Cioppino Citations, 1893, 1897

Examining early San Francisco menus at the NYPL menu archive, cioppino caught my eye a few times. This is the famed San Francisco seafood dish, a blend of tomato, garlic, olive oil, fish or shellfish. Many types of seasoning or herbs can be added, and other vegetables.

Dungeness crab, shrimp, scallops, rock cod, sea bass and salmon, often figure for the seafood but a great variety is used. There is no fixed formula apart (it seems) the base of oil, onion or garlic, and tomato.

Although I read much more widely, Wikipedia’s entry on the dish appears to offer an accurate summary of the currently understood origins:

The earliest printed description of cioppino is from a 1901 recipe in The San Francisco Call, though the stew is called “chespini”. “Cioppino” first appears in 1906 in The Refugee’s Cookbook, a fundraising effort to benefit San Franciscans displaced by the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Taken literally this can refer to the first published recipes vs. first appearance of the term as such. If so though, one would think the first appearance would also be mentioned, so it seems the two are conflated.

My review of early San Francisco menus at NYPL disclosed a “ciuppino” that precedes 1901. It’s in a menu from 1897 at Martinelli’s in the city (shown below). This was an early Italian restaurant founded by two brothers from Piedmont who were the premier pasta makers in the city. See David Shields’ 2017 The Culinarians: Lives and Careers from the First Age of American Fine Dining, at p. 481.

The menu, for a private dinner, featured an exemplary Italian meal with Sicilian wine. It shows Italian culture was well-established in the city by the 1890s, having sprung from an already vibrant Latin quarter, aka North Beach. To this day North Beach reflects many Italian influences.



The menu was for a musician’s club. The dishes and proceedings are described in a comic fashion popular in America then, today rather cringeworthy. But as a historical artifact it shows cioppino the dish existed in the late 1890s save for a mildly different spelling.

In the same year of 1897, in March, L’Italia, an Italian newspaper in the city prints in italics “ciuppin”. Fried fish is also cited in the passage. The ciuppin is clearly the dish the music club enjoyed. Our Italian is not sufficient to explain full details of L’Italia’s story, maybe a reader can help.

For more information on the original dish of northwest Italy, this page on ciuppin, from the Cook’s Info site (online food encyclopedia), is most informative.

Note the connection made to a dish brought by emigrating Italians to Argentina and Uruguay, which clearly evolved in its own way there. There are, therefore, at least two transpontine versions, the Californian and South American. Cook’s Info has a separate, informative page on the former.

We may note that in Martinelli’s menu the full name given the dish is “ciuppino all’ Italiana”. This underscores the long-understood Italian origins of cioppino. It makes it express, in other words.

But I found yet an earlier citation perusing the pages of California Digital Newspaper Collection. It appeared on June 2, 1893 in the San Francisco Call, and reads:

A New Club.— A number of Italian American citizens organized a new club yesterday. It is called the Ciupino and Chowder Club, and the following-named were chosen officers: President, G. C. Tenassio; vice-president, Dr. Joseph Pescia; treasurer, F. Arata; directors— P. Sanguinetti, D. Ginocchio, Dr. V. Vaccari, G. Gueraglia. E. Palmieri, L. VaIente, F. Lucchetti, G. Baggurro, G. Costa, E. Boitano, J. Cavagnaro, G. Schioppoceasse, secretary.

Chowder clubs or parties were legion in the latter 19th century, e.g. a humorous discussion appeared in John Stanton’s Corry O’Lanus (1867). Continuing the tradition, the San Francisco club, probably a professional or business group, conjoined a local ethnic dish with an older ethnic one (Anglo-American) related in composition.

In part this may have been to ensure public familiarity with the club’s function or attract members more easily. The path from rudely cooked but savoury port-side dish to bon ton city offering is more easily understood when mediated by a club such as mentioned.

A club needed places to meet, and so the dish would have penetrated the restaurants that way. The club’s meetings had to help, certainly.

Nor can “ciupino” and “ciuppino” be dismissed as of uncertain connection to cioppino. Apart from “ciupino” being bracketed with chowder in 1897 as noted, the variant spellings show a similar connection to the Italian origins of the dish. Per Wikipedia:

The name [cioppino] comes from cioppin (also spelled ciopin) which is the name of a classic soup from the Italian region Liguria, similar in flavor to cioppino but with less tomato and using Mediterranean seafood cooked to the point that it falls apart.

As discussed above some sources in fact render the dialect terms as “ciuppin”, or “ciupin”. Also, “ciupino” and “ciuppino” appear in the San Francisco press through the mid-20th century to denote the dish. One need only search California Digital Newspapers to see. An example appears as late as 1959. The story (Blue Lake Advocate, April 16, 1959) states:

The Veterans of Foreign Wars County Council met at Fortuna in the Veterans’ Memorial Building last Wednesday evening for the annual crab ciuppino dinner prepared by Nat Evans, Jr., who is District Council Commaftder. Those attending from Blue Lake included Eugene Costa, John Costa, Marvin Ingersoll, then local Commander, Robert Spaletta, the new local Commander, and Lance Peithman. The regular county council meeting followed the much enjoyed crab dinner.

