You may be familiar with the name Karen Blixen whose pen name was Isak Dinesen, the Swedish author of the famous memoir “Out of Africa.” Both of these films won the Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year.
Cailles en Sarcophage - Served at Babette's Feast
The film “Babette’s Feast” is centered around two beautiful sisters, Martine and Philippa who live with their father in a small town in Scandanavia in the 19th century. Their father is a pastor of a small Christian church who expects the girls to spend their life helping him with their small congregation. Many young men attend the church only to get a glimpse of the beautiful daughters. Their father has discouraged all suitors who would dare to upset his plans. Even after their father’s death, the sisters honored his wishes and never married.
Martine Has a Special Suitor
Martine attracted an army officer, Lorens Loewenheilm, who was sent by his father to live with his aunt to ponder over his misspent youth which had put him into debt. He listened closely to the sermons of the pastor, but was discouraged from courting Martine. He was able to repeat the pastor’s viewpoints to the women he courted back home, and eventually married a lovely girl who was the lady-in-waiting to the Queen.
Feast by Petro Levchenko - Wikimedia
Philippa is Given Singing Lessons
Philippa also had a suitor who pressed his luck with the pastor. Achille Papin was a famous opera star who had performed for an audience in Stockholm. He was encouraged to get some fresh air and rest in a pretty area on the coast of Jutland, where the pastor lived. While attending the services there, he was highly impressed with Philippa’s beautiful voice and asked the pastor’s permission to give Philippa singing lessons. He visited often at their home, and he and Philippa sang together. When he attempted to kiss Philippa, she resisted and told her father she no longer wished to take singing lessons from Papin.
After their father died, Martine and Philippa continued to host their small congregation of about a dozen people. One day, a woman came to their door and they invited her in. She appeared to be ill so they asked her to sit with them and have a cup of tea. They learned that her name was Babette Hersant. She was a French refugee who was sent to them by Achille Papin seeking work as a cook. She was forced to flee Paris when her husband and son were shot in the Civil War which raged in the streets of Paris. The ladies told her they could not afford to employ her. Babette insisted that she would work for nothing since she only wanted to work for friends of Mr. Papin. They agreed to take her in.
Jarl Kulle - The General - Wikimedia
Babette is Welcomed
Babette was a great asset to the household. She worked for them for fourteen years. She did all the food shopping, washed the windows, and haggled with the fishmonger when she purchased his fresh fish. Martine and Philippa found that they had more money since Babette came to live with them. They thanked God for sending Babette to them. When the small flock of parishioners argued with each other, which they did often, Babette would say “Let us have peace and quiet.”
Babette Wins the French Lottery
One day, a letter came to Babette from France. Martine and Philippa stayed around to hear what could possibly be in the letter. Babette was startled herself. The letter told her she had won the French lottery of 10,000 francs. The ladies gave her a nice strongbox to keep her francs in. They worried, however, that she might want to return to Paris now that she had so much money at her disposal.
Although the pastor had passed away many years previously, the congregation noted that his 100th birthday was coming up soon, and they wanted to have some sort of celebration to mark the event.
Karen Blixen and brother Tom Dinesen - Wikimedia
Babette Wants to Prepare the Feast
Babette told Martine and Philippa that she had a favor to ask them. She wanted to prepare a meal for the pastor’s birthday celebration. She wanted it to be a French dinner, and she would like to pay for it with her own money. They said that was out of the question. She said “Have I ever asked you for anything before.” They said “No, this is the first time.” They reluctantly agreed to let Babette prepare the meal and pay for it herself. She said she would have to go to Paris for a few days to receive instruction from her nephew on how to prepare the meal.
When she was in Paris, she arranged with her nephew to bring all of the ingredients for the meal, including the wine, from Paris. When the boat arrived, her nephew unloaded a cage with several quail, and another with a huge turtle to be made into turtle soup. It took a long time to unload all of the supplies off of the boat.
The Guests Conspire
Martine and Philippa had some misgivings about allowing Babette to prepare the meal for their father’s memorial celebration. They even had nightmares about the feast. They spoke to their small congregation and told them that they had only wanted to agree to Babette’s wishes; they did not know what she would serve them. They called it a “witch’s Sabbath.” They decided that no one should say a single word about the food that passed their lips. They would preserve their tongues for prayer. It would be as if they had no sense of taste.
The General Will Attend the Feast
A letter arrived from Mrs. Lowenheilm. She was expecting a visit from her nephew General Lorens Lowenheilm. He was with the Swedish Royal Court. The ladies said they would both be welcome to come to the feast. There was plenty of room.
Map of Jutland - Wikimedia
Ingredients of the Meal
Babette did all of the preparations herself with the help of her nephew. She brought out the candelabra and the best dishes. She made some exquisite pastries as well as the turtle soup from the live turtle. The main course consisted of cailles en sarcophage (stuffed quails in puff pastry). Added features were vichyssoise, baba au rhum, Blinis Demidoff, endive salad with walnuts, rounds of hard cheese, and Nesselrode pudding with whipped cream and glazed chestnuts.
General Loewenheilm is seen preparing for the dinner which he will attend with his aunt. He looks in the mirror, stating that he has achieved every ambition. Tonight, he will see if he made the right decision. He and his aunt received a warm welcome.
The General Praises the Meal
Since the parishioners had all agreed that they would make no comments on the dinner, the General was the only one who praised Babette’s cooking and her choices, all throughout the meal. They were served the best wines, including Amontillado sherry and Veuve Cliquot champagne.
The General Says Goodbye to Martine
The General spoke after the meal, having learned much from the pastor’s words so many years ago. His talk inspired all of the guests to stop their bickering and grudges. Just before the General left, he stopped to speak once more to Martine, and told her “I have been with you every day of my life. I shall be with you every day that is left to me.” As he and his aunt left in their carriage, the other guests gathered in a circle outdoors and held hands and sang.
Martine and Philippa were certain that Babette would want to return to Paris. She explained that no one was waiting for her in Paris and that she had no money. She spent all of her 10,000 francs on the dinner. Her two dearest friends embraced her.
Pope Francis I Wikimedia
An interesting follow-up note is that Pope Francis has stated that “Babette’s Feast” is one of his favorite movies.
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