So – brace yourselves…While I was writing about New Year’s Eve in France and wondering what delightful dishes I might prepare this year I started thinking about what Louis XIV, the Sun King, might have eaten at Versailles for a New Year’s Eve feast.
I did a little bit of research and I think I’ve come up with a reasonable idea of what might have been served when you think that his sister-in-law, Princess Elizabeth Charlotte said of him: “…he could eat four plates of soup, a whole pheasant, a partridge, a large plate of salad, two slices of ham, mutton au jus with garlic, a plate of pastry, all followed by fruit and hard-boiled eggs…”
The King would have eaten his evening meal each day at around 22.00 – the Grand Couvert as it was known. It was a formal court ceremony and was open to the public who could come and gawk at the monarch and his courtiers. They would hear the music played by a small orchestra, be open mouthed at the luxury on show and get to sniff the scents of the goodies being bought out by liveried serving men – several courses of between two and eight dishes.
In the days of the Sun King – grand dinners were very ritualistic and everything had to be just so. It wasn’t acceptable to have glasses on the table so the serving men would hover with silver trays – offer a glass of wine to the diner who would have to drink the whole lot down in one go and then pop the glass back on the tray. (I might try that myself on New Year’s Eve).
The public/peasants would watch in amazement as the first course came out – les hors d’ouevres. It could be:
Royal ballotine of pheasant – or – Fresh oysters delivered from St Malo that day- or – lobster from Normandy served in aspic
Each course would stay on the table until the end of the meal – served first to the King and then to his court in order of rank.
The second course could be:
Pureed chestnut soup with truffles – or – Pumpkin soup, fresh from the royal vegetable garden – or – Beef madrilène with gold leaf spangles
Phew… you’d think they might be getting a bit full up by now but – whoo, here comes the third course (accompanied by another glass of wine) – a palate refreshing affair with many of the vegetables and herbs grown in the gardens of Versailles:
Rice salad with langoustines and truffles – or – herb salad sprinkled with blue borage flowers, violets and gold leaf:
More you say? And a glass of wine – oh if you insist, next course:
Hare stew – or – wild duck cromesquis à la Villeroy (breaded foie gras with rice), – or – Scallops with oyster liquor
Some of the meat would have been caught by the King himself and his courtiers – hunting was a daily past time and the beautiful plumage of the birds caught would be used to decorate the dishes – it must have been an amazing sight with all the gilt and hundreds of candles whose light would be reflected in the many mirrors of Versailles. Still, they must be getting a bit full up now… well perhaps a little more washed down of course with more wine… course five could be:
Wild salmon au sel (served on a block of salt – very expensive in those days) – or – Roast beef, carrots and smoked eel
Another glass of wine… down the hatch. Now time for the sweet stuff and there might be up to twenty-four different kinds of pastries followed by twenty-four different kinds of fruit – fresh, preserved, candied.
Then perhaps something chocolatey as cocoa was all the rage then and of course little dishes of jam which Louis XIV loved.
It was not unusual to have up to 170 different dishes in one of these elaborate night time feasts and for special occasions – even more.
I shan’t be doing any of the above – thought about it – nah not really, I’m still a learner in the cuisine you know, though we may end with jam fit for a king courtesy of our local artisan jam makers!
But whatever you’re having and wherever you’re having it – enjoy your New Year’s Eve celebration!
Bonne Année mes amis