The alternate spellings occasionally appeared until “cioppino” emerged as the norm, seemingly by the 1960s. Even the early “chespini” is obviously the same dish, probably a journalist’s awkward rendering.

To remove somewhat from the academic, I tasted the dish once, at Tadich Grill in San Francisco. It was extremely good. The image below is from the website linked.



Note re images: sourced from the links identified and included in the text. Used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.



Musicians’ Régal

An Ensemble of Flavours for Artistes 

My last post considered the food and wines offered train passengers travelling to an Episcopal Convention in San Francisco in 1901.

Another menu from history, also in 1901, for another gathering – nay in San Francisco – is our subject today. It’s not a church group this time, but a labour union, a musicians’ protective association in the city.

The dinner was offered in honour of the group’s charismatic president, Eugene E. Shmitz (pictured, via Wikipedia). Having started out as a violinist, he had just been elected mayor of the city.



San Francisco has long featured a countercultural and radical ethos, not exclusively to be sure – it was and is very much a business city. Still, much of its social history connects to the former, and Shmitz was an exemplar. He was a popular mayor and served multiple terms before becoming embroiled in graft and other charges, which derailed his career.

In a former time, a Sinclair Lewis might have lightly fictionalized the lively story of Shmitz; today it would make a fine movie.

The menu makes an interesting contrast to the meals enjoyed by the Episcopalians. It was probably served at a hotel although the menu makes no mention of the venue.

As befits a group of artists, many of whom were probably of recent European origin, the menu has a number of Continental touches. Numerous local-popular ones oddly complement; in many ways, that is the story of Bay Area cuisine writ large.

One of the entrées (appetizers here) was sweetbread patties à la poulette, which means with a rich sauce of butter, cream, and egg yolk. This is bourgeois French food, or higher perhaps. A spring chicken sauté with mushrooms is vaguely French too – bonne femme though, tending to the American. No saucy garnish.

Starting the meal was oysters from the East Coast, considered superior then to the smaller West Coast varieties. Next came a French-style consommé. Then, an intermezzo of Relishes, typical for the time.

Celery, olives, pickles, seafood salads, ham, and tongue comprised that course.

There followed the sweetbreads and chicken, then “tame” roasted duck, and turkey, peas and potatoes, fruit, ice cream, cakes, tortes. And cheese!

A mid-market version of the fulsome society banquets typical of Edward’s age, but lavish enough. One wonders if people ate everything, or selected portions.

The drinks are interesting, in part due to how the menu positions them viz. the courses. Sauterne, from the California Wine Association (CWA), went with the consommé. This wine, typically considered sweet in the fashion of the archetype, Sauternes, could in fact be medium dry or drier, per a mid-century excursion on California wines (author not credited in the source).

Semillon is the classic grape type but the California version could be made from a different grape, or a mixture, see source again.

Zinfandel, evidently well-established in the state even by 1900, also came from the CWA. It went with the salty Relishes, oddly by our standards today.

Two types of water, still and sparkling, were taken with appetizers and vegetables, and beer with the meats – Wunder Beer. Yet more strangeness at least in formal dining terms.*

Wunder was a bottled lager from one of the smaller pre-Prohibition breweries in San Francisco. At the time, brewing in the state was constantly disrupted by labour wars. A 1901 letter to the editor claimed the company was “fair” – used only union staff – which likely helped secure its place on the menu.

The beer was a popular touch, i.e., for a style of dinner where wines would normally appear, but suited evidently the audience.

Champagne with the dessert, fair enough. Provenance not stated, perhaps French, or American East Coast. I don’t think sparkling wine was yet established in California, but happy to be set straight.

The Duncan water was probably from a spring on south Vancouver Island, near Duncan, British Columbia. It’s of note that such a (relative) staple would be fetched from afar, given the abundance of good water in northern California.

The lure of the foreign, perhaps. To this dayB.C. Artesian Springs in Duncan supplies a pristine water sold all over Vancouver Island.

I wonder, had the menus been swapped for the Episcopalian and Musician Union events, would anyone have noticed? Presumably the caterers knew their markets. And in truth musicians, for their part, have had a special relationship to food, cooking, and wine.

The Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale, or RILM, collects and disseminates music research. A paper on its site states:

The relationship between food and music has a long history. Many great composers and performers were connoisseurs, and some even contributed to the world of recipes. Food and wine often inspired new works and influenced the creative process of the composer; both have been the subject of many musical works from drinking songs to the savory gastronomical and culinary references in the operas of Mozart, Rossini, and Verdi. Food has also served as payment for musicians, or has been part of their allotment. In both Western and non-Western cultures, food and music are at times part of the same ritual, and both may encourage a sense of community, trance or meditation…

The satisfaction the San Francisco musicians no doubt found in their meal and drinks gains deeper significance when considered in light of the foregoing.


