f o o d f o r t h o u g h t for the experience as they went.
What amazes when confronted by a nauseating parody of the full English breakfast such as this is the sheer waste of almost everything you can think of: time, money, life itself. To dip into either of these breakfast compendiums is to be forcefully and happily reminded that breakfast, the full English or otherwise, should be the best meal of the day.
The Breakfast Book by Andrew Dalby is encyclopaedic. Not a single depiction of a breakfast in the entire canon of Western art and literature is omitted, from Jesus saying to his disciples, ‘Come and have breakfast’ ( John 21:12) to Charles Burton Barber’s exquisitely saccharine 1894 oil painting of a little girl saying grace over her breakfast tray. The art is handsomely reproduced. Dalby also offers a comprehensive history of breakfast from the Neolithic period onwards. There are chapters on the psychology, anthropology, sociology and geography of breakfast. There are recipes, eulogies and statistics. Between us, I’d say that anyone as obsessed with the idea of breakfast as Dalby should be locked up. But he has nevertheless written a marvellously toothsome compendium.
As have Seb Emina and (or aka) Malcolm Eggs. The Breakfast Bible is more of a light-hearted celebration of breakfast. It is scrambled eggs to Dalby’s kedgeree. The finely produced book is a delightful object in itself and the result of a thousand breakfasts eaten both for pleasure and in the line of duty for the London Review of Breakfasts website. Each constituent of the full English has its own chapter and there are a hundred pages of classic breakfast recipes. There are twenty essays on subjects as diverse as famous last breakfasts, breakfast proverbs, and the Hunter S Thompson breakfast, which includes (or ideally ought to include) four Bloody Marys, two margaritas and six lines of coke. And I was glad to know that Abraham Lincoln’s preferred breakfast was a boiled egg and a cup of coffee. The text is beautifully and wittily written.
I heartily recommend either or both of these books. It is, after all, an important subject. Here is Winnie-the-Pooh on breakfast, quoted in The Breakfast Bible.
‘When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,’ said Piglet at last, ‘what’s the first thing you say to yourself?’ ‘What’s for breakfast?’ said Pooh. ‘What do you say, Piglet?’ ‘I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting to-day?’ said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. ‘It ’s the same thing,’ he said.
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a n d y mart i n
Chewing Things Over
Eating the Enlightenment: Food and the
Sciences in Paris, 1670–1760
By E C Spary (University of Chicago Press 353pp £31.50)
Woody Allen, in Love and Death, speculated that Napoleon, fearful of the threat of Beef Wellington, was striving to perfect some piece of imperial patisserie – ‘more cream!’ – that would carry the day. After reading E C Spary’s Eating the Enlightenment, I reckon that Waterloo boiled down to coffee drinkers versus tea drinkers. And it is hard to escape the conclusion that, as far as the most important things are concerned, the French actually won, on account of superior baguettes and croissants. Spary would surely concur with Claude Lévi-Strauss that it is reasonable to think of the French as ‘frogs’, in terms of menu and table manners, just as they think of us as ‘rosbifs’.
‘To know is to eat,’ said Jean-Paul Sartre. A fan of rich foods and desserts, he would have scoffed up Spary’s book, which lays out a groaning table of inspired culinary epistemology. Spary has delved into the kitchens and laboratories and cafés of the French Enlightenment and come up with some delicious crossover concoctions in cordon-bleu philosophy. The manifold links between nutrition and cognition enable her to get away from the Cartesian divide that tends to pervade our histories – intellectuals and writers, philosophes, over here; mere consumers and materialists over there. I’ve always had a soft spot for that mythic tribe invoked by Claude Lévi-Strauss who survive on smells alone, going about sniffing exotic plants. But this narrow constituency apart, everybody has to eat and drink. Spary demonstrates convincingly that, in a
Read online: www.literaryreview.co.uk period in which the restaurant and the café, as well as the salon, were so significant, just what and how French people ate and drank necessarily affected the evolution of their thought, just as their thinking inevitably impinged on their diet. The Enlightenment was fuelled by nouvelle cuisine, and esprit, meaning mind or wit, was fortified by spirits.
Voltaire, for one, was a great coffee aficionado, and was largely responsible for putting about the idea (which I remain convinced by) that coffee stimulates creativity. Balzac, a century later, owed the Comédie humaine – typically written late at night – to coffee so strong you could stand a spoon up in it (not that I am recommending his fiftycups-a-day habit – it probably killed him too). Spary takes us back to the origin of the French addiction, exploring the global networks of trade and consumption that produced the first coffee houses in Paris in the last decades of the 17th century.
For the philosophes, Voltaire among them, coffee proclaimed the cultivation of reason. It was also a ‘sign of upward mobility’, as the coffee-drinking habit spread through society. I’m not too sure about Spary’s idea that coffee in Paris ‘was, first and foremost, a way of displaying a fashionable familiarity with the cutting m a y 2 0 1 3 | Literary Review 29