“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.



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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