*Or were all the drinks made available at the outset, for service at will? I am not sure, but incline to a sequential method of service.




“Episcopal Special”

Food and Wine for a Unique Church Gathering, 1901

A series of “rolling” menus was prepared connected to a Convention of the Episcopal Church that took place in San Francisco in 1901. The menus appeared in a booklet issued to passengers on the Soo Line headed toward the event.

The train departed from Minneapolis for the three-day journey, and conventioneers could select among the offerings for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The menu booklet is archived in the New York Public Library, entitled the “Episcopal Special”.

The MNopedia site offers a good short account of the Soo Line. An extract:

The Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad, commonly known as the Soo Line from a phonetic spelling of Sault, helped Minnesota farmers and millers prosper by hauling grain directly from Minneapolis to eastern markets.

Prominent Minneapolis businessmen founded the railroad, originally called the Minneapolis, Sault Ste. Marie and Atlantic, in 1883. But Israel Washburn, governor of Maine and brother of Cadwallader (C.C.) and William Washburn, had proposed such a railroad to the Minneapolis Board of Trade as early as 1873.


The line had a long history that ended with some Canadian involvement. There was also a Canadian component to the Episcopalian train journey, in that the route crossed into Canada to take in locales of scenic interest. All is explained, with the menus, in the booklet, digitized as part of the menu collection of NYPL.



The meals reflect largely the table of the prosperous middle class of the period: Beef Anglaise with celery, chicken a la Maryland, breaded lamb chops, ox tongue, broiled lake fish, trout, and potatoes in different ways.

There were many vegetables including in salads, also cheeses (Edam, McClaren’s,* Roquefort), ice cream, pumpkin pie, and the apple in different forms.

There was “breakfast food” so termed, an early instance of the American dry “cereal”. It had already penetrated the heartland of the nation even though recently developed (Kellog, etc).

There were eggs in numerous styles, steak, ham, bacon. Also vanilla wafers, preserves and marmalade, toast, rolls – and “Congress wafers”. A light jape by the catering department? I have not been successful to, well, divine the nature of this dish.

Among off-piste selections were Mulligatawny soup, chicken with okra (maybe New Orleans-inspired), Indian pudding (a nod to New England tradition, probably), and orange fritters with wine sauce.



The offerings would serve well today for many palates if well-prepared, as I imagine they were in those days when food processing was in its infancy.

For alcohol there were four brands of beer: Guinness stout, Dog’s Head Bass Pale Ale, Budweiser, and Pabst. Solid choices for each category – and surprisingly durable, too.

For wine there was Bordeaux** and Burgundy reds, Champagnes, even a California “cabernet”. And Plymouth gin, brandy, straight bourbon and rye, Canadian rye, scotch, liqueurs, and Cuban and other cigars.

Solid offerings, as would be so no less today.

They ate and drank well, these burghers. Some religious occasions involve a measured or even abstinent approach for a time. Here, the good things of life were enjoyed on the way to religious meetings, with perhaps the aspect of a train journey – three days shared in close quarters – influencing the catering.

N.B. I am not sure what orange fritters were, either. The Food Network offers this recipe, maybe it was this, or similar.

Note re images: images above were sourced respectively from the NYPL and MNopedia sites linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*A MacClaren’s cheese spread is available to this day, carried e.g. at Walmart.

**This modern wine of Bordeaux, identified from the “famille Bouliac“, may be similar to what the good burghers enjoyed on the trip to Salt Lake.



Ginger Farm and its Butter Tart

Ginger Farm, Ontario

What is, or was, Ginger Farm? And wherefore its butter tart?

Ginger Farm no longer exists. It is covered today by tons of concrete, asphalt, and steel. But between 1924 and 1958 it was a working farm, near Milton, Ontario. Milton is a 50-minute drive west of Toronto along Highway 401, the broad ribbon vital to Ontario commerce. From Milton you can wend towards Guelph, Cambridge, Kitchener, London, Chatham, and finally Windsor where the bridge connects to Detroit, U.S.A.

In the late 1950s, 100-acre Ginger Farm was expropriated by the Ontario government to help build Highway 401. Part of the farm lies under the clover-leaf linking Highways 401 and 25. Atop the other part is Maplehurst Correctional Facility. Built in the early 1970s, it is known to initiates, I understand, as the Milton Hilton.

A book by David Mitchell-Evans, Chronicles of Ginger Farm (Bastian Publishing: 2009), indicates Lancelot and Gwendoline Clarke purchased the property in 1924. Gwendoline, nee Fitz-Gerald, was born in Sudbury, Suffolk (England).

Lancelot, also from Suffolk, had emigrated to Canada in his teens. He worked in farming near Milton and pursued other occupations, before returning to Britain with the Canadian Army.

