Bread and Thread – Dumas

Opening music

Liz

Hello and welcome to bread and thread a podcast about food and domestic history. I’m liz.

Hazel

I’m hazel we’re two friends who studied archaeology together and love history. So what have you been up to?

LIZ

I baked doughnuts! I’ve been looking for a way to make doughnuts for ages that doesn’t require frying or special moulds.

HAZEL

I was going to say, you bake doughnuts?

LIZ

Yeah if you get the consistency it’s basically somewhere between a cookie dough and a cake batter if you get it right, you can pipe it out and just bake it and yeah you get doughnuts. I’m going to use it to try to make churros cause I love churros and you can’t buy them anywhere.

HAZEL

Yeah it’s normally like the only place you can get them in the UK is the market stalls where they have a big fryer or a restaurant I guess.

LIZ

When I did work experience in Spain there was this one cafe that was open during the siesta and me and this other person cause there was a whole group of us went to the cafe for churros and hot chocolate during the siesta which was great. And now it’s really hot and I’m tired all the time so I want churros.

HAZEL

That sounds like the best way to deal with the heat. We had rain down here a lot this week which was great cause things started to go yellow.

LIZ

We didn’t have rain for like two weeks and then right before recording this had a half hour thunderstorm. Thunderstorms are my favourite weather anyway but after three weeks of 25 degrees 70-80% humidity I needed this, I can breathe now.

HAZEL

Yeah that’s too much humidity. Unacceptable to my pasty english complexion.

LIZ

Manchester’s a very humid place the air’s made of water.

HAZEL

Yeah I remember that it doesn’t snow it just rains a lot.

LIZ

I’ve never lived somewhere where snow really happens since I was a little kid. I lived in Northumberland and there was snow, lived on the Cheshire plain where there’s barely any precipitation full stop, then lived in York when it just didn’t snow. Every weather happens in York except good, decent snow. Now I live in Manchester.

HAZEL

Despite it being in the north. The only place I lived where it actually snowed was in VIenna but I didn’t live IN Vienna I lived in the outskirts in a school in the middle of the forest.

LIZ

I’m sure it was very pretty.

HAZEL

It was the snow was amazing and the forest was like… Full of snow and the snow was like proper, up to your arms snow. We still didn’t get closed, cause schools in austria never close.

LIZ

Have you been making anything?

HAZEL

Yes?

LIZ

You sound unsure.

HAZEL

It’s slowed down a little bit. I’ve been doing a lot of cooking, gooseberry fools. It was great so good normally gooseberry is a bit tart for me but cream a bit of sugar, so I’ve been doing a lot of cooking which is very creative but I guess not so tangible once you’ve eaten it I did recently start working on I’m catching up on my sewing stuff, there’s not been happening for a long time, I finished a dress I think I mentioned that last episode, I started a pair of shorts I needed those I got this fabric, it’s cotton with otters on it it’s adorable so I’m going to have otter shorts I’m so excited.

LIZ

So this is an episode whose number is divisible by five and so– it is it’s the 10th episode, so I believe you’ve been researching a biography episode for us.

HAZEL

I have indeed and I’m so excited for this I was itching to do research and there’s so many things I will try not to read out all of the book I was reading, but I’ll read a lot of it. I’ll be talking about Alexander Dumas. You might think what’s he got to do with food? Famously the author of the 3 musketeers and the count of monte cristo two fo the most famous pieces of french literature ever, which I half read before giving up as they were too long. But I was enjoying it I just got distracted so I’ll have to go back and do that at some point, but one of the most famous french writers of all time and he actually has quite a lot to do with food as you will find out – he made quite a large encyclopedia called la grande dictionnaire de cuisine, published in 1873 which is this kind of absolutely wild collection of recipes history about dishes and ingredients, information and just anecdotes about stuff that has happened to dumas and observations and I love it.

LIZ

Was he a recipe blogger

HAZEL

Essentially he was a 19th century recipe blogger, that is a good comparison here. Yeah I’m going to start off with a little bit of background about Dumas cause I think it’s relevant and I’m going to start with this it’s a well known fact but it’s easy to assume otherwise. Dumas was black, in case you didn’t know, a lot of people still don’t know, I didn’t know until about 3 years ago.

LIZ

I learned from tumblr a few years ago.

