Thursday, July 14, 2022

When Maria Parloa Visited Tilden Ladies’ Seminary

New Hampshire,
1881


Tilden Ladies’ Seminary in West Lebanon, New Hampshire was a progressive institution established in 1855 when most female boarding schools focused on activities like needlework and music. Two pieces of ephemera from 1881 provide a rare glimpse of this school and a guest lecturer named Maria Parloa, one of the country’s first celebrity chefs. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

An Early Chidren's Menu

Boston, 
1885 


Menus that were composed, designed, and printed exclusively for children first appeared in the 1920s. They were initially adopted by department stores and railroad dining cars and eventually became common in restaurants after the Second World War. A hand-written menu from a seven-year-old birthday party in February of 1885 reveals what children’s menus might have looked like had they existed in public dining spaces in the late nineteenth century. 

Saturday, November 6, 2021

The 15-Cent Houses

Boston, 
1875-1885 


Almost everyone living in large cities ate in a restaurant from time to time during the late nineteenth century. Unless poverty stricken,  average citizens patronized small eateries that served English-style fare at rock-bottom prices. There was nothing fancy about the food or the service. Dubbed 15-cent houses, these meat-and-potatoes restaurants seldom warranted attention in the press and exceedingly few menus have survived. One source of historical evidence is provided by handbills and business cards advertising specific dishes. A selection of such ephemera from ordinary restaurants in Boston 
from 1875 to 1885 reveals the food customs of the middling and working classes, especially when compared to similar material from other dining niches of society. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Charles Dickens in Boston

1842 & 1925


Charles Dickens was enthusiastically fêted when he visited the United States in 1842 and 1867-68.  For many years afterward, these grand affairs lingered in the collective memory of the novelist’s most ardent admirers, as revealed by a menu from a dinner of the Dickens’ Fellowship in Boston in 1925.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

In the Good Old Summertime

Wilmington, Delaware
1911


This postcard marks the second day of a trapshooting competition at the DuPont Gun Club on 
July 11, 1911. The recreational club had been established the previous year on the grounds of the Experimental Station of the DuPont Company that was then in the business of manufacturing gunpowder. Interestingly, the card includes the lunch menu—fried chicken, potato salad, and ice cream. The scene recalls the song “In the Good Old Summertime,” a popular tune of the era when life was seemingly less complicated.  

Monday, May 10, 2021

Economic Precarity

1864-1938 


One of the underlying themes of American ephemera is the expansion of the middle and upper classes. Over time, higher incomes and increased leisure time fostered a culture of consumption and new social customs like eating outside the home. Not surprisingly, menus become increasingly scarce as you descend the economic ladder. By the time you reach the lower classes and those living in poverty, such material evidence is practically nonexistent. Nevertheless, menus and photographs occasionally surface that reflect segments of the population being pushed from a livable life, often by a financial crisis or war.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Om Shanti

Los Angeles, 
1971 


The 
front of this large menu from 1971 features the word “om” in Devanagari script. Underneath is a description of this sacred sound in Indian religions that ends with the mantra “om shanti,” meaning peace. Since the name of the restaurant is not shown on the cover, the menu is sometimes thought to have originated from a place called Om Shanti. It actually comes from a Los Angeles vegetarian restaurant named H.E.L.P., an acronym for health, education, love, and peace. The menu marks the moment in culinary history when vegetarianism began to enter into the mainstream of American life.