So the couple met in England, and decided to live in Canada. Once landed as newlyweds here, they travelled west to Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan to take up farming. After a few years they moved with their two children to Ontario, and purchased land for farming near Milton. That became Ginger Farm, where they remained for the rest of their lives.

In her spare time Gwendoline (d. 1966) authored a regular newspaper column on farming and rural life. The series was called “Chronicles of Ginger Farm”. David Mitchell-Evans is a grandchild of the Clarkes and collected many of her articles for his Chronicles book.

The farm was named Ginger, not because the ginger plant was cultivated there, but for reasons that combine whimsy, a literary sense, and knowledge of life’s hard knocks. As related in Chronicles, Gwendoline wrote in 1929:

…let me tell you, right here and now, in case there are any who don’t know it, that besides brain and brawn, it requires ginger of the highest quality and spiciest order to come anywhere near success [in farming], and the smaller the capital, the more ginger required.

It is a sign how much has changed that “ginger” in this sense sounds old-fashioned today.

Gwendoline Clarke’s Writing

Gwendoline with Ginger Farm became widely known in the Province of Ontario due to her newspaper work. The columns appeared in the Free Press of Acton nearby and were reprinted throughout Ontario. The Flesherton Advance, a newspaper in Ontario’s Grey Highlands, printed many columns.

Her writing also appeared in Britain, probably via the Canadian-founded Women’s Institute, which had branches there. Gwendoline was an active participant in Ontario’s Scotch Block chapter.

Her writing covers the years of the Second World War, especially how farmers coped with rising food prices and falling crop revenues. Many staples were short such as fruit, nuts, tobacco, and coffee.

Her columns limned the daily occurrences of farming life: raising crops, calving and other livestock management, the change of the seasons, the mercurial weather. Occasionally she describes seeking diversions, often a movie in a nearby town.

She was interested in new technology, anything that could make a busy farmer’s life less hectic. One column relates her assessment of the pressure cooker then becoming popular. She describes the different types available, and notes the great time saving in recipe preparation.

She entirely approved of the new method, and as to risk of explosion, she advised, well, just be careful!

Gwendoline’s writing demonstrates a lively and intuitive intelligence, practical but with a questing bent. This is shown by her interest in the past, and her expressed desire to read more than time allowed her. But she did find time to write on local history, outside the column.

She was perceptive both of animal and human natures, and in general expressed a live-and-let-live philosophy.

The Special Butter Tart

In a 1941 article* in the Flesherton Advance she describes a makeshift butter tart, the confection that (in our view) did not originate in Canada – think Scotland – but has become a Canadian specialty. Some types of pecan pie, or treacle tart, are a similar idea.

Due to wartime conditions currants and raisins were not available to enhance the egg, sugar, and butter base. She decided to use mincemeat from a jar in the cellar. Mincemeat need I say is the sweetened, preserved fruit mixture prepared in British-influenced cultures from time immemorial, especially for Christmas.

The unorthodox tart was a clear success, to the point taciturn Lancelot, whom she always calls “Partner”, praised its qualities, albeit “not solicited”.



As a busy farmer proud of her role co-running an ever-parlous business, Gwendoline had little time, is my sense, to record recipes, an activity she probably viewed as frivolous.

Still, the butter tart was so good she had to pass it on, to posterity’s benefit.

Gwendoline expressed the wish that her butter tart, should it find general approval, be called the Ginger Farm Special. This never acquired traction, to my knowledge, but it’s not too late. Readers of a cookery bent might fetch up some mincemeat and give it a try.

A reader’s report on the outcome would be interesting to read!


*To see the original article in Fulton Historical Newspapers, search “recipes and suchlike” at To view other Ginger Farm articles, search “Ginger Farm”.




“Gone Abroad” by Charles Graves (1932). Part 2.

The Beers of Munich

At pp. 101-102 in Charles Graves’ Gone Abroad the author describes the best beers of Munich with a short account of the renowned beer hall Hofbrauhaus.

… Munich is, not unnaturally, inseparable from thoughts of beer. So I sampled about twenty-two varieties, dark and light, strong and very strong.

Of these, he lists more than a dozen that found especial favour: Lowenbrau, Spaten, Hacker, Paulaner Thomas, Salvater [his spelling], Koenigliche, Pschorr, and Wagner.  Each is mentioned for both dark and light iterations except for Salvater, or Salvator as known to us, which is dark only.

Also, when reviewing Hofbrauhaus he mentions only dunkel (dark lager) being consumed.

Modern accounts have it that Paulaner merged with rival Gebruder Thomas in 1928, hence the double-barrelled name for this storied brewery. (It was the only brewery I visited, well, the adjoining beer hall, on my visit to Munich, but I tasted other beers in the city, not quite 22 though).

