Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Tax-Eaters Banquet.

Once the Easter season is well and truly over here in Oz, our thoughts inevitably and frequently unhappily are forced to turn towards the End of Financial Year ‘stuff’ – the crucial final date being May 31st. I don’t know how this little Aussie factoid is related to today’s post, except that when I decided it was time to give you a historic menu, the one I chose was tax-related.

In 1891, on this very date of April 29, the American Protective Tariff League held their first annual banquet. The good men (they were all men – but the ladies were allowed to watch from the balcony) made some concessions to their principles when it came to the actual function, as can be seen from the following newspaper report.



There was not a vestige of homespun in the garments worn by the participants in the banquet of the American Protective Tariff League last night. The 500 good American protectionists who assembled in the banquet hall of the Madison Square Garden were shamelessly clad in imported broadcloth and fine linen. Their hearts were warmed and quickened by American wines, however, and, encircled by the smoke of domestic cigars, they listened contentedly to high-tariff speeches.

…. The dinner was served on crockery made in Trenton, N.J, with silver-plated ware and cutlery made in this country, and glassware also of American manufacture.

…. Most of the experienced banqueters, it was noticed, smoked cigars which they had brought with them.

… A few of the tables were spread, sad to relate, with English and German tablecloths on which a duty of 5 per cent was paid, that has since been increased by the McKinley bill to 50 per cent. But in the main, the tablecloths were of pure white “Georgia wool.” Linen napkins of German and English manufacture were neatly folded at each plate. Upon these a duty of 35 per cent, since increased to 50 per cent, was paid.

But it was upon the banquet itself rather than upon the apparel of the banqueters that the American Protective Tariff League and its supporting spellbinders and protected manufacturers expended their patriotic endeavors. All the furnishings of the hall, and all the wine and eatables were to be “the genuine American article” – and the cigars! The idea was grandly sentimental, but it involved sacrifices of which many of the pampered pets of protection were incapable. This accounts largely for the many conspicuous absentees. There was nothing threatening in the bill of fare (it was considered unpatriotic to call it a menu) as far as the food courses were concerned.
Oysters , (free;) green turtle soup (free;) mushroom patties (2 cents per pound;) salmon (¾ cents per pound;) tenderloin of beef (2 cents per pound;) chicken, (3 to 5 cents per pound;) asparagus (25 per cent if fresh, 45 per cent if canned;) snipe (10 per cent) on toast; frozen pudding (free;) cheese (6 cents per pound;) strawberries (free;) and coffee (if genuine, free,) had not terrors for them, although their palatability was imperiled by the exaction from Sherry, the caterer, that they must be prepared by American cooks and served by American waiters. Sherry is said to have filled this part of the contract and to have saved the dinner from complete disaster by seeing that his help was Americanized from the French, German, and Italian.

… Thus everything on the table, as well as every article of wearing apparel worn by the banqueters, was from a third to over twice as expensive as it would have been but for the McKinley tariff. Even the national emblem, the silken American flag, was protected from foreign cheap labor by a duty of 60 per cent.

Recipe for the Day.

From Charles Ranhofer’s The Epicurean (1894), I give you a classic, but labour-intensive chicken dish. For the subsidiary recipes, you must go yourself to the source, which you can find at the marvellous Historic American Cookbook Project.

CAPON à LA FINANCIèRE (Chapon à la Financière)
This relevé is dressed on an oval wooden bottom having in the center a four-sided tin support made hollow so that it be lighter. This wooden bottom and support must both be covered with a cooked paste or else of noodle paste (No. 142) dried in the air. Fasten a string of noodle paste of about three-eighths of an inch in diameter on the edge of the socle; this is intended for upholding the capons and garnishing. On the edge of the bowl of the plate, place a noodle paste border (No. 10). Prepare the capons as for an entrée (No. 178) having them stuffed with a stuffing made of cooked chicken livers, grated fresh lard, truffle parings, bread-crumbs, salt and cayenne pepper. Cover over with bards of fat pork placed in a narrow braziere (Fig. 134) moisten with sufficient stock (No. 194a) to cover the capons, add aromatic herbs and lemon pulp free of seeds and peel, then cook on a good fire, having the liquid reduce to one-third, at the last moment drain off the capons, untie and dress one on each side of the support inserting a garnished skewer on top; fill in the sides between the capons with a varied garnishing composed of mushrooms, cocks'-combs and quenelles; cover over either with a velouté sauce (No. 415) if needed for white or a financiére sauce (No. 464) if for brown; surround the base with a row of peeled truffles cooked in wine and glazed over with a brush, and serve apart a velouté sauce reduced with mushroom broth if for the white or else a brown financière sauce with Madeira.

Quotation for the Day.

Banquet: an affair where you eat a lot of food you don’t want before talking about something you don’t understand to a crowd of people who don’t want to hear.

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