Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Is Anyone Nuts for Nesselrode Anymore?

Any girl named Sandrine Sobriquet is born to be a lover of words, and one such word I adore for its many charms is “Nesselrode.” History buffs and foodies can argue over the virtue of the statesman and the eponymous pie, but few know of either one these days. Count Karl Nesselrode was a Russian diplomat (born in Portugal of German decent, by the way) for whom an iced pudding of pureed chestnuts and candied fruits was made in 1814.

No one knows for sure who concocted this technical feat. Rumor has it that Antonin Carême himself might have been behind the dish, but it is more likely that the count’s chef Monsieur Mouy was the architect. Equally curious is why Nesselrode was so deserving of the frivolous noble privilege of having a dish named after him. It could have been his official status as the Russian representative at the Congress of Vienna the same year. Or perhaps it was his unabashed appreciation of chestnuts and pudding. The former is not terribly compelling and the latter is dubious at best. Is anyone even nuts for Nesselrode anymore?

An informal poll leaves me wondering. Anyone asked who is younger than 50 has never heard of it. There is no consensus among those who were alive in the dessert’s final heyday of the mid-twentieth century. The responses range from, “I never liked Nesselrode pie,” to “I can’t remember,” to “I am sure I did.” A few profess that they just loved it and cannot remember when they last had it—probably because no pastry shops sell it with the rare exception of Christmastime upon request. But the mere mention of the name “Nesselrode” conjures some sense of pleasure and a quest for rediscovery.

Check out Arthur Schwartz’s thoughts on Nesselrode, as well as a 1988 article from The New York Times on the mystery of this now elusive dessert. Perhaps it might make a comeback…Lesley M. M. Blume, should we bring it back?

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