Beer scholarship has established that pale lager or Helles in Munich developed in the early 1900s, following the example of the noble Pilsner Urquell of Bohemia, inaugurated in 1842 at the Citizen’s Brewery in Pilsen. Before about 1900 Munich lager was dark in hue.

Clearly by the early 1930s the pale type was well enough established to merit inclusion in the great names listed, except for Hofbrauhaus, and Salvator again, still brewed today in dark amber only, to my knowledge.

Our LCBO carries it, in fact. The image below is from the listing, and the accompanying description can’t be bettered:

… a double bock beer: a stronger and maltier version of bock beer or strong lager of German origin. Rich aromas of orange, toasted nut, molasses and spice meet flavours of toffee, cloves, chocolate, and creamy malt notes. The velvety finish has a wisp of hop bitterness.


Graves also mentions a light “Schneider” beer served with a lemon slice – the famed weizen of Schneider, a wheat beer. At the time, it was brewed in Munich but today is brewed outside the city as the brewery was destroyed in WW II. This beer is also listed at the LCBO and is a style widely made in craft brewing as well.

The fact that Munich’s norm struck Graves as “strong” is interesting. Munich beer by this period, at least the Helles, was about 5% abv except for bock and double-bock versions, which could go higher. Beer historian Ron Pattinson has data, drawn from a 1948 text, that seems clearly to show this, see here.

As you see above noble Salvator is almost 8% abv, approaching the quaffing German wines in fact.

In the interwar period the draught beers of Britain were lower in gravity than lagers in Germany. This arose from the pressure of increased taxation due to war. Many visitors to Germany, or other countries where a 5% norm prevailed, noticed the difference.

There are two observations in Graves’ account that set it apart from the usual tourist’s account, even of practiced travel writers. First, he states:

The truth of the matter is that, just as in wine, individual breweries have individual good years.  It all depends on the quality of the hops and malt bought or grown by the proprietors.

He goes on to say:

… experts … maintain that Paulaner Thomas is least likely to fall from its high level of thirst-quenching endeavour.

It is as true today that beers of a single brewery can vary annually due to seasonal differences in qualities of hops and malt, which after all are natural products affected by weather, humidity, and other factors. This is a good thing, a heritage of the agricultural and indeed craft origins of all brewing. No degree of technical mastery can quite efface this.

There is of course a need for consistency in brewing, even at craft level. To some degree this is at odds with the natural mutability of beer (or wine, cider, etc.) due to the factors noted, but most breweries seem to find a balance. Of those that don’t, many revel in the swings of palate, which their fans appreciate as the hallmark of an artisan product. Fair enough.

Yet, after his three page éloge of Munich beer, Graves states:

But they all tasted very much the same to me.

He means of course, Helles as against Helles, dunkel as against dunkel, and so forth. A damp squib? Not at all. In any well-developed beer culture, in the industrial era certainly, the leading products will tend to be similar. It is no different today for New England India Pale Ale, say.

An industry just tends to move in that direction. Of course, too, Graves was not an “expert”, but rather an enthusiastic amateur, writing a survey for his fellow citizens. In fact he states that an expert can “tell one kind from another in a second”. Essentially true today as well.

The one failing of German beer noted by Graves: no “liqueur” beer was available of the sort “you can get at Trinity, Cambridge, and All Souls and Queen’s College, Oxford”.

This was the ancestral strong ale of England. Despite the washy nature of the daily interwar beer, he was upholding England’s best still available, in other words. I’m not sure today about Oxbridge, but countless small breweries in Britain and elsewhere make fine examples of the old strong brews.

If you find one, imagine you are in an ivied college refectory, or draughty (um) hall sitting on blocky, leather-covered oak chairs. You are tasting the real thing, all things told. And the German types Graves liked, original and craft emulations, can be had around the world.






“Gone Abroad” by Charles Graves (1932). Part 1.

I can’t improve on Wikipedia’s biographical sketch of Charles Patrick Ranke Graves (December 1, 1899-February 20, 1971). To follow me effectively, read it first. Graves was an English author and journalist, part of the distinguished Graves writing clan that included his siblings Robert and Philip.

Charles’ mother, Graves Sr.’s second wife, was of German descent. This probably explains the in-depth coverage of Germany in Charles’ 1932 travel book, Gone Abroad.

The book is excellent travelogue, with museums, bars, restaurants, hotels, transport, zoos, war memorials, seasides, and landscapes a plenty. The quality of the writing sets it apart from the usual run, especially his dry sense of humour.

The book deals with Germany for the first two-thirds, and the remainder on Belgium. The German part mentions beer numerous times, which I will return to. The introduction makes a number of social and cultural observations on Germany, one claiming it lacked “national resentment”.

I am not sure that was quite correct, at the time, but most of the statements ring true enough, e.g. the liking for the English. He relates a story that an English visitor wandered into Hofbrauhaus in Munich one evening when it was reserved for a soldiers’ association. The chap was welcomed with bonhomie and good humour. Graves said in the reverse case, that wouldn’t be so in England!

