Recreating 1939 and 1954 Dinners of the Gourmet Society

The 1939 and 1954 dinners discussed in my post yesterday featured emblematic foods, drinks, and party favours. Can the events be recreated today using the same or similar products?

Part I – the 1954 New Jersey dinner

NJ Wines of 1950s

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

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

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

But can you get a blonde or another wine from a winery in business in New Jersey in the 1950s? 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 clearly north-western New Jersey was once a heartland for good cheese and creameries, see the discussion at New Jersey Skylands

The cheese used for ramequins was surely from that part of the state. Sadly, as the link explains, the industry has largely evaporated, the victim of land development, horse farming, and other changes. However, artisan cheese is made today in the Garden State: Good New Jersey cheese can be found for ramequins.

Barnegat Clams

Clams still exist in Barnegat Bay but clamming has been greatly reduced by land development and fertilizer use. Still, hard-shelled clams from the Bay can be found to make the dish again.

Vineland Jellied Chicken Consommé

In the 1950s, Vineland in New Jersey was a well-known chicken and egg centre. The industry was given a boost around 1900. A group which had raised chickens for sport commercialized the activity. A busy egg auction once existed in Vineland, until the early 1970s.

Interestingly, this farming was mostly a Jewish business. There were many Jewish farmers in the state. Some were pre-WW II arrivals who bought land as an alternative to factory work, others had started earlier.

The business was reduced by Hurricane Hazel and refrigerated trucks that arrived from Southern producers. By the 1970s New Jersey egg and chicken farming was largely of the past.

Jellied dishes made more sense in pre-air conditioning days and today can seem relics of the past, but it’s still good eating, for some.

There remains a well-regarded chicken restaurant in Vineland, Joe’s Poultry Farm. It appears it was once a farm, and may still be one, or with access to a chicken farm. If you look I think New Jersey-raised chicken can be found to make a 1950s jellied consommé.

Ramapo Trout

The Ramapo river is still a good source for trout, all “stocked” today vs. the stream-bred, wild fish probably served to the Gourmet Society. Numerous tributaries though of the Ramapo, and other streams in the state, still have wild fish. It is available, so this dish can be recreated as well.

Crown of Meadow Veal

Veal was possibly a specialty of Jersey farms in 1954. “Meadow” can suggest grass feeding, so this type of meat can probably be found, if necessary out of state.

Strawberries in Applejack Sauce

Strawberries are still a crop in the state, from mid-May to early June. And applejack? Oh yes, the venerable Laird’s in New Jersey is famous for apple brandy and related drinks. Craft distillers probably offer something similar, in or out of New Jersey.

A Jersey “yeah”, we can do the berries and applejack sauce again.

Part II – the Gourmet Society’s 1939 New Orleans dinner (menu and my earlier discussion linked above)

Orange Wine and Chablis

For chablis wine, California was clearly the source of the wine served at the New Orleans dinner. It can supply a modern example, say a current Chardonnay, legion in the state. Louisiana (citrus) orange wine may be harder to find but if necessary a version can be made at home. Recipes abound online, many very old that stretch back to Britain.

Gumbo Shellfish Soup, Vegetables (Artichoke, Okra, Yam), Salad, Desserts

This group can easily be recreated and where Louisiana shellfish or produce isn’t available, reasonable substitutes will do. So shrimp and crab gumbo, the relishes, salad and Creole dressing, the vegetables, pecan pie, raspberry ice, cafe Brulot  – it’s all a go.

Broiled Pompano From Gulf of Mexico

No issues here either: Florida pompano is still available, not so much on the Atlantic side today, but on the other side. And some is imported from China. It can be found.

Turkey Stuffed With Pecan Dressing and Oysters

Pecan is still grown in Louisiana and elsewhere in the South. The menu states that originally wild turkey feeding on pecans was used for the dish, but it substituted domestic turkey with pecan stuffing. Using a domestic bird for this dish is perfectly doable today, of course, and wild turkey may be available in some places.

Some modern Louisiana recipes for turkey call for it to be “pecan-roasted” – an interesting variation (easy to find online). This would have satisfied George Frederick and the Gourmet Society, surely.

Magnolia Perfume, Acacia Flowers

A charming flourish was the Magnolia perfume “sprayed” on waitresses and given as a present to the female guests. The menu stated it was from Mme Aucoin in New Orleans. This business seems defunct but magnolia perfume is still made in the city, e.g. by Hové, a well-known perfumery in town. Something similar is therefore available.

Acacia flowers were used as well to scent the dining room. Acacia can be found too, today, not a problem.