The not so humble Mushroom

Lamb and mutton were served frequently (according to season) at Whistler’s table. ‘Côtelettes de mouton, purée Champignons’ is a fairly clear description: mutton cutlets served with a purée of mushrooms. However on other occasions cutlets were served with ‘purée d’Or’ and that is not at all clear.  One menu – a lavish menu, served on 18 January 1876 – reads: ‘Cotelettes de Mouton – purée d’Or – Champignons’.

We attempted to make a golden mushroom purée (and no, we haven’t yet tried it with chanterelles), based on a recipe from Escoffier’s Guide to modern cookery. It was an interesting but not entirely successful experiment.


450 grams mushrooms

20 grams butter

30 grams flour

250 ml milk

salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste

The method is as follows: Peel a bowl-full of mushrooms and ‘bleach’ them by leaving them for an hour in water with the juice of a lemon.

Mushrooms in water and lemon juice
Mushrooms in water and lemon juice

Result: mushrooms with a slight lemon flavour, but no more white than when they started!

Dry them, chop finely, and use a hand blender to turn them into a puree.


Kathy Cooks!

Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Add the white flour, mix and heat gently for a few minutes. Add milk and stir continually, until it forms a creamy smooth sauce.

The perfect bechamel
The perfect bechamel

Mix the mushroom purée into the bechamel sauce. Heat the mixture for a couple of minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. It looks a bit like mud but tastes wonderful!

Mashed mushroom mix
Mashed mushroom mix

It is a lot better than it looks, but it is not remotely ‘golden’ so we tried some alternative ‘golds’.

purée of mushrooms with mutton chops
Purée of mushrooms with mutton chops

Buttery Potato

Potato mashed with milk and butter

The potatoes (one per person, peeled and cut in half) were boiled till just soft, mashed with a drop of milk and small pat of butter,  lightly salted, and served in a shallow dish,  decorated (according to family tradition) with a basket-weave pattern made with a fork. Wee dobs of butter on the top complete the decor.

The Potato Pie:


Another Purée d’Or = in this case, carrots!

Sliced, steamed (above the boiling potatoes), mashed with butter, decorated with parsley, a very simple, quick (15 minutes) and sweet dish.

Helen cutting carrots!
Helen cutting carrots!



(For mutton read Hoggit- it was not the season for mutton)


Take four chops, or more as required: trim the fat to make a neat shape. Fry them in butter if you want to be Whistlerian but we used olive oil: three minutes a side and one for the pot (I turned them twice). Arrange them on the potatoes.

A dish of Cutlets on mashed potatoes
A dish of Cutlets on mashed potatoes

THE DINNER – and very good too!


Whistler’s memorable dinner party started with lobster soup, followed by a ‘note rouge’ of Herring and a ‘harmonie’ of fish-cake, then mutton and (rather surprisingly) snipe, finally an apple compote and coffee.  It would have been served on blue and white plates and pristine white linen, perhaps in front of a ‘Golden’ painting such as Whistler’s famous Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge. Indeed perhaps the splendid meal was intended to persuade a patron to part with his Gold.

It must have been, for the cook, a mammoth task, and for the guests, an  extraordinary aesthetic experience: Food for Art’s Sake.


Whistler Menu, 7 December 1875 and 18 January 1876,  #06860 and  #06871

Please see the Bibliography for all other sources.


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I am an artist and art historian, and my research is focussed on the work and life of James McNeill Whistler. Based in the School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow, I am Director of the Whistler Paintings and Etchings Projects. These blogs are informal, and, I hope, interesting and even quirky discussions of individual works and events related to Whistler.

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