Saturday, May 26, 2012

General Lewis Cass


Eight counties, ten small cities, and thirty townships in the United States are named after Lewis Cass, along with numerous streets, schools, parks, and lakes. Born in 1782, Cass had a long and distinguished political career at a time when there were many places in the country that still needed names. After serving as a brigadier general in the War of 1812, he was appointed as the Governor of Michigan Territory, and in 1831, he became the Secretary of War. He was later named as the American minister to France, a post he retained for six years. In November 1842, shortly before Cass was to return to the United States, the American expatriate community in Paris held a farewell dinner for the rugged-looking Jacksonian statesman at Les Trois Frères Provençaux, one the city's finest restaurants.

Les Trois Frères Provençaux (1842)

Owned by three brothers-in-law from Provence, the famous restaurant was situated in the Palais-Royal, the ornate palace that once served as the personal residence of Cardinal Richelieu. The renowned restaurant was “the first stop in Paris for many foreigners on the nineteenth-century grand tour, especially for Americans, who admired its furnishings as much as its food…,” according to historian Elliott Shore. “This one establishment so embodied the notion of the French restaurant that it was imported to the first world’s fair in the United States, the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876.” 1, 2

Dated November 11, 1842, the menu shown below from the Les Trois Frères Provençaux in Paris is a simple list printed on a single sheet of paper. However, even without design flourishes, it conveys the extravagance of the dinner through its large size (10½ x 15½ inches) and by the headings that show the number of dishes in each course, such as “16 Entrées.” At the time, the formal menu was still evolving toward a standardized format. For example, dishes like the boiled turbot with Hollandaise sauce, shown here as one of the six relevés, eventually were placed in a separate fish course, positioned after the soups.3 Once this change occurred, the relevés were limited to joints of meat and domestic fowl that were displayed at the dining table and then removed to be carved. (Accordingly, this course came to be called “removes” on menus in the English-speaking world.) The wine list at the bottom indicates that this dinner was organized into a first and second service, but without a sorbet marking the transition point.

After returning to the United States, Lewis Cass represented Michigan in the Senate from 1845 to 1848, when he was nominated for president by the Democratic Party. After losing the election to Zachary Taylor, he returned to the Senate for another eight years, before becoming Secretary of State. Cass resigned in 1860, when President James Buchanan failed to mobilize the military to avert the secession of the Southern states. Indeed, there were once nine counties named after Cass, until Georgia renamed theirs Bartow County during the Civil War.4

1. Paul Freedman (Ed), Food: The History of Taste, Berkeley, 1976.
2. In 1873, three years before the fair in Philadelphia, Les Trois Frères Provençaux operated a temporary branch at the World Exhibition in Vienna.
3. Les Trois Frères Provençaux was reportedly famous its brandade de morue (creamed salt cod) and bouillabaisse; neither of these regional specialties from Provence appears on this menu.
4. Bartow County, Georgia still has a small community named Cassville that once served as the county seat. 

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