Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Wartime “No Meat Christmas” in 1917.

The U.S. wartime meat conservation program caused some changes to be made in hotel Christmas dinners in 1917. The New York Times of December 16 of that year reported on the challenge presented to executive chefs:

New Problem for the Chefs This Year – How They Are Arranging Menus
for the Holiday’s Dinners.

With several months of training in the “Hooverization” of food, the chefs of the big New York hotels have been asked to prepare Christmas menus in keeping with the Government’s conservation plan. In view of the fact that Christmas this year fall on Tuesday, a meatless day, the ingenuity of the chefs has been taxed. But they have shown themselves sympathetic. Particularly do the French chefs, many of whom have served in the French Army, although they are now naturalized Americans, realize that conservation is a necessary war measure.

Oscar Tschirky, manager of the Waldorf-Astoria, said that his hotel would go a step further by making the New Year’s Eve dinner meatless and wheatless, in spite of the fact that it would not normally be a day formally set for such observations. The Waldorf has never place on its menus a notice of the meatless and wheatless days, as the other hotels have. The manager explained his theory that if the public’s attention was not called to the absence of these products, they were more likely not to be missed.

Eduard Panchard, chef at the Hotel McAlpin, Café Savarin, and the Fifth Avenue Restaurant told of his new corn dishes. He added that, in order to supply a variation from the fish and fowl, he was substituting turkey meal. His Christmas dinner menu follows:

Pumpkin Cream Soup
Celery Olives
Turtle Meat Creole
Guinea Hen with Brussels Sprouts
Sweet Potatoes with Pineapple
Salad in Season
Plum Pudding, with Frothy Vanilla and Rum Sauce
Fruit, Nuts, and Raisins
Nut Bread       Coffee

“Meatless,” as this menu shows, did not mean vegetarian. Far from it. As the presence of guinea-hen also shows, the term did not mean the absence of all non-fish flesh food. Turkey and Guinea hen featured on several of the menus produced for the day by other high-profile hotel chefs. One of those chefs was quoted as saying:

“Our Christmas plan does not mean that the well-to-do-guest should not or will not receive what he is accustomed to. The consumption, for example, of terrapin, duck, lobster, saves the articles of food needed for our soldiers and the armies of our allies. Such things are of no use whatsoever to them. It is evidently an aid to the country for those who spend freely to use what may be called “de luxe” foodstuffs like game, fowl, and seafood.”

Initially when I read the article, I wondered why a special dispensation from the “meatless Tuesday” was not given for Christmas Day. Surely the injunction could have been transposed to another day that week? But perhaps the opportunity for the wealthy to be extra-patriotic was  too important to miss?

For today’s recipe I will stay out of the meat/no meat debate and give you a recipe for the dessert sauce on the above menu.

Frothy Vanilla and Rum Sauce.
Chop up half a pound of beef marrow, melt it in a bain-marie, then strain through a napkin into a bowl and whip it until it begins to froth, then add four ounces of fresh butter broken in small parts, four ounces of vanilla sugar and lastly, half a gill of rum; serve.
The Epicurean (1894) by Charles Ranhofer.


Janet Rudolph said...

Love this. I collect old cookbooks and facts.. thanks for posting.

Janet Rudolph said...

didn't know this. Thanks for posting. I love all these 'old' comments.. and a Wartime "No Meat Christmas'.. well news to me.. love history.

Lady Anne said...

Ah, yes! Fasting for the well-to-do. As Anglicans we always avoided meat during Lent, but I always thought Lobster Thermador was more the letter of the law, rather than the spirit. We couldn't afford it, but it didn't stop my mother from looking down her nose at those who could!