Lunch And Punch - Eating Without Fear
( Originally Published 1923 )
Some years ago I met a man who had been through the Siege of Paris, during the Franco-German war. He had described the suffering of the people; how, when the animals of the Jardin des Plantes had been slaughtered for food—by the way, he was enthusiastic over the succulence of elephant's foot—even rats were at a premium. Rats, indeed, were a delicacy, and I have been told that they can-not be distinguished from terrapin, but I cannot vouch for the statement. The nearest approach to a rat that I have ever eaten, was squirrel. It was nice, but I must confess I did not enjoy it. My Siege of Paris friend, however, having described the privations he and his fellows endured, told me he obtained the greatest comfort from reading a cookery book. He assured me that when a meal was unobtainable at any price, his hunger was in this way appeased. I have always believed this, until a week ago, when the distinguished author, who is kindly typing this book for me, told me that during the process of typing he has suffered from ravenous hunger.
A healthy appetite is a wonderful thing: I do not mean an enormous appetite, but one that is always ready at the appointed time. Nowadays, my own appetite is not so great as it was, when I was thirty I could make a shoulder of lamb look very foolish, though now not a day goes by but, while I am thoroughly ready for my dinner, a little satisfies me, and I endeavor to so regulate my meal that, if occasion should rise, I could at a pinch eat another one. I seldom take a late supper, save when I go to a theater or a dance, and then I have no qualms as to what I may eat or what I must deny myself for fear of being unable to sleep. If one's digestion is in perfect condition, one can eat anything at any time. I do not feel sorry for the poor young lover who yearned to dream of his inamotata, and who was forced to complain:
"I cannot dream of thee,
I fill and fill, until, until
as written, composed, and sung by Mostyn Pigott the barrister, journalist, and wit. His young friend was evidently the owner of a perfect digestion.
I am convinced that in nine cases out of ten a bad digestion is acquired through carelessness and over indulgence. Too much restaurant cooking, especially of dairy lunch restaurants, cafeterias, and tea-roms. I have been inveigled into these places from time to time, and I con-tend there is nothing to recommend them—not even the prices, which are very little different from those of first-class hotels. -It is better to have one well-cooked meal a day than three inferior ones. Of course the ideal thing is home cooking—that is, if the cook can cook. Unfortunately this is not often so, and many a man has been liter-ally driven to the graveyard by his well-meaning but un-accomplished cook. All women should know how to cook, just as all men should know how to make a living. I have heard some women complain that they are not talented, that they cannot write books or paint pictures, and so forth. Now, a woman who makes a good pie is the equal of a painter who paints a great picture, and the pie is most probably more appreciated than the picture. The main thing is to look upon cookery as an art and pastime rather than as a task. A cook in her kitchen can have as good a time as a chemist in his laboratory. And surely she must be more than repaid when she sees the pleasure her labors give. My grandfather had a cook who had lived with him for over twenty years, who insisted on appearing after dinner to receive any reprimands that might be forthcoming. Needless to say, she knew there would be none, but the guests always hugely enjoyed the appearance of the rosycheeked cook as she entered the dining room, as soon as the ladies had retired to the drawing-room for their coffee.
By the way, in those days the curious custom of serving tea in the drawing-room at 9 P.M. appertained. I remember when I was a small boy this was done, but whether coffee had been served previously I do not know. I do know, however, that at eleven the spirit case, a beautiful brass-bound, rosewood box, containing cut-glass bottles of brandy, whisky, rum, and gin, made its appearance, together with sugar, lemon and hot water. And then if Captain Jacques happened to be present he would always be asked to make a punch, which he did in this wise: The punch bowl would be stood on a table in the center of the room, and Captain Jacques would rub several lumps of sugar over the rinds of a couple of lemons until the yellow had been entirely grated off. As each lump was covered he would drop it into the bowl. Then with a silver knife he would slice what was left of the lemons and place them with the sugar. Over these he would pour a teapotful of tea made with three teaspoonfuls of black China tea, Orange Pekoe for preference, and two teaspoonfuls of green tea —Young Hyson, if it could be obtained. This he would stir till the sugar was melted, gently prodding the slices of lemon to extract the juice. To this mixture he would add an equal quantity of Jamaica rum and a wine-glass full of brandy "to soften it," and then he would serve it himself-to my grandmother first, with "Taste it, Madam, and tell me if it be passable,'" "Captain Jacques," she would reply, you have surpassed yourself." Then he would serve the rest of the carnally with due ceremony. This always happened; he never varied his recipe nor his mode of presentation, and he made the punch just as though he were a priest offering an oblation. He was a wonderful old man, he must have been perilously near eighty, tall and upright, with just sufficient stoop in the shoulders to give that appearance of deferential attention and courtesy indicative of a bygone age. His high collar brushed his white whiskers, and I remember that I, as a child, took particular interest in the parting of his back hair. This ran right down beneath his collar, which closed at the back and was furnished with long ends that wrapped round the neck and tied in a bow at the front. I believe that Mr. Gladstone wore this same style of collar to the day of his death. Captain Jacques' punch had quite a national reputation, and he used to guarantee that "three good thimblefuls would necessitate a cab home." As a matter of fact, no one ever took a second punch, in the drawing-room at any rate, and if any were left over, it was carefully bottled, "so as to put temptation out of the servants' way," and kept over till the next night, when it was taken cold. After Captain Jacques' death, punch was never made in our house—it would have been a sort of sacrilege.