The interesting statement is made that Britain was becoming tired of war while Germany, being “young and resilient” (less conflicts in its past to that point, he says), was losing the memory of the Great War, despite the millions lost. This was prescient, I think.

There is no reference to the Nazi Party (that I found), and only a couple (anodyne) to Communists. The book is apolitical, essentially, at a time when it was still just about possible to do that.

The Belgian part is equally interesting, including the beer observations. There are no screeds against sour beer although many visitors in the 19th century couldn’t restrain themselves. There is one passage where via his driver Alphonse (mentioned below) dismissed a beer for being “washy”. Graves calls much Belgian beer “watery”, in another passage.

In fact though, Graves barely notices Belgian beer at all. By this I mean, he states that in the cities, beer had a foreign cast. The beer was made in Belgium, but every effort was made to present it as German- or (inferentially) U.K.-type.

This shows the great prestige German lager had by the first third of the 20th century, and British ale at least in Belgium. Of course, some bars actually carried German or British beer, which he often mentions.

In his words:

It may be said here that the Belgians are rather English in the way they admire anything foreign, and most of the Belgian brewers give fancy German names to their purely Belgian beers. All kinds of variations on the words Spatenbrau, Pilsen, and so on, are coined, in order to encourage the public to buy them. At the Ancienne Belgique [!] though, one is really able to get Munich beer.

Given that modern craft brewing sprang in some part from an admiration of Belgium’s idiosyncratic, age-old brewing tradition, this reads oddly indeed. But a truism is revealed.

The truths of one age can mean nothing in the one before, or after. A variety of reasons explains this that may or may not be connected to inherent quality (always hard to define anyway). Fashion and peer pressure can demolish traditions, for example, which then need to be rebuilt.

The success in the U.K. of thin, gassy “keg” ale in the 1970s and oft’ Teutonic-named lagers did serious damage to a distinguished tradition of naturally-conditioned beers. Yes, it survived, but just.

North America earlier lost its original ale and porter tradition to a wave of German-American brewing. The new beer type soon adopted corn or other adjuncts in the mash, a lightening that got ever more pronounced through the 20th century. Craft brewing had to recreate what was lost, and inevitably, the new school differed in many ways from the old.

In Brussels, Graves does not mention its ancestral lambic, faro, Mars, or gueuze. He does state:

The inhabitants of Brussels … like … music, light colours, hard work, pale ale, and trams…

Further: “Belgians are very fond of English stout and ‘pale-ale’ as they call it”. Graves mentions as well a Whitbread Tavern in the Boul. Adolphe Max in Brussels, which is long before Whitbread brewery built the Britannia Tavern for the 1958 World’s Fair in the city.

Belgium abandoned a good part of its venerable top-fermentation tradition in favour of U.K. pale ale, imported or locally brewed, or fizzy, stable, German-style lagers. Only when a Briton called Michael Jackson (1942-2007) wrote lyrically of its hitherto unsuspected beer riches did a sea change occur, certainly in export markets and to a degree in Belgium itself.

Suddenly, we needed to know about Trappist beer, saison beer, cherry beer, beers so tart they scrunched up your face, and lots more. None of that is in Gone Abroad. A revolution was caused by one man, or pretty much. If you need proof of the “great person” theory of history, there it is.

Now, there is a hint in Graves’ book that he found some “real” Belgian beer. He had hired a “large fast American car” with driver to take him through the hinterlands. They ended covering most of the country. The driver and guide, Alphonse:

… was a very conscientious chap.  Day after day he showed me cathedrals, statues, war memorials, and so on until I nearly dropped. In return, I took him to estaminets, tavernes, cafés, and restaurants, where we drank innumerable kinds of Belgian beer…

More than that he doesn’t say, but I’d wager Alphonse gave him pointers on lambic, say, or, the brown beer of Malines. Although, of all the beers he and Alphone got down, the only one identified by type is a Dortmunder.

Graves must have liked it as he mentions Dortmunder in another part of the essay, seeming to apologize it was a “lager”, not “beer”.  This was likely the Belgian “Dort”, an imitation of the Dortmunder style.

Still, there is a hint true Belgian beer was uncovered in the backroads, and appreciated, something that wasn’t a take on Germany’s or the U.K.’s best. If so, maybe the names are in his working papers for the book but didn’t make the final cut.

Here is a picture from the National Portrait Gallery of the dashing young Graves in ’32, the year the book appeared.



The Three Angels

A Beer for the Gods

Lieut.-Col. Nathaniel Newnham-Davis (1854-1917) was a food phenomenon of his time: restaurant reviewer, cookery teacher, travel writer. I discussed him earlier, but mention him again for his vibrant account in 1914 of Romano’s, in the Strand, London. ‘The Roman’ was a favoured restaurant of the great and the good, the bon ton, the stars of the stage.

