009 11:37 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Dining In 18th Century France

A new post by Elena Maria Vidal on her Tea at Trianon blog about the French Royal family, "Dining in Public":

Author:  jimcheval [ Tue Apr 28, 2009 6:04 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Dining In 18th Century France

Interesting engraving.

Those who don't read French should be aware that the scene shows, not the Royals dining directly, but an image of that scene in a wax museum. I only emphasize that because I was struck by two elements in it: how constricted the space is and the sense of spectators right up on top of the family. Not to mention the busts on the shelves around them. I honestly don't know how the actual room was configured (my sense is that it was larger), but I doubt the "animals in a cage" effect was as pronounced. And there were probably a few guards nearby as well (it had been decades since Damiens tried to stab the King, but still...)

Author:  Délicate fleur [ Wed Apr 29, 2009 3:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Dining In 18th Century France

I thought the same things upon viewing that engraving. Perhaps it is a good psychological study...? :wink:

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