The Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto (ARCAT) surely must contain one of the most specialized menu collections anywhere.
ARCAT’s website, the Archivist’s Pencil, sets out archival materials of many descriptions for their historical interest.
A few years ago it reproduced a half-dozen menus from its files. These were meals that commemorated celebrations, or other special events in Diocese history.
Below is one such menu, from 1892.
The celebration was for a notable occasion, a double-Jubilee of the founding of the Toronto Archdiocese.
Hence, the menu was unusually lavish and went yet further by featuring a wine selection. No other menu in the ARCAT website features alcohol. I cannot decide if the spatial treatment for the three wines, sherry, Champagne, and claret, was meant to designate specific dishes for each wine, or not. If yes, the claret was meant for the fruit course, for example.
It’s a seeming anomaly, but in British dining at the time dry red wine was, or could be, drunk at the end of the meal. See this 1890s edition of Table Talk, where claret is advised for the cakes.
So possibly the clerics drank sherry with all food after the soup until the game, and from then Champagne until claret met the fruit.
This is 1892, and might be considered late for such treatment, since the “rule” of red wine with meat had currency by then. But given the meal was in Canada, distant from ruling gastronomic centres (Europe), and given perhaps too the inherently conservative nature of religious organizations, an older custom may have prevailed in the Diocese.
By contrast, the typographical design is rather modern, especially the right side for the dishes listed. The layout would not be amiss in the menu of a modern upscale restaurant.
The dinner was held at the Palace, on Church Street, Toronto. It sounds perhaps like a commercial hotel, but was not. The Palace was the rectory for the Archbishop and Bishops of Toronto, a fine example of Victorian Gothic architecture. Indeed the building still stands, see below.
The Toronto website Taylor on History, source of the image below, presents an excellent overview of its history and design.
The Palace was built to serve nearby St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica. Its website notes:
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.
I suspect the dinner was prepared in the Palace’s own kitchen and with wines from a cellar below.
The food might be termed prosperous middle class. It is not excessively ornamented or sauced, the sweetbreads apart, perhaps. It offered familiar yet quality choices: joints, fowl with minimal dressing, game, and one fish. The inevitable turtle soup of late Victoriana appears. The desserts do look nice, considered as a unit with the entremets and ices.
The luxury was more in the range of things to eat, not elaborate recipes or presentation.
I love the Violet and Vanilla Ice Cream. Apart from the pleasing alliteration, the combination sounds enticing, even contemporary. Still, the ginger and glazed fruits, with most else on the menu, evoke a Victorian atmosphere.
The menu, finally, presents a yin and yang of the familiar and long-past – frequently encountered in historical food study.
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 unexplored territory.
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. Images are used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.