It was founded in 1874 by an Italian immigrant, Alfonso Romano. The emporium lasted all the way to 1941, until bomb damage and the privations of war proved a challenge too far.

A 1951 story in the Australian press by Lachlan Beaton memorialized the place, its many charms and quirks. He tells of the “cream of the chorus and the gilded young escorts”, “Moorish pillars”, “discrete private rooms” and more. It’s a good counterpart to Newnham-Davis’ more extended piece.

While not a temple of the beery arts, Romano’s should be remembered for The Three Angels, an all-beer cocktail so to speak. I infer the name was a double pun, as Giulio Romano the Late Renaissance painter depicted Mary of Magdalene borne aloft by angels. See here, in the National Gallery.

According to Beaton, the drink was equal parts “Bass”, “bottled beer”, and “Russian stout”. The Bass according to other accounts was Bass barley wine, the dark, extra-strong Bass beer of historical fame. The Russian stout was likely, or often, Barclay’s Russian Imperial stout: a strong, velvety London brew. Bottled beer meant an everyday light or pale ale.

The Three Angels was favoured by actors of the Gaiety next door, probably for its restorative qualities. No less than Edward VII when Prince of Wales liked a round with his friends. Romano’s long-time cellarman, Bendi, favoured the drink as well.

Despite the Bacchic riches in the cellar, some patrons wanted a beer – and Romano’s stretched to make that special, too. The Three Angels seems a riff on an older mixture of bitter and old ale (‘old and bitter’, you know).



(Source of image: the online forum WW I Military Motors)*

Old and bitter was the house cocktail of the upper echelon pub, the Cheshire Cheese, on Fleet Street. But a temple of gastronomy has to outdo even a venerable public house. The Three Angels was Romano’s answer.

And now, acrid dust has replaced the fragrance of cigars, scent, and good cooking and soon nobody will remember Romano’s at all. Even its spiritual annexe, the nearby Gaiety Theatre, is a gutted shell— another legacy of war.

So wrote Beaton to end his piece. War, disease, and other distress, including now our current pandemic, work irreversible changes in fashions and the times. So it was with Romano’s, so it will be with some institutions of our day, culinary and other.

Even when Newnham-Davis lauded The Roman trouble loomed. He noted Champagne sales had provided much of the restaurant’s profit, but with war afoot in Europe the supply might dry up.

Did it? Another subject for historical inquiry. One way or another, Romano’s survived for another day, but the next war proved too great a foe.

Tonight make yourself a Three Angels to ponder the riddles of time and tide. There are strong ales, Imperial stouts, and bitter beers a plenty today to choose from. Let me know how you make out (see comments below).


*The image above is used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.


Creemore Urbock 2020

I wrote about Creemore Urbock a few years ago, here. (I have a good half-dozen other posts on bock beer, if anyone wants to see them let me know).

Although I recall it being available on draft last year at the Creemore Batch brewpub in Toronto, the canned version had departed the market a few years ago; now it’s back.

And glad of it we should be, as it’s never been better. The taste is full, rich, yeasty, with dark caramel notes. You don’t, thanks be, have to “fight for the flavour”, it offers itself generously. Good hopping of the mineral sort underpins the malt but lets it have its say.

It’s a crafted product in every (meaningful) way, and a taste of history in the bargain, Canadian craft beer history.

Good work Molson Coors Beverage Co., which bought small Creemore Brewery about 15 years ago.




Pining for an Old-time Brew

Franz Schwackhofer was a Vienna-born professor of chemical technology. He specialized in studying malting and brewing and was active in the later 19th century. The LinkFang site offers a biographical sketch in German, see here.

In 1894 Schwackhofer wrote an extensive study of the American brewing industry: Amerikanische Brau-Industrie auf der Weltaussellung in Chicago. It is catalogued at HathiTrust but not available full view. In effect, it is a full-length book with 60 folded-in plates that surely would be most interesting to view. Some chapters were co-authored.

A good summary of his work is set out in a book review that appeared in 1896 in vol. 62 of the British journal Engineering. It is a careful, detailed account that relates Schwackhofer’s views on the progress of American brewing, of which he generally approved. Malting, barley and corn types, filtration, bottling, and much more are covered.

So widespread was corn in American brewing by this time that Schwackhofer noted “other beer” is now the specialty, meaning the all-barley malt beer familiar in Continental Europe.

The review recounts that American wood kegs were usually lined with pitch but sometimes with lacquer. Pitch was prepared from the sap of coniferous trees. A brief description from an American brewing chemist’s paper in 1942 explains the properties of good pitch, one of which is that no odour is imparted to the beer.

American beer casks were lined to prevent a woody taste in the beer and preclude microorganisms in the wood from souring the beer. Wood vessels were widely treated, with pitch, in Continental Europe as well, for this reason. The taste of pitch nonetheless by some accounts circa 1900 entered the beer, indeed was considered part of its “profile”, we would say today.

