Monday, August 24, 2009

Italy's Pride.

I have a fancy this week to give you some of the menus that didn’t make it into Menus from History. The following one, for “an Italian dinner” in April 1890 was rejected primarily because I could not discover the story behind it. The menu is in the Buttolph collection of the New York Public Library (Thankyou, from the bottom of my heart, Miss Buttolph.) The location of “Providence, Rhode Island” is handwritten on the menu, underneath “Eight O’Clock”, in what appears to be the writing of Miss Buttolph herself (a deduction I made on the basis that a lot of the menus are annotated in the same handwriting.) I assume that the location is correct – it would not seem to be Miss Buttolph’s style to be sloppy in this regard.

The Autocrat Club.
Saturday Night, April 3, 1890.
Eight O’clock
Rolls and Butter.
Piccoli. Formaggio.
Ravenelle. A cuiggo in sale.
Spaggitti a le Napolitan.
Feaccalla di pallo.
1. Here the Autocrat will Unlock his Crib.
Salamone a la Mayonese.
Festecchi a le sardegnola.
2. Conferring of Title.
Frai yoster.
Coffee de Turin.
Principe carignario Sigari.
-- Offering --

I was unable to find out anything about Burlando’s – perhaps someone out there with knowledge of Rhode Island history can help? I was also puzzled by the name of the club, and was unable to find out anything about such a thing in Rhode Island. There was a famous club of that name which began in New Orleans in 1909 – nearly two decades after this menu. The New Orleans Autocrat Club was formed by “coloured men”, and became infamous in the 1950’s when it was alleged that a “paper-bag” test (a brown paper bag that is) was used to restrict entry to light-skinned “coloreds”. So, my friends, what was this Rhode Island club, and what happened to Burlando’s restaurant?

What do we make of the execrable Italian wording on the menu? That the menu-writer was not Italian, seems so obvious as to not need suggesting. Was this a spoof of some sort? Any ideas will be gratefully circulated in the hope of some clarity. In the meanwhile – being unable to find a suitable recipe for spaggitti, I give you this interpretation of an Italian dish, from a cookbook of the time.

Italia’s Pride.
This is a favorite dish in the writer’s family, having been sent many years ago from Italy by a friend who had learned its composition from her Italian cook. Its name was bestowed by the children of the house. One large cup of chopped meat: two onions minced and fried brown in butter; a pint of cold boiled macaroni or spaghetti; a pint of fresh or cold stewed tomatoes; one teaspoonful of salt: half a teaspoonfful of white pepper. Butter a pudding dish, and put in first a layer of macaroni, then tomato, then meat and some onion and seasoning, continuing this till the dish is full. Cover with fine breadcrumbs, dot with bits of butter, and bake for half an hour. Serve very hot.
The Easiest Way in Housekeeping and Cooking, by Helen Campbell, 1893

Quotation for the Day.

Italian restaurants with more than 120 entrees are always disappointing.
Miss Piggy, 'Miss Piggy's Guide to Life' (1981)


Anonymous said...

I suspect that the various "Autocrat" groups were alluding to this:

The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858) is a collection of essays written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. The essays were originally published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1857 and 1858 before being collected in book form. The author had written two essays with the same name which were published in the earlier The New England Magazine in November 1831 and February 1832, which are alluded to in a mention of an "interruption" at the start of the very first essay.

Check it out in Wikipedia. The essays purport to record conversations around a boardinghouse breakfasting/dining table. Therefore the "Autocrat" could refer to dining and discussion groups.

rsynnott said...

Is the name a reference to this bizarre substance (, I wonder?

Autocrat appears to be a maker of coffee syrup (as used during the war in Europe; apparently some people like it enough that it is marketable when there is no shortage of real coffee) in Rhode Island.

The Old Foodie said...

Great insight, Robert! That seems like too good a coincidence to be untrue. I do hope others offer some ideas.
Maybe a club for the company staff??

The Old Foodie said...

Hello entspinster: this connection did cross my mind, but I could not find out anything about the club or the restaurant. Mind you, I "rejected" this menu twelve months or more ago, so - the Internet being what it is, and more and more newspaper archives online - there could be something out there now. Will re-search.

The Old Foodie said...

Another note - the Autocrat coffee company website gives a start date of 1895, so not likely to be this menu after all.

Fay said...

In the 1880 census there were only a few Burlandos in Providence RI. One, Luigi was given an icecream maker.
There appears to also have been a John Burlando in the 1890 directory for that place.

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks Fay - one more potential piece to the puzzle. It is a bit strange that there is not more evidence of the restaurant/cafe. Where was the Court House that this venue was opposite to - do you know?