In 1766, Tobias Smollett published an account of his family’s time spent in France some few years earlier, and rather than give the reader a long interpretation of what he found, the author will, instead, pass it on in his words (and in his spelling) for the truest picture of what he experienced. The article is a continuation of blog articles on influences of foods prepared in French Louisiana prior to the French and Indian war.
I have likewise two small gardens, well stocked with oranges, lemons, peaches, figs, grapes, corinths, salad, and pot-herbs…It is very difficult to find a tolerable cook at Nice. The markets at Nice are tolerably well supplied. Their beef, which comes from Piedmont, is pretty good, and we have it all the year. In the winter, we have likewise excellent pork, and delicate lamb; but the mutton is indifferent. Piedmont, also, affords us delicious capons, fed with maiz; and this country produces excellent turkeys, but very few geese. Chickens and pullets are extremely meager. I have tried to fatten them, without success. In the summer they are subject to the pip, and die in great numbers. Autumn and winter are the seasons for game; hares, partridges, quails, wild-pigeons, woodcocks, snipes, thrushes, beccasicas, and ortolans. Wild boar is sometimes found in the mountains; it has a delicious taste, not unlike that of the wild hog in Jamaica; and would make an excellent barbecue, about the beginning of winter, when it is in good case: but, when meager, the head only is presented at tables. Pheasants are very scarce. As for the heath game, I never saw but one cock, which my servant bought in the market, and brought home; but the commandant’s cook came into my kitchin, and carried it off, after it was half plucked, saying, his master had company to dinner. The hares are large, plump, and juicy. The partridges are generally of the red sort; large as pullets, and of a good flavor: there are also some grey partridges in the mountains; and another sort of a white colour, that weigh four or five pounds each. Beccasicas are smaller than sparrows, but very fat, and they are generally eaten half raw. The best way of dressing. Them, is to stuff them into a roll, scooped of its crum; to baste them well with butter, and roast them, until they are brown and crisp. The ortolans are kept in cages, and crammed, until they die of fat, then eaten as dainties. The thrush is presented with the trail [entrails], because the bird feeds on olives. They may as well eat the trail of a sheep, because it feeds on the aromatic herbs of the mountain. In the summer, we have beef, veal, and mutton, chicken, and ducks; which last are very fat and flabby. All the meat is tough in this season, because the excessive heat and great number of flies, will not admit of its being kept any time after it is killed. Butter, and milk, though not very delicate, we have all the year. Our tea and fine sugar come from Marseilles, at a very reasonable price.
Nice is not without variety of fish; though they are not counted so good in their kinds as those of the ocean. Soals, [soles, flounder] and flat-fish in general, are scarce. Here are some mullets, both grey and red.We sometimes see the dory, which is called St. Pietro; with rock fish, bonita, and mackerel. The gurnard appears pretty often; and there is plenty a kind of large whiting, which eats pretty well; but has not the delicacy of that which is caught on our [English] coast. One of the best fish of this country, is called ‘le loup’, about two or three pounds in weight; white, firm, and well-flavoured. Another, no-way inferior to it, is the ‘moustel’, about the same size, of a dark grey colour, and short, blunt snout, growing thinner and flatter from the shoulders downwards, so as to resemble a soal at the tail. This cannot be the mustela of the antients, which is supposed to be the sea lamprey. Here too are found the vyvre, or, as we call it, weaver; remarkable for its long sharp spines, so dangerous to the fingers of the fishermen. We have abundance of ‘soepie’, or cuttle-fish, of which the people in this country make a delicate ragout; as also of the ‘polype de mer’, which is an ugly animal with long feelers, like tails, which they often wind about the legs of the fishermen. They are stewed with onions, and eat something like cow heel. The market sometimes affords the ‘ecriviesse de mer’, which is a lobster without claws, of a sweetish taste; and there are a few rock oysters, very small, and very rank. Sometimes the fishermen find under water, pieces of hard cement, like plaster of Paris, which contain a kind of muscle, called ‘la datte’, from its resemblance to a date. These petrefactions are commonly of a triangular form, and may weigh about twelve or fifteen pounds each; and one of them may contain a dozen of these muscles, which have nothing extraordinary in the taste or flavor, though extremely curious, as found alive and juicy, in the heart of a rock, almost as hard as marble, without any visible communication with the air or water. I take it for granted, however, that the enclosing cement is porous, and admits the finer parts of the surrounding fluid. In order to reach the muscles, this cement must be broke with large hammers; and it may be truly said, the kernel is not worth the trouble of cracking the shell. Among the fish of this country, there is a very ugly animal of the eel species, which might pass for a serpent: it is of a dusky black colour, marked with spots of yellow, about eighteen inches, or two feet long. The Italians call it ‘murena’; but whether it is the fish which had the same name among the ancient Romans, I cannot pretend to determine. The antient murena was counted a great delicacy, and was kept in ponds, for extraordinary occasions. Julius Caesar borrowed six thousand for one entertainment: but I imagined this was the river lamprey. The murena of this country is in no esteem, and only eaten by the poor people. Craw-fish and trout are rarely found in the rivers among the mountains. The swordfish is much esteemed in Nice, and called ‘l’empereur’, about six or seven feet long: but I have never seen it. They are very scarce; and when taken, are generally concealed, because the head belongs to the commandant, who has likewise the privilege of buying the best fish at a very low price. For which reason, the choice pieces are concealed by the fishermen, and sent privately to Piedmont or Genoa. But, the chief fisheries on this coast, are of the sardines, anchovies, and tunny. These are taken in small quantities all the year: but spring and summer is the season when they mostly abound. In June and July, a fleet of about fifty fishing boats put to sea every evening about eight o’clock, and catch anchovies in immense quantities. One small boat sometimes takes in one night twenty-five rup, amounting to six hundred weight; but it must be observed that the pound here, as well as in other parts of Italy, consists but of twelve ounces. Anchovies, besides their making a considerable article in the commerce of Nice, are a great resource in all families. The noblesse and bourgeois sup on salad and anchovies, which are eaten on all their meager days. The fishermen and mariners all along this coast have scarce any other food but dry bread and a few pickled anchovies; and when the fish is eaten, they rub their crusts with the brine. Nothing can be more delicious than fresh anchovies fried in oil: I prefer them to the smelts of the Thames. I need not mention, that the sardines and anchovies are caught in nets; salted, barreled, and exported into all the different kingdoms and states of Europe. The sardines, however, are largest and fattest in the month of September. A company of adventurers have farmed the tunny-fishery of the king, for six years; a monopoly, for which they pay about three thousand pounds sterling. They are at a very considerable expense for nets, boats, and attendance. Their nets are disposed in a very curious manner across the small bay of St. Hospice, in this neighbourhood, where the fish chiefly resort. They are never removed, except in the winter, and when they want repair: but there are avenues for the fish to enter, and pass, from one inclosure to another. There is a man in a boat, who constantly keeps watch. When he perceives they are fairly entered, he has a method of shutting all the passes, and confining the fish to one apartment of the net, which is lifted up into the boat, until the prisoners are taken and secured. The tunny fish generally runs from fifty to one hundred weight; but some of them are much larger. They are immediately gutted, boiled, and cut in slices. The guts and head afford oil: the slices are partly dried, to be eaten occasionally with oil and vinegar, or barreled up in oil, to be exported. It is counted a delicacy in Italy and Piedmont, and tastes not unlike sturgeon. The famous pickle of the ancients called garum, was made of the gills and blood of the tunny, or thynnus…