Foreword to A Concise Encyclopaedia of Gastronomy by André Simon - 1952

If the reader is familiar with text as published in the June 2015  IWFS  journal Food & Wine , the new text is in green.

    Whatever Plato really meant when he suggested that Gaster-the-Belly was the seat of the Soul, is a question that we are content to pass to Greek scholars and philosophers for their learned opinions. But every man, woman and child who reaches the age of reason should be made to grasp and hold throughout life the fact that Gaster-the-Belly is a most important part of our anatomy; one that has needs which must be satisfied, as well as fancies and moods which we must accept and understand.

     It would be quite useless for us to have our house expertly wired for light and power, to buy the best electric cooker and radiators, to choose fine fittings and the right place for each one of them, if the generating station upon which we depend for power happens to work badly or not at all. So also will our brain and heart, our sight and hearing, our hands and feet fail us if and when Gaster-the-Belly fails them. This is not a matter of personal opinion or mere guesswork: it is a fact which nobody in his right senses would dare to challenge.

     Our dependence upon Gaster-the-Belly is universally acknowledged, in spite of which, the number of Gastronomes is comparatively small and Gastronomy, that is the proper understanding of our own inner regions, is much less honoured than Astronomy .  This is probably mainly due to the widespread idea that so long as the fires are kept burning, all must be well and that any food is fuel to the furnace that is Gaster-the-Belly. But Gaster-the-Belly is not at all like a coke oven: it is a temperamental furnace, one that may refuse one day what it accepted the day before, one that has likes and dislikes that must not be disregarded if we are to enjoy the best of health.

     Gastronomy in England and in the United States of America has a very limited appealit certainly has none of the fascination which Nutrition has for a vast number of people.

       And yet Gastronomy is to Nutrition what health is to sickness. All who enjoy good health, which means, happily, the great majority of the population, could and should enjoy good food and good 


drink, the fuller and happier life which is the gift of Gastronomy for all normal people: that is to say, people who are blessed with all their senses and a sufficient measure of common sense to make good use of them.

     The sick and the unfit diabetics, anaemics and others whatever their trouble happens to be, had better apply to duly qualified dieticians who may help them return to the normality of good health. Nutrition and Dietetics  is a science which belongs to the Lecture Room, the text-books, the laboratory and the surgery, not to the man and woman in the street, be they fat and anxious to get thin, or thin and anxious to get fat. The science of Nutrition and Dietetics is concerned with the chemistry of food, that is its composition, which can be ascertained scientifically and fairly accurately; and it is also concerned with its behaviour, that is its combustion or digestion and assimilation, which is much more a matter of approximation or experimenta5tion, since so much depends upon the sometimes unpredictable behaviour of Gaster-the-Belly. Gluttons make a god of their belly, which is why gluttons can never be Gastronomes.

     Gastronomes are not slaves but the masters of Gaster-the-Belly, intelligent and kindly masters, who realize that a good servant is a friend in need and that he deserves to be well treated, listened to and at times humoured; no good service can possibly be expected from a starving servant any more than from a drunken one.

     The variety of excellent foods available in all parts of the world is very great: far greater than most people, even most Gastronomes, imagine, as they will realise if they consult the far from complete list given in this Encyclopedia. But great as the diversity of raw materials may be, the methods of cooking or preparing most of them for the table are also almost beyond count, so that there is no possible excuse for monotony in our daily meals: lack of Illumination and our incurable conservatism are alone to be blamed for this, and they are poor excuses.

     Of course, the majority of the population must buy its food from the shops, the number of fisherfolk who eat the fish they catch is very small, and the number of farmers and gardeners who eat the vegetables they grow is not very large. Food shops cannot afford to stock foods for the few who like something better or at any rate 'different'; they will stock none but goods for which the demand is lively and profitable. Take greengrocers, for example. How many will bother to stock sorrel? Very few. Sorrel is really a weed, which can he grown anywhere, at all times and at very little cost; it is excellent in soup and sauces, and it is very good with tasteless white fish or with poached eggs and in a number of other ways. But it is too cheap; it does not pay to sell it so one cannot buy it in shops. It is the same with unbleached seakale; the bleached and forced sea-kale is sold in the winter at high prices, but the unbleached sea-kale is never to be seen in our shops. Its sea-green curly shoots  have not merely more colour but more flavour in them than the paler, curlier and much more costly ones which are on sale some three months earlier they are not worth any greengrocer's while to stock, simply because the public would not recognise it as sea-kale and would not buy it.

