The physiology of taste, by Brillat-Savarin

Meditation IV.

Appetite.

Definition of Appetite.

MOTION and life occasion in the animal portion of all that lives a constant loss of substance, and the human body, that most complicated machine, would soon be unfit for use, did not Providence provide it with a mark to inform it of the very moment when its power is no longer in equilibrium with its wants.

This monitor is appetite. By this word we understand the first impression of the want of food.

Appetite declares itself by languor in the stomach, and a slight sensation of fatigue.

The soul at the same time busies itself with things analogous to its wants; memory recalls food that has flattered its taste; imagination fancies that it sees them, and something like a dream takes place. This state is not without pleasure, and we have heard many adepts say, with joy in their heart, “What a pleasure it is to have a good appetite, when we are certain of a good meal.”

The whole nutritive apparatus is moved. The stomach becomes sensible, the gastric juices are moved and displace themselves with noise, the mouth becomes moist, and all the digestive powers are under arms, like soldiers awaiting the word of command. After a few moments there will be spasmodic motion, pain and hunger.

Every shade of these gradations may be observed in every drawing-room, when dinner is delayed.

They are such in nature, that the most exquisite politeness cannot disguise the symptoms. From this fact I deduced the apothegm,

“THE MOST INDISPENSABLE QUALITY OF A GOOD COOK IS PROMPTNESS.”

Anecdote.

I will sustain this grave maxim by the details of an observate, made at an entertainment where I was,

“Quorum magna pars fui,”

and where the pleasures of observation preserved me from the anguish of misery.

I was invited to dine with a high public functionary. The hour was half past five, and at the appointed time all were present. We knew he liked exactness, and always scolded the dilatory.

I was amazed, when I came, at the consternation which pervaded the party. People whispered together, and looked into the court-yard through the window — all betokened something extraordinary.

I approached the one of the guests I thought best able to satisfy my curiosity, and asked him what the news was.

“Alas!” said they, “Monsieur has been sent for to the Council of State; he has just gone, and none know when he will return.”

“Is that all!” said I. “Be of good cheer, we will be detained only a quarter of an hour; something particular has happened. All know to-day is his regular dinner, and we will not have to fast.” I was not, however, easy, and wished I was away.

The first hour passed well enough, and those who were intimate sat together. Common places were exhausted, and conjectures were formed as to what could have called the Prince to the Tuilleries

At the commencement of the second hour there were many signs of impatience; people looked anxiously at each other and the first who murmured were three or four guests who, finding no place to sit in, were not in a convenient position to wait.

At the third hour, the discontent became general, and every symptom became exaggerated. “When will he return?” said one. “What can he be thinking of?” said another. “This is death,” said a third. This question was then put, but not determined, “Shall we go or not?”

At the fourth hour every symptom became aggravated. People stretched out their arms without the slightest regard whether they interrupted their neighbors or not. Unpleasant sounds were heard from all parts of the room, and everywhere the faces of the guests bore the marks of concentration. No one listened to me when I remarked that beyond doubt our absent amphytrion was more unhappy than any one of us.

Our attention was for a moment arrested by an apparition. One of the guests, better acquainted with the house than the others, had gone into the kitchen, and returned panting. His face looked as if the day of judgment had come, and in an almost inarticulate voice, which announced at once both the fear of making a noise and of not being heard, “Monsigneur went away without giving any orders, and happen what may, dinner will not be served until his return.”

The terror caused by what he said could not be exceeded by that to be expected at the last trump.

Among the martyrs, the most unfortunate was D’Aigrefeuille, whom all Paris knew. His whole body seemed to suffer, and the agony of Laocoon was marked on his face. Pale, terrified, he saw nothing but sank in a chair, grasped his hands on his round stomach, and closed his eyes, not to sleep but to die.

He did not though. About ten o’clock a carriage drove into the yard. All were on the qui-vive and a arose spontaneously. Hilarity succeeded suffering, and in five minutes we were at the table.

Appetite however was gone, all seemed amazed to sit down to dinner at such an unusual hour; the jaws had not that isochronous measure which announces a regular business. I know many were sufferers thus.

