A meal should be constructed somewhat like a book, that is with a Foreword or Introduction to begin with, then the Story, the really important part, and lastly the Epilogue or Conclusion to finish with. Translated into the language of Gastronomy, this means that we should begin our meal with Hors d’oeuvre or soup, by way of . . . . . . .23 . . Preface; then pass on to the meal proper, the most important part, short or long, as the case may be, but nourishment which we need; lastly, we finish with cheese or dessert, a pleasant and useful part of the meal, one that is intended to help us assimilate, or inwardly digest the ‘story’. . The story may be one of those short stories completed for instance, with half a bottle of Chablis, or else a fair-sized broiled steak, with half a bottle of Claret. Each is a complete meal in itself and better than fiction. But the same story may be told in two chapters; the same sole and Chablis may be shared by two friends, who will also share, as a second course, the same steak and Claret. The number of calories will be approximately the same, but the diversity and variety of flavours and savours will have added to the enjoyment of the meal. There are combinations of foods and wines beyond count, but what matters is to remember that harmony is made up of contrasts free from jarring notes and that we should aim at well-balanced, harmonious meals. If we are to succeed, we must remember that, whenever there is to be more than one course, the one that comes first should help as much as possible the one that is to follow. Boiled cod with egg sauce, for instance, may be quite acceptable and even enjoyable, but it cannot ever be exciting; it should be served first, with an inexpensive white wine of no real merit; it . . . . . . 24 . calms the appetite but leaves the palate unimpressed. Then comes the roast ducking or lamb with a mature Claret or Burgundy which we can enjoy at leisure. Reverse the order and the harmony is broken, the meal unthinkable. . The closing pages of the book and last stage of the meal, cheese and dessert, add really nothing to the story, but they are its pleasing summing up. They are not intended so much to supply further nourishment as to help the digestion of the meal, that is to say its prompt despatch, just as the hors d’oeuvre or soup helped at the time of its arrival. Cheese is a digestive and dessert is chiefly useful on account of the leisure which it introduces at the time when the stomach needs peace and quiet, in order to pass on the meal just received to the lower regions, where the cockle is to be separated from the wheat and cast into the exterior darkness. . Prologue and Epilogue may be dispensed with, or else they may take the place of the meal itself, on occasions. There is every possible opportunity for each one of us to choose whatever combination of wine and food which may appeal to us or the friends whom we wish to entertain, within the broad rules which I have just outlined. They are very broad rules and given merely as a guide and a help in case of need. . One last rule which no discipline of true Gastronomy should ever overlook or ignore is Simplicity. . Our senses of taste and of smell are exceedingly . . . . . . 25 . delicate senses and they are far more easily shocked or hurt than our other senses; they take longer to recover. We hear very distinctly even when not listening with attention, just as the light of day or vivid colourings force themselves upon our sight without our looking for or at them. But, curiously enough, food and drink that force their smell or flavour upon us without our looking for them are almost invariably objectionable. The taste of good food and the bouquet of fine wine are always discreet; we must look for them; our senses must be alert and expectant first and then charmed and still expectant. They should never be called to attention by a trumpet blast, such as the muscadel scent of some cheap sparkling wines or the gamey stink of putrefying flesh. Highly spiced sauces are also injurious to the delicate taste buds of the palate and their only excuse is to cover the objectionable taste or else the total absence of any flavour in the food with which they are used. Gastronomy can never countenance, for instance, the use of red pepper and highly seasoned sauces with fresh oysters, any more than it will agree to any oysters being eaten except when absolutely fresh. The nutritive value of the fresh oyster is one thing and is gastronomical merit another; both are closely allied of course, but there is no reason why the second should be destroyed completely by condiments which will hide the fresh marine sapidity of the oyster without in the least enhancing its nutritive value. . . . . . . .26 . We must also bear in mind that our senses of smell and taste are not nearly so highly trained as our sight and hearing and they are unable to appreciate combinations of scents and savours as complicated as combinations of colours and chords in pictures or operas. Let one flavour be the outstanding flavour in any dish you choose, and let other but more discreet flavours minister to it, help it, show it off, but never compete with it. . Most gastronomical heresies are due to a desire to introduce some novelty and make it fashionable. Fashion cannot play with our food and drink quite the same tricks as it plays with woman’s dress. A woman’s head will wear any hat but her stomach will not let her take any such liberties. Gastronomy is, of course, greatly influenced by social and economic changes. With the ever rising rate of the speed of living and the ever rising tide of taxation, there is neither time nor money nowadays, even if there were the disposition, to indulge in the type of gastronomy which gladdened the hearts and stretched the waistcoats of our fathers. . Simplicity is, happily, the guiding spirit of present day Gastronomy. But Simplicity must not be simply a pose: still less an excuse for slimming. Simplicity must be intelligent. In Gastronomy, simplicity means aiming at one peak and leading up to it. There are varieties of combinations beyond count, but the principle of aiming at one outstanding dish and wine is to be . . . . . . 27 . commended. Outstanding does not mean complicated nor extravagant, but that there will be one principal with it, however inexpensive it may be. . Gastronomy is in no way dependent upon riches, nor is it the privilege of any class. It is within the reach of all who are fortunate in the possession of the fair share of common sense and imagination; who are capable of appreciating that which is good; whether they be rich or poor, they will always find a way of making the best of whatever happens to be at hand to eat and drink; of making it look its best, taste its best and do most good. . But enough said about the body of the Art of Good Living: Gastronomy. Let us now consider ever so briefly the nature of its soul, Hospitality.