     It is the same with the blue 'coco' French beans which were first introduced  by the late Edward Bunyard (died 1939 and was an English food writer and apple enthusiast): they are absolutely stringless (probably the only kind of French Bean that is really stringless), they cook to a most beautifully vivid green,  and they are tender, delicious and the best of French beans. The only thing against them is their colour before they are cooked; it is not at all an ugly colour, a rich purple, but it is not the colour which the public associates


with French beans, and it will have none of them. But the greatest tragedy of all, in the list of missed opportunities among vegetables, is the utter disregard for Pokeweed, or Phytolacca americana. Every winter, this American shrub is cut down and its roots are protected by straw or bracken from frost; in late April or early May, each plant will send a dozen or so little shoots, half of which are left to grow and bear seeds in time, whilst the other half may be cut when a few inches long, and all there is to do with them is to wash them and let them cook for about twenty minutes in hot water just off the boil, when they are ready to be served hot with Sauce Hollandaise, or left to get cold and served with a Sauce Vinaigrette. They are equally excellent hot and cold, as good as asparagus, and they demand no preparation whatever, no scraping, peeling or trimming. Yet nobody bothers to grow Phytolacca americana.

     The same tale of missed opportunities could be told by fishermen: the sea is full of all manner of different kinds of fish which are good to eat, but there are a very few of them which the fishmongers will bother to buy because there are a few only that the public happen either to know or to trust.

     Lobsters, for instance, are fashionable and extremely expensive as a result of being so highly prized, whilst their cousins, the crawfish, sometimes called 'spiny lobster' (Palinurus) is much cheaper although quite as good, if not actually better, in the opinion of many a Gastronome; but it does not happen to have any claws, so it finds its last home mostly in tins when it is sold as tinned 'lobster.' And because the Sole is quite rightly considered the best flat fish there is, a number of very inferior flat fish of the Plaice genus masquerade under the names of Lemon sole, Witch sole, Torbay sole. Credit must be given to the fishmongers, aided and abetted by the Board of Fisheries, for making the public eat fish that nobody would ever have bought some years ago, when meat was more plentiful. All that was needed was a little imagination to coin names that were more acceptable, such as Flake, the name given to different kinds of dog-fish, beheaded and skinned, of course; and Rock Salmon, the name that belongs to a member of the great Cod family but one that is now given to the repulsive looking, although quite good eating wolf-fish or catfish, which is never offered for sale, of course, with its great ugly head.

     Two world-wars within twenty-five years have been responsible for a number of shortages and restrictions, and it is all the more important to make the best of all the resources within our reach and means; hence we shall find of practical value in this Encyclopaedia of Gastronomy, a list and description not of everything that is fit for human consumption, but of a very large number of the more acceptable foodstuffs available in different parts of the world at different times of the year: it is true, unfortunately, that many of these are not to be found in the shops, but it is equally true that they should be there and


could be there did the public demand them with sufficient perseverance. There is also a very important approach to the problems of 'enjoying' one's meals: besides the raw materials, the fish, flesh and fowl, the vegetables, cereals and fruits of fine quality and in great variety, there is the question of their proper preparation in as many different manners as possible to avoid monotony. This is where the cook comes in. But where is the cook ? Or where is the money to pay for the services of a professional cook ? There has never been such a shortage of professional cooks as there is at present, and owing to the ever rising cost of living there are fewer and fewer people every year who can afford to pay the high wages which professional cooks demand, whether they deserve them or not. On the other hand, there have never been so many or such good amateur cooks as there are now, and every year the number is growing of both men and women who find that it is quite a fascinating part-time hobby to do their own cooking. In all arts, as distinct from crafts, the amateur has as good a chance as the professional to become a master and to enjoy getting there by degrees. Whatever the trouble the artist may have to hike to paint or sing or cook better to-day than yesterday, he is more than repaid by the results he achieves. For the amateur, cooking is both an art and a sport, and there is as much thrill in seeing one's first Cheese Souffle rise in the oven like a chef's hat, as there is in bringing off a thirty yards putt or scoring a goal. And here again the cook, whether he or she, whether professional or amateur, will find in the Encyclopedia of Gastronomy a very great choice of recipes to be used as a guide how best to secure good results.


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