Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Boreham on the Kitchen and the Sacred Art of Cooking

There hangs at the Louvre a great painting by Murillo, in which the artist pictures the interior of a kitchen. But the toilers moving to and fro are not mortals in old work-a-day dresses, but beautiful white-winged angels.

One serenely puts the kettle on the fire to boil; one is lifting a pail of water with most perfect grace; one is at the dresser, taking down the plates; whilst a youthful cherub is moving here and there, his face radiant at being permitted to take part in such sacred tasks.

The charm of the picture lies in the fact that no incongruity strikes the beholders. It seems the most natural thing in the world that the angels should be busying themselves with pots and pans. It is not that the angels are degraded into being cooks; it is that the kitchen is made to seem worthy of the angels.

It really seems to me that a school of cookery is an order of priesthood. The cook is not very far from the kingdom of God. He is a priest presiding continually over a frightful hecatomb of slaughtered victims. Innocent victims, too, and innocent victims who have died that, by dying, they may nourish the life of others more guilty than themselves. Upon this holocaust of sacrificial blood the cook gazes continually; and he must be blind as the blindest bat yet born if he does not perceive in it all an expression of that great vicarious law that is the very crux and climax of the gospel. The kitchen table is an altar, if the cook only knew it; and he is himself a priest, presiding every day over scenes of solemn sacrifice. Yes, the table is an altar, and Professor Robertson Smith, that prince of Hebraists, tells us that we miss the whole spiritual beauty of the Old Testament unless we see that the sacrificial altar was the natural evolution of the sacrificial table.

It is not strange, therefore, that the kitchen is sometimes crowded with angels. It would be wonderful, all things considered, if no heavenly visitants appeared there. 'Dining in company is a divine institution,' says Edward White, in his Minor Moralities, 'so let the art of cooking be honoured by all people. Cookery distinguishes humankind from the beasts that perish.

Cakes for angels! The angels in the kitchen! Dear me! How the angels and the cooks seem to meet and mingle at every turn! Between the cooks and the angels there seems to be some subtle affinity, some indefinable relationship! The whole matter is too deep for me, as I feared, when I set out, that it would be.

I can only see that things secular and things sacred are inextricably interwoven. Heaven invades earth at every point; and the more sweetly human a thing is, the more solemnly divine it is as well. I cannot write half a dozen lines about cooks without coming on the angels; and next time I venture tremblingly into the kitchen I shall confidently expect to hear such songs as the shepherds heard in the fields near Bethlehem.

F W Boreham, ‘The Angel of the Kitchen’, The Golden Milestone (London: Charles H Kelly, 1915), 169-177.

Image: Murillo’s Angels in the Kitchen.