A Jubilee Dinner of the RC Archdiocese of Toronto

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 which commemorated celebratory or other special events in Archdiocese history.

Here is one of them, from 1892.

The celebration was clearly special, a double Jubilee of the founding of the Toronto Archdiocese.

The menu is unusual nonetheless in that it features a wine selection. The other menus reproduced on the ARCAT website do not. I cannot decide if the spatial treatment given the three wines, sherry, Champagne, claret, was intended to set opposite the dishes the wines were meant to accompany. If so, the claret was to be consumed with the dessert and fruit.

Before you raise hands to suggest the spacing is simply a design feature, I will note that at one time in British-influenced dining, 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 with the cakes. So a possibility is, sherry was served after the soup, then Champagne throughout, then claret to finish.

Although this is 1892, and rather late for such treatment, given the meal occurred in distant Canada, and perhaps too the intramural nature of the Archdiocese, an older custom may have been followed in this instance.

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 in some upscale restaurants downtown.

The dinner was held at the Palace, Church Street, Toronto. Are you expecting me to outline a short history of a hotel of that name? I won’t, because I can’t.

The Palace was a different type of building, it 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 was taken, gives an excellent overview of its history and design features.

The Palace was built to serve 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 wines from its own cellar.

The food was what I would call prosperous middle class, not excessively ornamented and sauced in a French way (perhaps the sweetbreads apart), but offering solid choices like joints and fowl with minimal dressing, some game, and one fish. The inevitable turtle soup appears. The desserts do look nice, taking them as a unit with the entremets and ices.

The luxury was more in the choice of things rather than elaborate recipes and presentation.

Another modern touch is to serve tomatoes as a vegetable. Up to the end of the 1800s it was uusually restricted to ketchups and conserves. These tomatoes were almost certainly cooked though, not eaten raw.

I love the violet and vanilla ice cream. Apart from the pleasing alliteration, the combination sounds wonderful and even contemporary. Yet, together with the ginger and glazed fruits it conjures withal a Victorian atmosphere.

And so, the yin and yang of the familiar and the distant…

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.

Note re images: the images above were sourced from the websites identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized users. Images are used herein for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



2 thoughts on “A Jubilee Dinner of the RC Archdiocese of Toronto

  1. Yes, Gary, violet (or what I called purple) is one of the colours of Roman Catholic priest outer vestments (known as chasubles), familiar to me in my youth as an altar boy. It symbolises Penance and Preparation and is worn during Lent and Advent.

    Other colours include green (used for most of the year), white (or gold), red and rose which also have symbolic meanings, and are worn at Mass for specific feast days or periods. Introduced by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216).

    Ah yes, the perks of being an altar boy – we also wore vestments of sorts (yuck!) but the good bit was sneaking swigs of red altar wine in the vestry (the changing room). The wine was especially made at Mission Wines in NZ’s Hawkes Bay (a winery attached to a seminary) and tasted quite horrible to a 10 yo.

    Without going too deeply into theology, the theory is that, the wine, once blessed at Mass turns into Christ’s blood by the magic process of transubstantiation along with the Host (unleavened bread) which becomes His flesh. Gulp!

    Once I tasted the blessed wine and realised it was the same as the unblessed, I realised the game was well and truly up. I always preferred the Anglican take which is that they are symbols of His flesh and blood.

    One thing is for sure – in Catholic society consumption of alcohol is certainly not frowned upon, indeed it is an integral part in most social events, or at least it was when I was a boy (1970’s). Almost all the priests I encountered in those days drank like fish and usually smoked like chimneys. God knows why.

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