Thursday, November 25

Happy Thanksgiving!

People have always longed to fling food at each other, and to smash the crockery. Louis XIV (he who ruled over the etiquette of Versailles) is said to have baited his brother, the august Monsieur, by splashing soup at his wig until Monsieur lost his temper and flung his bowl of boiled beef at the king ...

The hilarity occasioned by custard cream pies flung in faces must be part of the same complex of emotions. In the Baroque period in Europe, when food was spectacularly arranged -- it often took kitchen staff days to sculpt and decorate pyramids, pièces montées, and architectural fantasies for a banquet -- and a royal feast was like an opera, with gorgeously dressed players at the table and spectators standing round about to view the eating, it was common for the inner circle of noble guests to retire after dinner, leaving the onlookers to move in for the kill. They would rush the table and demolish all the exquisite culinary edifices, with a pleasure perhaps like that of children knocking down sandcastles or towers of building blocks. They would eat some of the food, and throw the rest at each other. John Evelyn, describing a great dinner for the Garter Knights in the Banqueting House in Whitehall on April 23, 1667, says the feast ended with the "banqueting stuff" being "flung around the room profusely."

-- Margaret Visser The Ritual of Dinner