Can The Gourmet Society’s 1939 And 1954 Dinners Be Recreated With Fidelity?

Are the foods, drinks and party favours enjoyed at the themed 1939 and 1954 dinners discussed in my post yesterday still available where they were emblematic? If so, how have they changed, if at all? Can a dinner be recreated today with close similarity to what was done then?

To keep this easier, and faster, to do, I won’t (mostly) give hyperlinks which support these notes, but I did read for a while and am confident my conclusions hold up. If anyone wishes more or supporting information, I’ll be happy to supply it.

New Jersey Wines and Beers 1950’s

The journalist who wrote up the Newark Airport restaurant dinner noted a “blonde wine” served, attesting incidentally to a lack of familiarity with wine on the East Coast at any rate, as wine clearly meant something red to this scribe.

In that period, about a half-dozen New Jersey wineries still operated, a much-reduced number even from the 1930’s let alone pre-Prohibition. Today, many more exist, 35 or 40, almost all of them established since the 1960’s. Of this group, only two wineries operated in the 50’s and in fact their roots go back to the 1800’s. One is Renault Winery, the other Tomasello. Renault still makes an “American Champagne” and both make a range of wines from vinifera and native American grapes. Of course too, the clutch of newer wineries re-establishes the kind of tradition which once existed in the State. But still, can you get a blonde or other wine from a winery in business when the New Jersey dinner was held? Yes you can.

Beer wasn’t mentioned for the 1954 dinner but I believe it may have been served, or at any rate would have fit well within the kind of menu presented. A number of old breweries still carried on in New Jersey then, including Ballantine, Hesler, Krueger, and Rheingold (an interloper from New York which bought an old brewery in Orange, NJ in the 40’s). There were others as well, but once again, many more in the 30’s and still more before Prohibition. Ballantine India Pale Ale, which enjoyed legendary status even at the time, and Kent India Pale Ale from Krueger, may have been chosen, or possibly Krueger lager or Rheingold. Perhaps a porter too, from one of these breweries.

Today, only Anheuser-Busch, established in about 1951 in the State, still operates there. There are a clutch of brewpubs and craft breweries newly established, so selecting a porter or IPA to match the kind of good beer available in the 50’s should be no problem.

The current owner of the Ballantine name recently returned Ballantine India Pale Ale to the market, I might add. While very decent, it does not in my opinion resemble the brand as sold in the 50’s. No, I don’t remember the one from then, but I do remember it in the 70’s and until it left the market in ’94 or so. The re-introduced one is more like a good modern IPA with the big grapefruit taste. The original Ballantine IPA had more an English taste.

Rochelle Cheese Ramequins

I thought perhaps “Rochelle” was a misprint for Roselle, localities exist in New Jersey under both names, Rochelle Park is the full name for Rochelle. In any case, northwestern New Jersey was once a heartland for good cheese and creameries, see hereThe cheese in the ramequins was surely from that part. Sadly, as the link explains, this industry has largely evaporated from the area, victim of land development, horse farms, and other changes. However, new artisan operations have opened up in the Garden State: New Jersey-made cheese can be got for ramequins, and that’s enough.

Barnegat Clams

These still exist but Barnegat Bay which supplies them has been greatly stressed by significant land development and fertilizer use in the area. Yields are down considerably but can you still find these hard-shelled clams to make the same dish from the same place? Yes.

Vineland Jellied Chicken Consommé

Vineland, NJ was a well-known chicken- and egg-producing centre in the 1950’s. The industry was given a boost around 1900 when a group which had raised chickens for sport commercialized their activity. A famous egg auction existed in Vineland until the early 70’s. Interestingly, this chicken and egg farming business was mostly a Jewish one. There were many Jewish farmers, some prewar refugees who bought land to avoid working in factories, and others who started quite a bit earlier. The business was delivered a series of blows starting with Hurricane Hazel and the advent of refrigerated trucks which facilitated competition from the south. By the 70’s, the egg and chicken industry was largely of the past. Now that I think of it, the Jewish jellied meat dish petcha is often made with chicken. A consommé is just the liquid though (I think), so who knows. Jellied dishes made a lot of sense in pre-air conditioning days although today they seem relics of an earlier time.

