Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bavarian Strawberry Pudding

New York City, 
1935


In her memoir This Time Together, comedienne Carol Burnett reminisces about the summer of 1959, when the musical comedy Once Upon a Mattress was enjoying a healthy run. “A few of us in the cast decided to splurge on Saturday night after the show and treat ourselves to a sundae at the most expensive ice cream parlor in New York City: Rumpelmayer’s, in the St. Moritz Hotel on Central Park South, she recalls. I was flush with the excitement of being in a hit stage show and raking in $80 a week to boot. I could afford a Rumpelmayer’s treat.1

“Rumpelmayer’s was a pretty posh ice cream parlor. You could spot familiar faces there anytime after the bows had been taken and the lights had dimmed on Broadway for the night. Some folks went to nightclubs and bars, but those who had a sweet tooth and who also wanted to be seen went to Rumpelmayer’s. I remember having peeked in a few months earlier and spotting Marlene Dietrich in a gorgeous gray pantsuit at the counter, elegantly digging a long-handled spoon into a whipped cream goodie.”

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Survival of the Fittest

New York City, 
1882


In November 1882, two hundred distinguished gentlemen hosted a banquet at Delmonico’s in New York to honor Herbert Spencer.1 Influential Americans of the Gilded Age were comforted this British philosopher’s ideas that adapted the theory of evolution to human society. Considered one of the most intelligent men of his generation, Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” a concept more related to laissez-faire capitalism than Charles Darwin’s system of biological natural selection. And while Spencer dreaded having to attend this dinner—he was an insomniac who became irritable and grumpy when something threatened to encroach on his privacy—the other participants were excited about an evening which promised to address the burning issues of the Victorian era, such as “intelligent design, the proper role of government, America’s place in the world, and God’s existence.”2 Oddly, a menu that survives from this banquet still evokes its theme.