The taste for fat ?

Jean-Louis Flandrin. The taste and the need : on the use of fats in the kitchens of western Europe (Fourteenth-Eighteenth century), Annals, 1983, n° 2, pp. 369-401.

That is what the taste, or the need based culinary traditions, mutations ? English and French appear in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries, a profound distaste for the kitchen to olive oil, even when it is of excellent quality. However, the recipes in French and English of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth centuries used a lot more often the olive oil to the butter. In the first versions of the Viandier of Taillevent, in the Fourteenth century, the oil is explicitly mentioned in about 8% of the revenue while the butter is in just over 1%. In England the dominance of the oil is more striking still. In the following century, the butter is gaining a little ground in France, while the oil lost in the one and the other country. But it was not until the Sixteenth century, in France as in England, for it is really and definitively.

Can we see in the testimony of the proverbs, which show a large occurrence of the words ” fat ” and ” fat ” in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth centuries a taste for bold sense ? A fact that could confirm without ambiguity the taste of our fathers to a high-fat diet : in beef as in pork, and, without doubt, the sheep, the fat was always more expensive than the lean. In spite of the price oscillation, the ratio of the fat to the skinny is constantly between 1 and 2, throughout the period under review. Is this not definitive evidence that our ancestors liked to eat more fat than us ? to request J-L Flandrin ? Is it by taste or necessity that the fat is absent from the dishes from the Fourteenth to the Eighteenth ? This is not obvious to Jean-Louis Flandrin. Is it not striking to find fat or beef tallow we made candles at the same price as the bacon white or lard, and these, on their side, the same price as the butter and the olive oil ? It responds immediately to objections that the reader haughty could send him ” could I make several kinds of objections. The first is that the princes in question may very well not have eaten that cooking in butter, and have purchased the fat of beef for their servants. But why would have it done, then that the fat, of ox cost as much as butter ? The second is that I argue from the actual taste, which place the butter in the top of the fat of beef, so the taste of the French of the Seventeenth century may have been different. “

It is necessary to know the old kitchen and this is what Hulking is working. It opens to the manuals of the kitchen, particularly those of the rich who could afford all the fat they wanted. In The stove bourgeois, best-seller of the Eighteenth, it is recommended to degrease the sauce in 26% of the revenue. Student recipes of sauces, soups, seasoning of the fish…it shows that the sauces medieval are without oil or butter. “There was usually one or more elements acid — wine, vinegar, verjuice, juice of lemon or’ orange ‘ (that is to say, of the bigarrade or bitter orange), gooseberries, etc — there was nothing that was moderate strength. It is added to herbs and spices : ginger, saffron, cinnamon, nutmeg or mace, cloves, seed of paradise, long pepper or round, etc., When the sauce was thick and bound, it was usually bread, almonds or nuts, even egg yolk, raw or cooked, poultry liver, or blood. “

We come then to the thesis of the article,” It is clear, therefore, that the cooks of the Middle Ages, incited the appetite with means strong different from those currently used and of their sauces, for the most part, are more to our liking. Why cook this way ? Can this simply be explained by the low production oil and butter in the medieval Europe ? I highly doubt it. Because, on the one hand, I can’t imagine what, aside from increased demand, would have been able to increase the production of oil and of butter per head of population between the late Fifteenth and the late Eighteenth century, that is to say in the middle of time of population growth and expansion of planted areas. On the other hand, what have been the scarcity and dearness of fat in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth centuries, it is obvious that the people who had the means to season their food with turmeric, ginger, pepper, round or long, galanga, of the seed of Paradise, cloves, nutmeg, mace and cinnamon could also have been the season of oil or butter if they had wanted to. This, therefore, was not by necessity that the rich people of that time ate their roasts and boiled with sauces without fat. It was by taste. “

Moreover, the transformation of culinary which is carried out over several centuries of use more and more fat, is not reduced to an increase of the amounts of fat used, but coincides with a qualitative trend : decrease of the acidity of the sauces ; the rejection of spices previously as important as the saffron, the ginger, the cinnamon, the seed of Paradise ; a tendency to separate the salty to the sweet ; to use new spices of indian origin-many of which were formerly used by various regional cuisines (garlic, shallot, welsh onion, rocambole, truffles, and various fungi, anchovies, capers, etc). These parallel developments are to Flandrin related to each other and ” definitively a culinary revolution and make manifest a mutation of taste “. It is the whole system of French gastronomy that has been upset ; it is a revolution that attests to the historical transformation of the appetites and tastes human.

It’s nearly 40 pages of argument, scrutiny of recipes to support us to book Flandrin. In the end, he has brilliantly demonstrated that the amount of fat used in cooking not only depends on availability and physiological needs related to the soil and climate, but also of the trends of taste. Yet, they have changed. at least in the elites of society, from the Seventeenth : “the seasoning spicy and sour, or sweet and sour, the medieval kitchen, was followed by the seasoning, fat cooking classic that is still more or less the ours of today. “If there has been a transformation, it is by taste and not by necessity. “I don’t see, in the current state of research, from demographic changes, economic or technical that can explain this culinary revolution : it is at the level of desire as it appears to us and not at the level of hardware constraints. “

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