The dramaturgy of the order of courses

Introduction

The sequence begins with a soup plate with cold spatzle in it. The very hot, clear pheasant soup is poured over this. Only the liquid is drunk, the spatzle are not eaten. All they are supposed to do at first is absorb the pheasant flavour and warm up. So the two main themes of the menu, the pheasant and the wheat, are introduced right at the beginning: the pheasant in liquid form, but still unmistakable as a flavour, the wheat in the form of solid spatzle, but only as a visual experience at first. This concept requires great self-control from hungry guests, an essential attitude of mind at special celebrations like first communion, expressing a culture motivated by religion. But the setting - the table - is presented alongside the principal themes, and so is the "set." It is festively decorated, often in colours matching the particular event, definitely following liturgical models as well. The plate plays a crucial part in this sequence: it is not changed after each course, as it would be in bourgeois households. It is simply recharged with the next course. This custom is a relic of peasant culture, where either hollows in the wooden table or a single dish served as plates, or the pan or pot itself might even have been on the table for everyone to eat from. The "keep-your-plate" culture is in danger of dying out, as feasts of this kind are usually held in inns or restaurants nowadays, where hygiene regulations cannot admit such customs.

Climax I

The leading performer, the pheasant, makes its major appearance in the second part of the sequence. It is not dissected: the whole creature comes to the table, though the inedible parts (like feathers, head, feet, skin) will have been removed. The eye still sees it as a creature with two wings to flap, strong legs for running and a delicate breast that never had to keep the wings moving for long. But the tongue experiences the other aspect of life - death - in the form of the haut goût. These two extremes - life and death, conveyed by the body of the pheasant - are in the middle of the table at the centre of the festive company, and at the same time at the centre of the menu sequence.

Artistic innovations happen gradually in all genres, as they are always subject to evolutionary development. Culinary innovations evolve gradually as well. So the pheasant, which is a newcomer to the mixed bourgeois-peasant culture, is ultimately treated quite ordinarily in its role as a special feature in the menu sequence, in a way that is usually reserved for the long familiar pork belly.

The lentils as an accompaniment - always present in lavish quantities and making people feel full thanks to their mushy consistency - are hot, and so are the spatzle, which are already present on the plate, permeated with the flavour of pheasant. This is "real" eating, needing a physical effort (chewing properly). This course is an image of a society that still works physically, with its hands, but is already relating to other social strata.

Climax II

The second climax of this menu is another metamorphosis of the pheasant. Its essence now appears as jelly, cold and smooth. It almost melts on the tongue, and is eaten with the lamb's lettuce, which needs to be chewed vigorously, a sour dressing for the salad and the airy bread. Here the pheasant shows a completely new side of itself: greatly concentrated, without thrusting its flavour into the foreground unduly. It acts as a seasoning, and as a "stage" for a completely new ingredient, the only fresh one, the lamb's lettuce, symbolising youthful freshness. The taste of death is greatly reduced by the low temperature and the smooth surface of the jelly. The pheasant's firm, living flesh has become a cold, smooth mobile organism, and the old dried lentils from the field have become a fresh, young lamb's lettuce salad, also from the field. This course, too, thrives on chewing, on working with the teeth and tongue, on how the three components are put together, as the diners decide individually how much jelly they want to have in their mouths in relation to the lamb's lettuce, whether the bread is eaten at the same time or separately, as a neutralising agent before the next mouthful.

Conclusion

The end of the menu sequence is like an encore. Before the dessert is served the table is cleared and the tablecloth swept. Actually the meal is over, but the palate still needs something. Once again wheat, one of the main themes in the menu sequence, appears, now with a cold, solid-slippery consistency: the semolina slice. The bottled cherries handed with this add 134 another season to the menu sequence. At the same time, the semolina soaked in cherry juice evokes memories of feeling full on carefree childhood days.

Today, menu sequences like this still crop up on isolated occasions, for a confirmation, perhaps, a first communion or a golden wedding. But traditions of this kind are increasingly threatening to die out.

