Clash of Cuisines

Highlighting Historical Fiction: Jude Knight brings us her research on English and French cuisine for one of her two stories in Holly and Hopeful Hearts, the Bluestocking Belles’ 2016 Holiday Anthology.

In the kitchens of Hollystone Hall, in my story A Suitable Husband, we see one battle in the grand war of cuisines that consumed English kitchens throughout the 18th century and into the 19th.

In the defender’s corner, was the English cook, carrying on a tradition of fine puddings, superb roasts, and yeast-risen cakes. The challenger was the French chef, inheriting the mantle of those who arrived from France with the Restoration but also drawing on the new disciplines of haute cuisine, currently being hammered out in the kitchens of Paris.

3209174951_9c0f2e116a_b-271x300 Guest Author During the 18th century, an increasing gap between rich and poor put cooking more and more into the hands of servants. In the poorest of households, enclosure Acts and dropping household incomes meant the ingredients for traditional cooking were out of reach.

At the beginning of the 1700s, the food of the poor had been ale, grain, and vegetables with a bit of fatty meat; all or almost all grown or gathered by the family.

By the time of our story, the diet for most poor households had shifted to cheap white bread, cheese, and tea with sugar. Not much cooking there. And the tenements of the big cities provided no cooking facilities, and country-folk could not afford fuel.

Meanwhile, “the landed gentry set man-traps in the woods against poachers and fed their hogs and horses on pea, bean and barley mash which might have fed the hungry”. [Taste: The Story of Britain through Its Cooking, Kate Colquhoun]

Daggett-House-main-room-2-fireplace-cooking-300x225 Guest Author By 1780 in wealthy households, the ladies of the polite world had fled the kitchen. The heavy and time consuming labour of cooking was beneath their dignity. Rural housewives were still potting and pickling, but more and more, a lady’s role in what was placed on the table was to discuss the menu with the cook and decide table decorations.

And a fashionable lady displayed her status by serving food cooked in the French style.

This wasn’t new. From the time of the Norman conquest, the aristocrats distinguished themselves from the peasants by eating French food. The shrinking skills and options for the peasants wasn’t the only factor in the clash of cuisines. Another major factor was the rising size and influence of the middle classes, and their adoption of the habits of the Beau Monde.

Cookbooks for households show the shift. Hannah Woolley’s books on cooking and household management, published in the 17th century, were addressed to the lady of the house as was Eliza Smith’s Compleat Housewife, some 60 years later. Smith’s recipes are predominantly English, though she does include foreign ingredients and some recipes with French names. (The book was repeatedly reprinted throughout the 19th century, and has some claim to being the world’s first blockbuster.)

By the 1740s, 40% of women could read, and cook books were increasingly directed at housekeepers and cooks rather than at the household’s mistress. Elizabeth Moxon’s book English Housewifry is explicitly addressed to “Mistresses of Families, higher and lower Women servants”. Elizabeth Raffald’s The Experienced English Housekeeper, published in 1769, is addressed explicitly to said upper students, perhaps not surprisingly given she was a housekeeper who married a gardener with whom she set up an inn.

…she wrote the first trade directories of Manchester, organised an employment agency in her own home, ran a cookery school and studied French, whilst still managing to run a succession of hostelries… she found the time to produce sixteen daughters, only three of whom survived her. []

 All of these books, whether intended for servants or their employers, provided recipes for English cooking, though the English cooking tradition was as eclectic and welcoming as the English language, adopting new ingredients and methods with enthusiasm.

careme-06-296x300 Guest Author But French cooking was something altogether else. It had developed a particular style — a focus on the ingredients in each dish rather than on the variety and quantity of dishes. In the 17th century, La Varenne broke with the Italian tradition in French cooking, abandoning heavily spiced food in favour of natural flavours.

Le Varenne’s book, Le Cuisinier françois (1651), was the first to set out a codified process for preparing food.He and several other chefs at the time used herbs in place of exotic spices, introduced new vegetables, and developed new methods to cook meat. This was the style of cooking that returned to England with Charles II, and which dominated aristocratic kitchens from that time.

From the 16th century to the end of the 18th, French guilds controlled who could prepare food, but when the French Revolution began, it spelt the end of both the guilds and the wealthy aristocrats who employed chefs. Many French chefs fled to England while others adapted to the new regime and served those who rose in the place of the former rulers.

It was in this atmosphere that French cooking as we know it today began. Freed from the rules of the guilds, French chefs began experimenting. Marie-Antoine Carême, arguably one of the world’s first international celebrity chefs, wrote several books about grande cuisine, including  L’Art de la Cuisine Française.

A visitor to Baron de Rothschild’s table says:

To do justice to the science and research of a dinner so served would require a knowledge of the art equal to that which produced it; its character, however, was that it was in season, – that it was up to its time, – that it was in the spirit of the age, – that there was no perruque in its composition, no trace of the wisdom of our ancestors in a single dish – no high spiced sauces, no dark-brown gravies, no flavour of cayenne and allspice, no tincture of catsup and walnut pickle, no visible agency of those vulgar elements of cooking of the good old times, fire and water. (Morgan, 1831: II, 416–417)

Haute cuisine depended on elaborate preparation and impressive presentation. English plain cooks should not try it. They did, of course, and so the French chefs slowly took over the kitchen.

