The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 11
German Home Life. — III. Food
German Home Life.
By a Lady.
Who sent the food, and who the cooks, is a matter of history. A good cook is the Black Swan of domestic life; she is an epoch, an era; we date from her; we are ready to write her name in gold and sardonyx on sandalwood. 'That was when Jane Stubbs was cook,' we say, and memory casts a fond halo over the feats of that female cordon bleu. Pate has been kind to France in the matter of cooks; French men and women are born with gastronomic and culinary perceptions. Given the poorest materials, they will produce a palatable and wholesome dish, at once appetising and nourishing. 'In France we dine,' said an obliging Frenchman, sitting next to me at a German table-d'hôte. 'In Germany they feed.' 'And in England, what do you do there?' asked a somewhat splenetic German relative, to whom, in an unwary moment, I had quoted the above epigrammatic remark. 'I will tell you, meine Beste. You boil your vegetables in water, much water, and eat grass like Nebuchadnezzar. You know one meat, the biftek, bleeding; and one Mehlspeise, the blom-budding.' I confess, being far from home and all its pleasures, the sarcastic enumeration of the delights of our insular table wounded me, and I lifted up my voice in feeble protest. But let this criticism temper the steel of our pen, and put a little milk and honey into the ink of our observations.
It was said by one of the ancients (I think Tacitus in his 'Germania') that the Teutons were distinguished by having the largest volume of intestines of all the peoples of Europe (I feel a certain hesitation in quoting these words, which, writ in elegant Latin, might pass muster); but certainly no one who has lived in Germany can aver that the modern Teuton has degenerated from his ancestors in powers of absorption. Take, for instance, the every-day experience of a table-d'hôte, where gentle and simple are gathered together, and where the manners of the majority will impress themselves on the mind of the impartial spectator. Quantity, not quality, appears to be the motto of the repast; to eat, if possible, twice of every dish, to splutter over the soup, to seize the sauce en passant, to perform tricks of knife-jugglery that might strike awe into the breast of a Japanese adept; to lap up the gravy, to drink salad dressing off knife-blades, to scour the inside of the dish and the platter with lumps of bread, to swallow breathlessly, and after a fashion that somehow suggests the swallowing is a mere preliminary operation, presently to be supplemented in leisurely ruminating hours; to fill up the pauses in the interminable ceremony by picking the teeth and the dingy dessert with alternate impartiality, is a picture so true as to be trite, and so unattractive as to be scarcely excusable, except upon historic grounds. Everyone who has spent even only a few weeks in Germany must have beheld and suffered from such scenes.
It is not my intention to intrench upon the prerogatives of the cookery-book, or to give in any detail the list of German dishes with which I might easily furnish my readers. To speak otherwise than generally, in a paper of this kind, would be out of place; but we may be amused by noting the various points of difference and similarity between our neighbours' modus vivendi and our own.page 290
There are three great characteristic divisions of German food—the Salt, the Sour, and the Greasy: the salt, as exemplified by ham and herrings; the sour, as typified by Kraut and salads; the greasy, as demonstrated by vegetables stewed in fat, sausages swimming in fat, sauces surrounded by fat, soups filmy with fat. If we were to go into the philosophy of food, we should probably find that the salt gives the appetite for the grease, that the grease is necessary for warmth-giving purposes, as well as to supplement the absence of nutritive quality in what may be roundly spoken of as a potato diet; and that the sour acts as a digestive agent on the grease. The food of the lower orders in Germany is poor and coarse in the extreme:—thin coffee without milk or sugar (sugar is an expensive item, and is looked upon as a luxury; except in seaboard towns, white colonial sugar is unknown, the brown sugar rarely used and little thought of); black rye bread, which is always more or less sour (being made without yeast); potatoes stewed in fat, with a mixture of onions, apples, carrots, plums, or pears; now and then a bit of fat pork with treacle; a mess of Sauerkraut; lentils, beans, and a piece of 'Blutwurst'; mysterious entrails of birds, and beasts, and fishes that might have puzzled the Augurs of old; Mehlsuppe, Biersuppe; cabbage boiled in grease, and a slice of raw ham. No beer for the women; no white bread. Schnapps for the men, distilled from corn or potatoes; a fiery, coarse spirit that would be disastrous in its effects but for the mass of food with which it is mixed. It has already been seen how domestic servants fare, the food in private houses being as superior to that found in the peasant's hut, as the table in an English middle-class kitchen is superior to the scanty meal of the underpaid agricultural labourer. In mountainous districts the people live almost entirely on milk, flour, eggs, butter, cheese, and cream. To taste meat is an event in their lives; nor do they feel the deprivation; for the pure mountain air, the fresh out-door life of the Alm, the healthy exercise of climbing and descending, of rowing across the lakes, and tending the cattle, makes them healthy, vigorous, and cheerful after a fashion unknown to, and impossible for, the dweller in towns and cities. In proof of this we have not to go to foreign countries for convincing examples. We have only to look at what things may be done in a kilt, on 'whusky and parritch,' to be convinced of the important part fresh air and abundant exercise play in the matter of muscular development.
