Saturday, August 30, 2014

What's on the Menu?

Ephemera 34,
Old Greenwich, 
2014 

In March, the Ephemera Society of America held it’s annual conference and fair in Old Greenwich, CT., where the theme of this years event was “Field to Table: The Ephemera of Food and Drink.” The video below of my presentation explores the types of historical information that can be found on American menus from the nineteenth century.


Monday, August 11, 2014

An African-American Waiter’s Ball

Boston, 
1892 


Any document relating to an early African-American union is a rarity, such as this booklet from a ball held by the Tremont House Waiters’ Association in 1892. Reflecting the traditional values of this group, the nine-page booklet contains a menu, a concert program, and the order of dances, as well as the names of the officers and management committee. Its most revealing feature is a portrait, perhaps of the association president, which expresses the calm and confident spirit of the time and place. Unbeknown to these waiters, this joyous social gathering marked the apex of their collective lives. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Caffeinated Heroism

Akron, Ohio
1885 


This menu from a veteran’s reunion in Akron, Ohio in 1885 features an unusual dinner based solely on the basic rations of a Union soldier during the Civil War—coffee, pork, beans, and hardtack. Although hardtack was typically not served at such reunions, it had been the source of many jokes during the war, and came to be regarded as the most nostalgic of the army foods. However, for these veterans from the Buckeye State, even the coffee had a special meaning. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Tempest on the High Seas

S. S. Liberté, 
1959 


The great luxury liners were perhaps never more glamorous and exciting than on the day of departure. As passengers arrived and the final provisions were loaded on board, scarlet-jacketed bellboys hurried back and forth to the cabins, delivering flowers, telegrams and champagne. And when the tugboats began to nudge the leviathan from her berth, brightly-colored streamers rained down from the upper decks onto the crowd shouting “bon voyage” from the pier. I witnessed this spectacle firsthand, sailing to Europe with my parents in the spring of 1959. At the time, it was not unusual to travel by ship; half of the people who crossed the Atlantic that year did so by sea, and there was arguably no better way than to book passage on the S. S. Liberté, the flagship of the French Line, renowned for its palatial Art Deco interiors and fine cuisine.1 During my week aboard this ship, there were two things that were particularly memorable; having the meal of my dreams and catching occasional glimpses of one of our fellow passengers, a stripper named Tempest Storm. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

War Weary

Neuilly-sur-Seine,
1915-1917 


A hundred years ago this week, Serbian nationalists assassinated the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary and his wife, setting off a series of events that led Europe into war. Although the United States did not enter the conflict until 1917, Americans living in Paris quickly sprang into action, establishing a military hospital for wounded French soldiers. Recalling this philanthropic effort, three menus from the hospital’s annual observance of Bastille Day unwittingly reflect this exhausting war of attrition.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Robin au Crouton

New York City, 
1858 


In October 1857, philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote about a chance encounter with a nearby farmer who was twice his age. “…I saw Brooks Clark, who is now about eighty and bent like a bow, hastening along the road, barefooted, as usual, with an axe in his hand; was in haste perhaps on account of the cold wind on his bare feet. When he got up to me, I saw that besides the axe in one hand, he had his shoes in the other, filled with knurly apples and a dead robin. He stopped and talked with me a few moments; said that we had had a noble autumn and might now expect some cold weather. I asked if he had found the robin dead. No, he said, he found it with its wing broken and killed it. He also added that he had found some apples in the woods, and as he hadn’t anything to carry them in, he put ’em in his shoes. They were queer-looking trays to carry fruit in. How many he got in along toward the toes, I don’t know. I noticed, too, that his pockets were stuffed with them. His old tattered frock coat was hanging in strips about the skirts, as were his pantaloons about his naked feet. He appeared to have been out on a scout this gusty afternoon, to see what he could find, as the youngest boy might. It pleased me to see this cheery old man, with such a feeble hold on life, bent almost double, thus enjoying the evening of his days.”1

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Wonderful Machine

New York City, 
1890s 


In 1897, when eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon asked her father whether Santa Claus really existed, he suggested she write to The Sun, one of New Yorks prominent newspapers, assuring her that “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” The editorial response, which included the famous line “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” became part of popular American folklore. More conservative than The Times and The Herald Tribune, The Sun mirrored the preoccupations of upper-class society, often marveling at the inner-workings and outward manifestations of wealth during the Gilded Age. For example, in October 1894, the paper sent a reporter to interview Chef Charles Ranhofer to learn more about Delmonico’s, calling the luxury restaurant at Madison Square a “wonderful machine.” Almost every night during the social season, this location hosted a large banquet on its third floor, where course after course arrived promptly from the basement kitchen. The resulting article, reproduced in part below with four menus from the period, describes the organization and management of a fine dining establishment at the fin de siècle.1