HAZEL

I also had the tumblr education. He was the son of Thomas Alexander Dumas which is a great name for a guy who was one of the most fascinating lives I came across, so Thomas was born in Haiti to a French nobleman and a slave by the name of Marie Suzette Dumas and they had 4 kids together and I assume it was going quite well, there’s no evidence they got married. It’s not a romantic story because uh I won’t dwell on this but I think it’s important to include, to fund his trip to France the nobleman sold his children and Marie into slavery. He later bought back Dumas who was his favourite son.

LIZ

Doesn’t make it OK.

HAZEL

Yeah, I know. I think it’s understandable he took his mother’s name which Alexander also did. So yeah, however Thomas Alexander Dumas went on to become a very high ranking French literary officer in the army of napoleon I think he was a general and I think he had this amazing career…

Liz

What’s a literary officer?

Hazel

Military officer, sorry.

Liz

Oh, OK.

Hazel

Yeah so he became pretty well known in France as well and later died not so long after in a prison in Italy his life is just amazing, apparently the count of Monte cristo is partly based on the life of Alexander Dumas’s father. There’s also apparently a really good biography of him called the black count I don’t remember who the author is but I will put a link on twitter. I will hopefully get around to reading that it sounds amazing. So Alexander Dumas became one of the most famous writers in France, during his time as well, and although as he got really successful he also got a load of critics who were quite racist towards him as you might expect.

Liz

(mock incredulity)

What?

Hazel

He was also very quick witted and he would just have amazing comebacks and so I’d definitely recommend looking at that as well cause he just absolutely destroyed people who criticised him as well. To continue the food history element he wrote this gigantic recipe encyclopedia cause he was a lifelong food enthusiast and foodie as well, and he really enjoyed eating different things but also cooking cause apparently he’s a really good cook and he put together this big dictionary thing. So I have not this massive dictionary but I do have a copy of some excerpts from it, which is From Absinthe to Zest published by Penguin. I’m going to sort of read that a little bit and maybe give you some excerpts cause it’s a bit of a wild ride to be honest. It’s full of history as well some of it a bit dubious, about recipes and ingredients. So it starts at absinthe also very famous in popular culture apparently absinthe was originally a tonic for the stomach made just out of the wormwood plant a very bitter extremely alcoholic spirit.

LIZ

Also a hallucinogen.

HAZEL

Which is what it’s famous for, amongst French poets.

LIZ

Known as the green fairy?

HAZEL

Yeah, Dumas writes some of our bohemian poets have called the green muse, though some not in this group have died from the embraces of this same muse. He also writes about the passion about the particular poet Alfred de Musset notes a particular episode in which Alfred de Musset misses the classes he teaches at an academy in Paris cause he’s consuming absinthe, having a massive trip basically and notes someone makes a comment about this – do you not find Alfred de Musset is absent a lot? And he says you mean to say he absinthes himself a lot.

LIZ

That’s something I would say. That’s bad.

HAZEL

I think you have the same sense of humour as Dumas. He also has a section on cake. Which he talks about English wedding cake and notes the practise in England as we can read in dickens is on the wedding of our offspring we make a huge cake and hand out a slice to each guest. Which well still do so it’s cool to get a mention of that in historical sources. He mentions the cake is made with two kilos flour two kilos sugar, two of sugar seven grams of nutmeg, 8 eggs for each pound of flour, sweet almonds candied lemon and orange peel, a litre of brandy….

LIZ

I’m going to assume that wasn’t the average wedding cake.

HAZEL

That sounds quite large.

LIZ

And quite eggy. Lot of egg.

HAZEL

It does sound a lot like the traditional English wedding cake, though, being full of alcohol and fruit basically one of those things that are expensive you have at the wedding.

LIZ

It’s not what I had at my wedding but that’s largely cause I don’t like fruitcake.

HAZEL

Yeah yours was more delicious. The only merit of fruit cake when it was made was that it had expensive ingredients and also lasted forever. There used to be a tradition that you’d save a piece of the wedding cake and use it for the first child’s christening.

LIZ

No! No…

HAZEL

Doesn’t happen any more.

LIZ

When you say use it for the first child’s christening I assume you don’t mean smear it across their head like the lion king.

HAZEL

I hope not but I do quite like the idea of being baptised by cake.

LIZ

I’m just trying to work out how you would use it if it’s just one pieces of cake it’s not going to be something you can serve to everyone. What do you do with the brandy bit? What do you do with the cake?

HAZEL

Not sure at that point, it doesn’t have any teeth I don’t think the baby would be able to ingest it.

