Note: This is now available on video
This weekend is the Fête de l’Escalade, an annual commemoration of the night in 1602 when the Genevans defeated the invading Savoyards with the help of a diligent housewife and a pot of vegetable soup. I think this should be held up as an example in Good Housekeeping.
As part of this celebration, it’s traditional to smash a marmite while saying ‘Qu’ainsi périssent les ennemis de la République !’, which means ‘Thus perish the enemies of the republic!’ I happen to have several kinds of Marmite at home, mostly purchased for the tasty yeasty taste test at a Swiss party I held in New Zealand a few years ago.
The marmite at the back of this picture is a soup pot made of chocolate, usually filled with marzipan vegetables before being smashed by the youngest and oldest people present. The one at the top is British Marmite, a by-product of beer brewing rich in vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B12. It’s usually spread on toast but sometimes used to make a thin, yeast-flavoured soup. It’s probably the saltiest of all the yeast spreads I’ve tried. As far as I can tell, it is identical to the yeast spread sold as ‘Our Mate’ in New Zealand. The one at the bottom is New Zealand Marmite. It’s also a by-product of beer brewing used to spread on toast and make soup, but it tastes different, has iron in it, and is available in larger pots. It has to compete with the Australian yeast spread Vegemite, which has no iron or vitamin B12 in it and gives the illusion of being more vegetarian than Marmite.
In Geneva, however, the word ‘marmite’ is widely used to describe an even larger pot, often made of iron but rarely made of B vitamins, such as one might use to cook soup or foil invading Savoyards. In military slang, it means a shell, such as one might use to foil invading Savoyards. So when the Swiss finally discovered that they could spread the leftovers from beer brewing on their toast, they had to call it something else. To minimise the chances of having to compete with Vegemite, they chose Cenovis — a name which is known in New Zealand and Australia as a brand of multivitamin. Cenovis spread, which is rich in vitamin B1 but not B2, B3, B12 or iron, was added to Swiss military rations, so that the soldiers would be well-nourished and better able to fire marmites at invading Savoyards. It is also available as a liquid, for adding to the marmite if the vegetable soup doesn’t have enough flavour or killing power.
Cenovis multivitamin contains all the B vitamins and iron, along with plenty of other vitamins that you’d be better off getting from a pot of vegetable soup. It probably doesn’t taste very good on toast.
#1 by Denise Hudson on December 12, 2010 - 5:38 pm
There was some rumble about Vegemite being outlawed because of saltiness, but I’m not sure. I’m Texan, married to an Aussie, and we have an ENORMALOID jar of vegemite in our pantry. Eek!
#2 by Jack M on December 12, 2010 - 10:31 pm
Awesome post – totally accurate and utterly confusing, hehe…
@ Denise: I don’t think it’s outlawed but it should be – for disgustingness… and Marmite as well. There, I said it.
#3 by Angela Brett on December 16, 2010 - 2:37 pm
Jack: Congratulations on being the first human commenter on my blog that Akismet thought was a spammer.
It’s actually not totally accurate; I don’t think the naming of Cenovis spread had anything to do with Cenovis multivitamins, since the multivitamins didn’t come along until 50 years later. But everything else is true, as far as I know (well, the thing about Geneva being saved by a housewife with a pot of vegetable soup is probably just a legend, but it’s true that people celebrate it.) Don’t tell the taste police, but I have some of every one of the yeast spreads mentioned, so I checked the nutritional information on the packages.
By the way, did you see my Apple Tablet Unboxing video? I thought you in particular might like it, even if the video preview spoils the surprise. 🙂
#4 by Brett Glass on December 12, 2010 - 10:59 pm
Actually, a better translation would probably be, “May the enemies of the Republic perish thus!” [KLONG!]
#5 by Angela Brett on December 12, 2010 - 11:23 pm
Yeah, I was wondering about that! I just got the translation from wikipedia and the Geneva tourism site, and until I wrote this post and checked it, I was sure the phrase was simply ‘ainsi périssent les ennemis de la République’, so it made sense. Then I found out about the ‘que’ and I wondered why the translation wasn’t different.
#6 by Brett Glass on December 13, 2010 - 1:05 am
In any event, I understand that there is a similar scene in Disney’s new Rapunzel movie. Only it is a girl with a skillet rather than a housewife with a pot of soup.