From CHEZ JIM Books:
An EIGHTEENTH CENTURY VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK:
APRES MOI LE DESSERT - VOLUME II
and a history of the CROISSANT:
AUGUST ZANG AND THE FRENCH CROISSANT
18th CENTURY RECIPE: Bayonnaise/Mahonnaise/Mayonnaise
In the Dictionnaire General de la Cuisine Francaise Ancienne et Moderne,
published in 1853, one item in the article on "Sauces" begins as follows: "Bayonnaise sauce (called 'mayonnaise' by ignorant teachers and hucksters)".
Though unusually categorical (especially given that he cribbed the recipe
itself), the author was not alone in suggesting that this sauce originated in
Bayonne and so, like a woman from that city, was 'Bayonnaise'. Even today, a
somewhat spicier version exists under that name in Bayonne. But the more common
explanations are either that the word was a corruption of "mahonnaise" (for the
duke of Richelieu's victory at Mahon) or "mayennaise" (for the duke of
Mayonnaise made its English-language debut in a cookbook of 1841, according
to the Oxford English Dictionary. Mayonnaise is generally said to have been
created by the chef of Louis François Armand du Plessis, duc de Richelieu in
1756, to celebrate the Duke's victory over the British at the port of Mahon
(the capital of Minorca in the Balearic Islands). The French spelling for this
Spanish port is 'Mahón', and thus 'sauce from Mahon' is 'sauce mahónnaise',
from which it was said the word 'mayonnaise' was derived. This often-repeated
story seems flawed, however....
In fact it may appear more credible that sauce Mayonnaise was originally
named for Charles of Lorraine, Duke of Mayenne (in northwest France), who
presided over the meeting of the Estates General in January 1593 that had been
summoned for the purpose of choosing a Catholic ruler for France. ...
Another proposed etymology points to the French city of Bayonne;
'mayonnaise' would be a corruption of bayonnaise.
If anyone wonders, there does not seem to be any French place called 'Mayon'
- if there were, you can be sure they would have staked their claim as well.
Also, as generally proves true for stories about the origin of any food, no
one cites any contemporary accounts to support either the Mahon or the
Mayenne version, and the first mentions of the sauce are to be found well after the
events in question.
The Larousse Gastronomique suggests that the original word was "moyeunnaise"
from (the author claims) the old French word "moyeu", for an egg yolk, since
the sauce is essentially an emulsion of egg yolk and oil. But aside from the
absence of either word in period dictionaries, there is one significant
problem with this explanation: the earliest recipes for mayonnaise use jelly
(made from meats or elk horn, and sometimes highly flavored itself), rather than
eggs, as the main binding ingredient:
Split up two cold chickens which have been cooked in a frying pan as
perfectly as possible; put the pieces in a pot with some velouté, eight skimming
spoons full, four of jelly, and two teaspoons of tarragon vinegar, a little
coarse pepper; reduce all this by a third; if your sauce browns a little, put in
an egg as binding; when it is reduced to the right degree, add a little
parsley and tarragon chopped well; you will then bring your sauce to a boil twice;
see if it is properly salted, and put it on your cold pieces of chicken;
then let it cool; you will lay it out on your dish, and pour your sauce, which
will be almost hardened, on your chickens; decorate this with jelly and
Viard, Le Cuisinier Imperial (1806) (326)
Put two or three teaspoons of fine oil in an earthen jar, and two of
tarragon vinegar; add sufficient tarragon, shallots, salad burnet, chopped very
fine, salt, coarse pepper, two or three spoonfuls of jelly or aspic; stir all
this well with a spoon: the sauce will thicken and form a kind of pomade. Taste
it; if it is too salty or too vinegary, mix in a little oil; if you would
like it clear, crush up the jelly with your knife, and mix it lightly with your
Beauvilliers, l'Art du Cuisinier (1814) (66)
As the nineteenth century began, mayonnaise still seems to have been a
curiosity to those from other countries. Kotzebue, a German travelling in France
in 1804, comments on the enormous variety of dishes, then says "the choice is
that much more difficult, because one does not always know the technical
terms. For example, who could guess what a chicken mayonnaise, a fowl galantine
or an epigram of lamb is?" (Kotzebue, Souvenirs de Paris en 1804 (267))
By the thirties, mayonnaise had become the familiar egg and oil emulsion of
today, though no source consulted here says how. Albert's Le Cuisinier
Parisien (1838) includes a recipe which is almost exactly that offered (albeit
irritably) by the Dictionnaire General fifteen years later:
Blend two egg yolks with the juice of a lemon; add mixed salt and spices;
little by little pour oil on the eggs, stirring the whole time; the sauce will
soon thicken; add from time to time a little strong aromatic vinegar. One
can keep adding oil so long as the sauce does not lose consistency.
Dictionnaire General (437)
Anyone, by the way, who has never actually TRIED to make their own
mayonnaise should be warned that the phrase "the sauce will thicken" should be
considered optimistic. Making mayonnaise is one of those simple arts that requires
some practice to become so.
Otherwise, if you simply must know more about the subject, it has its own
Web page: How Products Are Made - Mayonnaise