Saturday, March 21, 2015

Beauty, Brains and Style –– Diane de Poitiers and Renaissance Potage-Green Sauce

Diane de Poitiers, School of Fountainbleu, 1550-60

I was lucky enough to have a pretty decent ‘classical’ education. Still, it was a zillion years ago and since then I have reinforced some subjects and lost others somewhere down my rabbit hole of a memory. I was always pretty good with British history and most Italian but a bit dodgy on France before the 19th century.

I was daydreaming about great mistresses and courtesans after reading about Kitty Fisher last week (let's be honest, I am endlessly fascinated with courtesans and their brief flaming lives) and Diane de Poitier popped into my head as a possible subject.  I realized what I knew about her was pretty slim –– 16th century France fell into my memory gap.  When I finally read up on her in Princess Michael of Kent’s The Serpent and the Moon: Two Rivals for the Love of a Renaissance King I was enchanted - what a story, what a dame!  Just as I was thinking, ‘wow, would this make a great film', I found I was not alone –– looks like I'm not the only person she's seduced lately.  Downton Abbey's creator, Julian Fellowes, is writing a script based on  the book (The Princess might have better access to Mr Fellowes than most, since his wife is her lady in waiting).

Catharine de Medici (1519-89) by Tito di Santi

Thing is, I had muddled and simplified the story. I had always had great sympathy for poor wronged Catherine de Medici and thought Diane was a shallow tart. As it turns out, Diane was pretty blameless and acted with grace through decades of a tragic, complicated love triangle. Catherine married Henry when they were both 14.   It was never meant to be a love match and she was never meant to be queen. He wasn’t first born, after all, and she was a merchant’s daughter and not a suitable match for a royal (she was relentlessly mocked by the French court for her humble, if fabulously wealthy background). The match was all about money and power. Worst of all,  she fell in love with Henry and was never to have that love returned. Diane had the King’s love but could never marry him. Catherine’s motto was " Odiate e aspettate ", “Hate and Wait” and that’s exactly what she did until the day he died. I felt terribly sorry for her. What a horrid bitter life she led, tormented by Diane’s happiness.

Henry II of France (1519-59)

Soon to be King of France, the 18 year-old dauphin began his affair with Diane de Poitiers when she was 38 and stayed head-over-heels in love with her till he died. He called her name with his last breath (Catherine would not allow Diane to be with him at the end or let her attend the funeral -- hate  triumphed at last).

The accident of Henry II

 Armor of Henry II by Étienne Delaune and Jean Cousin

The shield of Henry II

Henry’s famous death (one of Nostradamos’ few correct predictions), was caused by a lance through his eye at the very last moment of a joust ––he just wouldn’t concede to another rider. He returned to the field even though his visor wasn’t fastened properly and the other rider protested his lance had been damaged -- the lance splintered and the visor broke.

Henry did live 12 days after the accident and was lucid and giving orders most of the time, even telling everyone it wasn’t his adversary’s fault it happened –– his “Hate and Wait” wife didn’t abide by this pardon and eventually captured the poor man and killed him. Henry might have lived had they cracked his skull to let the pressure out –– they were afraid of the pain it would be too much for the king. Instead of wailing helplessly in despair at the tragedy, Diane acted decisively and secured a surgeon who had successfully removed a lance to the face for another courtier so it was possible to recover from such a blow.

Diane appuyée sur un cerf by Goujon

Looks like everything I thought I knew about Diane was wrong. Diane de Poitiers was not just some lady of easy virtue. She came from one of the most respected families in France (far better lineage than Catherine Medici). She was beautiful, beautifully built and brilliant. The family motto was “Qui me alit me extinguit”—“ He who inflames me has the power to extinguish me.” She spent much time at court and was welcomed to the inner circle of the royals at the knee of Anne de Beaujeu, who was “tall and severe as a cathedral”.  Anne was known for her genius at molding young girls into great young women. “Madame de Beaujeu’s extraordinary influence on her young pupils could be attributed to her example of chastity, her sense of humor, and her dedication to duty. Hers had been a varied education, and the children in her care were taught to study the philosophies and logic of Boethius and Plato as well as the writings of the fathers of the Church. Diane also learned from this wise, highborn lady the true meaning of the dignity of her rank, nobility of behavior, taste, deportment, and, above all, to despise intrigues. Anne urged her charges to bear in mind that society was still rough and vulgar and had need of their refining influence, to add their gaiety, refinement, grace, and patience to any gathering. She taught them the art of conversation, how to communicate with strangers, and not to discriminate between classes.’ She actually codified her rules and theories in a book, Les Enseignements d’Anne de France à sa fille Suzanne de Bourbon, just a quick scan shows why she was so successful, it is terribly sound advice that comes from the best of the tradition of courtly love – a tradition Diane and even Henry II believed in:

“Always dress well, be cool and poised, with modest eyes, softly-spoken, always constant and steadfast, and observe unyielding good sense.…God, who is justice itself, may tarry, but will leave nothing unpunished. Nobles are the kinds of people who must see their reputation go from good to better, as much in virtue as in knowledge, so that they will be known …,” and “Another philosopher says that gentility of lineage without the nobility of courage should be compared with the dry tree which has no leaves, no fruit, and which does not burn well.” The simplest of all her advice was: “Avoid sin.”

“The book’s final instruction, said to come directly from Louis XI, is: “En toute chose on doit tenir le moyen”—“ Always keep a balanced view of everything”— a maxim Diane tried never to forget.”

Francis I (1494-1547) by Jean Clouet, 1530

The court of Henry II’s father was fun, energetic and full of brilliant men. After all, it was Francis I who brought da Vinci to France to Château du Clos Lucé and encouraged humanism to thrive. He thought da Vinci was a national treasure and left him to paint and invent.

da Vinci drawing of lion

When da Vinci died, Francis bought the Mona Lisa from his heirs (da Vinci traveled to France in 1516 to be "First painter, architect and mechanic of the King" designing projects, buildings and even festival treats like the mechanical lion in 1517). Leonardo died at Château du Clos Lucé in 1519. Francis said of Leonardo, “For each of us, the death of this man is a bereavement, since it is impossible that we will ever see his like again.”

Cellini’s priceless golden salt cellar created for Francis I

Another of the grand artists who spent time with Francis was Benvenuto Cellini. He very much enjoyed his time at the king’s new Fountainbleu (named after a favored dog name Bleu who was lost and then found in a clearing in the woods by a spring). Cellini called the château “Fontana Belio.” His sketches and wax models always delighted the king....” When the cellar was stolen in 2003, it was valued at $48 million dollars (it was recovered a few years later).


“François I was one of the most attractive and exciting personalities ever to sit on the throne of France— tall, dark, well built, he was thought most handsome (despite rather spindly legs), and very regal. He also had great charm and blind courage, and neither he nor anyone at his court believed there was a woman living who could resist him. He saw the court as a font of pleasure, his own and that of his courtiers. This was an era when tales of chivalry exerted a powerful influence on the young courtiers around the new king”. Francois I court was a great place for women for he felt, “A court without ladies ’tis like a year without springtime, and a springtime without roses.” Brantôme writes: “Although he held the opinion that they [women] were highly inconstant and variable, he would never hear anything said against them in his Court and required that they should be shown every honor and respect.”

 Entrance at Anet

King Francis visited Diane at her beautiful Anet and loved the society there. “It was during this stay at Anet that the king decided to form his band of twenty-seven maids of honor, “La Petite Bande.” Chosen for their looks and intelligence, these young beauties were to accompany his court wherever it went, and he invited the glorious châtelaine of Anet to be one of their number.”. Diane was one of these ladies and “Belle à voir, honnête à hanter”—“ Pleasing to look at, honest to know.”

Princess Michael tried to paint a full picture of life at the time and so, luckily for us, described food at Francis table. “Meals at court were served on tables piled high with assortments of food; plates and scented napkins were discarded after each course. Everyone in France ate with just a knife, a spoon, and their fingers; no fork as yet. Napkins were always placed around the neck because eating with one’s fingers was never tidy. Ladies would sometimes place a small piece of meat on a slice of bread to make it easier to eat. Pâtés were popular and often spread on bread. Different sorts of meat and game were always part of a court buffet, as were sweetbreads, dressed crab, quenelles, and truffles, which were very popular. The sideboards groaned under the weight of assorted vegetables, wild mushrooms, even codfish. For dessert there were endless sweetmeats, fresh and jellied fruits, some in pastry, and many kinds of mousse. In the main, the food was heavy and rather indigestible. Wines, often spiced, flowed in great quantity and helped to loosen tongues.”

