The Great Plum Pudding Caper


Hello my little Historians!

Well, well, well, two posts within seven days – you’re all so very spoiled!

Today’s post will be quite short, but I can assure you that the tale I have to tell is quite fascinating and falls under the ever entertaining category of Quirky History.

I’m sure that I can safely assume that everyone here knows who Émile Deschamps is, so I won’t bother with the tiresome introductions and explanations.

What’s that? You don’t know EVERYTHING about French Romantic poets from the 19th century? Good lord, what a bunch of savages you all are.

Émile Deschamps was born in 1791 and, as previously mentioned, was one of the foremost contributors to the Romantic School of poetry. One of his most noteworthy achievements was the co-founding of the journal, La Muse Française alongside Victor Hugo. If I need to explain Les Misérables to you then I think it would be best if you leave and never come back. At the very least you should know about the film adaptation starring Liam Neeson, even if he doesn’t punch any wolves in the face. Anyway, Deschamps also wrote an ode titled La Paix Conquise, which was greatly admired by Napoleon.

Eat the pudding, eat the pudding, eat the pudding

Despite how common the good old Plum Pudding is today(Hello, Christmas), during the 19th century it was incredibly difficult to get outside of Mother England. As such, it was a rare delicacy in France that few had the pleasure of tasting. However, Deschamps was graced with such an opportunity in 1805 when a man named Monsieur de Fontgibu offered him a bite. He was instantly enchanted.

It would be some ten years before Deschamps would have another encounter with the English dessert. One evening whilst wandering the streets of Paris he decided to pop into a restaurant for dinner. Much to his surprise he saw that plum pudding was on the menu! He promptly ordered and made a point of finishing his meal quickly in anticipation of the long-awaited and almost forgotten plum pudding. However, as he was waiting, an incredibly apologetic waiter approached his table to explain that unfortunately, the very last pudding had already been claimed by another customer. Deschamps spun around to see who the waiter was referring to. Imagine his surprise when he saw that the man was none other than Monsieur de Fontgibu!

Some say that they shared the dessert as well as a laugh over the amazing coincidence.

Liam Neeson getting ready to punch some wolf-face

22 puddingless years passed before Deschamps happened to be invited to a dinner party where a rare English delicacy was being served for dessert. Try to guess what it was.

At the dinner, the poet regaled the other guests with the amazing tale of his two other encounters with the elusive dessert. All were amused and one woman even exclaimed that all Deschamps needed to complete the occasion was his old plum pudding friend.

It is rumoured that just as this sentence was uttered, the door burst open and a late guest entered. That’s right, you guessed it – Monsieur de Fontgibu had also been invited to the dinner party. Incredible, right? One can only hope that there was enough to go around this time.

Deschamps’ plum pudding encounter is often remembered in relation to the philosophy of synchronicity, as described by Carl Jung. For those who are interested – Synchronicity, as a philosophical concept, is the experience of two events that are unlikely to take place or are seemingly unrelated, yet they occur together in a meaningful way. Please be advised of the extremely basic nature of this explanation.

The concept of synchronicity and our little plum pudding tale is really quite amazing and worthy of study. Personally though, I prefer to remember it as one of the strange, and delicious, tidbits from history that make the world just that little bit more interesting.

Thanks for playing!

Was the Champagne Coupe Modelled on Marie Antoinette’s Breasts?


Oh la la, what a titillating title!

Yes, that did just happen.

How are you my lovelies? Good? Good.

Welcome to another exciting Delicious History blog post – now with 100% more boob references! Yeah, I know what my readers want.

Well, let’s dive right in shall we?

On more than one occasion I’ve heard people spout a rather interesting historical tidbit – that the traditional champagne coupe was based upon one of Marie Antoinette’s breasts. Fascinating, no? For those of you who were wondering, it’s supposedly the left. No, I haven’t the slightest idea why anyone would know that.

I’ve always thought that this was an amusing little historical tidbit and never bothered to look further into it.

Got Champagne?

Recently, I was at a dinner where this sordid little piece of information was dropped into the conversation. Perhaps it’s my impending and frankly, indecent, descent into my late twenties, but for some reason I felt a lot more skeptical about it this time. A quick Google search confirmed my suspicions – it’s little more than a historical rumour. I showed my findings around the dinner table immediately because I’m That Guy.

First of all, Marie Antoinette is only one of the lucky ladies whose breasts have been attributed with the coupe. Other rumoured possibilities are:

Madame de Pompadour – The mistress of Louis XV and almost companion of Doctor Who.

Empress Josephine – The mistress-turned-wife of Napoleon. I guess whoever started this rumour found rotting teeth to be incredibly sexy.

Helen of Troy – She had the face that launched a thousand ships, and supposedly the breasts that launched countless rich housewives into alcoholism.

Unfortunately, none of these women had anything to do with the creation of the coupe. They weren’t even born in the same century or country of origin.The coupe was invented in 1663 by an Englishman who, as far as we know, didn’t model it on any part of the human anatomy.

The champagne coupe and champagne flute. It would be a cause for concern if the latter was modelled on someone’s breasts.

