Friday, March 11, 2022

'Venison, Hare, Oysters and Turtles' an everyday meal for Guest Author - Anna Mazzola

Some – not all – mystery novels have recipes in them. But surely every life has at least one recipe in it. What’s your go-to / stand-by recipe? Is it passed down in your family or did you invent it? 

This Friday, we welcome guest blogger and MWA Edgar Winner, Anna Mazzola. Anna's new novel, The Clockwork Girl set in eighteenth century France, has taken the UK by storm, with critics describing it as a gothic masterpiece.

Amongst literary circles, Anna is well known for her thirty course banquets and bourgeois  lifestyle. Here however, she pretends to be a woman of the people and that a long-time family recipe is instead something from Versailles....

Rather than give you one of my recipes (which would involve toast and baked beans), I give you a recipe for a royal banquet at Versailles. To begin with, you will need three peacocks, twenty-five pheasants, ten boar, and large quantities of venison, hare, oysters and turtles. You will need to spend several months training in the art of spinning sugar into miraculous castles and figures of gods and swans. You will then need to assemble a staff of over three hundred persons to form the ‘Service de Bouche’, the service of the King’s mouth, and train them in the strict rituals of the court. 


Sounds easy so far, right? But bear in mind that if you get anything wrong, you will either be locked up, cast out into the Paris mud, or be driven by shame and ignominy to do as one official did upon finding that there were insufficient fish for a royal banquet: run yourself through with a sword. 


My new historical thriller, The Clockwork Girl, is set in Paris in the mid-18th century. We start in the squalor of a brothel where the only refreshments on offer are pies and chops from the pastry shop, pitchers of cheap wine served to ‘men too drunk to question the quality’, and of course the girls themselves. When Madeleine, our protagonist, is recruited as a police spy, we move with her to the polished strangeness of a clockmaker’s house where the cook, Edme, serves up coffee and marzipan tarts, rabbit pie and a healthy dose of sarcasm. Lastly, to try to unravel the mystery of the vanishing children of Paris, we travel to the scandalously lavish Palace of Versailles, where expensive perfumes and potted orange trees fail to mask the reek of decay. 

It was while researching the palace that I learnt about the ridiculous level of preparation and waste involved in royal meals. Each course consisted of numerous dishes which were marched from the kitchens and placed on the King’s table in an ornate pattern. By the time the King had finished eating, he had tasted up to thirty different dishes, all washed down with copious champagne. During banquets and festivities, buffet tables would be laden with piles of roast chickens and caramelised ducks, pyramids of candied fruit, piles of patisseries and cakes and astonishing edible statues. 


All this would be insane enough, but bear in mind that the vast majority of people in 18th century France lived in poverty. Many were regularly hungry, their staple food hard black bread. And when harvests failed or family fell ill, people starved in the streets. It is because she is all too aware that she could end up as ‘more mutton for the Paris pot’ that Madeleine takes ever great risks, hoping she will escape her fate. 


That huge disparity between rich and poor would also become one of the main causes of the French Revolution less than fifty years later. Marie Antoinette probably never said ‘let them eat cake’ (or ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche’). That phrase in fact came from a book by Rousseau some years before she took the throne. However, she had come to symbolise the scandalous luxury of Versailles, a place where the chosen few gorged on cheese and wine while the poor had to abide by the rules. Sound familiar? 

Anna in her back garden



Catriona McPherson said...

Welcome, Anna. Nothing wrong with a tin of baked beans. The only bit of that mad menu I think I could do is the sugar-spinning. And that's only from watching Bake Off.

Susan C Shea said...

Forget the pheasants - I need the book!