Let us begin in our survey with the first meal of the day, and see of what it consists.
There is no family breakfast table as with us, where sons and daughters gather round the board, letters are received and read, newspapers scanned, and the great affairs of the world, as made known by telegram, imparted and commented upon. We look in vain for the damask table cloth, the steaming urn, the symmetrical arrangement of plate and china that welcome us in the middle class English household. No trim girls in bright cotton or well-cut homespun gowns; no young men, whose fresh faces tell of tubs and Turkish towels, are here to greet us. There may be a linen cloth upon the table (though even this detail is far from general), and there will be a coffee pot, and a milk jug, and sugar basin, set down anyhow anywhere; a basket, either of wicker or Japan, piled up with fresh Semmelen, perhaps a stray plate or two; a disorderly group of cups of different colours and designs; no butter; no knives and forks; possibly a plate with a few page 291 milk rolls, of somewhat finer flour than the ordinary, and the breakfast equipage is complete. The first comer (if a lady, in dressing gown and cap; if a man, in Schlafrock and Pantoffeln) will help her, or himself, to coffee and rolls, probably eating and drinking like peripatetic philosophers, for there is no inducement to 'sit down and make yourself comfortable.' If it be winter time, the coffee pot and milk jug will be placed on the stove instead of on the table, and the next comer will go through the same formula of solitary feeding, departing, as the case may be, for the enjoyment of the post-prandial cigar, or to supplement the somewhat scantily represented 'mysteries of the toilette.' The last comer will enjoy the dregs of the coffee pot and the drains of the milk jug on an oil-cloth cover or crumpled table cloth, slopped with the surplusage of successive coffee cups, and besprinkled with the crumbs of consumed rolls.
The déjeuner à la fourchette, which is an institution in France, dwindles, so far at least as the ladies of the household are concerned, into a surreptitious shaving of sausage, or a sly sardine, partaken of in solitude and haste between the conflicting claims of the kitchen and the Friseusinn. The young (old or middle-aged) military heroes, who will probably represent the male portion of the household, will prudently 'restore' themselves on their way home from drill or parade in a more substantial manner than that which suffices for the weaker vessels; thus relieving the much be-plagued Hausfrau from any more elaborate sacrifices on the gastronomic altar.
But though breakfast, as we have seen, may leave much to be desired, it yet contains elements of excellence not to be overlooked. Imprimis there are no cows with iron tails in Germany, and the rich pure milk makes the well-flavoured, if somewhat thin, coffee taste excellent. The sugar is beet-root sugar, and does not sweeten so well as the real colonial article, but is white and sparkling. The crescent-shaped milk rolls (Hörnchens) are crisply baked, and make it easy to dispense with butter; the Semmel in its fresh state is not to be despised, though, as the day advances, it becomes leathery and tough, and at nightfall you will long for an honest slice from a good wheaten loaf. The sour rye bread, ranging from black to a light brown, is much condemned by some as affording little nourishment; nevertheless one may acquire a taste for it, and many persons declare that they prefer it to the tasteless insipidity of the white roll. In some parts of Germany you can get what is called 'Englisches Brod' baked in small cakes; it is made of very fine white flour, with a mixture of butter and milk and a dash of sugar in it, that quite destroys any resemblance the name might lead you to expect. Bakeries are under Government supervision; not only the weight of the bread, but the quality of the flour is tested; and as neither the day nor the hour of the inspector's coming can be calculated upon, evasion is almost impossible, and cases of adulteration and light weight so exceptional, as not to be worth quoting.
