I don’t think I’ve ever had the classic Provençal stew called daube or boeuf en daube, but it sounds mouth-watering. I probably first came across it in To the Lighthouse (see this 2012 post), but — never having had it and being more focused on literary effects than the menu — I’d forgotten it; now I am reminded by Tom’s splendid post at Wuthering Expectations:

The long dinner chapter of To the Lighthouse (1928), Chapter XVII of “The Window,” what a masterpiece. It does so much. […] Mrs. Ramsay thinks of celebration but also death, that love “bear[s] in its bosom the seeds of death.” Then the outside intrudes on her and the dinner guests praise the dish, a boeuf en daube, and mock English cooking as “an abomination (they agreed).” […]

The stew is first mentioned about twenty pages earlier, in Ch. XVI. Mrs. Ramsay is nervous about her big dinner:

… and they were having Mildred’s masterpiece – Boeuf en Daube. Everything depended upon things being served up to the precise moment they were ready. The beef, the bay leaf, and the wine – all must be done to a turn. To keep it waiting was out of the question… things had to be kept hot; the Boeuf en Daube would be entirely spoilt. (80)

When I last read To the Lighthouse, maybe twenty-five years ago, I suppose I nodded along, sympathizing with Mrs. Ramsay’s anxiety. This time, though – do you cook? – you saw it, right? “The bay leaf must be done to a turn”? The bay leaf!

Please visit the link for Tom’s vivid explanation of how the dish is made and what poor Mrs. Ramsay does not understand; once again, he has deepened my understanding of a novel I thought I knew, and made me want to go back and reread it. And, since this is LH, you’ll want to know the origin of daube: “Borrowed from obsolete Italian dobba (“marinade”), perhaps from Catalan adobar (“to marinate”).” Wiktionary adds, beside the stew meaning, the slang sense “crap; crappiness (something of low quality)”; I guess its former use to mean ‘clap, gonorrhea’ is lost in temps perdu.


  1. How much prestige would French food lose if we translated the names of dishes? “Marinated beef” sounds good, but a lot less fancy.

    Thanks for the kind words!

  2. perhaps from Catalan adobar (“to marinate”).”

    That’s a normal Spanish word in Mexico. The chile enthusiast knows it from chipotles in adobo, the divine condiment that proves benevolent aliens must have intervened in the distant past to raise our consciousness.

  3. Filipinos have a « chicken adobo » (and apparently a whole category of cooking called « Inadobo ») which substitutes vinegar for the wine, chicken for the beef, and has much shorter cooking time. I can just imagine Spanish sailors using up leftover wine to extend the shelf life of « past-it’s-prime » chicken at the end of a long journey.
    The TLFi says it comes ultimately from the Spanish adobar with the same meaning.
    And the funniest fact: when you make someone a knight, the French word is « adouber » … apparently the original meaning of this family of words – cooking a cheap cut of meat in sauce was to elevate its rank!

    Oh and yes: the only meaning my 15 y.o will recognize today is « piece of crap ».

  4. PlasticPaddy says

    I am not sure the primary sense of adouber is to elevate in rank. Compare j’adoube in chess. The point is adjustment. But daube looks a bit like the germanc dip words in another thread. Could be another perhaps for dobba.

  5. Trond Engen says

    Also adobe versus (wattle and) daub. Wikipedia on adobe says:

    The word can be traced from the Middle Egyptian (c. 2000 BC) word ɟbt “mud brick”. Middle Egyptian evolved into Late Egyptian, Demotic or “pre-Coptic”, and finally to Coptic (c. 600 BC), where it appeared as τωωβε tōʾpə. This was adopted into Arabic as الطوب aṭ-ṭawbu or aṭ-ṭūbu, with the definite articleal- attached.[9] tuba,[10][11] This was assimilated into the Old Spanish language as adobe [aˈdobe], probably via Mozarabic.

