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FRANCE: FRENCH AND BRITISH COOKING

table for their vast scale rather than the subtlety of the cooking; their motivation and social function resembled that of the potlatch among the Kwakiutl Indians. Only in the greatest princely courts, and even there probably only for the more special occasions, was the famous courtly cuisine with its elaborate mixtures and prolifera- tion of spices to be found. The recipes found in the man- uscripts, whether from France, Italy, or England, are strikingly similar.

Still-life photographic study of the flavors of France. © MATTHIAS

KULKA/CORBIS.

This investigation took as its baseline the late Mid- dle Ages, reviewing the published documents and draw- ing upon the work of specialists, notably Stouff’s outstanding monograph (1970) on late medieval Pro- vence. The picture that emerges from such studies can be briefly summarized. First, the national differences in cuisine that we take for granted were as yet very little de- veloped in medieval Europe. Members of the same es- tate of society ate in strikingly similar fashion throughout Western Europe. Before Columbus, many of the vegeta- bles now seen as typically Mediterranean were unknown, so that, for example, the humble cabbage was as promi- nent an item in Provence as in Northumberland. Second, however, the differences between the estates were quite marked, though quantitative differences in consumption were possibly more striking than differences in quality (with an exception registered for a very small elite in re- ally major courts). Stouff depicted graphically the in- crease in sheer quantity of food consumed as one progressed up the social ranks. Before the Black Death, this was especially marked in the case of meat, though subsequently meat was relatively abundant for the lower ranks, too. The famous gargantuan banquets thrown by kings and nobles to mark particular occasions were no-

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Although the evidence from the Middle Ages is too sparse to be conclusive, the best guess from the similar- ity between surviving manuscripts from different places and periods is that the pace of change in matters culinary was then very slow in all strata of society. From the time of the Renaissance onward, however, the pace of change perceptibly quickens in these as in so many other aspects of everyday life (cf. Elias, 2000), at first among the sec- ular upper classes and then very gradually among lower strata, too. We must be careful: the history of eating is a prime instance of what Elias has called “the polyphony of history.” Marc Bloch contended that only in the nine- teenth century was it possible to see “the beginning of a trend towards greater uniformity in food—speaking in very relative terms—from the top to the bottom of the social ladder (1970, p. 232).” Until then, the food and the cookery of the peasants in the countryside seem to have changed only extremely slowly over the centuries. It was something to be studied in the perspective of the longue durée. From the advent of the printed book, however, it is possible to trace a gradually accelerating pattern of change in the cookery of the upper and upper middle classes. If changes in technique and fashion never quite attain the pace of histoire événementielle—although the gastronomic myth-makers delight in representing the in- vention of new dishes as unique creations of great men on unique occasions (see Mennell, 1985, Chapter 10)— it could fairly be portrayed as histoire des conjonctures.

The first elaborate cuisine representing a definite change from the medieval traditions is to be found in the secular and religious courts of Renaissance Italy, but the leadership of Europe in culinary as in so many other facets of culture soon passed to France. Very detailed work by Jean-Louis Flandrin and his associates in Paris may be interpreted to show that French leadership goes back further, but from the appearance of La Varenne’s famous book Le Cuisinier François in 1651, it does not re- quire in-depth research to see that something recogniz- able to later eyes as a distinctively French style of cuisine has emerged. From then on, the cookery books are more numerous, and not only can advances in cookery tech- niques be seen, but it is quite clear that contemporaries were conscious of the rapid pace of change and of the importance of food as an aspect of fashion in courtly cir- cles. By the 1740s, the first gastronomic controversies were being fought out in Paris between minor courtiers (Mennell, 1981). Although by then cookery books were being directed specifically at the bourgeoisie, and some

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