One would think At First Glass already had one theme, namely wine and food. True. But you remember how, anticipating my fifth anniversary blogging, I decided to spend this coming year concentrating on a theme. It was lemons. I even took a practice run with it.
That's all very well, but I have developed a new interest, and so have decided to throw caution to the winds and adopt a second, but only a sort of sub-theme, just for fun. It will be: the delights of the eighteenth century, especially music. Won't it be fun to listen to something lovely while we cook?
Now what brought this on? You may well ask. One thing leads to another. I was driving home from the [liquor] store recently, listening to the local classical music station because one can only endure so much politics, traffic, and weather reports on talk radio. On WFMT, then, I happened to catch a short guest lecture, with audio clips, on the once-famed Italian soprano Rosanna Carteri, whom I had never heard of. When it was over, "thank you so much for that wonderful program," the announcer said to his guest, marveling further, "I hadn't thought of her in years.
" This gentle outburst seemed hardly a compliment to La Carteri, but we shan't dwell.
Anyway I rushed home and looked the lady up on YouTube, and sure enough there she was in an old grainy clip from a 1950s-era television production of La Traviata,
uploaded by a fan in South Korea or Japan from the look of it. Yes, she and her voice were bewitching. It made me think. What else don't I know about the great world?
Plenty, naturally. I have tuned in to WFMT a little more often since that afternoon. The station used to be very talky, too, even without occasional good lectures. But I have happened to re-encounter there, among other things, harpsichord music. For some reason programming seems to have focused on the Baroque this past fall, with its fugues and its Bach. Now I like the harpsichord, and fugues and Bach (who doesn't?). And it so happens -- how things fall together! -- there on the table while I listen to WFMT is my Pageant of Georgian England
, the book that got me started on porcelain collecting you'll remember
, a book that is all eighteenth-century all the time. And there, in the other bookcase, is Harold Schonberg's Lives of the Great Composers
(1970), which starts out with Monteverdi and Bach and which I have
always meant to read since I bought it probably twenty-five years ago.
How things fall together! So many grand people seem to have been born in Bach's natal year, for a start (1685). Handel, and Scarlatti, and wonderful John Gay, the poet. Call me a flibbertigibbet, and call him "minor," but I do love his To a Lady on Her Passion for [and here I interpose, "wait for it"] old China.
This is a snippet of it, an example of what people were reading while they listened to Handel, or Scarlatti:
...When I some antique Jar behold,
Or white, or blue, or speck'd with gold,
Vessels so pure, and so refin'd,
Appear the types of womankind;
Are they not valu'd for their beauty,
Too fair, too fine for houshold duty?
Yes, aren't they? Now if you have young people in your household and you want to trowel into your food and wine blog the sub-theme of eighteenth-century music, you might have been told already of the marvelous site Pandora,
a constantly streaming radio station where you may log on and type in a request to hear anything, and Pandora will play what you want, or something very like it. Thus "ancora imparo
," we go on learning, as Michelangelo (sixteenth century) is supposed to have said. When we carry on our musical explorations there, we'll also meet -- let's just throw off some names -- Purcell (b. 1659), Couperin (b. 1668), Albinoni (b.
1671), Vivaldi (b. 1678) Telemann (b. 1681), and Rameau (b. 1683). Who knew? Of course once you find a bit of music you like, sharing it from Pandora becomes a problem. It's easiest to return to YouTube, where we met La Carteri, and fish about there.
Now I got quite excited by all this activity and was prepared to really launch this theme, plunging entirely into eighteenth century food and drink and cookery books, and history and art and everything. Then I drew back. Shall I bind myself, I asked the mirror, in such a straitjacket? Do my readers really want to know more, even emphemarally, about Hogarth's Gin Lane or Stradivari's five children, or the heroes King Charles XII of Sweden or Prince Eugene of Savoy (supposing I can try to act pertinent by also finding out what they ate and drank), however much these latter might figure in Samuel Johnson's eighteenth century conversation? I decided, perhaps not. Let us not fold ourselves into the straitjacket -- to mix a metaphor, let us not bite off very
much more than we can chew.
We won't. This is not to say we also won't still look into wonderful things regarding the Baroque, whether art or history or music or all. Mary Kettilby's Collection of Above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick, and Surgery
(London, 1714 -- Alexander Pope published The Rape of The Lock
the same year) comes to mind, or John Evelyn's Acetaria: a Discourse of Sallets
Watteau's paintings are lovely; Hogarth's, ribald and shocking. Perhaps here and there we'll find something to do with lemons. But, we have firmly decided, we will know our limitations. Just a bit of harpsichord while we cook, or a fugue or a sketch now and then.
"The best lemon cream,"
from Court Cookery; or, the Compleat English Cook
(Robert Smith, 1725)
Lemons and roses. Eggs and sugar. That's all. Who knew the Baroque could be so simple?
Take four Lemons, and pare the yellow Rind; then cut them into slices and wring out the Juice, and let the Peel steep in it an hour; then put in a Quarter of a Pint [half a cup] of Water, six spoonfuls of Rose Water, the whites of eight Eggs, and two Yolks beaten very fine; set it over a Charcoal Fire, and keep it stirring till it be ready to boil; then put in half a Pound of double-refin'd Sugar, and strain it before you set it over the Fire, and stir it til cold.