Intermittently I have charted here, through an historical lens, the activities of the International Wine and Food Society (founder, André Simon) and Gourmet Society (George Frederick). I must have a couple of dozen posts, covering different countries for the former. The latter was U.S.-only, but not its menus!
The 1930s, 40s, and 50s have been the main focus, with an occasional sally in the 60s or 70s.
A duo of dinners circa 1970 will add further insight. In each, one can trace themes that later resonated more broadly in American food and wine.
The first is a dinner for which the menu seems not publicly available, but was reported in detail in the Times-Union of Albany, New York in January 1970. You may read the account, here.
The dinner was held in the certainly historical – we once visited – Tarrytown, New York. Manhattan-born (1763) Washington Irving, famed author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (and more) explored Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow as a young man. (It started when his family sent him for refuge from fever-ridden Manhattan. Hmm…).
He later inhabited a riverside estate in Tarrytown.
That Tarrytown was the site of some eventful early American history made it ideal to recreate the heritage menu described in the article.
The menu sounds lush, and probably as a set piece was quite unknown in pioneer days except perhaps at the grandest tables. Still, elements seem clearly historical, and it must have been fun putting it together.
The drinks included the Stone Fence – sweet cider and applejack, later bourbon – and “cold ale”. The term ale probably struck the average American as old-fashioned in 1970, so job done. The “cold” adjective probably addressed two things: the time of year – a cellar in early Tarrytown’s winter would have been darn cold – and the American expectation by 1970 to have cold beer. Win win.
What kind of ale, ah there’s the rub. It is not stated. The New York branch of the Wine and Food Society, which held this do, perhaps chose something more authentic than the golden ale then produced by many U.S. breweries. Ballantine India Pale Ale would have been perfect, in fact it appeared in the Society’s 1940s beer tastings as I’ve described.
Perhaps an import was chosen, Whitbread Pale Ale, or Watney’s Red Barrel, in deference to early imports of ale or at least the malt, from Britain.
New York wines, then viewed mostly as quaffing or table wine, were served in carafe as the main moistener.
The food? Well, how does a pigeon-based chowder sound? What say ye of salt dried beef, or smoked reindeer? Or salad with nasturtium?
Also served were turnip tops with salt pork, wheat and oat mush, black bread, and … Champagne. Well, allowances must be made.
I didn’t find these preparations on a quick perusal of Amelia Simmons’ classic American Cookery (1796). The report stated selections represented Tarrytown cuisine of the 17th through the 19th centuries. I’d think research was done in local books and manuscripts to glean ideas, but in any case a period ring sounds.
Below is a depiction, author unknown, of Tarrytown c. 1828 (via Wikipedia):
A délice in the menu was cider and honey sauce; numerous poultry types were plated with it. A sauce of that description appears today in Yorkshire, U.K., with pork chops. The indispensable All Recipes UK gives the lowdown.
Yorkshire sounds far away from southern New York State, but much of the emigration of the time came from Britain, so it all ties in. Now, what of Dutch foods? Irving famously described the surviving Dutch customs in isolated places like Sleepy Hollow.
Nothing in the menu seems, offhand, to suggest that tradition. Maybe the frumenty-like mush, or black bread? Americans used rye in their early loaves to make a brown bread, one thinks of New England or Boston brown bread. But black? Maybe that was a Dutch survival.
Various modern recipes can be found for blackish Frisian or other Dutch rye bread. Here is one, from the Flour and Leaven site.
The then-head of the New York Wine and Food Society was interviewed in the story. His remarks reflect a democratic ethos: e.g. that “gourmet” means different things to different people (it’s true). The Society’s representatives strived, it seems to me, to emphasize a non-exclusive spirit since the inception of the group (1933) – no doubt one reason for its success.
Other dinners of the New York group were described, one a meal solely of different beef cuts. The idea to serve one food throughout a meal is intriguing, and appears through the history of gastronomy here and there.
Soon I will describe such a dinner held by the New York Society, in the same period, but involving a different meat than beef.
N.B. The same UPI account of the dinner appeared in October 1969 here, in the Schenectady Gazette, with concluding paragraphs omitted from the Times-Union version. It made clear the dinner was carefully researched, a process that took two months. The service of the one sauce for each entrée was explained as an historical practise, for example.