I shall, perhaps, surprise the prejudiced amongst my readers when I say that I found the matériel, as a rule, excellent in Germany. Bread, butter, milk, and eggs abundant. The market well stocked with fruit and vegetables of the commoner kind (several of the latter unknown to us might be adopted with advantage into our bills of fare). Poultry, as a rule, is poor, but cheap. Pigeons to be had for a few pence; game, in season, generally plentiful. No one who has ever tasted in a private house page 292 a German Rehbraten with cream sauce, will dispute its excellence; the claims of roast partridge with Sauerkraut (this latter not the greasy mess table-d'hôte dinners may suggest, hut a delicately tempered digestive) to recognition have been acknowledged by the descendants of Vatel and Ude, for it is a dish to be found in every well compiled French menu of the present day. What housewife would not gratefully hail the fact that she might buy a saddle of hare just as we buy a saddle of mutton, which, well larded and baptized with sour cream, is so mellow and melting a morsel that you might unhesitatingly set it solus before a king. The hare is never trussed and sent up to table with its long ears, lean head, and unpleasantly grinning teeth, as with us; if you buy the whole animal (and unless you want some small and appétisant addition to your dinner you will probably do so), the head will be taken off, the legs broken at the joints, and the interior of the animal will be utilised for the servants' dinner, forming a dark and 'wicked broth' called Hasenpfeffer, into the mysteries of which occult preparation I never ventured to pry, though frequently I saw and heard it partaken of with sounds of succulent approval in the kitchen. Sweetbreads, for which your butcher calmly demands ten shillings a pair during the London season, are to be procured for such a price as need not wound the conscience of the tenderest Hausfrau; veal kidneys (who ever knew how delicious a veal kidney could be until he partook of Nierenschnitte ?) need not exercise your mind on the score of economy, nor need you even hesitate much about 'caviare to the general,' or pâté de foie gras to the particular. The tables of the world have recognised the merits of Strasbourg pies, Westphalia hams, Pomeranian goose-breasts, Brunswick sausages, Bavarian beer, Lübeck marchpane, and Hamboro' beef; no contemptible list of exportable edibles. Of the beef and mutton I cannot speak in glowing terms. Nevertheless they are to be had fairly good, and in the days of the small Residenz towns the reigning Duke or Prince would generally have his beeves and sheep fattened after approved methods, so that with a little interest and civility, one could usually so far soften the heart of the slaughterer (Schlachter) as to have an English-looking sirloin and a mature leg of mutton as often as one wished upon one's table. In the same way there would be a poultry farm or Fasanerie, where the doomed birds would be shut in little pens and 'genudelt,' a la mode de Strasbourg, for the Royal or Ducal table, so that a plump roast capon or pheasant was quite within the region of recurring possible good things. On a changé tout cela, however, and doubtless such concessions are reckoned amongst the corruptions of the past. Veal is better in Germany than with us; and though at all times unwholesome and indigestible as food, forms a pleasing variety in the list of ordinary dishes that appear on the homely board. It is a drawback, to use a Hibernicism, that all the roasts (like those that did coldly furnish forth the Queen of Denmark's marriage tables) are baked. Yet, baked meat, well-basted and not overdone, forms a concentrated kind of food that use makes almost as palatable as the spitted joint, and seems to be making its way to popularity here. Pork is not a favourite dish on the tables of the rich; that is, not in its simpler form; in its more complex preparation pig is a popular meat with all classes. Schlachtwurst, Mettwurst, Blutwurst, Rauchenden, Leberwurst, (this latter being pigs' livers, prepared like pâté de foie gras, delicately spiced and truffled) are only page 293 a few of the endless popular varieties of the German sausage. Ham is generally eaten raw, well smoked, and if presented at tea or supper, a little wooden platter and a sharp knife will be placed beside you in order that you may cut it into small pieces such as are used by cooks for larding. Taken in this way as a relish, the flavour is sweet and appetising, but the uncooked state of the meat renders it tough (zähe), and involves more mastication than is agreeable.
