Sometimes the best part of doing hsitory is the flotsam and jetsam that washes ashore. While looking for a copy of an 1855 cookbook I found this poem appended nonsequitorially to a “Notices of New Books” column in the New York Times, and it was so charmingly bizarre I felt I had to share it.
Sydney Smith (1771–1845) was an Anglican clergyman and writer who, it seems, could scarcely contain himself at the prospect of a well-dressed salad. I don’t know when or where he originally published this “receipt” (or recipe), but in 1851 it was reprinted in The American matron: or Practical and scientific cookery, and then twenty-two years later in Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery. The latter book sold well enough that the Rev. Smith’s poem apparently became quite well known in Gilded-Age America.
I don’t think I have much hope of making Sydney Smith a household name again, but here it is anyway.
Receipt for Dressing a Salad
Two large potatoes, passed through the kitchen sieve
Smoothness and softness to the salad give;
Of mordant mustard add a single spoon—
Distrust the condiment that bites too soon;
But deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault,
To add a double quantity of salt;
Four times the spoon with oil of Lucca crown;
And twice with vinegar, procured from town;
True flavor needs it, and your poet begs
The pounded yellow of two well-boiled eggs;
Let onion’s atoms lurk within the bowl,
And, scarce suspected, animate the whole.
And lastly, in the flavored compound toss
A magic spoonful of anchovy sauce.
O! great and glorious! Oh, herbaceous treat!
‘Twould tempt a dying anchorite to eat;
Back to the world he’d turn his weary soul,
And plunge his fingers in the Salad bowl.
Oddly, an 1868 issue of Lippincott’s Magazine referred to these as the final lines of the Rev. Smith’s poem:
Serenely full, the epicure may say.
Fate cannot harm me, I have dined to-day.
…and notes that they were imitated from Dryden:
Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call to-day his own;
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow, do thy worst; for I have lived today.
But those lines don’t appear in any version I’ve seen. If anybody stumbles across this who happens to know where the “receipt” was first published, please let me know. In the meantime, I’m going to make some breakfast.