The History of Gastronomy was written by André L. Simon and was first published in December 1944 as part of a book of essays relating to wine and food, titled "We shall eat and drink again - a wine and food anthology". Edited by Louis Golding and published by Hutchinson.
The history of Gastronomy is particularly interesting for generation X to stop and reflect from which position the culture of food and wine developed. In a world increasingly obsessed with instant gratification it is worth observing the traditions of the past and the basis of their foundation. We hope that you will advance your knowledge through this excellent essay.
Life, they tell us, is a gift. But is it? Surely life is not so much a gift as a loan, since it is sure to be called in, sooner or later, and since we forfeit it the moment we cease to pay interest, the daily interest of food and drink: it has to be found by us or for us from the hour of our birth to that of our death.
The great majority of men and women throughout the world have no greater concern than to get sufficient food and drink day by day, for themselves and their young; they prefer good food to bad, sweet food to sour, but they do not trouble about flavour and savour; what really matters to them is to get enough. There are others: there are gluttons, among rich and poor alike, who enjoy a large appetite and suffer from a lack of self-control; they are not really particular about quality, but they crave for quantity: they never have enough. There are also, chiefly among the well-to-do classes, those who are over-anxious about their health or their looks and whose existence is poisoned by the ever-present dread of their liver or avoirdupois; they dare not enjoy good food and drink. Last, but by no means least, there are people who are blessed with a keen sense of appreciation and who are capable of self-control; they love all that is best in the world, but they have sufficient common sense and will power to avoid excess. They love good food and good wine in moderation; they detest ostentation and dissipation. They do not ask for much, but enough, and the best. They are men and women of taste, true gastronomes, not the slaves of their servant, Gaster-the-Belly, a servant of such great worth that it deserves and receives from its masters the most intelligent consideration, even, occasionally, some indulgent attention.
Gastronomes have ever been and still are responsible for all progress in the art of cookery, and, in fact, for its very existence. Cookery is a wholly unselfish art: as 'art for art's sake' cookery is unthinkable. A man may sing in his bath every morning without the least encouragement, but no cook can cook just for his or her own sake in a like manner. All good cooks, like all great artists, must have an audience worth cooking for or singing to. Nor are all good cooks, any more than all great artists, necessarily professionals, that is, paid in cash for their services. There are, and there have always been, very fine amateur cooks, although it is only natural that professional cooks, who have so much more practice as well as so much greater incentive to please, should attain a degree of culinary excellence which few, if any, amateur cooks can ever hope to challenge.
The first amateur cook on record was Jacob, and the first gastronome was his brother Esau. Of course, Esau's reported "Lo, I am almost dead, what is this birthright to me?" must not be taken too literally. It is quite impossible to accept these words at their face value. There is no reason whatever for imagining that the eldest son should be actually starving in his father's house, but there is every reason to assume that the meal prepared by Rebecca for Esau was not so much to his liking as the mess of lentils which Jacob had prepared for himself.
Among the Greeks of old there were many famous poets, orators and philosophers, but no great cooks. Greece never had any prime beef, rich butter nor fresh cream, because its soil and climate were, and still are, unsuitable for good grazing. According to Aristophanes, mutton, lamb, donkey, and pork were the choice of meat in Greece; he does not mention beef or veal; in the barnyard, they had fowls, ducks, geese, and pigeons; as game, hares, larks, quails, blackbirds, partridges, pheasants, moor-hens, teals, and ostriches; from the sea, red and grey mullets, conger eels, plaice, mackerel, skate, turbot, sardines, and tunny; also oysters, crabs, and shrimps; from the fields, corn, barley, and grasshoppers; from their gardens, beans, peas and lentils, garlic, beet, onions, olives, cucumbers, pumpkins, leeks, horseradish, cardoons, turnips and parsley; from their orchards, figs, pomegranates, oranges, pears, apples, and grapes.
The Greeks appear to have been cursed with far too highly developed a sense of criticism and a passion for argument to have accorded to well-cooked food and to good wine much attention. Both the early morning and the midday meals were of little importance among the Greeks; they looked upon the evening meal as the only serious one of the day, one that often lasted for long hours well into the night. The evening meal was not merely devised to provide the food and drink necessary to repair one's strength after the day's toil; it was also, whenever possible, the occasion for reunion and recreation; some of the guests obliged with a song, others read a piece of verse or prose of their own composition, or else acted some charade, or otherwise entertained the company. They apparently enjoyed one another's wit rather than the fare, which accounts for the fact that no Greek chef's name has survived. In ancient Rome meals were of the simplest, at first, but as soon as the Romans began their conquest of the greater part of the then known world, they adopted the culinary methods of some of their victims and introduced into Italy many delicacies that were foreign to her soil. It is on record that when the Roman Senate was divided whether or not to embark upon the Third Punic War and the conquest of Carthage, the Elder Cato silenced the peace party by producing some fine specimens of African figs, which were evidently considered well worth fighting for. Besides figs, Africa gave the coarse-ribbed melon to the Romans, who cultivated it extensively at Cantalupe, hence the name 'Cantaloup' by which it is still known today.
Sergius Orata was the first to introduce the bedding of oysters dredged in the open sea and fattened in the beds of the Lucrin Lake; Fulvius Lippinus introduced a method of fattening edible snails; Scipio Metellus was the originator of the intensive feeding of geese and the inventor of foie gras. These and many other gastronomes were purely amateurs and their appreciation of good cooking was responsible for the remarkable progress made by the art of cookery in Imperial Rome. Wherever the Roman legions brought the Pax romana they also brought the Ars coquinaria, which helped the better-fed conquered people to accept with better grace the rule of their conquerors.
It is only too true that there were horrible gluttons among the Romans, and the unfortunate fact that some of the worst wore the imperial purple gave historians every excuse for describing in detail their disgusting orgies. Had Hellogabalus not been Emperor, he would probably have been taken care of in a madhouse; at any rate, his senseless excesses would never have been recorded for the benefit of generations to come. Happily, we have an important Roman cookery book, the Book of Apicius, where we can find reliable information about the degree of excellence which Roman cookery attained in Imperial Rome, and the fact that there is no recipe for, nor any mention of, parrots' tongues, peacocks' brains, nightingales' livers or any other such fantastic delicacies, which satirists and even historians describe with so much gusto, is sufficient evidence that Roman cookery is not to be blamed for the vagaries of a few wealthy gluttons.
The author of the Book of Apicius is not known to us. The book may be the work of more than one author and the form in which it has reached us shows traces of the intervention of later cooks who thought that they could improve upon the work of the original author or authors. The name of Apicius, given to this, the earliest collection of culinary recipes that has reached us, is not the name of the author; it was given to the book in all probability in honour of one of the three Apiciuses famed in ancient Rome as hosts and gastronomes. The only one fact of which we can be tolerably certain about the Book of Apicius is that its author or authors was or were professional cook or cooks. Not every one of the Apician recipes is intelligible to us in the form in which it has come to us, but a great many of them are most professional. It would be possible to serve a good dinner, each course of which would be according to one of the Apician recipes.