LIZ

But I still want to know what use it in the christening means

HAZEL

Moving on to Geese. The section on geese notes that geese were sacred for a long time in Rome because while the doves slept a goose who remained awake it doesn’t tell us why heard the noise made by the ghouls who scaled the castle woke her friends who in turn made such noise and alerted everyone to their purpose.

LIZ

That is a beautiful and definitely fake story.

HAZEL

Yeah and I notice this in a lot of Dumas anecdotes, as standard for a writer he prefers the cool story to the actual truth, I’m not judging I mean do I even when recording say the historical truth? As soon as Julius Caesar defeated the Gauls members of the Roman army started to eat geese. So the Romans are betrayers of geese.

LIZ

I want betrayer of geese on my tombstone.

HAZEL

So onto the next section. Oh, OK., so this is one mentioning the pot a feu which is a kind of stew made in France in fact as Dumas says France, as I’ve already said, is the only country which knows how to make a pot au feu, it’s possible that my janitress who has nothing to do except watch a pot au feu and latch the door is better suited to cook it than Mr Rothschild.

LIZ

Who’s Mr Rothschild?

HAZEL

The famously really rich American oil baron I think? So this is in the 1870s which I think that’s the rothschilds he’s referring to. So he’s mentioning this in the context of a holiday he took to the seaside when he stayed with some friends and offered to cook them all dinner and it says I had everything spread out n the kitchen table and asked for pen and ink. To the approval of my table companions I set out the following menu, to wit there are four entrees two roasts two side dishes salad and dessert, which is an extremely French sounding meal. He then says he asked for an hour and a half in which to cook this meal and apparently did it. He did have help,k there is a cook there, who has unanimously demoted and Dumas was put there in her place, she could be vice cook but not oppose chief cook in any way which sounds a bit of a comedown so I’m just going to

LIZ

I’m wondering given dates whether that would be served all at once. Serving food in courses didn’t really take off in France until the mid to late 1800s.

HAZEL

I think it would be cause this would be the 1870s.

LIZ

OK 1870s it probably would have been. Right on that borderline where there’s still a chance.

HAZEL

Yeah, I think probably some of it, side dishes and main dishes would be together and I think that it is still a thing in France as well to have a lot of dishes on the table, rather than everything on one plate served at the same time, then split it up in courses. I’m going to give one of the dishes as an example of one of the things he would have cooked: this is called plaice alla sauce normande, which is plaice in a seafood sauce, I would assume a Normandy sauce. So the recipe is put plaice on a silver dish must be buttered, season it with salt, pepper a glass of white wine and put it in the oven, doesn’t say how long, put a piece of butter in a casserole and stir in flour until it becomes golden, season this with the butter and white wine from he plaice ensuring only enough liquid to ensure it doesn’t dry up. Reduce by half cook about 30 mussels and ten or twelve mushrooms, add the juice from the mussels to the sauce, reduce by half, bind it with egg yolks, arrange the mussels and mushrooms around the plaice and pour over the sauce, put bits here and there of fresh butter on the place, put it in the oven for a few minutes then serve.

LIZ

That does sound delicious.

HAZEL

It does sound delicious it also sounds like a very fussy dish to make. He doesn’t really say anything about timings. I’m assuming he’s assuming whoever reads this would know how long to cook things for.

LIZ

Probably more judging by eye as well, big open ovens.

HAZEL

If all dishes are like that though, probably really hard to cook several ta the same time. It’s impressive, so this is in one of the recipes about chicken – animals have two orifices upper and lower. Chicken in this respect are a lot like man.

LIZ

Without getting too blue, humans definitely have more than one lower orifice.

HAZEL

Yeah. But it is a good sentence.

LIZ

I’m just trying to work out how you’d come to that conclusion.

HAZEL

I think it was a bit of a generalisation.

LIZ

Little bit!

HAZEL

I just like the imagery of that.

LIZ

I can just see him looking in the mirror and going “wait… Wait…”

HAZEL

Holding up a chicken…

LIZ

Behold a man!

HAZEL

He does actually mention that Diogenes holding up a chicken, this is Plato’s man. There’s also a section on truffles. I’ve never eaten truffles, it’s an ambition.

LIZ

Same.