What a wondrous charm there is about the past, when no one seemed to worry about strikes and labor troubles, and bolshevism, and spiritualism, and nervous breakdowns, and all the curious diseases and ailments, both physical and mental, that surround us now. In those days every one had time to be courteous and polite; guests were invited to dinner parties at least a fortnight prior to the event; none of these telephone invitations that make one gasp and rack one's brains for an excuse. In these days every one is in such a hurry, that they rush you off to the graveyard within twenty-four hours of your demise, and that in a motor hearse. No wonder that half the population is old and worn out at forty. I once had my "palm read" by a painter who was an adept at palmistry. He told me I had a good life line. "How long shall I live?" I at once asked. "How long," he returned, "would it take you to spend a hundred thousand dollars?" I replied that it would depend how I spent it, whether I harbored it and invested it, or "blew it in." "Exactly," said he, "and so with your life. You have good vitality, the line is deeply marked, and it just depends how you expand it." I am sure a a great many people squander their life, either with work, or exercise, or dissipation, or laziness. You know you can work very hard at being lazy. But you will invariably find that the biggest man, the man who is at the very top of his profession, is always the one who keeps his appointments, has time to be civil and polite, never seems to be rushed to death, and is generally a pretty good fellow. Has he all these good points because he is "on top," or is he "on top" because he has these good points? I am inclined to think there is something in the latter theory.
Worry is the cause of a good many evils, and there are some people who have such a passion for worry that they even wake up at night, to indulge in their favorite pastime. A man once went to a doctor because he couldn't sleep. "I walked the floor all last night," he said. "Why ?" asked the doctor. "I owe Smith a thousand dollars," replied, the patient, and there is no possibility of my being able to repay him." "Well," said the doctor, "let Smith walk." I know one old lady who worried about having nothing to worry about. She eventually worried herself to death.
There is no necessity to platitudinize about worry, and I know that if one does wake up at night, little anxieties are magnified to an enormous extent; and supposing there be something weighing on the mind, it seems much worse and much greater then, than at any time during the day-light hours. But the thing to do is to force yourself to think of something else. Once in a blue moon I will wake in the night, and: if I start to worry—because I have mine just the same as you have yours—I figure out, for instance, how much money I shall make out of this book if a million copies are sold; how much advance on royalties I will be able to extract from the publisher; and if it be only a pittance, whether it would be worth while going over to Deauville to increase it. Occasionally I have evolved a splendid plot for an exciting novel, only to forget it by the time I get up. But any way those dark hours, un-interrupted by the distractions of the day, are splendid for building castles in the air. And then one topples off to sleep again, and in the morning can scarcely realize that the night's rest was broken.
And this just brings me back to what I said in my opening chapter, that sleep is the great restorer, and it is de-pendent on a good digestion which, in its turn, can be acquired and maintained by a sensible, moderate diet. And then the body, in a sound, healthy condition, is fortified against attacks of illness and is in a fit condition to resist contagion and infection.
I am not one of those idiots who say there is no pain, no illness, and who are willing to see their loved ones die rather than call in the doctor, but I do believe that one can persuade oneself that one is well, just as one can persuade oneself one is ill. I know people who "enjoy" bad health, who are walking drug stores and who, in their way, are just as foolish, just as ill-advised as they who deny the possibility of disease. Speaking of this sort of thing re-minds me of a curious story I heard some years ago.
A New York woman suffered from bad health. She did not know what was the matter with her—nor did her doctor, who paid her a visit every day. At last, even he was losing patience, and as the summer was coming and he wanted to go for a vacation, he told her that he thought a trip to Europe might set her up. "I am glad of that," said she, "because I had intended to go over if possible. I am to sit for my portrait to Mr. Sargent" "Splendid, splendid," returned the doctor. "It will take your mind off yourself and I am sure, when you return, you will be a different person." Well, she went, and in the fallowing October returned, when she immediately sent for the medico. "Well," said he, greeting her, "you're much better, aren't you?" "No, doctor," she replied, "I can't say I am. I am just as depressed as ever." After a little talk he wrote a prescription and was about to take his leave, when she said: "Oh, you'd like to see the picture, wouldn't you? It's in the drawing-room; look in as you go downstairs. It is a splendid portrait." He said good-by, and as he opened the drawing-room door, the light shone on the full-length portrait of---a mad woman. The painter had divined what the doctor had failed to diagnose. He had treated her for nearly everything except incipient insanity. The poor woman eventually died in a mad-house.