Although the true origin story of the coupe is far more dull than its rumoured counterpart, there is some redemption! It has been confirmed by historians that several ceramic milk bowls that were commissioned by Marie Antoinette herself were indeed modelled on her breasts. In fact, the queen had these made as part of her ‘Pleasure Dairy.’ This was located at her personal hamlet at Versailles where the queen and her ladies in waiting would dress up as milk maids (or shepherdesses according to some sources) and spend their days frolicking and partaking in rural tasks such as milking cows and churning butter. Delightful!

Although it may be disappointing that such a fascinating historical rumour has been debunked, at least something was molded from the famous French Queen’s breasts, right? Besides, I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds the existence of the milk bowls amusing, in a highly immature way of course.

See you all next time!

The Sandwich: An Origin Story


This week has seen two incredibly important landmark occasions. The first is the creation of the blog you’re currently reading! The second, and slightly less historically significant occurrence, is the 250th anniversary of the invention of the sandwich. And what better way to kick off a blog about food and history than an article about something so widely consumed?

Who doesn’t love a good sandwich? Well, besides my 7 year old self who used to hide them in the garbage bin after school. In my defense,  the canteen was selling meat pies and chicken fingers. Sorry mum!

On a side note, my housemate and I have put a great deal of time and effort into concocting the ultimate sandwich. We call it ‘The Perfect Storm’ and it’s a reflection of our highly sophisticated palates. This delectable testament to human will contains the following:

2 slices of 6 inch long garlic bread, toasted
Warm chicken
Crispy bacon
Avocado
Hash browns/potato gems (Although any kind of fried potato is acceptable)
Melted brie
Garlic aioli

That’s right, we double the garlic content. You’re welcome.

That edible monstrosity aside, back to the task at hand.

A substantial number of Westerners eat sandwiches on a daily basis – whether it be toasted, on brioche, or even something as simple as ham, cheese and tomato on white bread. However, so many of us are completely unaware of the origin story of our most commonly occuring lunch choice.  With that in mind, I would like to introduce you to the man who started it all…

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich

From the looks of things, he may have enjoyed his sandwiches a tad too much


Now let’s at least try to take his title seriously. No? Fair enough.

John Montagu was born in 1718 to a well respected aristocratic family. However, due to an unstable childhood and inheriting little more than his title, he had to work quite hard in order to make a name for himself. He entered the world of politics  in 1739  by sitting in the House of Lords, and by 1744 he was invited to join the government as the First Lord of the Admiralty. Essentially this meant that he controlled  the administration of the British Navy. Throughout his life, Montagu would come to hold a number of important political roles as well as become heavily involved in the arts.

Montagu was also a patron of Captain James Cook who subsequently named quite a few islands after him. Some of these include:

  • The Sandwich Islands (Now Hawaii)
  • Montague Island (9km offshore from Narooma, NSW)
  • The South Sandwich Islands (Southern Atlantic Ocean)
  • Montague Island (Gulf of Alaska)

The South Sandwich Islands – Beautiful, but conspicuously devoid of toasties growing on trees

Unfortunately, Montagu was also a man who hasn’t had a particularly favourable reputation throughout history.   Although he held many important posts and was actively involved in both the Navy and Politics, most believe him to have been thoroughly corrupt and incompetent. This is mostly due to his membership with the Hell-Fire Club – a secret society that practiced ritual sacrifice to the Pagan gods Bacchus and Venus, amongst other dubious activities. It also doesn’t help that he was First Lord of the Admiralty during the American War of Independence and was therefore held partially responsible for Britain and the North’s defeat. Furthermore, he has been been branded as a notorious gambler, but more on that later.

So how did this simultaneously accomplished but historically criticized man come to be attributed with the invention of…

The Sandwich

Rumour has it that as an ardent gambler, Montagu would often not take the time for a proper meal during long sessions.  Instead, he would ask his servants to bring him meat between two slices of bread. This habit was quite well known by his gambling friends and as a result they began to order “the same as Sandwich!” Thus history was made and Montagu will be forever remembered as the man who invented the sandwich because he didn’t want to stop gambling, even to eat.

There is however an alternative to this story. There are a few scholars who scorn the idea of Montagu’s conversant gambling.  Biographers such as Nicholas Rodger  suggest that it is far more likely that due to his passionate naval and political commitments, he probably asked for his quick and easy meal at his work desk, as opposed to the card table.

Not only did Montagu invent a new kind of meal, he was simultaneously pushing the boundaries of social norms.  At the time, main meals involved elaborate carving rituals and took up a great deal of ones time. For Montagu to continue gambling (or working, depending on your school of thought) whilst eating was a shocking informality for a man of his station and social background. He would have come across as very daring and unconventional.

Anniversary

The invention of the sandwich is still honoured today and this week marks the 250th anniversary. The township of Sandwich has been celebrating  the occasion with sandwich making competitions and re-enactments of  Montagu asking for his meat and two slices of bread. The highlight of the week was a luncheon thrown by the current Earl of Sandwich. Personally, I hope that he served salads and mini quiches, just to be contrary.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the first ever Delicious History post. I can assure you that I’ll be serving up plenty more in the new future. Yeah, see what I did there?


Fun Fact
: John Montagu’s ancestor, Sir Edward Montagu, had a choice when it came to his title – The Earl of Sandwich or the Earl of Portsmouth.

Spoiler Alert: He went with the former.

Can you imagine ordering a chicken and salad portsmouth from your local cafe? I didn’t think so.