Dictionary of Cuisine -- Alexandre Dumas (hardback)


by Alexandre Dumas, Spring Books, London. Quite a find, and in remarkable condition! Nearly impossible to find in hardback in the U.S. Blue covers, no DJ, 281 pages, 1964 printing of the 1958 English translation edition of the 1873 French publication of "Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine."

This delightful book is much more than an alphabetically arranged dictionary of culinary terms, ingredients and recipes. Dumas, the iconic French-Haitian author of "The Three Musketeers," "The Count of Monte Cristo" and dozens of other successful novels and plays, was an enthusiastic, anecdotal writer and a gourmand who truly knew and loved food from all over the world.

Thumbing through this amazing book, I stopped at his entry for "Marie-Antoine Careme," which begins: "This is a name that certainly did not seem predestined to acquire the gastronomic fame it has now has. Since the death of Caremê on January 12, 1833, many prices have lost their principalities and many kings have fallen from their thrones, Caremê, by his genius king of cookery, has stood up, and no rival has obscured his glory." Right beneath that, I then read his delightful turnaround take on "Calapé," "an American name for a turtle stew cooked in its own shell.

"This dish, which was the delight of my crew when we cruised between Africa and Sicily, has never seemed worthy to appear on a self-respecting table," he writes, and goes on to describe in grisly fashion how a big sea turtle was caught and prepared. Nevertheless, he then gives us the recipe in enthusiastic fashion: "You will find two lobes of meat very much like veal in colour and flavor." I get the distinct impression Dumas enjoyed this meal at more than a few un-self-respecting tables:

"Cut the meat into pieces the size of a walnut, soak awhile, then cook on a slow fire for 3 or 4 hours in consomme´with salt, pepper, cloves, bay leaf and carrots. Meanwhile, prepare poultry quenelles seasoned with parsley, scallions and anchovies. Simmer these in consommé. Put in 3 or 4 glasses of dry Madeira in your turtle stew, and the quenelles and their liquid. Having cleaned the upper shell of your turtle, use it as a dish to serve the stew. From a turtle weighing from 120 to 180 pounds there will be enough to serve 50 persons."

This edition, edited and translated by Louis Colman, is somewhat abridged -- for example, he omits "several pages of Dumas's purple prose on the Barbarian invasion of Europe" and most bakery recipes because of his correct assumption that modern flours differ vastly from French flour of the 1870s.

Hardback, blue covers, no DJ, 281 pages. Illustrations by John H. Jacoby. Pages have uniformly yellowed. Otherwise, VG+.

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