Francis I gallery at Fountainbleu

Francis modeled the lifestyle at Fountainbleu after the ideas found in The Courtier. “François loved to talk— conversation was one of his greatest joys, and there was no greater book for teaching the art of conversation than The Courtier. Castiglione wrote that “all inspiration must come from women.…Without women nothing is possible, either in military courage, or art, or poetry, or music, or philosophy, or even religion. God is truly seen only through them.”

Tragically for her,  Henry was not much inspired by his wife. Catherine was not terribly attractive or  charming. No wonder, she was used as a pawn by her family as much as Henry had been –– in a way, their backgrounds were not dissimilar. Henry and his brother were used as collateral in an exchange for his life after Henry was captured. They remained imprisoned in Spain with varying degrees of comfort but mostly in the dark and alone. It was a horrible way to spend their childhood. It is doubtful Henry ever forgave his father.

Diane de Poitiers

When he was handed over as a hostage, the last loving embrace he was to know came from his mother's lady in waiting –– Diane de Poitiers took pity on the poor child and held him close. He never forgot the kindness. She was there when he returned from his ordeal as well and eased his discomfort. She helped him become the man he was. Under her love and expert guidance, he went from a sullen, lonely boy to a fine man. “HENRI the king was very unlike Henri the prince. The change was remarkable. He became more affable, more open and friendly to all comers; he smiled often and laughed. His coronation had a mystical effect on him as well, and he carried himself with a new dignity and pride. Naturally affectionate, he was sentimental, honest in word and deed, and faithful to his friends. He was a contemplative man, who loved to read; he was steady, moderate, profound, and rather silent, yet the members of the court recognized his goodness of heart. Henri was a romantic knight from the days of chivalry, quietly going about his business and focusing on his goal with a steadfastness akin to obsession. That obsession was Diane and her glory, just as hers was his. Henri wished to demonstrate his love for his mistress in every possible way.”

She used her intelligence as well as her feminine wiles. Diane de Poitiers was nearly 50 and the 28 year old King of France was madly in love with her.

Diane de Poitiers, Fountainbleu School

Diane had beauty secrets to be sure. Everyone remarked at the way she remained ageless. She stayed away from most quack treatments that often killed contemporary beauties that used them –– she stuck with natural products (one exception was her use of gold to wash her face and that she probably ingested as well. When her corpse was exhumed, she had taken so much that a good deal of gold had been absorbed and remained in her hair). “To maintain her famous complexion, Diane used only rainwater for washing her face, and she avoided cosmetics which, at the time, were most damaging to the skin. Blessed with energy and abounding good health all her life, she had never ceased to train and exercise her mind and her body. Now she concentrated on preserving that perfect face. If the secret of Diane de Poitiers’ beauty lay in her daily routine, she deserved her astonishing youthfulness and robust health. Summer and winter in all weathers, she would rise at dawn and bathe her whole body in ice-cold rain or well water. She breakfasted with a cup of homemade bouillon (later this was to be described as a magic potion— even by Brantôme) before leaving at first light for a brisk three-hour ride through the woods and countryside around Anet. On her return she would rest, and around ten or eleven, she would eat a simple meal.”

Princess Michael even discovered some of her beauty formulas, “… a powder made of musk and rosewater and a paste used against wrinkles that she mixed herself, from the juice of a melon, crushed young barley, and an egg yolk mixed with ambergris. She applied the paste to her face like a mask. Whenever Diane was alone, she slept propped upright on deep pillows to avoid creasing her face.” Aside from the ambergris and musk, these preparations wouldn’t be considered strange on today’s dressing tables.

