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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Amber said...

Beautiful post!
Wonderful salad!

La Table De Nana said...

I didn't know the resto was based on a real person..Could have been TB you are so right..r the lead concentartions must have been so high.
I am not even interested.How did they become interesting?
Your plate looks very pretty..I just read your poutine article:) Well done..curd cheese is saltier that mozza..IMHO. I have never eaten a poutine though..but tried curd cheese;)

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Amazing as always! I saw your pin of her on pinterest and knew we were in for a treat!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

That's a fascinating comparison between Kim K and Kitty. I can definitely see it though! :D

Barbara said...

Can we hope that 250 years from now there will NOT be anything like this written about Kim? Nothing interesting there, will never understand. (Is there a poem about her? Will there be a restaurant named after her? God forbid.)
Unfortunately for our society, I seem to be in the minority.
At any rate, the salad looks fabulous and I'd love to taste that cod dish. I love roe...don't see it on restaurant menus very often, in fact, can't remember the last time I saw it. My mother used to cook perch roe. divine.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

As you said "Boys will be Boys" so likely there will always be a Kitty or a Kim. The restaurant's food looks wonderful as well as the chicken salad. I love your beautiful photos and food styling!