Some years ago a cry went abroad of whole districts suffering from try china; and in some parts of the country not only was the mortality alarming, but the sufferings of the afflicted so frightful, that Government commissions with properly appointed medical officers were told off to inquire into the subject. The result was, that in every town a medical officer was appointed to certify the wholesome condition of all the pigs slaughtered before the butcher was permitted to offer the meat for human food. In this country, where pork and ham are not eaten raw, such measures are unnecessary. Unpleasant as the idea of such parasites must be, we know that the boiling would destroy their dangerous qualities; but in Germany, where uncooked ham is the rule and not the exception, and where the sausages that are eaten cold are invariably only smoked, the precaution is an emphatically necessary one.
Fish, except in seaport towns (and these are few and far between in Germany), is a scarce and doubtful commodity; the Elbe and Rhine salmon very inferior in flavour to our own, and always dear. When produced on great occasions, this fish is almost always served cold, encased in a sour jelly if whole, or accompanied by varieties of mayonnaise sauces if only portions of it are presented to the guests. Carp and tench, those muddiest of the fresh-water finny-tribe, are spoken of with bated breath, as of delicacies fit for the table of Apicius himself; but they are generally so disguised with vinegar and complicated flavourings, that the mud may be said to yield to treatment. Not only are the salt-water fish very inferior to our own, but of infinitely loss variety. No sloping marble slabs, sluiced with fresh water, adorned with mountains of ice and forests of fennel; no piled-up lobsters in gorgeous array, splendid salmon, many tinted mackerel, delicate whitings or domestic soles, colossal cod, ministerial white bait or silver sprats, will tempt at once your eyes and your palate; you will probably have to dive into an obscure shop, whence issues anything but invitingly 'a most ancient and fishlike smell,' when, in answer to your demands, a doubtful-looking marine monster will be pulled out of a mysterious tub at the back of the counter, with the remark, Heut' giebt's nur Schellfisch ('how unpleasantly,' as Thackeray's schoolboy says of the monkeys, 'they always smelt'), or Dorsch, or Barsch, as the case may be. In the so-called fish-shop there will be all kinds of pickled herrings (these form the foundation of that most popular of German dishes, Häring-salat), bloaters (Bücklinge), small dried sprats (Kieler Sprotten), perhaps even pickled salmon and a pot of caviare may tempt you; for the love of Germans for every kind of salt and dried fish (perhaps in default of fresh) is apparently an appetite that grows by what it feeds upon.
I remember tasting in Mecklenburgh a most dainty dish of dabs, or flat fish, smoked in nettle-smoke (this gave them a peculiar delicate flavour) and stewed in fresh cream; the accompaniment being a delicious kind of black bread, short and rather sweet, liberally bespread with page 294 freshly churned butter. Very excellent, too, are pigeons braised and served with milk rice; the rice being so boiled that each grain is distinct, and surrounded with the rich milk in which it has been cooked, so that it tastes almost like cream. This custom of serving rice, Gries, and different sorts of farinaceous food, cooked with milk, as we serve vegetables, with roast meat, is one that we might well imitate; we have the beginning of it in our bread-sauce with birds, but in Germany it is introduced in a variety of forms. Rabbits are rejected by the poorest as vermin, unfit for human food; by which means a cheap and not unwholesome dish, when partaken of occasionally, is lost to the labouring man.
Potatoes in bucketsful, and prepared in fifty different fashions, form the staple of the food of the lower orders.
Dinner, which in Germany is often a painfully protracted business, lasting on occasions even three or four hours, is, in a general way, partaken of between the hours of twelve and two, according to the occupation of the master and the school hours of the children of the house. It is scarcely served in a more appetising manner than the scrambling breakfast. There is a want of cleanliness, of order, of propriety; if I may say so, a want of dignity about the table arrangements that would almost suggest the total absence of any æsthetic feeling in those who sit round the ill-appointed board. The servants are noisy, the cloth is crumpled, the dishes are slammed down upon the table, the gravy is tilted over, the glass is miscellaneous, the knives and forks are put in a heap, the plates are not changed frequently enough. No crisp watercress or curly parsley adorns your cold joint, or sets off the complexion of your butter; it is thought no solecism for every one to plunge his knife into the salt-cellar, to pick his teeth at table, to stretch across and reach for whatever he wants. Everything seems to be done in a hurry, and yet everything is served separately, so that there is nothing to distract the attention from the matter in hand. There is a sense at once of repletion and emptiness in a German dinner. Your stomach has been filled, but not fortified. You have begun with a soup which, mathematically speaking may be said to represent length without breadth; this has been followed by the boulli, or soup meat, out of which all nourishment has been flayed, accompanied by a sour sauce, of Morscheln (a debased kind of mushroom), boiled in butter and vinegar; you will have abundance of vegetables stewed in fat or butter; sausages and lentils; some little dumplings called Klösse, compotes of cranberries and bilberries, stewed plums or cherries; a piece of roast veal, or a fowl (for roast read baked), with potato-salad, cabbage-salad, or Sauerkraut, and a Mehlspeise, this representing a rather better than average dinner in an ordinary German household.
