I picked up this delightful and delectable little book from the Landmark bookstore during one of their yearly sales. And what a find! Compiled and introduced by the late Andre Simon, A Flummery of Food is a collection of great writings, by great writers on (mostly) great food and gastronomic experiences. As such, it brings together two worlds to which I can reasonably assume I belong: the gastronomic and the bibliophilic. Having said that, the book is more than just a collection of writings related to food; it is chock-full of illustrations in the form of cartoons by Punch artists, miscellaneous drawings, and colourful plates of everything from 19th century Glassware, supper dishes, and various feasting scenes over the centuries to “An interesting scene on board an East-Indiaman showing the effects of a heavy lurch — after dinner” and “Pitt and Napoleon Feasting on the World as a Plum Pudding”.
This is the kind of book that you hold, look at, and browse at a leisurely and random pace, rather than read. And you never know what you’ll find. Dipping in at random one can unearth a recipe for Scripture Cake, pieces on Explorer’s Diet and Eating Alone in the Antarctic, and a truly funny and oddly appetite whetting extract from Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit (odd because it belongs to a section titled Meals to Forget). Right next to the introduction there’s a hilarious 1937 New Yorker cartoon, a dining scene in fact, by James Thurber in which one of the diners says
It’s a naive domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amazed by its presumption.
I think that captures the essence of the book’s philosophy: good food is an essential aesthetic component of human existence but is, just as art in any form, as idiosyncratic as and subject to the emotional vagaries of its very much human creators and connoiseurs.