  6. @PlasticPaddy.
    Here’s the entry for adouber in the TLF:

    The prime meaning is « armer quelqu’un chevalier ». I.e « to knight someone »
    In current usage (although it’s rare), if not in a text about Medieval history, i would construe it as « to elevate someone above their current station » because well, we don’t have knights in France anymore.

    The chess meaning is obviously a derivative, probably based on the fact that you would touch the kneeling future knight in both shoulders with a sword.

  7. David Marjanović says

    German tupfen “to boop”; Tüpfelhyäne “spotted hyena”.

  8. PlasticPaddy says

    Very sorry. I thought this was unlikely and the germanic root (despite the a at the beginning, the French form is a borrowing) meant ” to fit” so I thought the chess sense was an extension of the sense of the borrowed word and not a joky use of knight-dubbing by medieval game-nerds. But who am I to question TLFI☺

  9. Stu Clayton says

    German tupfen “to boop”; Tüpfelhyäne “spotted hyena”.

    Cute ! Around here people mostly say (an)tippen or (an)stubsen. It’s been a coon’s age since I heard tupfen.

    I had almost forgotten “boop”. Nasenstüber is a reproving boop.

  10. “Boop” is a wonderful word; I hope the OED is working on an entry as we speak.

  11. The wiki says, “In the Camargue and Béarn area of France, bulls killed in bullfighting festivals are often used for daube” but surely the French don’t kill bulls in bullfights?

  12. @AJP Crown: My understanding is that the bulls are not killed in Portuguese bullfighting, but they are in French bullfights.

  13. Well of course, they need the meat for daube.

  14. French philosophers are daube hands at shooting the bull.

  15. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @AJP Crown, @Brett:

    I’m pretty sure fighting bulls fight only once. What varies is not whether the bull dies, but merely who kills him and where.

    In Portugal, bulls are indeed not killed in the arena. I understand killing the bull has been forbidden for so long it’s no longer part of Portuguese-style bullfighting. Spanish-style bullfights regularly take place in Portugal too, but the prohibition applies to those too, with an exception for two small municipalities by the border.

    Anyway, the routine ending of a Portuguese bullfight is that the bull leaves the arena alive but proceeds to the slaughterhouse within a few hours. I imagine this may, if anything, facilitate consumption of its meat, since the animal is killed in the usual way under standard sanitary conditions.

    As far as I know, the only reason for a bull to be spared is if he fought exceptionally well. Needless to say, a romantic notion of sparing the best and bravest fighters has been attached to this practice. However, I suspect the more important rationale is that the best-performing bulls are the most useful for selective breeding of the next generation.

  16. A very informative comment; thanks!

  17. But for bulls in Provence it’s different.

  18. At the end of each round to signify the end of combat, the famous aria from the opera Carmen is played.

    That in itself would keep me away. It’s a nice aria, but hearing it once every few years is quite enough.

  19. It’s not unsurprising that the English word “dub” is not a single word at all but a fairly large set of homonyms/homophones with unrelated etymologies, but it’s still vaguely disappointing that the reggae sense of “dub” is not from the version of the word that’s etymologically related to “daube.”

  20. Tüpfelhyäne

    Sounds like perfect German insult.

    I had a Soviet glossary of German military slang for Red Army soldiers and officers published in 1942. It included a dedicated section on inventive ways to insult Germans in their native tongue.

    Tüpfelhyäne would fit there just perfectly.

  21. Bull-leaping without Carmen now exists only in Tamil Nadu.

  22. January First-of-May says

    And, since this is LH, you’ll want to know the origin of daube

    I’m probably more interested in the origin of bay leaf, myself, having had to google the term (it turned out to be what I would have naively called laurel leaf).

    Wiktionary says that bay in this sense is from a conflation of Old English beġ “berry” with Old French baie (also “berry”), the latter being from Latin baca (again “berry”); no etymology is given for the Old English term (that I could find, at least).

  23. This video makes Camargue bullfighting look pretty exciting, and not overly cruel. I kind of like the raseteurs jumping off the fence and swinging from the rafters.


