“Peculiarly French”: The Caillaux Trial (Recipe: Banana Ice Cream)

Rock Island Argus, July 20 to 28, 1914

On March 16th, 1914, Madame Henriette Caillaux walked into the offices of the conservative paper Le Figaro and asked to see its editor, Gaston Calmette. Calmette had been viciously attacking her husband, Joseph Caillaux, in print for months, and had recently gone so far as to publish humiliating private correspondence of his. The visit was clearly therefore not going to be a pleasant social call. Madame Caillaux waited, dressed to the nines, until Calmette was ready to see her, and then walked in to his office and asked if he knew why she was there.

When he said no, she pulled out a Browning and shot six times.

Historian Edward Berenson wrote the definitive work on this incident and the subsequent legal proceedings in his engaging and deft The Trial of Madame Caillaux. In it, he uses the trial and the corresponding investigation in to Madame Caillaux’s behavior to examine French society and culture during the Belle Époque, focusing in particular on the ongoing arguments over what it meant to be a “true” woman, and the ways in which the right and the left jumped upon the issue of womanhood to debate the virility and the future of the French nation.

L’assassinat de Gaston Calmette par Henriette Caillaux
Le Petit journal. Supplément du dimanche
Paris, 29 mars 1914.
BnF, Département Philosophie, Histoire, Sciences de l’homme, FOL-LC2-3011
© Bibliothèque nationale de France

At no point was it ever in question that Madame Caillaux had shot – repeatedly – Gaston Calmette. The main argument for the trial hinged on whether Madame Caillaux had acted with premeditation (that is: coldly, rationally, as a man would –what we could call “with masculine aforethought”), or if she had killed because she had been overwhelmed by her emotions (that is, if she was a “true” woman — what we could call “wacky due to having the lady parts”). In his microhistory, Berenson takes the reader through the trial, which absorbed the French at the end of July 1914, and particularly points out how different sections of the French press framed their commentary on Madame Cailluax’s feminitity – or lack thereof. Her status as a woman stood central to the debate over her guilt, and to the political divide over France.  

Like the Parisian press, the Rock Island Argus gave front-page, top-line coverage to the trial for the week it went on. Unlike the Parisian press, however, the Argus’ coverage – drawn from Associate Press reports – was much less interested in gender, and much more interested in what the trial could tell the American people about the French.

Suffice to say: it wasn’t good.

The France that came across in the AP trial reporting consisted of a sensational, raucous people with serious political divisions and an even more serious lack of morals. The AP’s article for the first day set the tone by claiming that the trial with all of its libertine intrigue was “just to the taste of the French public.” The prurient nature of the trial was made even more exciting by “a rumored threat of royalist hotheads to create a disturbance during the trial,” with the exciting risk of political upheaval– a smorgasbord of possible chaos which, the AP noted, meant that “Long before the opening of the palace of justice crowds defying a drizzling rain assembled in the vicinity and special forces of police were called to keep order.” [1] The French, clearly, loved nothing so much as a scandal.

In the recounting of the following days’ events, the AP writer didn’t have to look hard for scandalous moments. Caillaux had to be accompanied to court by bodyguards because of the crowd “hooting” at him [2]; the actual President of the French Republic had to take the stand in a murder trial; the court erupted into an “excited scene” when Calmette’s lawyer Chenu suggested Caillaux’s testimony would “soil the grave which his wife made.”[3] Caillaux’s ex-wife testified against him and he shot back with “I made one mistake; that was in marrying you.” [4]

And then things got absolutely crazy – or, as the AP report put it, “peculiarly French.” Two of the judges threatened to duel each other after the Le Figaro published that one had insultingly muttered to the other one “You dishonor us, sir.” The result was that in the middle of a major trial, the justices in charge were choosing seconds and having them meet. (“It’s the Ten Duel Commandments!”) And if that weren’t enough, Madame Caillaux passed out in court, overcome by having to hear her intimate letters read aloud. The AP reporter nicely underlined the French lack of morality by noting that Caillaux’s lawyers began his reading of the letters by declaring “In this you find burning love but nothing indecent, as common rumor has reported” – only to follow with the then-married Caillaux’s proclamation of his desire to “press a million kisses over your dear body.” [5]