MEAT/POULTRY/PHEASANT/WHOLE CREATURE

Pheasants originally come from Asia, but were introduced into Central Europe as game birds many centuries ago. Pheasants bred in aviaries are fat and tasteless. For a pheasant to taste good, it needs to have spent some time in the fields and meadows, and to have been shot. As prey, it symbolises a hunter-gatherer culture. According to the eater's taste, they are usually hung for a time before being cooked, so that they can develop their haut gout - a flavour reminiscent of the creature's death.

Function within the sequence of courses: The pheasant is unquestionably the most expensive ingredient in the meal. As a creature of the meadow and the forest periphery, it occupies a habitat that does not fall within the territory of peasant culture - it is an exotic guest adorning a feast day. For this reason it does not appear once only in the sequence of courses, but in three variations - variations that have become fixed concepts over the period in which food has evolved: as a clear consommé, as boiled meat and as brawn. From an economic point of view, these three dishes get the most out of the creature in terms of quantity. Boiled whole, the pheasant is first of all dissected at the table. So guests at the feast live through the act of hunting and killing symbolically. Distributing the pieces shifts the host as such centre stage. The body of a creature is eaten at no other point in the order of courses. The pheasant can be seen as the first main theme within the sequence of courses.

Historical background: All food and the ways of preparing it have been allotted to individual social classes ever since the Middle Ages. Medieval food was structured around meat, with vegetarianism playing a very minor role in the evolution of food here. Pheasants were bred in pens from the 8th century. Their meat was reserved for the aristocracy until the 19th century. Even today, most pheasants are bred artificially, reared and then released for hunting.

PULSES OR VEGETABLES/LENTILS

Lentils come from the oldest plant cultivated by mankind. The Egyptians planted them 10,000 years ago. In Central Europe, on dry, warm muschelkalk soil of Württemberg, Thuringia, Hesse and Franconia, where other crops yielded little, lentil cultivation persisted on a small scale until the end of the Second World War. Along with cereals, they provided a basis for food in peasant society, above all in the cold season, as a sauce, porridge or stew. Lentils are dried for storage, and suggest a sedentary society.

Function in the order of courses: The lentils mediate between the pheasant and the spätzle in terms of flavour. Their juicy, soft consistency makes it easier to chew and swallow both the solid spätzle and the rather dry game meat. As everyday elements, both lentils and spätzle make a familiar and above all tried-and-tested platform on which to present the "exotic" game bird. They provide certainty about flavour, and ensure that everyone has enough to eat. The lentils appear in one phase of the order of courses only.

136 Historical background: Lentils were an essential foodstuff in Egypt and the Near East. They were even given to the dead as food, as is shown in depictions and tomb finds from the period from 1990-1780 BC. The Bible also tells us about the great significance of lentils as food for the ancient Hebrews: Esau sold his birthright for a lentil dish, Adam ate lentils after Abel's death, and lentils were served at Abraham's funeral meal. Hebrews and Muslims ate them in memory of Abraham's hospitality and death. Even today lentil dishes are still a funeral food in some areas.

CEREAL/WHEAT/SUPERFINE FLOUR

Wheat, like the lentil, is one of the oldest cultivated plants, and has been sown since the Neolithic age. The sub-varieties seed wheat and hard wheat we are familiar with today were bred from the three varieties einkorn, emmer and spelt. Wheat today is the most important variety of cereal and the major bread cereal, and is grown all over the world. It flourishes best in an average, warm climate on moist, clayey soil and is available all the year round.

Function in the sequence of courses: Cereals represent the reliable, constant factor. In fact cereals form the basis of food in our cultural circles. For this reason they can be seen as the second main element in the order of courses. They feature in every course - in different forms and con-sistencies - according to the significance of the course and the relative status of wheat in relation to the other ingredients. In the first half of the meal they appear in solid form (spätzle), offering resistance to the teeth on a par with the meat: a kind of trial of strength for the two main themes. Both meat and cereal dominate the structure of European food. It is an interesting fact that spätzle are usually prepared so that they are harder in areas that are poor in meat, or for dishes with no meat in them. The wheat appears in a completely different form in the third course: reticent, airy and light, it leaves centre stage for the flavour of meat refined in the form of a brawn and the fresh salad. It can be transformed in countless ways, and is served in conclusion combined with milk as a soft puree. Wheat occurs in every part of the sequence of courses - sometimes in the foreground, sometimes in the background, sometimes as the main performer and sometimes as an extra.

