Saturday, May 26, 2012

General Lewis Cass


Eight counties, ten small cities, thirty townships, and numerous streets, schools, parks, and lakes are named after Lewis Cass. Born in New Hampshire in 1782, Cass had a long and distinguished political career at a time when many places in the country needed names. After serving as a brigadier general in the War of 1812, the rugged-looking statesman was appointed governor of the Michigan Territory. In 1831, he became the Secretary of War and was later sent to France as the American Minister, a post he retained for six years. Shortly before returning to the United States in November 1842, Cass was honored by the American expatriate community at a farewell dinner at Les Trois Frères Provençaux in Paris. 

Three brothers-in-law from Marseille owned the renowned restaurant located near the Palais-Royal, the ornate palace that was once the residence of Cardinal Richelieu. Les Trois Frères Provençaux 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…,” recounts historian Elliott Shore.1,2 “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.”3

Menus in the early 1840s typically took the form of a list of dishes on a large sheet of paper. Even without design flourishes, this 15½- x 10½-inch menu conveys the elegance of the lavish banquet.  Interestingly, the boiled turbot with Hollandaise sauce is shown as one of the “6 Relevés.” As the format of the menu evolved, fish dishes would eventually be shown under a separate heading following the soup.4 After this change, the relevés simply comprised the joints of meat and fowl that were presented to the guests and then removed to a sideboard where they would be carved and plated. The wine list shows this dinner was organized into a first and second service, although a sorbet was not served to mark the transition point.

Following his assignment in Paris, Lewis Cass represented Michigan in the U.S. Senate from 1845 to 1848 when he became the Democratic presidential nominee. After losing the election to Zachary Taylor, he returned to the Senate for another eight years before being appointed Secretary of State. Cass resigned this position in 1860, when President James Buchanan failed to mobilize the military to avert the secession of the southern states. In fact, there were originally nine counties named after Cass, until the one in Georgia was renamed Bartow County during the Civil War.5

1. A large number of the foreign visitors in Paris were English, perhaps prompting some of the city’s finest restaurants to include mutton cutlets, saddle of mutton, and mutton hash on their regular menus. 
2. Paul Freedman (Ed), Food: The History of Taste, Berkeley, 1976.
3. Les Trois Frères Provençaux operated a temporary branch at the World Exhibition in Vienna in 1873, three years before the fair in Philadelphia.
4. Two special fish dishes at Les Trois Frères Provençaux were reportedly its brandade de morue (creamed salt cod) and bouillabaisse, regional dishes from the south of France that are not on this menu.
5. Georgia still has a small community named Cassville that once served as the county seat in Bartow County. 
6. “The restaurants in the Palais Royal are, in general, the most famous and frequented in Paris; their larders are the choicest, their bills of fare the longest, and their dining-rooms the most elegant in the capital. The best are Very’s, the Fréres Provençaux, and the Café de Chartres in the north gallery; and Prévot’s in that towards the west.” — Galignani’s new Paris guide, or stranger’s companion through the French metropolis, 1826, p. 175.

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