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.
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