Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Instead of Dull Dinners

Every year I go to an annual dinner for alumni of Oxford and Cambridge who live in Oregon or nearby Washington. I live as a near hermit on the side of a mountain much of the year, so I go forth to the dinner because it offers as great a variety of people as I can find in any one gathering. They are recent grads, ancient grads, English, American, Asians, Australians, Africans and Latins.

The informal conversation is always interesting. Sometimes it is also near life-saving as it was last year when an ophthalmologist told me that the Lasik eye surgery that liberated me 10 years ago from a life of glasses and contacts and near blindness underwater, might lead to sudden blindness at high altitudes as internal pressure pushes out a thinned cornea.

While such pre-dinner talk enlightens or entertains, the after dinner talk by one guest is . . . well, let us say, not as entertaining as the life I lived at Oxford. I have urged the organizers to uphold tradition. How lively is that tradition?

I could go on and recount murders and mayhem, but consider only this description of a ceremony to honor the Duke of Portland in 1793:

“. . . luckily the ladies were admitted first ; for a rush of 3,000 men was made. Gowns were torn, caps broken, and pugilistic rounds fought. The " Broad " was strewn with shoes, buckles, gowns, caps and prostrate men. Pick-pockets from town came dressed in M.A. costume.”

This blog, however, is about words, and I will illustrate with some rhymes that showed Oxford’s passion for life occasioned praises of food such as I’ve never heard for the string beans and chicken or steak served at our annual dinner.

In the mid 1700s students and faculty of Oxford enjoyed the wares of two caterers. Mrs Dorothy Spreadbury’s spiced sausage was so famous that students named a collection of verse for her product. In that book, The Oxford Sausage, we find the other cook, Ben Tyrrell, maker of mutton pies. Here is Ben’s advertisement and lines about him and his wares, as well as an opinion about which cook was best.


ALL ye that love what's nice and rarish,
At Oxford, in St. Mary's Parish,
Ben Tyrrell, Cook of high Renown,
To please the Palates of the Gown,
At Three-pence each, makes Mutton-pies,
Which thus he begs to advertise :
He welcomes all his Friends at Seven,
Each Saturday and Wednesday Even *.

* Mr. Tyrrell, Cook, in the High-ftreet, Oxford, having formed a laudable Design of obliging the University with Mutton Pies, twice a Week, this Advertisement appeared, on that Occasion, in the Oxford Journal, Nov. 25, 1758.

B No

No Relicks Hale, with Art unjust,
Lurk in Disguise beneath his Crust;
His Pies, to give you all fair Play,
Smork [smoke]only when 'tis Market-Day :
And all must own, hows his Meat,
While Jolly's Porter crowns the Treat.

If Rumps and Kidneys can allure ye,
Ben takes upon him to assure ye,
No Cook shall better hit the Taste,
In giving Life and Soul to Paste.
If cheap and good have Weight with Men,
Come all ye Youths, and sup with Ben.
If Liquor in a Mutton-pie
Has any Charms, come taste and try!
O bear me Witness, Sons!
Pierce but the Crust—the Gravy runs:
The Taster licks his Lips, and cries,
" O Rare Ben Tyrrell's Mutton Pies !"

But hold—no more—I've said enough— Or else my Pies may prove a Puff.

BEN TYRRELL's, Wednesday Kight,
December 6th, 1758.

HOW I congratulate fair Isa,
That such the Taste for Mutton Pies is!
Hail glorious Ben ! whose Genius high
First plann'd a genuine Mutton Pie!
Born to combine with matchless Taste,
The Charms of Pepper and of Paste !
Was but the Motion of my Pen
Quick as thy Rolling-Pin, O Ben !
O, could my Thoughts thy Pastry ape,
And slide, like yielding Dough, to Shape ;
My Genius, like thy Oven glow,
My Numbers, like thy Gravy flow ;
Or, in the Twinkling of an Eye,

I cook an Ode as you a. Pie;

O then (nor think, to mock thy Trade,

My Promises of Pie-Crust made)

I'd raise thy culinary Fame
Above immortal Spreadbury's Name:
Though from all Cooks, a Matron wise,
In Sausages fhe bore the Prize :
Her seasoning Hand mould yield to thine,
Thy Mutton should her Pork outshine.

On Ben TyrrEll's Pics.

LET Christmas boast her customary Treat,
A Mixture strange, of Suet, Currants, Meat,
Where various Tastes combine, the greasy, and the sweet.

Let glad Shrove-Tuesday bring the Pancake thin,
Or Fritter rich, with Apples stor'd within :
On Easter-Sunday be the Pudding seen,
To which the Tansy lends her sober Green :
And when great London hails her annual Lord,
Let quiv'ring Custard crown the AlJermannic Board.

But Ben prepares a more delicious Mess,
Substantial Fare, a Breakfast for Queen Bese :
What dainty Epicure, or greedy Glutton,
Would not prefer his Pie, that's made of Mutton ?