Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Bill of Fare for ‘Colored Patrons.’

An interesting article in the New York Times of March 21, 1886 made ponder on the various and devious ways in which the determinedly subversive can get around anti-discrimination legislation. It made me wonder too, how much progress we have really made in well over a century. The article outlined the not-so-subtle way in which one Chicago restaurateur managed to find a way to keep ‘colored folk’ out of his establishment in spite of the new State racial discrimination laws.


CHICAGO, March 20. – “Billy” Boyle, a restaurant keeper, has found a novel method of evading the State civil rights law, which gives to colored people the same privileges in hotels, restaurants, and public places that white people enjoy. When a negro sits down at one of Boyle’s tables, he is handed politely a special bill of fare from which the following prices are culled: Porterhouse steak $3.75, the same with oysters for $3.90; a sirloin with mushrooms for $2.65; pork sausage only $3.35; fried chicken with cream sauce, whole, $4.20; picked up codfish, $4.25; and fried apples and salt pork $4.35. Fried eggs cost $2.25, tomato omelet, $4.30, brook trout $ 5.60, frogs’ legs 5.75, broiled prairie chickens $6.75; buckwheat cakes $1.10; oatmeal mush $1.25; pickled pigs’ feet $3.80; fried oysters $5.80 for half a dozen; buttered toast $1.10; corned beef hash $4.25, and liver and bacon $3.25, and the whole can be washed down with tea, coffee, or milk at 50 cents. The guest is calmly invited to call for wine, liquors, ales, and cordials.
The object of this, of course, is to drive the colored guest from the restaurant, and it seldom fails. Often pride would bid them stay, but pride must be backed by money or it will have a fall. It is a question if this discrimination against one class of people is not illegal.

In honor of my African-American friends, I have chosen today’s recipe from The House Servant's Directory, or A Monitor for Private Families: Comprising Hints on the Arrangement and Performance of Servants' Work by Robert Roberts (1827) – the first book written by an African-American to be published in the United States of America*. The book contained over one hundred ‘receipts’ – many for household cleaners and the like, but a few for foodstuffs.

*UPDATE - see the comments below.

A Most Delicious Lemonade, to be Made the Day Before Wanted.
Take and pare two dozen of good sized lemons as thin as you possibly can; put eight of the rinds
into three quarts of hot water, but not boiling, cover it close over for four hours, then rub some sugar to the rinds to attract the essence, and put it into a bowl, and into which squeeze the juice of the lemons; to which add one pound and a half of fine sugar, then put the water to the above, and three quarts of boiling milk, mix and run through a jelly bag until clear; bottle it, if you choose, and cork close; this will be most excellent, and will keep.

To Make Raspberry Vinegar Most Delicious.
Put one quart of clean picked raspberries into a large bowl, pour on them one quart of best white wine vinegar, the next day strain off the liquor on one pound of fresh raspberries, and the following day do the same, but do not squeeze the fruit, but drain the liquor as dry as possible from the fruit; the last time pass it through a cloth wet in vinegar, to prevent any waste, then put it into a stone jar, with a pound of sugar to every pint of juice, let your sugar be in large lumps, as it is much better; when dissolved stir it up well, put your jar in a pot of hot water, let it simmer, skim well, and when cold bottle and cork close.

Quotation for the Day.

When I'm at a Chinese restaurant having a hard time with chopsticks, I always hope that there's a Chinese kid at an American restaurant somewhere who's struggling mightily with a fork.
Rick Budinich


Anonymous said...

And yet some of Mr. Boyles kitchen staff may have been "of color". The waiters were probably either "white" or light skinned and "passing". Fanny Flag, in "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe" gives us a cafe with black cooks, which only seats "whites", but sells the same food to "colored" out the back door. They are charged less, which is fair enough since they don't get table space.

Mary Sue said...

@entspinster: that book is fiction, and that would not have been the case throughout much of the US.

I got a hold of the Consumer Price Index number for 1886, the prices in USD today would be as follows:

Porterhouse Steak: $85.22
With oysters: $88.63
Sirloin with mushrooms: $60.22
Pork Sausage only: $76.13
Fried chicken with cream sauce: $95.45
Picked up codfish: $96.59
Fried apples and salt pork: $98.86
Fried eggs: $51.14
Tomato omelet: $97.73
brook trout: $127.27
Frog's legs: $130.68
Broiled prairie chickens: $153.41
Buckwheat cakes: $25
oatmeal mush: $28.41
Pickled Pigs' Feet: $86.36
Fried Oysters: $131.82 per half dozen
Buttered Toast: $25
Corned Beef Hash: $96.59
Liver and Bacon: $73.86
Tea, Coffee, or Milk: $11.36

Celeste said...

Phyllis Wheatley's book of poems predates the Roberts book by at least 50 years...what's your source for claiming the Roberts book as "the first book (of any genre) written by an African-American to be published in the United States of America"? I always enjoy your posts.

Anonymous said...

It is fiction, it is humor, it is set in Alabama (which stilll had segregation laws into the 19650s), and the time is between the World Wars. But Fanny Flag grew up in the small town deep South. "Fannie Flagg's Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook" is a memoire as well as a cookbook, And the owners of the Whistle Stop are written to be unusually-- how can one say it-- fair, no nonsense, down to earth (white) people.

The price index figures are revelatory-- it was obvious that the prices were high, but that high!

In much of the US at that time colored people were unusual, but Chicago was on the way north from the former slave holding states.

There is still plenty of prejudice, but it is less blatant, even furtive, by comparison.

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks for the informative comments - dont you love that about the Internet ? - the ability to pick so many brains around the world simultaneously!
Celeste: the source was the Feeding America site where the online cookbook is located. I have made a note in the text - lets see if we get any other comments about the topic.