Friday, January 10, 2014

Yale's Use of Beer in 1741.

According to a letter published in The New York Times of 22 March, 1936, the bill of fare at ‘commons’ for undergraduate students at Yale in 1741 included beer. The writer of the letter (and the previous correspondent who initiated the discussion) seemed to think that this was rather curious and therefore worthy of note, but in actual fact, beer was a common beverage for everyone at the time. 

The beer notwithstanding, the students’ bill of fare was, on the whole, pretty dreary. Pity the poorer students who could not afford to supplement their meagre commons.  

Yale's Use of Beer.

To the Editor of The New York Times:

It was recently stated in THE NEW YORK TIMES that Professor Samuel E. Morison of Harvard University has discovered that beer was regularly served to Harvard undergraduates in the early days of the college.

In Dexter’s “Yale Biographies and Annals” it is recorded that in 1741 the trustees of Yale College drew up a bill of fare for the commons, as follows:

“For Breakfast: one loaf of bread for 4 [persons], which [the dough] shall weigh one pound.”
“For Dinner for 4: one loaf of bread as aforesaid: 2 ½ pounds of beef, veal, or mutton, or 1 ¾ pounds of salt pork about twice a week in the summertime; one quart of beer; two pennyworth of sauce.”
“For Supper for 4: two quarts of milk and one loaf of bread, when milk can conveniently be had; and when it cannot, then an apple-pie, which shall be made of 1 ¾ pounds of dough, ¼ pound hot’s fat, two ounces sugar, and one peck of apples.”
President Clap’s itemized expense account of the building of Connecticut Hall (1750-1752) shows ₤67 13s. expended for strong drinks.
                                                            RONALD C. MARSH
Yale University, March 16, 1936.

I spent some fruitless time following a Google Books snippet view of a recipe for “Yale Pudding” to supplement this story, only to find, when I finally tracked down a complete version of the document, that it was in fact, “Yule Pudding.”  Damn you, Google Snippet, with your tantalizingly inaccurate OCR. The recipe won’t be wasted of course – look out for it next Christmas. Such is the life of a playful food historian. 

There being no Yale Pudding, I give you Yale Pie. I have absolutely no idea how or why this fine dish is connected to Yale, but I am pretty sure it will be a fine addition to the provisions for your next water excursion.

Yale Boat Pie.
Lay three or four pounds of steak from the undercut of a round of beef, in a middling sized dish, having seasoned it with pepper and salt. Have a couple of chickens at hand, cut in pieces and seasoned; place them upon the steak, and over them one dozen and a half of fresh fat oysters, without the liquor. Add half a dozen fresh, hard boiled eggs, and after damping the bottom of the dish with half a pint of strong ale, cover the whole with fresh mushrooms, adding to these half a pound of glaze or plain neatsfoot-jelly; lay over the dish a substantial paste, and bake in a brisk oven. This pie is excellent for a picnic or water excursion.

Jennie June's American Cookery Book (1866)


Gary Gillman said...

A good reminder how pre-Revolutionary American food (and post-, for that matter) was similar to that of the mother country, extending as here to drink. Small beer would have been 1-2% ABV, thus without much effect even at 8 oz. per head. (The British standard quart in this period was 32 oz., as it still is Stateside, not 40).

But even if the beer was strong, it is about as if a glass and a half of wine. At a time when longevity was probably half of what it is today, this seems not unreasonable. Students were strong and even if this caused an undue drink habit after, they probably died from something other than its abuse. Not to condone it, but I doubt the practice did any unusual harm in the period.


The Old Foodie said...

Thanks, Gary - illuminating comments, as I have come to expect from you! Aside from the calories, I wonder what else, nutritionally-speaking, the beer added to the diet in those days?

Judy said...

Doesn't beer add some B vitamins and a few minerals to the diet?