HAZEL

So truffles are a big thing, he talks about them as the gastronome’s holy of holies the word that gastronomes throughout the ages can’t pronounce without lifting their hands to their hats. Oh I’m going to go on cause this is… You have questions, scholars, ask them what exactly this tubercle is, and after 2000 years the scholars reply as they did on the first day. Don’t know. You ask the truffle itself it says eat me and adore god. Recount the history of the truffle would be to take on the task of recounting the history of the world and civilisation.

LIZ

That’s wild.

HAZEL

A bold introduction eat me and adore god. So truffles were said to be an aphrodisiac.

LIZ

What wasn’t at some point or another?

HAZEL

Yeah we talked about oysters being that as well, and according to Dumas it has been said not y him but by others it awakens erotic and gourmand memories in the skirted sex, and gourmand and erotic souvenirs in the bearded sex. The truffle is certainly not a positive aphrodisiac but it can make women more tender and men more amiable.

LIZ

So it makes you nice.

HAZEL

Yeah. I also like the skirted sex and bearded sex it doesn’t say which is which.

LIZ

Yeah, there are bearded ladies and you’ve got clean shaven people in trousers. It’s not of interest to that last group.

HAZEL

Whichever you are, the truffle will make you nice. As far as I’m aware truffles are kind of a fungus right? It talks about the most ancient recipes for truffles being affiliated to our friend apicius.

LIZ

We’ve mentioned him before haven’t we?

HAZEL

We have indeed, I think we mentioned him in the form of cury I think nick did. So a recipe for ragout of truffles au apicius is first cook the truffles in water then put them on a skewer and let them turn 5-6 times over a fire mix in oil, lemon juice chernal which is a herb and salt when the sauce boils bind it with egg, sounds quite nice.

LIZ

I should mention that nick, being of Italian extraction, got very excited when you said ragu.

HAZEL

Yeah I want to do a 3 musketeers dinner party, fancy dress.

LIZ

Let’s do it.

HAZEL

Oh let’s do it.. Eventually. After… One day. The editor of this book, I put in a note that says this recipe does not correspond except in a general way to any of the recipes written by apicius.

LIZ

To be fair a lot of his recipes say get these ingredients, make them hot together.

HAZEL

I feel like Dumas looked at it and went eh.

LIZ

I get the idea.

HAZEL

So yeah it then goes up to… The end of the book is zest which is a page long entry about lemon zest or citrus zest and how to separate them from the rest of the fruit. I think I picked out the most hilarious or interesting bits of the book to read, but I definitely recommend having a look you can have an abridged version if you don’t want to read a massive encyclopedia from the 1870s, I don’t blame you.

LIZ

Sounds like it would be a slog.

HAZEL

Worth looking at not just cause a lot of the recipes sound delicious. So I’m really excited to- oh wait, I saw a frog.

PLUGS!

HAZEL

I just came across frogs. There are many kinds of frog that differ in size, colour and habitat, frogs which live in the sea are monstrous and are not used in food, nor are frogs which live on the land. The only frogs used are those which live on the water.

LIZ

Frogs which live in the sea?

HAZEL

Apparently.

LIZ

Is that a thing?

HAZEL

Idk, but he’s pretty sure of it. Anyway, yeah, definitely would recommend reading this book, or the abridgement.

LIZ

I’ve tried googling sea frogs and I can only get underwater cameras idk what Dumas was talking about.

HAZEL

Maybe it’s because they’re so monstrous. Oh gosh I hope there aren’t terrifying frogs that live in the sea.

LIZ

According to animals.com there’s no such thing as saltwater frogs. Frogs can’t survive in saltwater.

HAZEL

OK I have absolutely no idea Dumas is convinced there are sea frogs.

LIZ

But we don’t have them anyway so it’s fine.

HAZEL

If you see a sea frog maybe just leave it alone. I hope you enjoyed learning about Dumas and his love of food.

LIZ

Do you want to do the wrap up this time?

HAZEL

I hope you enjoyed learning about dumas and his love of food, you can email us at breadandthreadpodcast@gmail.com if you have any suggestions, we’re on @breadandthread on twitter.

LIZ

I promise I’m trying to get hazel to use twitter more, but she doesn’t use twitter so it’s just remembering the bread and thread twitter exists. We’re also on patreon.com/breadandthread we have patreon exclusive discord server as well as exclusive recipes and videos. I think the next one will be about your chickens?

HAZEL

Yes! About general chicken rearing.

LIZ

You can also support us by leaving a review or telling people we exist.

HAZEL

Enjoy yourself and have a good time.

Closing theme.

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