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Indigestion: Dinner with high drama

ude3Indigestion: Dinner with high drama

I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food. (W.C. Fields.)

by Chaucer

Dinner with high drama might imply a recipe for indigestion. Those who have shared a kitchen with a temperamental chef, a French chef in particular, in whom their DNA guarantees mercuriality of alarming magnitude will relate comfortably with the following story.

Louis Eustache Ude won’t be familiar to many except those that may have studied traditional French Cuisine in one of the great cooking schools in France. This story is basically true and parts of our subject’s life are included in his cookbook dated 1829. I have an original copy.

It’s the love of fine food and better still, the cooking of it that sets the table for lively conversation and camaraderie. One such devotee of the palatable arts was the eighteenth century chef Ude.

Ude’s background is rather obscure with few details of his private life having survived the passage of time. Some historians think he might have been involved with the church and forced to flee France during the revolution of 1789. He was also said to have been personal chef to Letizia Bonaparte, Napoleon’s mother, but departed her employ under a cloud of suspicion. Given his talent before the stove may we suggest his disfavour came from other quarters that had little or nothing to do with his culinary prowess?

It is known that Ude spent twenty years in England as chef to the Earl of Sefton who was a huge, hunched man and upon his death (probably gout, cholesterol and a rotting liver) his will provided Ude with a stipend for life. While working for the Duke of York (who also died) Ude, at times an insufferable, pompous fellow, not in the least tempered with modesty, proclaimed at the Duke’s death-bed, “Ah, mon pauvre duc, how much you will miss me where you have goned.”

To celebrate his own birthday, Ude arranged a pantagruelian feast of many courses. It was his custom, albeit an annoying one to some, to keep his guests waiting while he fiddled and fussed about the kitchen for hours. The guests at this soirée, however, had been seated for some time and in proper fashion were making liberal assault upon the port wine. Ude forbid any entry to his kitchen and come serving time his guests were suitably “Franz Liszt.”

During service, one of the guests accidentally trod on Madame Ude’s favourite dog, one of those “yappy” little things. The dog spun about with fright and fastened on to the guest’s leg whereupon he shot from his chair and laid a heavy boot to the beast’s ribs.

The dog’s frantic yelping excited Madame’s other dogs, all of which joined the fracas. Above the frightful din she called Ude some very rude names. Ude’s husbandly rebuttal to his wife’s slurs was a fistful of almonds flung at her face. As these matters can escalate with great speed she swiftly retaliated with a chunk of crusty bread that caught him square in the eye.

The shouting, yelping and food throwing set dogs against cats which ran snarling and spitting amongst the guests. Calming angry people and frenzied beasts took some time and when achieved dinner was served, although cold and thoroughly spoiled.

Louis’ dining room was the stage for many such events and during another of his grand repasts things went afoul when a guest found the venison too tough to chew. In sneaking the offending morsel under the table to one of Madame’s beloved dogs, it caused the poor thing to choke.

To this voluble disaster Madame Ude, along with several lady guests, flew into pure hysterics trying aid the poor dog. Despite their best efforts all failed and the poor beast dropped dead at their very feet. It was never recorded what Mrs. Ude said or did to her husband over that matter.

If you’d like to know how they ate in those days you might like try this recipe from Ude’s 1829 cookbook, invite your friends and relive old times. It’s a simple boiled chicken, probably as insipid as hospital food. See how you fare with the language of the day. The term, “send it up” means, to serve. It comes from the food being sent up from the kitchen below. Notice how recipes in those days were rather scant on measurements.

Serve with boiled or steamed vegetables.


“Take a fine fat fowl, the flesh and skin of which are perfectly white; empty the fowl without making too great an aperture, singe it gently, and scald the legs, which are to be turned inside the body; then lay it on a pretty thick layer of bacon; fasten it tight, let it be boiled in broth, which must boil before you put it in, otherwise the fowl will loose its white colour. If the fowl is of a larger size, it will require an hour and a quarter before it is done enough: If it is of a common size, one hour will do.

Next drain it in a dish, wipe off all the fat, and send it up with a little of the liquor in which it was boiled, and which has been reduced in the process from one quart to half a pint at least, with the addition of a little salt in the liquor, and put salt on the breast of the fowl.

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