Diane also cultivated a “look”. Her clothing was quite singular for the time. She was the original “basic-black” fashion star, Princess Michael noted, “she wore black and white nearly exclusively. Brantôme wrote how well Diane’s black and white mourning became her, and how her clothes were always designed to show her figure to the best advantage. He added that “her style expressed more worldliness than mourning and, above all, set off her beautiful neck.” Her clothes were always made of pure silk [she raised her own silk worms on her own mulberry trees for her own silk]. Two waves of reddish-golden hair showed from a snood of black silk mesh encrusted with pearls. Often she would hang ropes of large pearls from each shoulder, swinging them across the front of a wide black velvet bodice with a deep décolleté. Her sleeves were tight at the shoulders and on the upper arms, and burst into delicate full white muslin above the elbow, to be caught at the wrist. Around her narrow waist she wore a chain of precious stones, which joined and then hung down the front of her dress. If the whole effect was calculated, it was done in order to please. Wearing mourning placed her on a pedestal above her rivals, a rare creature rendered more desirable by her isolation. Her signature black and white became the fashion for aristocratic widows thereafter.”

The bed Henry and Diane shared at Anet (not the black and white paneling with Henry’s initial)

“When Diane was forty-eight, Henri begged her to accept and wear a ring “for love of me. May it always remind you of one who has never loved and never will love another but thee.”

He also wrote her this:

Once more a prince (oh, my only princess!)
My love for you will never cease
Resisting time and death
My faith has no need of a fortress,
A deep moat or fortified tower,
For you are my lady, queen and mistress
For whom my love will be eternal!

Chateau Chenonceau

Goujon Fireplace in the bedroom at Chenonceau (Chris Brooker photo)

Chateau Chenonceau bedroom (photo from Phareouest)

Diane and Henry spent nearly all their time together, traveled from house to house but were happiest at Anet and Château Chenonceau (a house that Catherine had long coveted and that she took back from Diane the minute Henry died).

They signed letters together

Their combined initials were everywhere in their shared houses, even on the floor.

Lucky for us, food is not forgotton in the narrative of the book (you must be hungry by now!). To set the scene, Princess Michael explains, “The mid-sixteenth century was also the time when French gourmet food emerged. French cuisine began to achieve such a reputation that foreign princes sent to France for chefs and pastry cooks. The expression “faire bon chère” litters the correspondence of the time and was used to signify the quality of the guests’ welcome and comfort as much as the excellence of the fare. “

“Cookbooks had been available since the advent of printing and the cult of cuisine was developing. Already some members of the court were known for their appreciation and knowledge of good food, among them Henri’s friend Jacques de Saint-André, who wrote of the splendor of the food to be had at Anet and Chenonceau.”

Ambrosius Benson - Le concert apres le repas

“At her own table, Diane preferred to drink vin claret or rosé. Her wines came from her vineyards at Chenonceau or from Beaune. Although dairy products were considered more suited for the use of the common people, Diane believed in healthy food and served butter and cheese from Normandy at her table. Traditionally, there were three courses for dinner or supper— boiled food, followed by the roasts, and then fruit— a departure from earlier in the century, when dishes were brought in one after the other with no heed for order. Fish, including whale and dolphin, came from Rouen and was often cooked in white wine. It was used especially on Fridays and on “days of obligation” (religious fast days). According to Erasmus, during Lent, the kitchen was busier than ever as the chefs were hard put to render delectable the meager rations permitted. Diane’s table was always laden with an abundance of food. Pork was butchered into ribs or chops, or was sometimes served as hams or sausages made from the trotters or the ears. Beef, lamb (the tongue was a delicacy), and poultry were in abundant supply. Vegetables— especially cabbage, spinach, leeks, and turnips— were cooked in lots of water (probably boiled tasteless) and often pureed to digest more easily. Cooked together with the meat, the vegetables ended up as a sort of stew, which was easy to eat with a spoon. There were still no forks. All this fare was accompanied by a variety of sauces, hashed meat, and pastries. Wine was drunk warm (blood temperature), but slowly the fashion for chilling white wine came from Italy. White wine was then drunk at cellar temperature or snow and ice added. The Italian [actually French Huguenot] sculptor Bernard Palissy designed a clay drinking fountain for keeping wine chilled in the summer months” (do look at Palissy’s extraordinary work that prefigures art nouveau by centuries – wild magical stuff.  He was conferred the title of  "the king's inventor of rustic figurines" by Catharine de Medici and was a personal favorite.  She even protected the Protestant Palissy from prison and death).

