Category Archives: A Dose of Brillat Savarin

Brillat-Savarin on…liquor

I, among others, have pondered it, and I am tempted to place the craving for fermented liquors , which is unknown to animals, with anxiety regarding the future, which is likewise unknown to animals, and to regard both as distinctive attributes of the masterpiece of the last sublunary revolution.

What? What the what now?

Question for the comments section – has anyone ever tried to get an animal drunk? I once put wine on a cat’s coat in the hope it would lick it off and become intoxicated (this proved to be little more than a waste of wine).

Brillat-Savarin on…water

Water is the only drink that really quenches thirst, and that is the reason why it can only be drunk in comparatively small quantities. Most of the other liquors that man imbibes are only palliatives, and if he had confined himself to water, it would never have been said of him that one of his privileges was to drink without being thirsty.

I rather like this quote, although I personally enjoy water for its taste. London water particularly, which possibly makes me perverse.

Brillat-Savarin on…thirst

Singing produces thirst; hence the universal reputation singers have of being indefatigible drinkers. Being a singer myself, I rise to protest against the slander, which no longer has any truth in it. The singers who frequent our drawing rooms today drink with discretion and sagacity; but what they have lost on the one hand they regain on the other, for they are no longer topers, they are gourmands, and it is said that the fanatical celebration of the Feast of St Cecilia by the Transcendental Harmony Society has been known to last more than twenty-four hours.

WHAT is a ‘toper’? And don’t the Transcendental Harmony Society sound like a LOT of fun?

Brillat-Savarin on…coffee

Coffee is a far more powerful liquor than is commonly believed. A man of sound constitution can drink two bottles of wine a day, and live to a great age; the same man could not stand a like quantity of coffee for the same period; he would go out of his mind or die of consumption.

Out of interest, how much weaker was wine in the nineteenth century?

Brillat-Savarin on…chocolate

When you have breakfasted well and copiously, if you swallow a generous cup of good chocolate, you will have digested everything perfectly three hours later, and you will be able to dine in comfort…Out of zeal for science, and by dint of eloquence, I have persuaded a good many ladies to try this experiment, although they protested it would kill them; in every case they were delighted by the result, and none of them failed to pay due tribute to the Professor.

The Professor. Helping ladies with their digestion since 1805.

Brillat-Savarin on…Thinness

Thinness is no great disadvantage to men; they are no weaker for being thin, and much fitter…but for women it is a frightful misfortune; for to them beauty is more than life itself, and beauty consists above all in roundness of form and gracefully curving lines. The most elegant outfit and cleverest dressmaker cannot hide certain absences, nor conceal certain angles; and it is a common saying that with every pin she removes, a thin woman, however beautiful she may seem, loses something of her charm.

For the naturally puny there is no remedy; or rather, the Faculty must be called in, and the treatment may be so long drawn out that the cure will probably come too late.

But we see no reason why women who are born thin, yet whose stomach is in order, should be any more difficult to fatten than chickens; and if it take a litttle longer, that is because their stomachs are comparatively smaller and because they cannot be subjected, like those devoted birds, to a strict and meticulously executed diet.

I think we all know what he’s trying to say here.

Brillat-Savarin on…Obesity

There is a type of obesity which is confined to the belly; I have never known an example to occur among women; for they are made of softer stuff than men, and obesity, when it attacks them, spares no part of their person. I call this variety ‘gastrophory’, and those affected by it ‘gastrophors’. I myself am one of them; but although I am the bearer of a fairly prominent paunch, the lower part of my legs is still hard, and the sinews as loosely knit as those of an Arab  horse.

(with a nod to regretsy!)

Brillat-Savarin on…Eating Small Birds

Few people know how to eat a small bird; here is the method, as it was privately revealed to me by Canon Charcot, a born gourmand, who was a perfect gastronome some thirty years before the term was invented.

Take a plump little bird by the beak, sprinkle him with a little salt, remove the gizzard, thrust him boldly into your mouth, bite him off close to your fingers, and chew hard; this will produce enough juice to wet the whole organ, and you will taste a delight unknown to the common herd.

Does it trouble anyone else that he omits to mention cooking the bird?! (Also the image of the Canon privately revealing this to Brillat-Savarin).

Another dose of Brillat Savarin

Jean-Anthelme on the disadvantages of restaurants:

There can be no doubt that the availability and attraction of the restaurateur’s wares may lead many people to indulge themselves beyond the limit of their faculties, and that this may cause indigestion, in the case of delicate stomachs, and some untimely sacrifices to the basest of Venuses.

But what is far more dangerous in our opinion to the social order is the fact that solitary reflection breeds egoism, by accustoming the individual to consider no one but himself, to hold aloof from his surroundings, and to show no consideration for others; and from their behaviour before, during, and after meals, it is an easy matter, in an ordinary society, to single out from a party of guests those who normally eat in restaurants*

He goes on to add, in the footnote -

*Among other things, when a dish of ready-cut food is being handed round, they help themselves and put it down in front of them, without passing it to the neighbours whose needs they are unaccustomed to considering.

I’d say that this ‘danger’ of the solitary diner is no longer much of a threat to our society. Agree?

Brillat Savarin on Ablutions

The next instalment in our regular dose of Brillat Savarin, in which he rails against fingerbowls (possibly not for the faint of stomach):


I wrote earlier that the Roman vomitory offended the delicacy of our own conventions but I am afraid this was a piece of rashness on my part, and that I must now retract. Let me explain:

About forty years ago, or thereabouts, there were a few people in high society, nearly all of them ladies, who used to rinse their mouths out at the end of a meal.

To this end, as soon as they left the table, they turned their backs on the company; a servant handed them a cup of water, they took a mouthful, and promptly spat it out into the saucer; the servant carried off both cup and saucer, and the operation, or the way in which it was carried out, went almost unnoticed.

We have changed all that.

In houses where a point is made of following the latest fashions, servants, at the end of dessert, distribute bowls of cold water among the guests, in each of which stands a goblet of hot water. Whereupon, in full view of one another, the guests plunge their fingers in the cold water, as if to wash them, fill their mouths with the hot, gargle noisily, and spit it out into the goblet or the bowl.

I am not the only person to have spoken out against this useless, indecent, and disgusting innovation.

Useless, because in the case of people who know how to eat, the mouth is clean at the end of the meal, having been cleansed either by the fruit or by the last glasses of wine drunk at dessert. As for the hands, they should not be used in such a way as to soil them; and besides, has not everyone a napkin to wipe them on?

Indecent, because it is a generally recognized principle that any sort of ablution should take place in private.

And above all disgusting, for the prettiest and freshest mouth loses all its charms when it usurps the functions of the evacuatory organs; what then if the mouth is neither fresh nor pretty? And what shall be said of those monstrous chasms that open up to reveal pits that would seem bottomless, if it were not for the sight of the shapeless, time-corroded stumps? Proh pudor!

Such is the pass to which we have been brought by our pretentious affectation of cleanliness, foreign alike to our tastes and our manners.

Once certain limit have been passed, there is no saying where we shall stop, and heaven knows what purification may next be imposed on us.

Ever since the official appearance of these new-fangled bowls I have been grieving night and day. A second Jeremiah, I deplore the vagaries of fashion; and all too well informed by my travels, I now never enter a dining room without trembling at the thought that my eyes might fall upon the odious chamber-pot*

*It is common knowledge that there are, or were a few years ago, dining-rooms in England where it was possible for a man to answer the call of Nature without leaving the room:  a curious facility, but one which had fewer disadvantages in a land where the ladies withdraw as soon as the men begin to drink wine.