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date: 17 January 2020


The Oxford Companion to Food
Tom JaineTom Jaine


are more important than the somewhat humble undertones might imply, a word that only came into common usage at the end of the 19th century (before that, they were called ‘scraps’ or ‘remains’—a translation of the French restes). Indeed, much as they reflect a hierarchy of foodstuffs, so they embody a larger cosmic or social hierachy. The cosmic might be that of sacrifice, where Athenians offered the gods the smoke from the sacrificial fire but shared the left-over carcass between the participants; whereas the social is seen in the medieval custom of distributing the remains from dinner in hall to the poor at the gates. That same descent from rich to poor is described for late-19th-century Paris by Jean-Paul Aron. Leftovers are vital to sound economy in every household, as the Sunday roast is served cold on Monday, and as hash on Tuesday; and they form a substantial class of made-dishes within the system of haute cuisine: croquettes, cutlets, rissoles, boulettes or crépinettes. ‘Nothing is wasted’ went the adage, though the poet Boileau was forced to remark that ‘A dinner heated twice was never as good’ (there is sometimes a distinction to be made between rechauffés and leftovers proper). What was true for professionals holds good for the home-cook: trifle, shepherd’s pie, curry (in Britain), and more are staples of the well-run kitchen. Not for nothing did Madame Bergeaud write her recipe book for young women in the 1960s with the subtitle ‘Balance and finesse with economy’.

Tom Jaine