Of Food & Folly

April 1: Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the French lawyer, politician, and gastronome, was born on this day in 1775. Brillat-Savarin led an adventurous life—at first a respected spokesman for the Revolution, then exiled in America with a bounty on his head—but he is famous for his classic of the culinary arts, The Physiology of Taste. Published just before his death in 1826 and never since out of print, the book attracts those interested not just in food but literature and history. Some consult it for practical advice, often couched aphoristically—"A dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye." Many enjoy the book more for the tone conveyed by its subtitle, "Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy." The meditations range from the erotic qualities of truffles, to a theory of frying, to eggs in meat juice, to "the pleasures of the table": 

Best of all, every modification which complete sociability has introduced among us can be found assembled around the same table: love, friendship, business, speculation, power, importunity, patronage, ambition, intrigue; and this is why conviviality is a part of every thing alive, and why it bears fruits of every flavor.

The conviviality principle is reflected in many of Brillat-Savarin's anecdotes, one of which is a "faithful account of the lengthiest meal I ever ate in my life…a little bonbon which I shall pop into my reader's mouth as a reward for having read me thus far with such agreeable politeness." Hosted by Brillat-Savarin for a family of cousins living next door, the meal begins mid-morning with a leisurely oyster-and-Sauterne breakfast, "so frequent and so gay in the old days." The talking, walking, napping, and eating continue for the next ten hours—grilled kidneys, fondue, Parmesan soup, roast meats, punch & zwieback, mocha & liqueurs…. 


In honor of Brillat-Savarin's birthday, and with a nod to April Fool's Day, the International Edible Books Festival is celebrated on or about April 1st. Hosted in many cases by local libraries, the festival gives reader-cooks the chance to concoct and share book-dishes based on literary puns—"Smore & Peace," "To Brie or not to Brie," and the like.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

by pizzaliefer on ‎03-11-2012 11:18 PM

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