One of the most specialized menu collections in the world must be the one maintained at the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto (ARCAT). ARCAT maintains a website, the Archivist’s Pencil, which selects and discusses archival materials of all types from its records.
A few years ago, it reproduced a half-dozen menus that commemorated celebrations or other special events in Archdiocese history.
Here is one of them, from 1892.
The celebration was clearly for a notable occasion, a double-Jubilee of the founding of the Toronto Archdiocese.
This meant the menu was unusually lavish and it went yet further by featuring a wine selection. The other menus on the ARCAT website do not feature alcohol. I cannot decide if the spatial treatment given the three wines, sherry, Champagne, and claret, was intended to indicate the dishes they were meant to partner with. If so, the claret was meant for the dessert and fruit course, a seeming anomaly.
Before readers exclaim that the spacing was surely a design decision, nothing more, one may note that in British dining then Bordeaux red wine was, or could be, drunk at the end of the meal. See this 1890s edition of Table Talk, where claret is advised for the cakes.
So a possibility is, the clerics were served sherry with all courses after the soup until the game, then Champagne onwards until claret met the dessert.
This is 1892, and might be considered late for such treatment as “red with the meat” was certainly well-understood by then. But given the meal occurred in remote (from England) Canada, and given perhaps too the intramural nature of an Archdiocese, an older custom may have been followed in the Catholic world.
In contrast, the menu’s typographical design is rather modern, especially the right side where the foods are listed. That style would not be amiss today for some upscale restaurants in downtown Toronto.
The dinner was held at the Palace, Church Street, Toronto. It sounds like a commercial hotel, but was not.
The Palace was the rectory for the Archbishop and Bishops of Toronto. Not only that, this fine example of Victorian Gothic is still standing, see below.
The historical Toronto website, “Taylor on History”, from which the image below is taken, gives an excellent overview of its history and design features.
The Palace was built to serve nearby St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica, whose website notes as follows:
St. Michael’s Cathedral endures as the principal church of the largest English-speaking diocese in Canada. The Bishop’s Palace remains in use as the Cathedral Rectory and is recognized as the oldest building in the City of Toronto still in use for its original purpose.
The Palace must have had the dinner prepared in its own kitchen and perhaps sourced the wine from its own cellar.
The food was what I would call prosperous middle class, not excessively ornamented and sauced (perhaps the sweetbreads apart), but offering solid choices like joints and fowl with minimal dressing, some game, and one fish. The inevitable Victorian turtle soup appears. The desserts do look nice, taken as a unit with the entremets and ices.
The luxury was more in the choice of things to eat rather than elaborate recipes and presentation.
Another modern touch is tomatoes as a vegetable. Up to the end of the 1800s this vegetable (or is it a fruit?) was usually restricted for ketchups and conserves. These tomatoes were almost certainly cooked though, not eaten raw.
I love the violet and vanilla ice cream combination. Apart from the pleasing alliteration, the blending sounds enticing and even contemporary. Yet, together with the ginger and glazed fruits withal a Victorian atmosphere is conjured.
And so we have the yin and yang of the familiar and the remote so often encountered in historical culinary investigation.
Violet is the colour of some vestments, isn’t it? And of the wine used in sacraments? Here I will stop as I am entering territory quite foreign to me.
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