The course to be taken is not to eat immediately after the obstacle has ceased, but to drink a glass of eau-sucree, or take a plate of soup to sustain the stomach, and then in ten or fifteen minutes to begin dinner, to prevent the stomach being oppressed by the weight of the aliments with which it is surcharged.

Great Appetites.

When we see in early books a description of the preparations made to receive two or three persons, and the enormous masses served up to a single guest, we cannot refuse to think that those who lived in early ages were gifted with great appetites.

The appetite was thought to increase in direct ratio to the dignity of the personage. He to whom the saddle of a five year old ox would be served was expected to drink from a cup he could scarcely lift.

Some individuals have existed who testified to what once passed, and have collected details of almost incredible variety, which included even the foulest objects.

I will not inflict these disgusting details on my readers, and prefer to tell them two particular circumstances which I witnessed, and which do not require any great exertion of faith.

About forty years ago, I made a short visit to the cure at Bregnier, a man of immense stature and who had a fearful appetite.

Though it was scarcely noon I found him at the table. Soup and bouilli had been brought on, to these two indispensables had succeeded a leg of mutton a la Royale, a capon and a salad.

As soon as he saw me he ordered a plate which I refused, and rightly too. Without any assistance he got rid of every thing, viz: he picked the bone of mutton and ate up all the salad.

They brought him a large white cheese into which he made an angular breach measured by an arc of ninety degrees. He washed down all with a bottle of wine and glass of water, after which he laid down.

What pleased me was to see that during the whole of this business, the venerable pastor did not seem busy. The large mouthfulls he swallowed did not prevent him either from laughing or talking. He dispatched all that was put before him easily as he would have a pair of birds.

So it was with General Bisson who drank eight bottles of wine at dinner every day, and who never appeared the worse for it. He had a glass larger than usual and emptied it oftener. He did not care for that though, for after having swallowed six ounces of fluids he could jest and give his orders as if he had only swallowed a thimble full.

This anecdote recalls to me my townsman, General P. Sibuet, long the chief aide of Napoleon, and who was killed in 1813 at the passage of the Bober.

He was eighteen years old, and had at that time the appetite by which nature announces that its possessor is a perfect man, and went one night into the kitchen of Genin, an inn keeper of Belley, where the old men of the town used to meet to eat chestnuts and drink the new white wine called in the country vin bourru.

The old men were not hungry and paid no attention to him. His digestive powers were not shaken though, and he said “I have just left the table, but I will bet that I eat a whole turkey.”

“If you eat it I will pay for it,” said Bouvier du Bouchet, a rich farmer who was present, “and if you do not I will eat what is left and you shall pay for it.” *

[* This sentence is patois, and the translator inserts the original. “Sez vosu meze, z’u payo, repondit Bouvier du Bouchet, gros fermier qui se trouvait present; e sez vos caca en rotaz, i-zet vo ket paire et may ket mezerai la restaz.”]

They set to work at once, and the young athlete at once cut off a wing, he ate it at two mouthfulls and cleaned his teeth by gnawing the bone and drank a glass of wine as an interlude.

He then went into the thigh which he ate and drank another glass of wine to prepare a passage for the rest. The second went the same way, and he had come to the last limb when the unfortunate farmer said, “alas! I see it is all over, but Mr. Sibouet as I have to pay, let me eat a bit.” *

[* This also is patois. “Hai! ze vaie praou qu’izet fotu; m’ez, monche Chibouet, poez kaet zu daive paiet, lesse m’en a m’en mesiet on mocho.”]

Prosper was as good a fellow as he was a soldier, and consented. The farmer had the carcass at spolia opima, and paid for the fowl with a good grace.

General Sibuet used always to love to tell of this feat of his youth. He said that his admitting the farmer to eat was a pure courtesy, and that he could easily have won the bet. His appetite at forty permitted none to doubt the assertion.

Brillat–Savarin, says in a note, “I quote this fragment of the patois of Bugey with pleasure. In it is found the English ‘th and the Greek 0, and in the word praou and others, a dipthong existing in no language, the sound of which no character can describe.” (See 3d Volume of the Memoirs of the Royal Society of Antiquarians of France.)

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/brillat/savarin/b85p/part9.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31