Francis I pewter with salamander

late 16th century French fork and knife

16th Century royal napkin from England

“Presentation of food also became important— the look of it as well as the aroma and the taste. Even the table linen was impregnated with the scent of lavender, flowers, and herbs, and exquisite dinner services were used. Flowers covered the tables and cloth. Napkins were made of damask, toothpicks of gold and silver, and there were small silver dishes filled with sugared almonds. The napkins were scented and often tucked into necklines to save clothes from falling food and messy fingers. Each place was laid with a goblet, a knife, a spoon, and sometimes a smaller spoon like a teaspoon. The only utensil resembling a fork was a two-pronged spike used by servants for holding down the meat during carving. Elegant guests ate with just two fingers— their hands regularly washed in bowls brought to individuals at the table.”

 18th century copy of Bernard Palissy plate with Henry's initials (with a C for Catharine)

To give you a sense of Diane’s table, a recipe from one of the great medieval cookbooks by Chiquart, written in France at the beginning of the 15th century. It details a menu for a grand dinner (considering Francis had 18,000 in his retinue it would have been a Herculean task to feed them normally, let alone on a special occasion), and then gives nearly 100 recipes for dishes served (although many are very similar to one another with only minor changes).

Chiquart writes in his book, Du Fait de Cuisine 

“In the year of grace 1400 Aymé, first duke of Savoy, my most dread lord, received as a guest my lord of Burgundy and for this I, Chyquart, who was his cook in those times, in the course of my duty made, prepared, and ordered to be prepared many notable dishes for the dinners and suppers of this feast; and so ordered, made, or had made by the command of my said and most dread lord at the first course of the dinner of the first day, while ordering to be written down the things which follow…”

It does seem like there was a certain ying and yang to meat and fish dishes with one offsetting the other on the banquet table. I was curious when I read the recipe for a sauce that had a bean base. I had to try it. Although it was used on fried fish, I thought it would be great with chicken… especially if wood grilled. The smoky flavor complements the sauce. What you have in the end is an interesting proto-pesto that is quite rich and creamy but low fat and high flavor.

Du Fait de Cuisine 1400

26. And to make pottage opposite the bruet of Savoy made above for a meat service: to make another of fish opposite that one, take your white bread and cut off the crust very well and take it according to the quantity of potage which you should make, and then put it to soak in the purée of peas and white wine and verjuice according to the quantity which you are making of the said potage. And arrange that you have a great deal of parsley, and sage, hyssop, and marjoram; and have a great quantity of the said parsley picked over, and put in the other three in moderation because they are strong; and put together, then wash them in three or four changes of water well and properly, and take and press them between your hands and drain off the water and wring them and put in a mortar and bray well and properly; and when they are very well brayed put them with your bread. And take your spices, ginger, grains of paradise and a little pepper--and not too much--and strain it very well into a fair cornue; and then put them to boil in a large, fair and clean pot according to the quantity which you have, and let it just come to a boil so that the color of the greens is not lost; and to make it nicely put in a little bit of saffron to make it bright green. And when it is brought to the sideboard take your fried fish and put on your serving dishes, and then put the said potage on top, and scatter pomegranate seeds on top.

Herb Potage from Du Fait de Cuisine

¼ c blanched almonds, roughly chopped
½ c torn bread without crust, lightly packed
1 c cooked white beans
¼ c w wine
¼ c verjuice
1 T sugar or to taste
salt to taste
½ to 1 t ginger
½ to 1 t grains of paradise
½ t pepper
½ c roughly chopped parsley
1 T each chopped fresh marjoram, sage and hyssop (use thyme if you can’t find hyssop)
½ t saffron in 1 T hot water
pomegranate seeds

Put the almonds in a blender or processor. Grind. Then add the bread and beans and the wine and verjuice. Add enough water to make a good paste. Next add the sugar, salt spices and herbs and saffron and blend.

Put into a saucepan and warm gently (it must be heated or the spices taste raw and bitter). Add enough water to make a sauce consistency. Check for flavor (you may want to add verjuice or spice as the beans seem to mute the flavors). The original recipe does admonish that you shouldn’t go overboard with spice or the stronger herbs so don’t lose the spices in the sauce but you can put in a bit more than you might think.

Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and serve.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Kitty Fisher, 18th Century Celebrity and Salmagundy Chicken Salad

Engraving of Kitty Fisher (1741-67)

Kitty Fisher, one of the hottest restaurants in London today, is named for one of the most notorious courtesans of the 18th century. It’s located on Shepard Market in Mayfair just a stone’s throw from the palace and the old stomping ground of Miss Fisher (her digs had been just ‘round the corner)

Original oil by Joshua Reynolds at Petworth House

In her review of the place, Fay Maschler of The Evening Standard described food that was fit for the sybaritic tastes of a grand courtesan:

Whipped cod’s roe (Photo from @theskinnybib)

“Whipped cod’s roe on narrow fingers of grilled bread spread with fennel butter and sprinkled with micro herbs has an intensity of pent-up flavour belied by its baby pink hue."

Sliced sirloin with blackened onion cups filled with meat juices
(Photo from @theskinnybib)

“…rare beef sirloin with a narrow frame of delicious fat... pink fir apple potatoes stuffed with Tunworth cheese and dressed with a mustardy emulsion… grilled bread and burnt onion butter. The butter is whipped — de rigueur these days and suitably racy here — dusted with onion ash and served with pieces of crusty loaf anointed with oil and burnished.” Positively erotic, isn't it –– even simple bread has a glistening allure.

Bread is a very important player in Kitty Fisher mythology. Story goes, reported by no less than Casanova himself, “La Walsh told us that it was at her house that she [Kitty] swallowed a hundred-pound bank note on a slice of buttered bread which Sir Richard Atkins, brother of the beautiful Mrs. Pitt, gave her. Thus did the Phryne make a present to the Bank of London.”

It seems an important element of Kitty’s image was her extravagant disregard for money while at the same time having an unquenchable appetite for it. Greed was one of her defining characteristics – there’s even a children’s rhyme to memorialize it – remembered long after her name has been forgotten.

"Lucy Locket lost her pocket*,
Kitty Fisher found it;
But ne'er a penny was there in't
Except the binding round it."

(*dresses had no pockets in those days. Women tied pouches to their waist or thigh under their clothes and kept their valuables there –– it of course had sexual connotations.)

Kitty did very well indeed. It was said she spent £12,000 a year and was the first courtesan in London to keep liveried servants. She was terribly fond of diamonds.

In 18th century London, the public couldn’t get enough of Kitty Fisher –– the Kim Kardashian of her day to be sure. Then as now, they were forever hungry for celebrity exploits, or as Michael Deacon said in The Telegraph, “the grubby doings of attention-hungry nonentities”. Her every action was reported in the press of the day (London had many papers with many editions each day clambering over any news they could wrangle to fill column space).

Her rise began when she fell off her horse in March of 1759. The papers went mad for it, (probably because the fall revealed a lack of undergarments). At first she wailed then laughed gaily and thousands of words in papers and pamphlets, even books were written about the event with varying degrees of salacious details depending on the taste level of the paper – from the The Daily Post and Town and Country to the sensationalist rags of Grub Street ––Kitty’s reputation was made.

A review by Deacon of The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution explained, “the leading harlots of the day were the subject of fevered reporting in London’s nascent press. They inspired poems and songs, and had racehorses named after them. They also, unsurprisingly, inspired the word “pornography” – although not quite in the sense that we understand it today. The word’s literal meaning is “a description of prostitutes” (from the Greek).

I found a great deal of material about her in a richly researched article, “The Lives of Kitty Fisher” by Marcia Pointon. A contemporary pamphlet entitled, Horse and Away to St. James’s Park gushed about the famous incident:

“Upon our coming up, we found it to be the celebrated Miss K---y F----r; her military attendant had raised her from the Ground. [...] The nymph was in tears, but rather owing from Apprehensions of her Danger than the sense of Pain; for whether it was owing to any thing her Heroe had said, or from finding the danger over, she, with a prity childishness, stopped the torrent tears, and burst into a fit of Laughing. [...] A superb Chair soon arrived, [...] she flung herself into it, and away she swung through a Crowd of Gentlemen and Laides, who by this time were coming up. A sort of murmur was heard: but one Gentleman louder than the rest, spoke up, and though what he said was a little interlarded with a flower of rhetorick too common [...] yet the sentiment was honest, and the reprimand such as deserved. D--n my B---d, says he [...] if this is not too much. Who the D---l would be modest, when they may live in this state by turning. Why ’tis enough to debauch half the women in London.”

