Today I am going to share with you one of the menus I featured in my book Menus from History. I have chosen it because yesterday was the anniversary in 1831 of the official opening of the “new” London Bridge. The original medieval bridge had lasted six hundred years, the new bridge - no doubt also expected to last for centuries - was sold and demolished a mere 137 years later, by which time it had become completely inadequate to cope with modern road traffic. the bridge was sold to an American with too much money who had it rebuilt over a man-mad in Nevada, and was said to be profoundly annoyed when he found that he had not, in fact, bought the iconic Tower Bridge.
The venue for the great opening banquet was the bridge itself. It was canopied with the flags of all nations, and tables set along its length for fifteen hundred people. King William and Queen Adelaide were the guests of honour. The royals sat at the high table which was decorated with a six-foot long centerpiece with 48 candles, of workmanship so magnificent that it could hardly be described adequately.
The catering was done by a Mr. Leech, who ran a famous London Coffee House in Ludgate-hill, and it seems that he did the city proud. Mr. Leech provided:
370 dishes of chickens
150 hams and tongues
75 raised French pies, &c.
75 pigeon pies
40 sirloins of beef
50 quarters of lamb
250 dishes of shellfish, &c.
200 ditto salads, cucumbers &c.
200 fruit tarts
200 jellies, creams, & strawberries
350 lb. weight pine apples
100 dishes hot-house grapes
100 dishes nectarines, peaches, apricots, &c.
100 dishes greengages, Orlean plums, &c.
100 dishes currant, gooseberry, raisin, &c.
150 ornamented Savoy cakes
300 dishes ice-cream &c.
300 turtles, roast chickens, &c.
The caterers also supplied “840 dozen of the choicest wines.” Ten thousand and eighty bottles for fifteen hundred guests works out at nearly 7 bottles per person. Presumably this represents a desire on the part of the caterers to ensure that all the guests got the beverage of their choice, and that there was no risk of the embarrassment of running out of wine altogether.
One of the most interesting challenges, it would seem to me, would have been the preparation of all of this food without the benefits of refrigeration. The pies would have been prepared some time - perhaps days - in advance, the pastry shells made well enough to keep out air. The ice-creams would have been prepared much closer to the event by churning in a salt and ice mixture, the ice being obtained from insulated stores such as cellars or ice-houses.
Dishes made in moulds were very popular in the nineteenth century, and this menu featured many of them: pies, the jellies and creams, and of course, a favourite of the nineteenth century, the Savoy cakes.
Savoy Cake, or Sponge Cake in a Mould.
Take nine Eggs, their weight of Sugar, and six of Flour, some grated Lemon, or a few drops of Essence of Lemon, and half a gill of Orange-flower Water, work them as in the last receipt [see below]; put in the orange-flower water when you take it from the fire; be very careful the mould is quite dry: rub it all over the inside with Butter, put some pounded Sugar round the mould upon the butter, and shake it well to get it out of the crevices: tie a slip of paper round the mould, fill it three parts full with the mixture, and bake it one hour in a slack oven; when done, let it stand for a few minutes, and take it from the mould, which may be done by shaking it a little.
[‘previous receipt’] Break into a round-bottomed Preserving Pan, nine good sized Eggs, with one pound of sifted Loaf Sugar, and some grated Lemon Peel ; - set the pan over a very slow fire, and whisk it till it is quite warm (but not too hot to set the Eggs,) remove the pan from the fire,and whisk it till cold, which may be a quarter of an hour, then stir in the flour lightly with a spattle.
The Cook’s Oracle, William Kitchiner, 1836.