    As well as the idea that rather than riding around to oversee one’s cattle, you could just stay home and climb a pole every now and then to check on them:

    Too bad Camargue bullfighting never had a booster like the great Pamplona writer Ernest Hemingway.

    There’s also the fact that someone in the local tourist bureau thought adding that particular computerized voice-over would make it more appealing.

    Michael’s link talks about Camargue bullfighting in Arles and various Camargue villages. Yet the Arles tourism site describes bullfights that sound like standard Spanish corridas.

    The videos there also include some that look more like the Course de Camargue. A couple take place in makeshift street rinks that look riskier for the raseteurs to escape cleanly. And the corrida-style Arles page uses several terms that look like Spanish to me, but a few that are not (banderilles and combat).

    Is the corrida a late interpolation into the Camargue tradtion because of the expectations of tourists, or is Course de Camargue just a less formal running for younger bulls, part of a tradition that included fights to the death?

  24. “when you make someone a knight, the French word is « adouber » ”

    And in English, “dub” – often used to refer to any process of conferring a title or nickname (“after his most famous achievement on the Exchange he was dubbed the King of Cotton”) though with regard to knighthoods, it’s commoner now just to say “he was knighted” than “he was dubbed a knight”.

  25. tupfen
    The meaning I know is not “boop”, a usage that sounds very Southern to me, it’s “to dab”. A Tupfer is a swab.

  26. Stu Clayton says

    And a Schwab is historically tapfer

  27. “Everything depended upon things being served up to the precise moment they were ready. The beef, the bay leaf, and the wine – all must be done to a turn.”

    I don’t know what “done to a turn” means. But I assume it means a point. Or what?

    According to Wikipedia boeuf en daube is basically slow cooked stew of inexpensive (or “lesser”) cuts of beef w/ wine, vegetables and herbs. No dish that’s slow cooked needs to be served a point (at some precise point of doneness). So I don’t get it.

    But perhaps Mrs. Ramsay was merely saying that the stew should be served piping hot. That you shouldn’t disappoint your guests wih a lukewarm stew.

  28. My understanding is that the Camargue-region daube made with the meat of a bull is seldom called daube, but becomes “gardiane de taureau,” where “gardiane” is “rancher’s wife.” See Ryan’s link above for a picture of her home out in the marsh.

  29. Stu Clayton says

    Mr. Revelation too complained about that:

    # So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. #

    I never knew what “piping hot” means. Do people cook stew in a tea kettle ? When it whistles they turn round to take it off the stove. It’s done to a turn.

  30. The beef, the bay leaf, and the wine – all must be done to a turn

    I take this to mean that the combination of all three ingredients — not each one individually — must be cooked just right. But as Anna says, the whole point of dishes such as boeuf en daube is that they can simmer away for hours and be served up when the guests are ready.

    Perhaps this is V. Woolf’s sly (or inadvertent) way of acknowledging that the English are indeed clueless about cooking.

  31. Not “the English,” but specifically Mrs. Ramsay. That is what the post I linked to is all about.

  32. David Marjanović says

    “to dab”

    Well, there’s abtupfen and betupfen and auftupfen… but they all involve repeated booping motions, not sweeping ones.

    (And the mismatch of dub < *-bb- with tupfen < *-pp- suggests we’re looking at a Kluge mess made from a Proto-Germanic iterative verb. …Oh yes, there it is.)

  33. Le toro-piscine, taureau-piscine, what Calvin Trillin calls “bulls, swimming pool,” is an activity or sport practised in Camargue, but you need a New Yorker subscription to read his article. It would be worth getting one just for that, though. Damp In The Afternoon, it’s called.

  34. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @Anna, @David:

    The OED has a specific sub-entry: “ (roasted, done, etc.) to a turn, i.e. exactly to the proper degree, precisely right: orig. in reference to the turns of the spit.”

    When Mrs Ramsay despises English cookery, she has exactly this problem in mind. The quote continues: “What passes for cookery in England is an abomination (they agreed). It is putting cabbages in water. It is roasting meat till it is like leather.”