Brewers from Central Europe brought the cask-pitching tradition here. There is the odd remark in brewing literature of America as well of a taste imparted by the pitch. An 1899 Budweiser ad I mentioned earlier vaunted, indeed, its “pitchy” taste. See my discussion, here.

The book review in Engineering, summarizing Schwackhofer, wrote that where American brewers used lacquer in lieu of pitch:

… a little spruce pitch is dropped into the wort for the benefit of customers who are unhappy without that by-product.

This almost incidental comment reveals that American beer had, or very frequently had given the scope of Schwakhofer’s brewery tour (see review), a piney tang.

A pine taste has sometimes been assumed by those projecting how American beer might have tasted then, but no one was really sure because later, as we see in the 1942 commentary, it was thought pitch should be neutral on the beer. Evidently technology caught up by the mid-century to lacquer, an inert finish made from shellac dissolved in alcohol.

For guidance on lacquer use in the 1890s, this 1898 article in American Brewers’ Review is helpful. The term varnish is used but the same thing is meant.

Off-piste additions to a food product like beer – outside that is malt, hops, corn, rice, or sugar – were not trumpeted at the time. Yet, through a side-wind we gain an insight into an attribute of beer in the Gibson Girl era.

Today, an endless variety of ingredients is added to beer. I’m sure pine or spruce is, of occasion, but I can’t recall the last ones I had. Brewers, hark.*

N.B. I wrote up Quebec spruce beer in this early post – a true survival of nineteenth century Canadian tastes. It is still made, I must look for it when in Montreal soon. If I get a bottle and pour a dash in a good craft lager, ergo I’ve made one form of 1890s American lager, maybe. 🙂


*Pine, spruce, and indeed fir are separate species but the resins have a similar character. Non-brewing nostrums, health-related for example, often specify these interchangeably.


A Pioneer of the Modern Food Scene

A key figure in the revival and promotion of American food culture after National Prohibition was Jeanne Owen.

She was a longtime senior officer of the Wine and Food Society of New York, from 1934 until 1965. In that period she was the motivating force for its taste events and dinners. Her great knowledge of cookery, wine, and the New York hotel and restaurant scene proved invaluable for the job.

She knew James Beard well, among many other New York food luminaries, and helped promote his career. She also published on cookery, including A Wine Lover’s Cook Book (1940), and wrote for food and wine magazines around the country.

A detailed profile of Owen by journalist Naomi Jolles appeared in the New York Post in August 1945. It started this way:

Some seven times a year a group of approximately 500 New Yorkers gather at one or another of the city’s swankier hotels to give their taste buds a workout. In an atmosphere of esoteric gourmandizing, they sip at Madeiras, stouts, champagnes, rums and brandies (depending on the occasion) and nibble away at smoked fish and exotic cocktail biscuits.

Lady Make-It-All-Possible of these affairs is Jeanne Owen, a fluffy white-haired woman with a face that really expresses what she tastes. As secretary of the Wine and Food Society, Inc., Mrs. Owen serves as a liaison between the wine, liquor and food companies and that portion of the public that really cares about food and drink.

The numbers attending these events speak for themselves, bearing in mind too the war in Europe had just ended and the Pacific War was still ongoing. Despite the travails and sacrifices of the war consumer America was reviving, and looking to the future.

The story described some of the high and occasional low points of the Society’s work. A high point was its Long Island oyster-tastings, which I’ve described earlier.

Owen was French-born, which clearly assisted working with the International Wine and Food Society in London. Its founder André Simon was a Frenchman who had transplanted to Britain after World War I.

Before moving to New York Owen had lived in northern California, a centre of food innovation through the 20th century into our own. In the late 20s and early 30s she worked in New York theatre and on radio, and became an accomplished amateur chef. This diverse background made her perfect for the Wine and Food Society job.

She quickly became its driving force and wrote its monthly newsletter as well.

Jolles wrote:

The bill is $10 a year [to join the Society], $15 for a couple, and is an excellent investment for those who are not so well off, according to Mrs. Owen. “When you are not too rich, but still want a bottle of good wine, you can’t afford to make a mistake,” she says. “You can’t sample brands and stocks in a shop, but through the tastings, you always know what pleases you the most.”

Social media today operates in much the same fashion …

In 1958 the New York press again profiled Ms. Owen, see herein the New York Times. The second treatment is more sophisticated, but what comes through in both is the intention to popularize what had been an elite activity: food and wine for their inherent enjoyment, vs. mere sustenance or as received tradition.

This implies as well a learning opportunity, viz. cultures and experiences different from one’s own.

In 1958 Owen noted that young people were the most enthusiastic members of the Society. In the early days (1930s-40s) event programmes were cast on the floor when people left. By the 50s, people took them home: they wanted to learn.

1945, 1958. Food and wine in New York. What looks like distant times, distant preoccupations, is very much a piece of where we are today.