|Historical records show that foie gras is as old as the Pharaohs of Egypt and the Romans. The ancients discovered that geese and ducks tended to overfeed themselves in order to get ready for their long migratory journeys, often to a different continent, producing a fattened liver. It seems that once discovered, the liver was in demand and so the ancient Egyptians decided to take advantage of this natural process by developing it in a farm like manner.
In Europe, besides the Romans, Jewish communities also played a major role in foie gras history and development. Their foie gras know how is understandable because they used goose fat instead of pork fat for cooking. Geese were fed figs until the middle ages when corn was introduced, and corn is still in use today.
Very few ancient recipes have survived, but cookbooks with foie gras recipes appear in Europe, and especially France in the 1500s. The Art of Cooking, the only surviving ancient Roman cookbook dating back to the fourth or fifth century, references two recipes for foie gras. Early recipes are often short and without the detailed steps that we are used to in today’s cook books, but their numbers increased greatly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with recipes from the great chefs of France such as La Chapelle, Massaliot, Pierre Delune, La Varenne, Careme and Menon. The nineteenth century brought more cuisine sophistication and witnessed the birth of many foie gras businesses in France, some still in business today.
La Cuisiniere Bourgeoise printed in 1746 gives a simple and rather short recipe for “Ragout de Foies gras”. The great Jules Gouffe however, in his 1867 book, Le livre de la Grande Cuisine offers no less than fifteen ways of preparing foie gras. By that time, pâtés, terrines and sandwich recipes were in vogue among the upper classes. Le cuisinier des cuisiniers from 1853, gives no foie gras recipes, showing that foie gras was not for everyone; it was reserved for the elite and also limited to the areas of production because of the lack of refrigeration and slow transport means. In the late nineteenth century, foie gras became a real industry making France the uncontested champion it is today.