    So, she displays throughout what seems to me a very reasonable concern if your pièce de résistence is a roast, as I suppose it should be in a traditional English household. However, this concern is utterly misplaced if your meat is braised instead of roasted. Which by the way is an excellent reason to serve a stew instead of a roast to your guests if you don’t have a cook.

  35. @PlasticPaddy
    no worries. anything that makes me delve in the TLFI makes my day. And thanks for
    “ joky use of knight-dubbing by medieval game-nerds”. Now i cant un-see a tableful of bespectacled teenagers in doublets playing D&D in their parent’s dungeon

    @ajay Ha! I’d completely missed that extension. thanks.

  36. There is a Tom Disch poem that mentions this dish:


    Honeyplum, sugarbunch, I want you
    to be my own Somalia.
    I’ll buy you fine dresses,
    we’ll eat boeuf en daube
    and live at addresses
    in Paris and Rome,
    and when we head home,
    hey, we’ll be driving a Saab.
    Won’t they shrivel with envy!
    Won’t they spit in our soup!
    And for this, chicken tender,
    I ask nothing but
    your absolute and unconditional surrender.

  37. Wow, that’s one obscure poem — neither Google nor Google Books knows anything of it. Where does it appear, in a magazine that hasn’t been digitized? I don’t understand what he means by “to be my own Somalia,” but there are many things I don’t understand.

  38. A place where Will rules and Law does not, I should think: a paradise for lovers, a disaster for humankind.

  39. Maybe (if the poem postdates 1991), but even so, I’m not sure the place has ever represented a paradise for lovers. Maybe Disch just liked the sound of the word.

  40. I thought it was more that he can spend arbitrary amounts of money and effort without being able to control her—but he has already forgotten that by the end of the pitch.

  41. Trond Engen says

    I think he means “my very own sommelier“.

  42. My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned.

  43. One Man Manned is the name of my one-man band.

  44. See now Cooking with Virginia Woolf by Valerie Stivers (who does a whole series of wonderful essays on cooking with authors; I particularly recommend Cooking with Sergei Dovlatov, which explains and illustrates many Soviet dishes of which I had only a vague understanding):

    The boeuf en daube in To the Lighthouse, a 1927 novel by Virginia Woolf about an English family on vacation in the Hebrides, is one of the best-known dishes in literature. Obsessed over for many chapters by the protagonist, Mrs. Ramsay, and requiring many days of preparation, it is unveiled in a scene of crucial significance. This “savory confusion of brown and yellow meats,” in its huge pot, gives off an “exquisite scent of olives and oil and juice.” It serves as a monument to the joys of family life and a celebration of fleeting moments. Thus, it is with fear and trembling that I suggest that Woolf’s boeuf en daube, from a cook’s perspective, is a travesty, and that its failures may prove instructive. […]

    It’s surprising that Woolf, a writer who despaired when she couldn’t get the play of light and shadow on a lampshade just right, would be so sloppy in this one respect. It’s tempting to conclude that, in choosing such an unimpressive dish, she was somehow, obscurely, denying Mrs. Ramsay her moment.

  45. ktschwarz says

    According to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, “Daube comes from daubière, a covered casserole”, and a lot of people on the web have repeated this. We can’t expect Julia Child to be an etymologist, but I would think someone who speaks French would recognize that daubière has to be derived from daube and not vice versa. Who knows, maybe it was garbled in editing.

  46. John Cowan says

    What, is there no back-formating [sic] in French? Editor is not at all derived from edit, but quite otherwise.

  47. Lars Mathiesen says

    The funny thing is that an English verb based (as you do) on the Latin participle ēditus would also be edit, so a bit of philology is needed to trace the modern sense back to editor. TLFI says éditer is formed to the Latin supine stem, after éditeur and édition, first attested 1310 when people did know Latin, so can you call it a back-formation when it is what a (learnèd) borrowing from Latin would naturally be?

    Also Danish has the calque udgiver (by way of G Herausgeber, I assume) in the old sense of ‘publisher’. While a redaktør (fr. Fr.) edits but does not redact.

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