“The procedure within the court,” the AP article on the 27th noted, “would be a source of amazement to the American or English spectator.” What it was to the French was simply spectacle. “Paris vibrates with the daily thrills of the trial,” the article said. “Cabarets and music halls laugh nightly over freshly turned kits and burlesques on those most prominent in the trial.” There was, the reporter remarked, “a cynical disposition in Paris to take the trial lightly, as something prearranged,” and it was a mania that swept up everyone in society on all political spectrums – from the monarchists to the republicans, even drawing in the “aged Empress Eugenie.” [6] The implication was clear: what should have been a serious matter of a murder trial was nothing but entertainment for a nation as frivolous as the French.

But another view of the French did exist, and the editors of the Argus appeared to want to drive this home. Next to the Caillaux article on the 27th, centered at the top of the page, they placed an editorial cartoon by Bob Satterfield entitled “TWO VIEWS.”

Bob Satterfield, “Two Views,” Rock Island Argus, July 27, 1914

In it, he contrasted “The France We Are Most Familiar With” against “The France We Seldom Hear About.” The “familiar” France was an elegant woman labeled as “Paris,” dressed in the latest fashion, with the words “extravagance,” “social scandal,” “political scandal,” and just plain “scandal” swimming around her. The France seldom seen was a woman, dressed in peasant clothing and walking with a young child. Only one word described her: “Thrift,” written on the simple market basket she carried on her arm.

The cartoon pointed out that the salacious view of France which titillated American readers of the trial so much was not the only one. It also brought the trial commentary in line with what Berenson described happening in France, in a way that the AP reports did not. Here, again, the qualities of the French nation were collapsed into the qualities of its women; here, again, the question of what “true” France was came down to a question of what its women truly were.

As the trial neared its end, other headlines started to crowd out the Caillaux case. On the 28th, the news of Madame Caillaux fainting yet again in court was shoved down the page as the banner headline of the Argus informed its readers “AUSTRIA DECLARES WAR UPON SERVIA AND IS RUSHING TROOPS TO THE DANUBE; GERMANY IN REFUSAL TO EXERT INFLUENCE FOR PEACE.”[7] The trial news slid even further as “Armies Rush[ed] to Frontier” the next day.

Madame Caillaux was found innocent, but that was no longer top-of-the-page news. What would become the First World War loomed on the horizon.

Recipe: Banana Ice Cream

This tale of banana ice cream is a tale of me doing a lot of reading on women in the Belle Epoque in France, and not enough reading on ice cream in people’s freezers. As a result, what I made didn’t work, but that reflects on me, not the recipe. Done properly, it would probably be rather tasty.

Household Hints,” Rock Island Argus, July 22, 1914

“One quart of cream, four bananas, one and one third tablespoonful of lemon juice, one cup of sugar, a few grains of salt. Remove the skins and scrape the bananas, then force through a sieve; add the remaining ingredients; then freeze.”

It turns out this particular recipe is for a kind of ice cream is known as Philadelphia ice cream, which is a three-syllable-longer way to say “eggless ice cream.” If you’re looking for the more traditional custard-based ice creams, the column this recipe came from has one for coffee ice cream. It also has a recipe for creamed sardines, which also called for a cup of cream, but which would probably end up tasting very different. Make sure you don’t mix those up. 

I made some changes for the brief instructions/ingredients given. First, I have no interest in pushing bananas through a sieve. What I do have is a blender. So I busted out that bad boy and just pureed the heck out of everything.

I also did not go for the cream. I’m not an economic historian, so I’ve no idea if cream was cheaper back in the day, but I am a human who goes into supermarkets, and I can tell you: it ain’t cheap now. As milk seemed like it wouldn’t be rich enough, I split the difference (and the cost) and went for half-and-half instead. I imagine the ice cream would be very good with cream, but I think – had I done things properly – it’d be just fine with half-and-half too.

