Stuffed (16)

By: Tom Nealon
September 20, 2016

One in a popular series of posts by Tom Nealon, author of the forthcoming Food Fights and Culture Wars: A Secret History of Taste (British Library Publishing, October 2016 in UK, January 2017 in US). STUFFED is inspired by Nealon’s collection of rare cookbooks, which he sells — among other things — via Pazzo Books.

STUFFED SERIES: THE MAGAZINE OF TASTE | AUGURIES AND PIGNOSTICATIONS | THE CATSUP WAR | CAVEAT CONDIMENTOR | CURRIE CONDIMENTO | POTATO CHIPS AND DEMOCRACY | PIE SHAPES | WHEY AND WHEY NOT | PINK LEMONADE | EUREKA! MICROWAVES | CULINARY ILLUSIONS | AD SALSA PER ASPERA | THE WAR ON MOLE | ALMONDS: NO JOY | GARNISHED | REVUE DES MENUS | REVUE DES MENUS (DEUX) | WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE | THE THICKENING | TRUMPED | CHILES EN MOVIMIENTO | THE GREAT EATER OF KENT | GETTING MEDIEVAL WITH CHEF WATSON | Etc.

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REVUE DES MENUS

I sell books for a living. Some time ago, I bought a collection of menus at an overseas auction and tucked them away to put in a catalog. Dragging them out recently, I’ve found them more various than I had supposed. Though obviously a collection that someone (or a few someones) put together over a period of time (the menus range from the 1880s to the 1990s), it’s hard to sort out when the collection started, how much of it was collected first-hand by someone who visited the dinners and restaurants, and how many people were involved with the collecting. Because so many of the menus are from private events — weddings, first communions — the answer to the middle question is likely “a bunch”; and then we have some idea as to when they were active (mostly the 1930s and ’40s — though there is an 1899 wedding and some others that confuse even this.

But anyway, since the menus’ charms are best appreciated visually…

l to r: 1st Communion, 1946, 2 weddings ca. 1940s, 1899 wedding
L to R: 1st Communion, 1946, 2 weddings ca. 1940s, 1899 wedding

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The post-war thrift of the first communion menu is quite charming, though others from the same period don’t show that sort of economy — a few are from during the war. The middle class muddling through.

Most of the food on the menus is what the French used to call cuisine bourgeois — not haute cuisine, but carefully prepared middle-class food. Food that I would have thought of as fancy, growing up (because it was French and sort of complicated), but really it isn’t.

Clockwise: 1957, 1946, three from 1943
Clockwise: 1957, 1946, three from 1943

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Dinner parties. Whether during the war:

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In 1897:

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Or in-between, with the personal touch:

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were de rigueur.

An identity card for John Fuller, a Flight Lt. in the R.A.F. and Honorary Member of the International Academy of Chefs de Cuisine and Association of Cooks in Great Britain, is in the archive without explanation — though with an R.A.F. Station, Melksham Christmas menu from 1942.

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It’s tempting to think that Fuller was the collector — and picked up the earlier ones here and there in Europe — but there isn’t really enough evidence to back it up (not to mention how an R.A.F. chef got invited to so many Francophone first communions). Though there is a Reunion de Gastronomes menu from a banquet he could have attended in 1952 (and a huissier banquet menu — a huissier is a French government functionary who once was in charge of opening and closing doors or huis).

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There are also a few restaurant menus — this is my favorite, from The Bull Hotel in 1959.

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I’m sorting through a collection of mid-century cruise ship menus (that may or may not be connected). I’ll share some highlights from this collection, in the next installment of this column.

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STUFFED SERIES: THE MAGAZINE OF TASTE | AUGURIES AND PIGNOSTICATIONS | THE CATSUP WAR | CAVEAT CONDIMENTOR | CURRIE CONDIMENTO | POTATO CHIPS AND DEMOCRACY | PIE SHAPES | WHEY AND WHEY NOT | PINK LEMONADE | EUREKA! MICROWAVES | CULINARY ILLUSIONS | AD SALSA PER ASPERA | THE WAR ON MOLE | ALMONDS: NO JOY | GARNISHED | REVUE DES MENUS | REVUE DES MENUS (DEUX) | WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE | THE THICKENING | TRUMPED | CHILES EN MOVIMIENTO | THE GREAT EATER OF KENT | GETTING MEDIEVAL WITH CHEF WATSON | Etc.

MORE POSTS BY TOM NEALON: Salsa Mahonesa and the Seven Years War, Golden Apples, Crimson Stew, Diagram of Condiments vs. Sauces, etc., and his De Condimentis series (Fish Sauce | Hot Sauce | Vinegar | Drunken Vinegar | Balsamic Vinegar | Food History | Barbecue Sauce | Butter | Mustard | Sour Cream | Maple Syrup | Salad Dressing | Gravy) — are among the most popular we’ve ever published here at HiLobrow.

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