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French Cuisine – The Height of English Fashion

September 10th, 2012 William's World

Last month our Open-Hearth Cooks demonstrated the cooking traditions of the Netherlands, previewed in an article we posted about Dutch foodways

Now we turn our attention to another highly influential culture, one that has been closely intertwined with the English for centuries: France!

A French maid peeling potatoes in the kitchen. "The Kitchen Maid," Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, 1738

For many years England and France shared many of the same trends and traditions, from food to fashion.  This began to change around the mid-17th Century.  Many in England began looking to the French as the trendsetter of the age, mostly for the upper class.  Even as their countries waged war against each other, the English were often reluctant to give up French trends in the name of patriotism!

A typical kitchen filled with all varieties of meats, which were the most popular feature at any table. "Kitchen Scene," David Teniers the Younger, 1644

French cuisine began to move away from the heavily spiced and sweetened meals they had long enjoyed, and began returning to a focus on the more natural flavors of produce and meats. All varieties of salads and sauces appeared during this time.  Salads featured the fresh vegetables and flowers of the season, and were often dressed with toppings including various meats, eggs, and oil.  Check out Colonial Williamsburg’s recipe for a “salmagundy!”

Notice how the table is filled with all sorts of dishes, instead of places being set for different courses. Hosts aimed to provide a variety of dishes to please her guests, so there would always be something to their taste. "Wedding Dinner," Jacob Gerritsz van Hasselt, 1636

The new trend in French cooking also spurred changes in table etiquette.  Meals began to be served in courses, rather than platters being laid out on the banquet tables for immediate consumption.  The use of utensils also became more common place, along with the use of more restrained table manners.  Though the French remained a small minority in colonial Pennsylvania, their influence on English culture translated into an influence on the population of William Penn’s colony. 

By Ray Tarasiewicz, Intern