Each painting Joshua Reynolds  painted of her was churned into thousands of engravings that were sold to keep her hungry public satisfied (it seems there were from 4 to 7 paintings done of Kitty by Reynolds – she was a favorite subject and probably his mistress as well). Books were also ‘Inspired’
by Kitty, “Miss Kitty F--h-r’s Miscellany, which appeared the following year, comprises a collection of lewd poems appended to which is a series of observations on the antics described contained in a sermon by Methodists. The collection is dedicated to Kitty Fisher: who is ‘now the object of universal desire from the hobbling, gouty Lord, down to the apprentice, who (his teeth watering) earnestly stares his affection to you’.”

Even gentlemen’s watches were adorned with her image thanks to the fashion of watch papers – a protection for expensive timepieces. Her visage was engraved in a small circle of paper placed inside the watch that a gentleman could surreptitiously admire as he checked the time (often the papers were quite lewd).

You can see the original, un-censored HERE)

Sometimes even the interiors of the timepieces were enameled with sexual scenes (Pointon said they were known as ‘lubricious watches’ or ‘bonking watches’ –– boys will forever be boys).

Reynolds’ Kitty as Cleopatra

Cindy McCreery noted in her The Satirical Gaze: Prints of Women in Late Eighteenth-century England, “As early as 1759 Reynolds portrait of Kitty Fisher as Cleopatra attracted comment in the London Chronicle. Through it’s reproduction as engravings, a portrait ostensibly painted for a private audience became a public image, available in London print shops….Such images promoted the view that courtesans were exotic creatures, who, along with actresses and certain aristocrats, led a more glamorous, hedonistic, and independent life than the rest of female society. Through these prints, ordinary people gained a window on the lives of top courtesans, and by extension on the luxurious and apparently carefree world of elite society.”

A contemporary ballad summed up what many of us feel about the “attention-hungry nonentities” of yesterday's Kitty or today's Kim –– why so much fuss over so little?

What means this strange infatuation,
That rages at the head o’th’ nation?
Is she alone the finest whore
Among, at least, an hundred score?
Are there not fairer on the town,
That walk the streets and take a crown?
Where, the author asks, will all this folly end?
However, he concludes, to give the devil his due,
‘the fault is not in her – but you.’

Poor Kitty died at 26. Legend has it her skin-whitening lead cosmetics were the culprit (they would have both poisoned her and rotted her famous white skin) but there is no proof of it. It could have easily been TB or small pox or a myriad of diseases that the age was prey to. She had just been married a few months earlier and was going to Bath for a cure for whatever she had when she died. She was buried in her best ball gown. A tragic end to a shooting star ––  but better than the painful final chapters of most of the great courtesans. Their jewel encrusted time on top was usually very brief followed by disease, penury and early death. At least she was spared the penury –– she never had to beg for bread.

Yes, bread –– here we are, full circle and back to food. What did Kitty eat?  Well that steak dish at Kitty Fisher's restaurant would not be too out of place at Kitty's table (although underdone for the time). The cuisine of mid 18th century London was rougher than the French influenced Baroque period’s highly decorated repasts. English style cooking in Kitty's day was simpler and less spiced than it had been a century earlier. The food Kitty and her friends would have enjoyed would have been roasted, stewed and not highly spiced. Many of the dishes would not seem out of place on today's tables.

Then as now, one of the best sources for recipes for the period would be Hannah Glasse.

Hannah Glasse (1708-70)

Unike the lovely Kitty Fisher, Hannah Glasse was nearly well born – the illegitimate daughter of a country squire who raised her as his own till his early death. Unlike Kitty she wasn’t much of a looker but she was ambitious and her desire to part ways with Frenchified cooking led to her The Art of Cookery, in 1747. Her preface declared “I have heard of a cook that used six pounds of butter to fry twelve eggs – when everybody knows (that understands cooking) that half a pound is full enough or more than need be used: but then it would not be French, So much is the blind folly of this age that they would rather be imposed on by a French booby than give encouragement to a good English cook!”

