Intermittently I have discussed historical activities of the International Wine and Food Society, co-founded in London by French-born André Simon in 1933, and the Gourmet Society in New York, founded by executive and author George Frederick in the same period. Mainly events in the1930s-1950s, with a few into the 70s.
A duo of dinners ca.1970 reveal themes that would resonate more broadly in American food and wine in the years to come.
The first was reported in some detail by the Times-Union in Albany, New York in January 1970. You may read the account here. The actual menu seems not publicly available.
The dinner was held in the historically significant enclave of Tarrytown, New York. Manhattan-born (1763) Washington Irving, author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, explored Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow as a young man. It started when his family sent him there for refuge from fever-ridden Manhattan.
He later resided in Tarrytown, in a riverside estate. Today the area is an upscale suburb of the New York metro area with a concentration of head offices.
That Tarrytown was the site of eventful early American history made it an ideal location to recreate the heritage menu described in the article.
The menu is fairly elaborate and as a set piece was probably unknown in pioneer days, except perhaps for the grandest tables. Still, elements seem clearly historical, and it must have been stimulating to research and create the menu.
The drinks served included the Stone Fence, which is sweet cider and applejack (apple brandy), with whiskey later used. “Cold ale” also was featured, type not stated. The term ale probably struck the average American as old-fashioned by 1970, so job well done in that sense. The “cold” modifier probably addressed both the time of year – a chilly Tarrytown cellar – and the American expectation by the 1970s to drink beer well-chilled.
The kind of ale was not stated. The New York branch of the International Wine and Food Society, which held the event, perhaps chose something more authentic than the golden ale then produced by many U.S. breweries. The amber Ballantine India Pale Ale would have been a good choice, and had appeared in the Society’s 1940s beer tastings as I discussed earlier.
Perhaps an import was chosen, Whitbread Pale Ale, or Watney’s Red Barrel, in deference to early imports of ale or at least the malt, from Britain.
New York wines, then viewed mostly as quaffing or table wine, were served in carafe as the main moistener.
The food? Well, how does a pigeon-based chowder sound? What say ye of salt dried beef, or smoked reindeer? Or salad with nasturtium?
Also served were turnip tops with salt pork, wheat and oat mush, black bread, and … Champagne. Well, allowances must be made.
I didn’t find these preparations on a quick perusal of Amelia Simmons’ classic American Cookery (1796). The report stated selections represented Tarrytown cuisine of the 17th through the 19th centuries. I’d think research was done in local books and manuscripts to glean ideas, but in any case a period ring sounds.
Below is a depiction, author unknown, of Tarrytown c. 1828 (via Wikipedia, here):
A délice in the menu was cider and honey sauce; numerous poultry types were plated with it. A sauce of that description appears today in Yorkshire, U.K., with pork chops. The indispensable All Recipes UK gives the lowdown.
Yorkshire sounds far away from southern New York State, but much of the emigration of the time came from Britain, so it all ties in. Now, what of Dutch foods? Irving famously described the surviving Dutch customs in isolated places like Sleepy Hollow.
Nothing in the menu seems, offhand, to suggest that tradition. Maybe the frumenty-like mush, or black bread? Americans used rye in their early loaves to make a brown bread, one thinks of New England or Boston brown bread. But black? Maybe that was a Dutch survival.
Various modern recipes can be found for blackish Frisian or other Dutch rye bread. Here is one, from the Flour and Leaven site.
The then-head of the New York Wine and Food Society was interviewed in the story. His remarks reflect a democratic ethos: e.g. that “gourmet” means different things to different people (it’s true). The Society’s representatives strived, it seems to me, to emphasize a non-exclusive spirit since the inception of the group (1933) – no doubt one reason for its success.
Other dinners of the New York group were described, one a meal solely of different beef cuts. The idea to serve one food throughout a meal is intriguing, and appears through the history of gastronomy here and there.
Soon I will describe such a dinner held by the New York Society, in the same period, but involving a different meat than beef.
N.B. The same UPI account of the dinner appeared in October 1969 here, in the Schenectady Gazette, with concluding paragraphs omitted from the Times-Union version. It made clear the dinner was carefully researched, a process that took two months. The service of the one sauce for each entrée was explained as an historical practise, for example.
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