Friday, November 13, 2009

A Risky Dinner?

Were they still in existence, the members of the Thirteen Club of old New York would have been especially excited about their November meeting in 2009. The club was formed in 1881 by a group determined (in a good-humoured way) to debunk the superstitions associated with the number 13. In particular they enjoyed challenging the widespread belief that if thirteen sat around the table together, one of them would be dead within twelve months. This belief was so entrenched in some places – specifically nineteenth century Paris - that it was possible for a gentleman to make a career as a quatorzième or fourteenth guest, available at short notice to make up a less terrifying number at the table.

As you may have noticed, today, the thirteenth falls on a Friday – and Friday the thirteenth, or Black Friday is a particularly inauspicious and terrifying date for those suffering from triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13). It was, therefore a particularly fun-filled evening for members of the Thirteen Club, which invoked the number 13 in every possible way. As well as always taking place on the thirteenth of the month, with 13 at table, the dinners started and finished at 13 minutes past the hour, and there were always 13 dishes and 13 toasts. Club members also thumbed their noses at Fate, or The Gods, or whatever, in as many other ways as they could devise. They might deliberately spill salt, or wear the colour green, or have the dining room decorated with funeral accoutrements, or images of death (note the skull and crossbones on this particular menu).

One of the dinner menus from the club is featured in my book Menus from History: Historic Meals and Recipes for Every Day in the Year. Today I give you another menu, from the meeting of December 13, 1896. On this evening for some reason, the club chose to have an Austrian theme for their dinner.

Austrian Dinner
of the
Thirteen Club
At Café Boulevard, 156, Second Avenue,
December 13, 1896, at 7.13pm

Caviar Salat.
Gefüllter Hecht.
Steirisches Schöpsernes. Heurige Erdäpfel
Wiener Backhendl.
Häupt-Salat. Gerösste Kartoffel.
Topfen-Taschkerl. Semmelbrösl.
Caffee Melange.

Grinzinger Heurigen $0.75
Bisamberger 1.00
Gumpoldskirchner 1.50.

How about you? How many at your dinner table tonight? Any plans to tempt the Fates?

Leberknadel (Calf’s Liver Dumplings)
Chop and pass through a collander one-half pound of calf's liver; rub to a cream four ounces of marrow, add the liver and stir hard. Then add a little thyme, one clove of garlic grated, pepper, salt and a little grated lemon peel, the yelks of two eggs and one whole egg. Then add enough grated bread crumbs or rolled crackers to this mixture to permit its being formed into little marbles.
Aunt Babette's Cook Book (Cincinnati, c1889)

Quotation for the Day.

Mark Twain told a friend of an invitation to be the 13th guest at a dinner party. Horrified, the friend advised him, “Don’t go! It’s bad luck!” To which Twain replied, “Nonsense.” The next day, Twain met the friend again and said, “I admit that you were right about the dinner. It WAS bad luck. There was only enough food for twelve.”


T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Well, just to be on the safe side, I ate at home last night alone. Who needs twelve other dinner companions, anyway?

The Old Foodie said...

Hello T.W - I guess you survived, Huh?