Stuffed (17)

By: Tom Nealon
October 11, 2016

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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 13, 2016, & The Overlook Press, January 2017). STUFFED is inspired by Nealon’s inventory 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 (DEUX)

Until the 1970s, the idea of “cruise ships” didn’t really exist — hulking ocean liners criss-crossed the oceans, but while they had elements of high luxury, they lacked the aimlessly sybaritic accoutrements of today’s cruise ships because they were intended, first and foremost, as a means of getting from here to there. Growing up in the 1970s, the QE2 was a big deal, but I never really knew why — now I know that she was the last of her kind, the final transatlantic liner left over from a century of such liners going back and forth across the Atlantic (and even she was only doing spot duty on crossings).

Because the ships were meant for transportation, they tended to emphasize passenger capacity and functionality over comfort. So instead of hundreds of luxurious cabins, there were luxurious ball rooms and dining room; the cabins were more utilitarian.

As a result, instead of continuously running buffets where flip flop-clad passengers grazed on chicken fingers with ranch dressing and avalanches of scallops wrapped in bacon while trying to keep their children from drowning in the 250-gallon tub of peel-and-eat shrimp, passengers dressed formally and sat for dinner where, often as not, the meals were generally of the nationalist middle-class variety (sauerkraut, sheep’s tongue, fried chicken) mixed with evocations of their destination (“chicken gombo”, tripe a la mode) and some fancy-sounding French food.

Though transatlantic passenger ship menus were often remarkably similar in character from one line to another, the menu covers could be quite different. What follows is a selection from a 100+ menu collection I’ve acquired. Most of these menus date from the 1940s–1960s. Their covers range (apparently randomly) between evoking their origin, terminus, and general vibe, with nods at technology, colonialism, modernism, with some tall ships thrown in for good measure.

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Much of the endeavor — the food, the iconography, the entire idea of traveling across oceans in modest luxury — represented ideas and realities of the middle class that died not long after the airplane scuttled the big liners. Today, cruise ships simulate luxury more effectively, blatantly, and affordably.

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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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