Can the Gourmet Society’s 1939 and 1954 Dinners be Recreated?

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

Part I

NJ Wines of 1950s

The journalist who reported the Newark Airport restaurant dinner noted a “blonde wine” served.

In that period, about a half-dozen New Jersey wineries still operated, a reduced number even from the 1930s let alone from before Prohibition. Today, many more exist in the state, 35 or 40, almost all established since the 1960s.

Of the current group, only two operated in the 1950s, and in fact their roots go back to the 1800s. One is Renault Winery, the other, Tomasello. Renault still makes an “American Champagne” and both make a broad range of wines from vinifera and native American grapes.

But can you still get a blonde or other wine from a winery in business when the 1954 Jersey dinner was held? Yes you can.

Rochelle Cheese Ramequins

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

Barnegat Clams

These still exist from Barnegat Bay but clamming yields have been greatly reduced by significant land development and fertilizer use. Still, can you find hard-shelled clams from the Bay to make the same dish again? Yes, you can.

Vineland Jellied Chicken Consommé

Vineland, NJ was a well-known chicken- and egg-producing centre in the 1950s. The industry was given a boost around 1900 when a group, formed to raise chickens for sport, commercialized the activity. A famous egg auction once existed in Vineland, until the early 70s. Interestingly, the chicken and egg farming business was mostly a Jewish one. There were many Jewish farmers, some were prewar refugees who bought land as an alternative to factory work, and others had started quite a bit earlier.

The business was delivered a series of blows starting with Hurricane Hazel and then refrigerated trucks which facilitated competition from the South. By the 70s, the egg and chicken industry was largely of the past.

Jellied dishes made a lot of sense in the pre-air conditioning days although today they can seem relics of an earlier time. And it’s still good eating!

There is still a highly-regarded chicken restaurant in Vineland called Joe’s Poultry Farm. It seems it was a farm at one time, and may still be or with access to one. The point being: chicken is still king in Vineland and you can buy it to make a great Jersey jellied consommé.

Ramapo Trout

The Ramapo river is still a good source for trout, but it is all “stocked” today as against the stream-bred, wild type probably served to Gourmet Society members in Newark in 1954. However, numerous tributaries of this river, and other watercourses in the State, still offer the wild fish. It is available, and Ramapo trout can be recreated!

Crown of Meadow Veal

Was veal was a specialty of Jersey farms back then? Maybe. Given that German, Jewish, Polish, and Italian communities all enjoy this meat, that probably accounted for its availability in 1950s New Jersey since all these communities existed then in the state. “Meadow” can suggest feeding on grass, so this type of meat should be sought. I’d think there must be local suppliers still, but if not, out-of-state would be okay too.

Strawberries in Applejack Sauce

A Jersey yeah! Strawberries are still a good crop in the state, from mid-May to early June. And applejack? Sure, Laird’s in the state is famous for its apple brandy and related drinks. In fact, it is the oldest, continuously operating distillery in the country. It was craft before there was craft!

Part II

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…