“Episcopal Special”

Foods and Wines for a Unique Church Gathering, 1901

A group of menus, prepared for a Convention of the Episcopal Church in San Francisco in 1901, featured in a booklet issued train passengers travelling to the event on the Soo Line. The trip, departing from Minneapolis, took three days, and multiple menus were offered for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The booklet is catalogued by the New York Public Library as the “Episcopal Special”.

The MNopedia site has an excellent short account on 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, which ended with some Canadian involvement, as MNopedia explains. There was also a Canadian component to the 1901 train journey, of a different type. Parts of the route went through Canada, chosen for their scenic interest. It is all set out, with the menus, in the booklet, preserved in the superb menu archive of the New York Public Library.



The meals are illustrative of the prosperous middle class table of the day. There was Beef Anglaise with celery, chicken a la Maryland, breaded lamb chops, ox tongue, broiled lake fish, trout, and numerous sorts of potatoes.

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

There was “breakfast food”, showing how the American “cereal” lately developed had already penetrated the heartland. There were eggs in many ways, steak, ham and bacon, vanilla wafers, preserves and marmalade. Toast and rolls of different types.

And “Congress wafers” too, perhaps a light in-joke of the catering department? A quick search did not enable me to resolve what this dish was.

There were a few seeming off-piste selections: Mulligatawny soup, chicken with okra (probably New Orleans-inspired), Indian pudding (New England), and “orange fritters” with wine sauce.



The above enumeration is only part of what was offered. The selections would serve very nicely today for any convention, indeed any eating, by my lights, if well-prepared as I imagine they were.

For alcoholic refreshment there were four brands of beer: Guinness stout, the Dog’s Head bottling of Bass Pale Ale, Budweiser, and Pabst. Each was a standby in its category, even c. 1900.

The wine list offered Bordeaux** and Burgundy reds, different marques of Champagne, even a California “cabernet” (misspelled). There was Plymouth gin, brandy, straight bourbon and rye, Canadian rye, scotch, liqueurs, and Cuban and other cigars. Very solid, it would be today no less.

I have no doubt most enjoyed the drinks in moderation, as would occur today when adults (of any background) choose to partake of an occasion.

N.B. I’m not exactly sure what the orange fritters was, either. The Food Network offers this recipe, maybe it was the same, 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, 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.



2 thoughts on ““Episcopal Special””

  1. Nice post! Just a little note about manufactured breakfast cereals. The big companies that made them advertised them like crazy in the early 20th century and also put a lot of effort into introducing them to potential customers via restaurants and lunch rooms — and no doubt trains!


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