From time to time, for various reasons, meals are arranged around a particular theme, and sometimes this is a single food. There are a few examples of this sort of dinner in my book Menus From History: Historic Meals and Recipes for Every Day of the Year. One example was the ‘remarkable fish banquet’ held by the American Fish Culturists’ Association during the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, which featured 58 varieties of fish and seafood from around the world. Another was ‘The American Maize Banquet’ held by American diplomats in Copenhagen in 1893 as advance publicity for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Yet another was an ‘All Soy’ meal, held by the automobile pioneer Henry Ford (who was mildly obsessed with the soy bean) at the Ford exhibit at the Century of Progress International Exposition (‘The Chicago World Fair) in 1934.
For sheer creativity, a menu of dishes made primarily from peanuts that featured in the regular column ‘Hints for the Household’ in the New York Times edition of April 16, 1882 is hard to beat. The article began with a general discussion of the peanut, the writer noting that ‘twenty or thirty years ago our pea-nuts came chiefly from Africa’, and that ‘the bulk of the African product goes to France, whence the oil is exported as “pure olive.” He also commented on the enormous economic value of the domestic crop (specifically from Virginia) – nothing being wasted, as the residual ‘cake’ from the oil pressing was a valuable animal feed, and even the shells were used for horse bedding. Naturally, he also felt that the local peanut was superior to the African.
The ‘curious menu’ was not an actual meal eaten, it was simply a device for demonstrating the remarkable culinary versatility of the peanut. The article included recipes for every dish on the menu, and these were provided by the well-known cookbook writer of the time, Juliet Corson.
A Curious Pea-Nut Menu.
Pea-nut Soup with Oysters.
Breaded Chops,with pea-nut croquettes.
Pea-nut patties. Pea-nut cakes.
San Domingo ground-nut cakes.
Pea-nut candy Roasted pea-nuts
To make this dish shell three pounds of roasted nuts, rub off the dry, brown skin carefully, pound the nuts to a smooth paste in a mortar, gradually adding a tablespoonful of brandy to prevent oiling; put this paste into a saucepan, set it over the fire, and gradually stir into it two quarts of boiling water; season it palatably with salt and cayenne pepper; let it simmer gently until it thickens, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, and then serve it hot.
Line a two-quart tin mold with buttered paper, letting the paper rise two inches above the top of the mold; mix together in a saucepan three ounces of the purée of peanuts prepared as directed above [soup recipe], six ounces of flour, a saltspoonful of salt, and gradually stir in a pint and a half of milk: set the saucepan over the fire and stir its contents until they have boiled two minutes: then remove it to the side of the stove, where they will not boil, and stir for one minute: separate the yolks of seven eggs from the whites, and stir the yolks one at a time into the soufflé mixure, taking care that it does not boil; add the whites, beaten to a stiff froth, stirring them very lightly; put the soufflé quickly into the mold and bake it 20 minutes in a moderate oven. Serve it hot in the mold as soon as it is done.
The nuts must be shelled, the brown skins removed, and the kernels roasted the second time very dark brown; then, by crushing or coarsely grinding them, they can be boiled with water, affording a pleasant beverage when used with hot milk and sugar. The quantity of nuts required to make coffee of the desired strength must be decided by individual taste, but a first experiment might be made with a cupful of nuts to a quart of water.
Quotation for the Day.
No man in the world has more courage than the man who can stop after eating one peanut.