Birds of prey and wild beasts hide their kill and seek to devour it in secret; they resent intruders. There are gluttons and hypochondriacs who hate company at meals, but, happily, they are the exception. Most civilized men look upon the chief meal of the day as an occasion for relaxation and conversation, and when they have reached that degree of civilization which has led them to the practice of the Art of Good Living, they make as many of their meals as possible the occasion for the dispensation or receipt of hospitality. . Hospitality is one of the many forms of the spirit of Charity, and it is one of the highest manifestations, one for the very few where honours are perfectly divided. . . . . . . 28
In French, the word Hôte is used for both host and guest, and it is as it should be, since there is no differentiation between host and guest, wherever there is true hospitality. The host, of course, provides wine and food, which money can buy, but the guests provide the pleasure of their company, which no money can buy. They bring to the table that which adds sparkle to the wine and flavour to the food, their wit and their news, an articulate appreciation of the good things provided for their delight, all of which makes the difference between a meal that is both enjoyable an memorable, and a dismal waste of money, time and trouble.The host who confers a favour upon his guest, and the guest who confers an honour upon his host are equally hateful. Neither the one nor the other falls within the meaning of the French name, L’Hôte, a name which indicates perfect equality and understanding between two persons entertaining each other, just as in English the work Lover, even when used in the singular, embraces two people of the opposite sex, but equal in their admiration of and devotion to each other. In hospitality as in love, there should be no bargaining: each giveth the best that he hath to give, without any sense of either inferiority or superiority.Hospitality, again like love, is a gift. No host can hope to be a good host, nor can any guest be a good guest unless he be blessed with this wonderful gift of the spirit of hospitality. Costly fare and wines may be bought for cash or on credit, and well-groomed guests, . . .. . . .29 . so they say, can be hired either for cash or in return for some favours. Brilliant assemblies may be staged in this way, but they are bound to remain as far from the Art of Good Living as love scenes on the stage or screen are from true love.To be a master or ever a disciple of the Art of Good Living, it is not sufficient to have a good cook and a good cellar; it is not sufficient to pay due attention to harmony that should exist between solids and liquids. This is but the beginning, the foundations upon which the Art of Good Living stands. One must also seek to acquire the serenity of mind and the charitableness of disposition indispensable to the acquisition of a circle of friends whom it will be a pleasure to entertain as it will also be a pleasure to be entertained by them. This is a great deal more difficult of achievement; it cannot be bought over the counter nor be found in books. And when achieved, one must go down upon ones knees and pray for the spirit of Hospitality, a divine gift which is the crowning glory as well as the soul of the Art of Good Living.Nobody would claim that the Art of Good Living is the highest form of moral perfection upon earth or challenge the immensely greater nobility of the lives of the few who give up the world and all that is best in it, humanly speaking, willingly renouncing all earthly joys, and freely giving up everything and themselves to the service of God and His poor. If we turn, however, from the few saints among us to the great mass of . . . . . . . .30 . the sinners, who hurry across the stage of this life to their doom, hoisted up upon the two stilts of pride and greed, we shall find that there is room between those two extremes for others, for all who are grateful and charitable; for all who are in full possession of their senses; who have the common sense to enjoy them all in moderation and with due appreciation; who give to Gaster-the Belly careful but not embarrassing attention; who are aware of their own limitations without being in the least depressed thereby.There would be greater happiness in the world, better bodily health and less selfishness, if more people ate and drink more intelligently than they do and if they were at the same time more hospitable, in other words if there were more people seeking to live according to the principles of the Art of Good Living. . . . . . .31