To the Queen’s Taste: A Brief Meditation on Written Recipes, Part III

Charles Elmé Francatelli

Carrying on our examination of the written recipe and its significance in what usually was an oral culture (in more ways than one) — the kitchen and cooking — it’s time to turn to a nineteenth-century English chef named Charles Elmé Francatelli, who briefly cooked French food for Queen Victoria.*

But before we get to the man of the moment, the meat of the matter, let’s pause for a moment and revisit Mr. Manfred Görlach, who undertook one of the few linguistic analyses of the written recipe as it appeared in English. Happily, Mr. Görlach recognized the importance of Chef Francatelli and his work, particularly his A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes (1852). Görlach contrasted Francatelli with that doyenne of English cookery writing, Mrs. Isabella Beeton (who revealed her own fondness for French cuisine in her door-stop-sized tome, Book of Household Management (1861)).

His conclusions?

He [Francatelli] wrote various cookery books, such as The Modern Cook 1845 — but his Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes (1852) is unique. There is no indication why Francatelli “stooped” so to speak to the social classes diametrically opposed to the court. We can guess that he intended to provide some practical guidance to those who severely needed it.

Charles Elme Francatelli PlainAnd the language Francatelli used in Plain Cookery reads far differently than the language he used in his other books, according to Mr. Görlach, who lists eight criteria for examining cookery books and their recipes linguistically.**

In contrast to his other books and to Mrs. Beeton his language shows obvious accommodation to the class of expected readers; the most striking feature is probably the extreme variation in form, as if he is intentionally flouting the conventions firmly entrenched in culinary handbooks, by the time. … 8) Although Francatelli talks down to his readers, he is not free of inkhornisms (91 mucilgainous).

Inkhornisms? Wonderful word!

Some of the dishes Francatelli included definitely did not sound French: cow-heel broth, bubble and squeak, sheep’s pluck, and a pudding made of small birds.”

So who exactly was Charles Elmé Francatelli?

Charles Elmé Francatelli (1805-1876), an Englishman with Italian ancestry, studied French cookery in France under famed chef, Antonin Carême. At one point, Francatelli briefly served as chef to Queen Victoria. But his primary love was cooking (mostly for private clubs like The Reform Club) and writing. His numerous cookbooks — the above-mentioned The Modern Cook (1845) and A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes (1852),  as well as French Cookery: The Modern Cook (1846), The Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant (1861) and The Royal English and Foreign Confectionery Book (1862) — reflected the many changes that occurred in the known world after the French Revolution.

Let’s not forget that French cuisine enjoyed a long history in England. Francatelli simply fell into the pattern established since after the Restoration, when French cooking became associated with Papism and Jacobites. Roman Catholic families of the seventeenth century, like the Carters and the Verralls, hired French chefs, who cooked quite authentically, apparently. Chefs like Louis Eustache Ude remained aware of Roman Catholic fast days, as he added variations accommodating those days in his stellar work, The French Chef (1813).

Of course, by the second half of the nineteenth century, nobody remembered those pesky little details. And so Victorians like Francatelli oversaw the heyday of French cooking in England. Their influence spread far and wide, across the globe to India, to Kenya, to Ghana, etc.

Colin Spencer sums up the whole issue of French cooking in England:

What the British thought was French cooking was a radical adaptation towards their own tastes; as much as an Indian restaurant gives a British interpretation of curry today. Secondly, many of these so-called French influences were medieval, and had been enjoyed here for hundreds of years; after the Reformation we had forgotten about them.

Sheep Pluck
Sheep Pluck

Especially sheep’s pluck, one would hope … but not if haggis is your pleasure.

*For more on Francatelli, see Chef to Queen Victoria: the Recipes of Charles Elmé Francatelli, ed. by Ann M. Currah (London: Kimber, 1973) and “Charles Elmé Francatelli,” written by Mary Snodgrass, in Culinary Biographies, ed. by Alice Arndt (Houston, Texas: Yes Press, Inc., 2006, p. 169-170).

** Görlach’s eight criteria are as follows:

Analysis of eight main features, and their development through time (and correlation with the type of user):

1)     Form of heading

2)     Full sentences or telegram style

3)     Use of imperative or other verbal forms

4)     Use of possessive pronouns with ingredients and implements

5)     Deletion of objects

6)     Temporal sequence, and possible adverbs used

7)     Complexity of sentences

8)     Marked use of loanwords and of genteel diction

© 2009 C. Bertelsen


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