At four o'clock coffee will be brought in; after which the master of the house will depart for his club, and the mistress will pay visits amongst her friends, until the time comes for the theatre. The family will not reassemble until supper, which will be taken between the hours of seven and nine, depending on the length of the opera or comedy, the days on which the ladies of the house are abonnées, and the various other family engagements and exigencies. This is a pleasant meal, resembling high tea. In many houses tea is served as with us, and though the flavour of it is very different from what we are accustomed to consider good, I confess I always hailed its appearance with satisfaction. page 295 Bread, butter, cold bam, sausage, tongue, hard boiled eggs, sardines, cheese, and cakes, with perhaps a few additions and alterations if friends share the meal, represent a German supper, or Abendessen. Bordeaux, or beer, or the wines of the country, are generally taken by the men in preference to tea. Cigars follow; the ladies retire into the withdrawing-room, and at ten o'clock everyone is in bed. All the housewives, as autumn wanes, lay in a goodly store of vegetables to last through the winter months, when nothing of the kind is to be procured for love or money. Potatoes are banked up in the cellars, cabbages, carrots, turnips, onions, are buried in layers of mould, whence your cook will extract them, uninjured by damp or frost, for the daily meal. Vegetables of the finer sort, such as French beans, peas, &c., are, as they come into season, preserved for winter Use in tins, the process observed being a very simple one; the vegetables, with a little salt and water, are put into the tins, which are then hermetically sealed by a man who comes to solder them down; the tins are placed in another pan with boiling water, and if air bubbles rise to the surface when the water boils, you know that there is a flaw somewhere in the soldering; your man takes out the offending tin, ascertains where the defect is, and repairs it.
These tins of preserved vegetables may be bought now in nearly every English grocer's shop; but our simpler method of preparing their contents has not helped them to popularity. In Germany, where the flavour is aided by all sorts of spices, cinnamon, and nutmeg, sugar and butter, their flatness is much disguised, and they prove a welcome substitute for the real thing. Dried apples and pears and plums, which all take the place of vegetables, and enter largely into the ordinary domestic fare, are also bought wholesale for winter storage; and these with peas, beans, lentils, and rice, not to speak of Gries, Grütze, buckwheat, and other farinaceous sorts unknown here, afford a fair scope for variety in the domestic cuisine.
It will be objected that Germany could never have produced such fighting men, such deep-chested, loud-voiced, well-belted, straight-limbed, clanking, swaggering, awe-inspiring warriors as she has lately shown the world, on a fare of veal, vinegar, and chickens. Surely, these martial heroes, with the front of demi-gods and the endurance of Titans, show a valour, a high courage, and a well-fed confidence, whose muscularity speaks volumes in favour of the flesh pots of the Fatherland. 'Wine to make glad the heart of man, and oil to make him a cheerful countenance,' sings the warrior-king, David, who himself belonged to fighting times and to a fighting race, and was able to appreciate the fact that an ill-fed body makes a lily-liver and a craven, heart. We must have the healthy body if we are to have the healthy mind; we cannot expect doughty deeds without muscular development.