As often happens when an industry leaves a place, the taste for what was the local champion lives on. There is a highly regarded chicken restaurant in Vineland called Joe’s Poultry Farm. It seems it was a farm at one time and possibly still is or has access to one: the point being, chicken is still king in Vineland. We can ask Joe’s for a good one or to suggest a local source to make a jellied consommé.

Ramapo Trout

The Ramapo river is still a fecund source for trout, but it is all “stocked” vs. the stream-bred wild type which I’m sure was served to Gourmet Society members in 1954. However, numerous tributaries of this river, and other watercourses in the State, do offer the wild fish – it is available, so again, no problem there.

Crown of Meadow Veal

I didn’t check if veal was a specialty of Jersey farms back then. Given that German, Jewish, Polish and Italian communities all enjoy this meat, that probably accounted for its availability in the 50’s in New Jersey, since all these communities were represented in number then. “Meadow” might suggest feeding on grass, so this type should be sought. I’d think there must be local suppliers still, but if not, out-of-State would be okay.

Strawberries in Applejack Sauce

Yes! Strawberries are still a good crop in the State, from mid-May to early June, now that you ask. And applejack? Why I explained yesterday that Laird in the State is a famous producer of apple brandy and related drinks, in fact it is the oldest continuously operating distillery in the country.

Orange Wine and Chablis

These items commence our update of the foods and drinks served at the Gourmet Society’s 1939 New Orleans dinner in Manhattan. Of orange wine, I know not if it is still vin du pays in Louisiana, but any version made from one of the old recipes I referred to yesterday will be good. The Louisiana orange, too, is the same thing it was then, the navel Florida type, so no worries there. As for chablis wine, California was clearly the source of the wine served at the New Orleans dinner, and can supply an excellent modern example, i.e., a current Chardonnay in that style. Lots of choice, way more than in the 30’s. So we’re all good here.

Gumbo Shellfish Soup, Vegetables (Artichoke, Okra, Yam), Salad, Desserts

All this group can easily be recreated today and where Louisiana shellfish or produce isn’t available, any reasonable substitute will do.  Thus, shrimp and crab gumbo, the relishes, salad with Creole dressing, all the vegetables, pecan pie, raspberry ice, cafe Brulot  – no problem.

Broiled Pompano From Gulf of Mexico

No issues here either: pompano is still available in abundance, not so much on the Atlantic side but on the other side of Florida, we can get it.

Turkey Stuffed With Pecan Dressing and Oysters

Same thing here, pecans are still grown in Louisiana or elsewhere of course in the south. Indeed, a wild turkey can possibly be found more easily, at least in some parts of the country, than at the tail-end of the hungry Thirties, there’s lots of them around. The Gourmet Society’s annotations explained that originally a wild turkey fed on pecans would have been used, but anyway a wild one can be found whose diet surely will be good enough, and the pecan stuffing will impart a nutty taste. By the way, numerous modern Louisiana recipes for turkey with pecan call for the turkey to be “pecan-roasted” – an interesting variation. This would have entranced George Frederick and the Gourmet Society crew.

Magnolia Perfume, Acacia Flowers

A charming flourish at the dinner was that Magnolia perfume was “sprayed” on the waitresses and given to the female guests present. The menu explained it was from Mme Aucoin in New Orleans. Hélas, il semble qu’un commerce n’existe plus sous cette dénomination sociale à la Nouvelle Orléans. Happily though, magnolia perfume is still made in the city, check out Hové, a perfumery in town. Acacia flowers were sourced as well to scent the room. While knowing next to nothing about flowers, or perfume for that matter, I feel confident that we can get some.

And so net-net, can these meals be recreated? Yes they can, almost to a “t”. Who will take it on? James Beard Foundation, The International Wine and Food Society, Anthony Bourdain, creative restaurateurs, others interested in gastronomic and wine history, hark…








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