Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Fond and drink: Fond of fondue

Dipping-food fun spells party time any time



Tonight’s the last-chance party time for good old 2008, and since any New Year’s Eve celebration deserves special treatment worthy of commemorating the old and welcoming the new, the idea of a fondue — impromptu or otherwise — may well save your holiday bacon if you haven’t come up with a concept yet.

Fondue is super easy and fun; it also pretty much guarantees you a party, even at the last minute.

Just say the word “fondue” and people light up like the little gas lamp that keeps the whole event simmering. There’s something archetypically social and reassuring about gathering around a hot burbling pot to dip in tasty tidbits. It must be lodged in our limbic brain from the days of our furry ancestors gathering ’round a fire outside the cave entrance.

If you don’t have on old fondue pot to dust off, don’t worry. A bunch of forks along with an old pot on a stove burner on low will nicely do the trick since the best Canadian parties are kitchen parties anyway.

No one is 100 per cent sure where and when fondue originated. Mongolian hot pot, with its ringed pot full of bubbling hot water or oil for cooking bits of meat surrounding a funnel up the centre to allow fire smoke to escape, goes back to pre-history.

A passage in Homer’s Iliad (an older translation, not Robert Fagles’ recent one) describes Hecamed è, who was “as fair as a goddess”, serving an Achaean chieftain and his companion a meal which included Pramnian wine, which is thought to be a type of Lesbian wine from the Greek island of Lesbos, that she had mixed with goat’s milk cheese “grated on a bronze grater” and some ground barley meal.

While the passage definitely says that the soldiers drank this mixture to quench their thirst, some epicureans consider it the first reference to fondue. The wine/cheese combo, I guess.

In more contemporary times, it’s the Swiss who have been given the honour as originators and long-standing guardians of the fondue.

Food expert Thelma Barer-Stein notes the Swiss “consummate art” of blending tolerance and politeness with simplicity, along with their capability to blend and adopt anything, including foods, from other cultures as being a bastion of Swiss sophistication and good taste, and generally all things Swiss-like.