'Have you,' said a learned Theban once to me, 'observed (I am speaking as a physiologist) how inferior, in our country, is the woman-animal to the man-animal?' When a great physician, whose name is writ on the scroll of twenty learned societies in your own country, stoops to ask you such a leading question as this, you are bound not to take exception at the form in which he frames it, and to give him the answer he expects. 'Well,' he went on to say, 'the cause and the effect lie very near together. Observe, how do we feed our man-child, and how do we feed our woman-child? You will say, pretty much alike. They start fair. The page 296 peasant mother nourishes both. The active life of our women of the lower orders circulates the blood, helps them to assimilate the vast quantities of food they take, and this, of course, is nutritious. The baby cuts its teeth; it is promoted to another form of food, and from this moment the paths of the man-child and the woman-child are divergent. The boy goes to school, skates, turns (many an Englishman might be astonished at the feats of young German athletes in their Turn-hallen), makes walking-tours in his holidays, drills, marches, goes through his spring and autumn manoeuvres, develops the muscles of a Hercules and the appetite of a Briareus. His active, out-door life, the oxygen he breathes, the fatigue he undergoes, the discipline to which he submits, all contribute to develop a strong straight body, to enrich his blood, and to help him to assimilate his food. The brain is nourished, the muscles are nourished, the organs become strong and healthy. Look at our young officers, and say if their appetites be not heroic. Observe that they eat with large comprehensive hungriness; they restore themselves as they come from parade with a good basin of beef-bouillon, with a deep draught of Bavarian beer, with an orgie of oysters. Don't you remember Heine's 'Lieutenants and Fähndrichs, die sind die klugen Leute,' who come and lap up the Rhine-wine and the oysters, that were rained down in a beneficent hour on the Berlin Steinpflaster ? My most gracious, those are the typical men, the coming men, the useful men. Their great frames and loud voices are the outcome of healthily active lives. What has your woman-child been doing all this time? She has been sitting behind the stove (hinterm Ofen), sucking sugar-plums, and swallowing sweet hot coffee; nibbling greasy cakes in a stifling stove-exhausted atmosphere. She does not, as do your young English ladies, ride, walk, swim, take what you call 'the constitutional,' garden, boat, haymake, croquet, enjoy all those diversions we read of in your English books. The grease that nourishes her brother disagrees with her; she has no digestion; her teeth decay; she spoils their enamel with vinegar and lemonade; she pecks at an ounce of exhausted soup-meat; she takes here a snick and there a snack; she becomes bleichsüchtig, she is ordered to take the air; she totters out on high-heeled shoes to her coffee Kränzchen; she sits in a summer-house and tortures cotton round a hook; she goes to the theatre; she passes from one heated, exhausted atmosphere to another gas-and-oil-heated one. How can she be hungry? How can her food nourish her? Is it a wonder that she has no chest, no muscles, 110 race, no type, no physique?' cried my excited friend. 'Would the young man have been any better with such a life? And this is only the beginning of the story; between the Alpha of food and the Omega of planting new generations in the world there is a series of disastrous mistakes,' said Dr. Zukünftig, presenting me with a pamphlet On the Comparative Assimilative Powers of the Races of Modern Europe. I leave him in his professional enthusiasm, which led him into an eloquent and exhaustive verbal treatise on the complex causes of physical female degeneracy, together with a fine comprehensive scheme for the rehabilitation of the human race, by the abolition of gaslight, stove-heat, high-heels, coffee, corsets, scandal, and chignons, since in this paper food alone may reasonably engage our attention.
Of the drinks of Germany not much need be said. Rhine-wine and Bavarian beer are accepted liquids, and need no bush. But whilst upon the subject I may men- page 297 tion an institution, well worthy of emulation, in the little drinking booths which, planted at regular intervals along the hot and dusty thoroughfares, offer you such welcome refreshment in the shape of sparkling waters, effervescing lemonade, and soda and seltzer-water, for a penny the glass, with any-kind of fruit-syrup you choose added to the reviving and sparkling draught. It may be objected that in London such obstructive edifices would seriously impede the traffic and cause a block upon the pavement, and that shop-rent is too dear to admit of mineral water, ginger beer, lemonade, and raspberry vinegar being sold at a penny a glass. That may be so; but the boon of these little temples of refreshment, where the weary wayfarer deposits his modest coin and receives a long cool draught in return that sends him on his way rejoicing, is not to be overlooked or denied. Very excellent and quite worthy its poetic name, is the fragrant Maitrank that one gets in the 'merry month;' and not to be forgotten in the enumeration of dainty drinks is the imposing Bowle, for which nectar a vessel has been specially created and consecrated, and without which no convivial meeting or daneing-party would be held complete.
