CLASSIC DALRYMPLE: Gooseberries (1999)

Commenting on the New Criterion post directly below, reader Flossie called attention to this older essay, the source of the quote below about Dalrymple’s father. In fact, the essay contains more biographical information about his father than probably anything else he has written.

I want to say that it is one of his best works, but I say that too often. (Funny how almost all of Dalrymple’s essays seem to be one of his best.) It is a comment on the importance of appreciating the beauty in the everyday:

Adriaen Coorte’s minutely observed and portrayed gooseberries are not, therefore, a trivial or contemptible subject matter for art. The sprig of the bush on which they grow teaches us to observe the play of light upon the foliage, to take delight in the variety of shades of green to be seen in the various leaves–no, even in a single leaf. As for the translucency of the berries themselves, so miraculously beautiful, and captured so tenderly by the artist, one feels like exclaiming, as T. H. Huxley did on reading Darwin’s Origin of Species, “How stupid of me not to have thought of that!”

So now I am thoroughly reconciled to gooseberries as a fruit, and will never again think of them as sour and distasteful. They are, after all, an instance of the beauty of the world.

I also like this witty description of recent improvement in English cuisine:

Meals in England in those days were treated as an ordeal that had to be gone through; nowadays, thanks to an increased awareness of the health implications of nutrition, they are more like medical procedures.

Though I can attest from personal experience that Dalrymple is an excellent cook!

(h/t Flossie)

15 thoughts on “CLASSIC DALRYMPLE: Gooseberries (1999)

  1. Iphigenia D.

    This is very true. We should always take a moment to reflect about the beauty that we often ignore during our daily lives. Not only is it nice to do this, but it also helps us remember that it’s not all bad.

    Also, it’s nice to know that Dalrymple is as accomplished in the kitchen as he is in other areas. What a guy! 🙂

  2. Ravi

    I remember you said you stayed at his place for a while. Can you tell us more about it or perhaps you could write an essay about this experience and post it on this blog? I really would like to know more about him personally.
    thanks for keeping this blog alive and keep it up.

  3. Jonathan Levy

    I just finished reading ‘Spoilt Rotten’, and the footnotes contain a few very personal details of his childhood – sufficiently personal that I’m having second thoughts about copying them here. It would be embarassing if the doctor were to browse this website, and think were were gossipping about his personal life instead of his ideas.

  4. P. Hayman

    “As a child, I thought them an inferior fruit. In part, this was because of their color: pale green, while I thought that a real berry ought to be red. Also, they were extremely sour…”

    Perhaps the good doctor might like to try growing Ribes ‘Pax’, a cultivar which not only has very handsome red fruit, but which is sweet enough to be eaten straight from the bush. …And as if that weren’t enough, it has far fewer spines than the majority of gooseberries and is resistant to the dreaded American mildew.

    I must say, though, that I disagree strongly with him about custard: in his day it may have been grim, but the custard I know and love is a delight both to palette and eye. No doubt my tastes are very plebeian, but I’d make a plea for reconsideration of custard. Indeed, I think it not unlikely that, were this delicious accompaniment available to them, the Dutch masters would have frequently painted still life with custard… 😉

  5. Jitpring

    This is a profound essay. Infinite thanks for bringing it to our attention. And infinite thanks for this site. Dalrymple/Daniels is my favorite contemporary writer.

  6. Clinton

    Hi, Ravi. Not sure if you will see this. Please let me know if you do.

    Just wanted you to know that I wasn’t ignoring your request, although I am so tardy in responding that it probably seems that way. I’ve been meaning to write something about our visit to see Dalrymple a couple of years ago at his home in France (the source of the photo of him in his kitchen at the bottom of the “Importance” page), but a) we have to decide where we are going to put it (here in comments or in a separate entry on the blog) and then write it up, and b) it’s just so hard to keep up with everything sometimes. I promise when I am able, I will honor your request.

    Thank you so much for your comment, and please forgive my huge delay. I will get to this at some point.


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