Friday, January 11, 2013

Three Jokes about Charlotte Russe

A French story about dessert and politics in 1826:

This odd little story contains the first mention of Charlotte Russe.It is clear that this is a joke, but the perplexing thing is that it's not funny. Lord Canning, was the English Ambassador to France and this story was sent back home to England. Perhaps it illustrates something about the French character that is lost on us nowadays.

What is the object of Mr. Canning's visit to France? One of the jokes circulated on this subject is, that England will take one of the Greek islands, that Russia will take Wallachia and Moldavia, and that France must take patience. Heaven only knows what part poor France is about to play, but the following is a copy of a manuscript letter which has been handed about in some of our drawing-rooms, and which is supposed to have been written by Mr. Canning to one of his friends in London. If the joke be too long, or should be thought less comical in London than in Paris, you will of course abridge it.

Intercepted Letter from Mr. Canning to Lord R * * *

"my Dear Lord,—You can form no idea of my situation here. As the weather is fine, and the grapes excellent, I should be very happy if people would consider me of less importance, and not suppose that I mingle politics even in the choice of the wines and dishes of which I partake at dinner

Fake Canning goes on to describe two Frenchmen who make all sorts of conjectures about English politics based on watching him eat turkey, vegetables and rice. Then he eats dessert and overhears them speculating that England will take over a Greek Island, make a deal with the Turks or support a Russian land grab, all based on the dishes he samples.

" The two neighbours then let me alone for a few minutes, but they soon began again in a sort of half whisper—'He is eating Macedoine. I told you he was a philo-hellenist!'

'No such thing,' replied the other. 'If he is now eating Macedoine, 1 saw him just now take some Riz a la Turque. He shows the true Machiavelism of English policy.' 'Ah !' exclaimed one of them after a short pause, 'he is eating Charlotte russe. Ah ! it is clear he wishes to cheat every body.' (The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal. 1826. London: Henry Colburn. 1829. p.421-422.)

A Persian nobleman jokes about Charlotte Russe in 1838:

Another dish of which they became very fond was a preparation of cream, under the name of Charlotte Russe. The Wali, in particular, was a great admirer of it, and ate, as he always did when he got what he liked, to excess, making all the time puns and bon-mots in Persian on the sweetness and fairness of his favourite dish as compared with the living Charlottes of his acquaintance. (James Baillie Frasier, Narrative of the residence of the Persian Princes in London in 1835 and 1836. Vol. 2 London:Richard Bentley, 1838. p. 281)

An English book reviewer describes a French menu from a London restaurant, and makes a case for providing an English translation, 1845:

 But what startled us most, was a viand called "Charlotte Russe aux fraises." "Charlotte Russe!" we exclaimed; Russian Charlotte, "aux fraises," with strawberries! What dish is this ?—Are we amongst cannibals, who, with her strawberries, will have us eat the strawberry girl?" (Littell's Living Age, Vol. 5, April, May, June 1845 Boston: T. H. Carter, p38.

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