In many parts of Germany tea is looked upon as medicine. 'Is, then, the gracious lady ill?' is no uncommon question, if by chance an irresistible longing should overtake you for the 'cheering cup.' It is only to be had good in Russian houses; but even here not always quite according to English taste. Some take lemon instead of milk with it; others substitute red wine; the tea is often scented; and I remember once having a pound of tea sent me which I was told cost three pounds sterling, having come overland, and been bought by the kind donor at the fair of Nishni-Novgorod, of which I will only say, that a little Vanilla boiled in hay would have pleased me quite as well.
Fruit, as we see it in Covent Garden, or in the shop windows of Paris, is unknown in Germany. Perhaps the nearest approach to the super-excellence of which I speak may be found in the Hamburg market, but then the fruit is imported. Oranges, in the interior, cost twopence and threepence each, and even then are small, and of a very inferior quality. Gardening is a science very little understood; the outlay of manure, labour, time, and so on, which is necessary to produce anything like perfection in trees, plants, or vegetables, would be looked upon as thriftless waste. The pears, apples, plums, and cherries grow almost wild. To dig about them and rake them, to produce varieties, and to improve by selection of earths and manures the standard stocks, seems an almost unnecessary trouble, since you can pull up the old tree when it is exhausted, and plant another in a different spot. Quantity, not quality, is what you want; and certainly if quality were presented to you at the fraction of a farthing more than its rival quantity, you would, on merely conscientious grounds alone, reject the former for the latter.
If ever the happy time should come (and I doubt it, short of the millennium) when our cooks will permit the young ladies of the household to learn how to prepare the food that they seem paid to spoil, I hope a Median and Persian law may be passed at the same time to prevent these fair creatures from carrying the history of their culinary prowess and exploits beyond the dinner table. Let a stand be made against the persistent talk of food that poisons any attempt at conversation where two or three German housewives are gathered together. The unction with which greasy de- page 298 tails are discussed; the comparisons (specially odious, it seems to me, in post-prandial hours of repletion) of goose-grease dripping with bacon fat; the wearisome enumeration of mysteries connected with this dumpling, that sauce, or the other pickle, are a burthen to the flesh and a weariness to the spirit of any mere outsider grievous to be borne. Some of my best German friends were angry with me because I did not want to eat my cake and have it too. 'We are not ruminating animal?,' I said, trying to make my feeble stand against this eternal talk of food; 'and I don't care to chew the cud of culinary memories.' But such an ineffectual protest went down before the serried ranks of my opponents. Like the Civis Romanus sum of the old Romans, 'I am a German Hausfrau' is the last pæan of pride which these patient spouses know; and what wonder if they resent your unwilling homage, and think scorn of a temper that is contented to leave the discussion of dinner to the table or the kitchen?
'Sir,' said old Samuel Johnson, 'give me the man that thinks of his dinner; if he cannot get that well dressed, he may be suspected of inaccuracy in other things.' So he may. You don't think better of that man who boasts that, to him, the salmon is as the sole, the turnip as the truffle. On the contrary, you pity or despise his want of culture. You may put up with Lucullus and his lampreys, or Epicurus and his suprême de volaille; you will, perhaps, even smile indulgently on M. Gourmet's gastronomic reminiscences; but this is the poetry of food. You will, on the other hand, bitterly resent the process of it being forced upon you at all times and seasons. We may be sure that the honest, arrogant, tea-drinking old Doctor would have been the first to put his conversational extinguisher on that man who should dare to dilate gluttonously on the food he loved.
Laughable, and yet characteristic, is the fact, that on returning from a dinner, ball, tea, supper, or Kaffee-Gesellschaft in Germany, the first question formulated by the non-revellers awaiting you at home will always have reference to the food. Former experiences in other climes will have prepared you for such frivolous queries as—'Well, were the A.'s overdressed, as usual? How did Mrs. B. look? Did the C. girls dance a great deal?' and so on. But strangely on your unaccustomed ear strikes the solemn question, unerring, ponderous, and punctual as a clerk's amen, Na! was hat's gegeben?—'What did you get?'