Historical background:

Wheat too was reserved for the noble lords and ladies in pre-industrial Europe. White bread, with its refined structure and white colour was only for people involved in refined activities. People who did coarse work ate rough food with coarse surface qualities. Today a family following traditional patterns would never eat rye bread or wholemeal products rather than wheat on a feast day. White bread is still considered more refined.

EGGS/WHOLE HEN'S EGGS

Eggs are crucially important in cooking - even almost indispensable in Central Europe. They are of a fixed size, and also help to determine the quantities of other ingredients in many recipes. The egg is the ingredient that is most open to transformation by cooking: liquid when raw, solid when heated. It can be presented in any form desired, and influences and changes the consistency of other foods.

Function in the order of courses: Eggs occur once only in the sequence of courses, in the spatzle dough. Visually they can be detected as such only through the slightly yellowish colour of the spatzle; they do not dominate the food in terms of flavour either, but reveal their presence to the senses of chewing and biting by giving the spatzle the right consistency. The ratio of eggs to flour determines how much the spatzle will resist the teeth. The high proportion of egg in the spatzle dough does not express prosperity, but shows an effort being made to give the cereal roughly equal status with the meat in the mouth.

Historical background: The domestic hen was bred from the wild Bankiva hen about 5,000 years ago. The Romans brought domestic hens to Western and Central Europe. In the Middle Ages it was monks above all who kept alive the culture of keeping hens. Charlemagne passed a law to distribute hens among the peasantry in about 800. So they have been part of the typical farmyard repertory for centuries, and are still an important source of meat and eggs today.

MILK/COW'S MILK

Milk provides nourishment for calves. In recent decades it has replaced human mother's milk for a large proportion of the population by being transformed into powders with the fat artificially removed. It is used fresh in the kitchen mainly for sweet foods or porridges. Children's food in particular is often cooked with milk. For this reason milk is always associated with childhood. The production of cow's milk requires grazing land or cultivated food.

Function in the order of courses: Milk's image as children's food can also be seen in the sequence of courses. It is boiled with the wheat to a very slightly sweetened porridge, but served cold, thus marking the end of the meal with a completely new and effortless flavour and chewing experience.

SALAD OR VEGETABLES/LAMB'S LETTUCE 137

Common lamb's lettuce or corn salad is actually an annual wild herb, to be found in ploughed fields and verges, but it is also cultivated in domestic gardens.

Function in the order of courses: The lamb's lettuce is the only raw ingredient in the order of courses. If it is to retain its crispn-ess, it must be cleaned as soon as it is harvested and eating immediately after being dressed. It takes on two roles: it symbolises youth, and thus awareness of the past, and indicates the season in which the meal is being eaten. Lamb's lettuce can be harvested from early October to Easter. So this meal is being served in the cold season. In peasant household, lamb's lettuce was often the only vegetable available in this period.

FRUIT/STONE FRUIT/CHERRIES

Sour cherries - ripe even in the early summer - can be kept in sugar with air excluded for two to three years, with their colour darkening each year.

Function in the sequence of courses: The cherries introduce mental images and memories of high summer into the meal, and add the meadow scattered with fruit trees or the orchard into the meal as the last landscape sphere. In terms of flavour, they create tension between the delicate (baby) porridge and a fruity, aromatic sweet-sour quality.

Historical background: Preserved fruit symbolises man's sedentary nature. Having fresh fruit available for as much of the year as possible is part of a reputation of being worthy of one's class. Deep freezers and the current availability of almost all foods all the year round are contributing to the gradual disappearance of the taste experience of fruit preserved in sugar.

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