Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thanksgiving Tableau

Helena, Montana
Thanksgiving, 1897

The Grandon Hotel in Helena, Montana selected a menu with a melodramatic scene on the cover for its Thanksgiving dinner in 1897. In a staged photograph, a well-dressed couple brings a basket of food for a poor wretch in the depths of despair. It was an image that foreshadowed the imminent arrival of the silent movie.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Harvard vs. Yale

1909, 1913 & 1927

Bloomberg News reports that the “deafening drone of vuvuzelas” won’t be heard at the 127th football game between Harvard and Yale this weekend. Harvard banned the plastic horns in order to avoid unduly disturbing the players, marching band, and fans. “Even if we can’t bring them into the stadium, the biggest part of the Harvard-Yale game, at least for the students there, is the tailgate,” rationalized a Yale freshmen. “At least we’ll have them there.”

As writer Elbert Hubbard once observed, football is “a sport that bears the same relation to education that bullfighting does to agriculture.” In fact, the customs and traditions surrounding football have always been a reflection of popular culture, not higher education. Five menus from dinners held in Boston after the Harvard-Yale games in 1909, 1913, and 1927 reflect some of the changes in American society during that period.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Tenth Day Out

Cunard Line
At Sea, 1856

Food writers and historians often wish they knew how the food really tasted years ago. Letters and diaries rarely mention the flavor of foods, and menus provide no clues at all. However, this is just one example of the type of information that is missing when doing culinary research. Some experts believe that it will be easier in the future, given all that is being posted on the internet these days.1 Armed with cell-phone cameras, bloggers are downloading enormous amounts of information, a mother lode of data for future archeologists to unearth, so to speak. In the meantime, we will continue to piece together whatever tidbits of historical evidence is at hand, such as that provided by the English railroad magnate Henry Pease, having decided one morning while crossing the Atlantic in 1856 to write down his opinion of the dishes on the menu.