Finally, I left out the salt.

That one had nothing to do with the availability of modern technology, or with budgeting. I just forgot it. You should probably put it in.

Banana Ice Cream
Prep: about 10 minutes
Freeze: 2-3 hours

(It may photograph better if your try makes ice cream instead of ice mush, but the sprinkles and chocolate syrup are a good idea either way.)

Ingredients

  • One quart of cream or half-and-half
  • Four ripe bananas
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/3 tbsp lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Peel and puree your four bananas.
  2. Add to the banana mush in the blender one quart of cream or half-and-half, one cup of sugar, one and 1/3 tablespoons of lemon juice, and about 1/8 tsp of salt. Press blend to your heart’s content or until the mixture is smooth and fully combined.
  3. Pour the mixture into a dish that can go in your freezer. Pro tip: Check to make sure there’s space enough in your freezer before it’s time to put the dish in.
  4. At this point, if you would like to recreate the mess I made, shut your freezer door, wander away, and don’t do anything until you come back to your cold banana slush five hours later.
  5. However, if you’d like to have actual ice cream, follow the directions David Leibowitz offers to minimize ice crystal formation, which I should have found before trying this experiment. Leibowitz’s instructions basically boil down to: Every forty-five minutes or so, take the concoction out of the freezer and stir stir stir to break up the ice crystals, until it’s actually frozen and you can’t stir it anymore. (He says it much more nicely.)
  6. Ice cream – or banana ice mush – will keep in the freezer for about one week.

Verdict: Well, it’s pretty hard to really ruin anything that’s basically a mix of bananas, cream, and sugar, so even though the texture was not perfect, this was okay. Tester No. 1 said it tasted like banana mush with sprinkles and chocolate syrup. Tester No. 2 corrected Tester No. 1 and said it tasted like banana mush, shards of ice, sprinkles, and chocolate syrup. Tester No. 3 agreed with Tester No. 2. All felt the flavor was right, but that it would be much improved if it were more like banana ice cream, and a lot less like sharp crunchy banana ice.  

So try it, but listen to David Leibowitz, not me. (That’s a good rule for life in general, actually.)

FOOTNOTES

[1] “Call Woman for Trial in Murder Case,” Rock Island Argus, July 20, 1914, p1. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/data/batches/iune_knowledge_ver01/data/sn92053934/00202193882/1914072001/0214.pdf

[2] “Hoot Spouse of Woman in Paris Crime,” Rock Island Argus, July 21, 1914, p1. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/data/batches/iune_knowledge_ver01/data/sn92053934/00202193882/1914072001/0214.pdf

[3] “Paper Turns Fresh Light on Calmette,” Rock Island Argus, July 22, 1914, p1. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/data/batches/iune_knowledge_ver01/data/sn92053934/00202193882/1914072201/0238.pdf

[4] “Best Friend of Caillaux Tells of Grief,” Rock Island Argus, July 24, 1914, p1. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/data/batches/iune_knowledge_ver01/data/sn92053934/00202193882/1914072401/0262.pdf

[5] “Paris Trial Judges May Fight Duel,” Rock Island Argus, July 25, 1914, p1. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/data/batches/iune_knowledge_ver01/data/sn92053934/00202193882/1914072501/0276.pdf

[6] “Slain Man’s Will Is Read by Caillaux,” Rock Island Argus, July 27, 1914, p1. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/data/batches/iune_knowledge_ver01/data/sn92053934/00202193882/1914072701/0290.pdf

[7] “Austria Declares War Upon Servia and Is Rushing Troops to the Danube; Germany in Refusal to Exert Influence for Peace,” Rock Island Argus, July 28, 1914, p1. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/data/batches/iune_knowledge_ver01/data/sn92053934/00202193882/1914072801/0302.pdf

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