The book was to remain in print for 100 years in both Britain and America –– sadly Hannah saw little benefit and had to sell her copyright in 1754 before the book really started selling. She ended in debtor’s prison multiple times and even though she tried writing other books she never could recapture the success of her first and died in 1770.

I thought I would make Glasse's refreshing salad to celebrate Kitty's sparkling life. It's called a Salmagundy (from the French word "salmagondis" meaning a hodgepodge) –– something between a chef and a Cobb salad. Interestingly, the original version of Glasse's recipe is a bit different than the American with slightly different ingredients –– the later American version with barberries, horseradish, spinach and sorrel reminds me more of the 17th century (the editors doubtless responded to changing tastes 50-odd years later). The 18th century version is simple and quite good with pearl onions playing a strong part in the tower of salad. It was even recommended to use nasturtiums for garnishing -- very modern indeed! Composed salads like celebrity itself,  have remained on the menu for hundreds of years and have never really gone out of fashion.

I should say, both women left their mark, but Hannah Glasse’s celebrity is earned and has been, and will I imagine be, more enduring.

To Make Salmagundy (American version 1805)

Mince two chickens, either boiled or roasted, very fine, or veal, if you please: also mince the yolks of hard eggs very small, and mince the whites very small by themselves; shred the pulp of two or three lemons very small, then la in your dish a layer of mince-meat, and a layer of yolks of eggs, a layer of whites, a layer of anchovies, a layer of sorrel, a layer of spinach, and shallots small. When you have filled a dish with ingredients, set an orange or lemon on the top; then garnish with horse-radish scraped; barberries, and sliced lemon. Beat up some oil with the juice of lemon, salt, and mustard, thick, and serve it up for a second course, side dish, or middle-dish, for supper.

To Make Salamongundy
 (English version 1747)

Take two or three Roman or Cabbage Lettice, and when you have washed them clean, swing them pretty dry in a Cloth; then beginning at the open End, cut them cross-ways, as fine as a good big Thread, and lay the Lettices so cut, about an Inch thick all over the Bottom of the Dish. When you have thus garnished your Dish, take a Couple of cold roasted Pullets, or Chickens, and cut the Flesh off the Breasts and Wings into Slices, about three Inches long, a Quarter of an Inch broad, and as thin as a Shilling; lay them upon the Lettice round the End to the Middle of the Dish and the other towards the Brim; then having boned and cut six Anchovies each into eight Pieces, lay them all between each Slice of the Fowls, then cut the lean Meat of the Legs into Dice, and cut a Lemon into small Dice; then mince the Yolks of four Eggs, three or four Anchovies, and a little Parsley, and make a round Heap of these in your Dish, piling it up in the Form of a Sugar-loaf, and garnish it with Onions, as big as the Yolk of Eggs, boiled in a good deal of Water very tender and white. Put the largest of the Onions in the Middle on the Top of the Salamongundy, and lay the rest all round the Brim of the Dish, as thick as you can lay them; then beat some Sallat-Oil up with Vinegar, Salt and Pepper and pour over it all. Garnish with Grapes just scalded, or French beans blanched, or Station 

[nasturtium] Flowers, and serve it up for a first Course.


2 or 3 lettuce leaves, shredded
1 large chicken breast, sautéed and sliced into strips
6 anchovies, sliced in ½
2 T roughly chopped parsley
1 lemon, peeled and cut into supremes without pith
4 hard boiled eggs, yolk and white diced separately
1 dozen small onions boiled till tender
1 cup of grapes
handful of cooked green beans and or nasturtium flowers if available

½ c olive oil
3 T white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
chopped herbs (optional)

Lay the lettuce down on a plate or low bowl

Lay down the strips of chicken and anchovies, leaving a hem of lettuce showing.

Pile the egg yolk, white, lemon and parsley in a little mound. Lay one onion on top and then the rest to decorate the edge of the plate. Use the beans and grapes decoratively as well.

Mix together the oil and vinegar and herbs for the dressing and serve on the side to wither pour over the salad at table or have each diner add to their servings.

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