The split is illustrated by two books published in 1824.

One of them was a reprint of a book originally called Domestic Happiness.  A New System of Domestic Cookery Formed Upon Principles of Economy; and Adapted to the Use of Private Families was aimed at cash-strapped middle-class housewifes, and helped them to keep up appearances.

The other was a translation of a French original, The Art of French Cookery by Paris restaurateur Antoine B. Beauvilliers.

About the Book: Holly and Hopeful Hearts

When the Duchess of Haverford sends out invitations to a Yuletide house party and a New Year’s Eve ball at her country estate, Hollystone Hall, those who respond know that Her Grace intends to raise money for her favorite cause and promote whatever marriages she can. Eight assorted heroes and heroines set out with their pocketbooks firmly clutched and hearts in protective custody. Or are they?

A-Suitable-Husband-FB Guest Author

About the Novella: A Suitable Husband

As the Duchess of Haverford’s companion, Cedrica Grenford is not treated as a poor relation and is encouraged to mingle with Her Grace’s guests. Surely she can find a suitable husband amongst the gentlemen gathered for the duchess’s house party. Above stairs or possibly below.

~extract from A Suitable Husband

cuisiniers2-176x300 Guest Author Marcel Fournier sat on the bed assigned to him in the wing set aside for upper servants at Hollystone Hall and brooded on his wrongs.

The house was grand enough, the house party would serve the highest in Society, and Marcel could certainly not complain about the wages he would receive for a mere month of employment. The Duchess of Haverford was also compensating him richly for the few days needed to visit the house this month so he could advise on the construction of the kitchen he would use for the three-week event.

And that was the sticking point.

Not the kitchen itself. They were building—had almost finished building—a whole new kitchen out of some unused storage rooms. He was thrilled and flattered to have final say on the selection and placement of equipment, from the modern iron range to the last pot and spoon. No. He had no complaints about the kitchen he already regarded as his own.

Even the need for a second kitchen; he could concede the sense of that. To him would fall the important task of preparing the banquets that would thrill and impress the guests each and every night, culminating in the dinner on the night of the grand ball that would end the house party. He and the servants set to assist him would have their hands full with dish after dish after dish, each one different and each magnificent.

Let the English cook have her own kitchen to make little scones and heavy cakes, to fry eggs, bacon, and sausages, for the lesser meals of the day.

But she should answer to him. He, Marcel Fournier, was the master chef. He was a former apprentice to the great Carême himself. He should be in charge of all menus, ruler of both kitchens, deciding what would be made and how the kitchen staff were to be allocated. What was this Cissie Pearce but a country cook?

“Good English cooking,” Mademoiselle Grenford had said. “Mrs. Pearce is known for her good English cooking.”

Marcel could do good English cooking! Had he not grown up here in England after his family escaped from the Terror?

In Spitalfields, until he was apprenticed to a cook in an inn on Tottenham Court Road, then in Soho where he took charge in an earl’s kitchen, and finally, after having himself smuggled into France and attracting the man’s attention by the bold trick of sneaking into his office with a box of his own pâtisseries and menus for a year’s worth of banquets, in the kitchen and under the direct supervision of the great Marie-Antoine Carême, chef to Talleyrand and through him to the diplomats of Europe. 

For the past two years, Marcel had been one of the most sought-after chefs in the whole South of England. Good English cooking, indeed.

Holly and Hopeful Hearts, eight all new novellas, is available for $2.99. 25% of the sales benefit the Belles’ mutual charity the Malala Fund! We think the duchess would approve.

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Jude-Knight-200x300 Guest Author About the Author

Jude Knight’s writing goal is to transport readers to another time, another place, where they can enjoy adventure and romance, thrill to trials and challenges, uncover secrets and solve mysteries, delight in a happy ending, and return from their virtual holiday refreshed and ready for anything.

She writes historical novels, novellas, and short stories, mostly set in the early 19th Century. Jude has had a career in commercial writing and publishing and is committed to quality and to peer review. All of her books are professionally edited and proofread.

Since publishing Candle’s Christmas Chair in December 2014, Jude’s name has seldom been off Amazon bestseller lists for one or more books. She is a member of Romance Writers of New Zealand, and of the Beau Monde chapter of Romance Writers of America. A Baron for Becky was a first-round finalist for the Rone Awards.

Jude has an active blog and website with a monthly average of 1000 views (and growing) and a newsletter list of 512.  She is also a member of the writers’ co-operative, the Bluestocking Belles, and one of the two Belle leads on The Teatime Tattler, for which she writes regularly.

Website and blog






3 thoughts on “Clash of Cuisines

  1. Thank you for hosting me today, Caroline. I loved the research for my character, Marcel Fournier. I went too far, of course, so it is nice to find a use for some of the shiny facts.

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