I have a new-old idea for your delectation today. The following article appeared, more or less unchanged, in newspapers in England, Australia, and New Zealand (and perhaps other places), in 1906.
Eating Their Menus.
“The King’s guests at dinner ate their menu cards.” This is not an extract from a fairy story, but a plain, prosaic statement of an actual fact. It appears an ingenious chef conceived the idea of making an edible menu card, and, after many experiments, he produced one composed of the sugar tissue paper which is used on the bottom of macaroons, and which is, of course, edible; while the names of the dishes were worked out with the “frosting,” which is put on the top of cakes. The King was shown one of these menus, and he was so taken with it that he had a number made for a dinner at Windsor Castle, and there was a good deal of amusement when one of the guests, urged by the King to do so, started eating his menu – an example which was followed by most of those at table.
Queensland Figaro 15 November 1906
The only other comment appended to the article in one newspaper carrying the story was “It is said that the only bad thing about the cards is the bad French and that is quite digestible.”
The King of course was Edward VII. I have been unable so far, in the little time I have given it, to find out any more about this particular dinner. I did however, turn up a few more references to edible menu cards of various kinds.
Edible menu cards were the latest idea, in 1898, according to the Mentone Tri County Gazette of January 6, 1898:
“The latest thing in hotel bills of fare is stated to be an edible menu card. It is generally made of biscuit, which the guest eats with his cheese.”
In 1905, it was still the latest thing. From The Pittsburgh Press of September 16, 1905:
“There have been souvenir menus of various sorts, but the latest takes the palm for originality. It is the form of a menu and contains the bill of fare, but is made of biscuit and intended to be eaten with cheese.”
Back to 1906, another material was suggested as suitable for making menus edible. An article in The Boston Cooking School magazine of culinary science and domestic economics (Volume XI) explained:
Edible Menu Cards.
By Julia Davis Chandler.
THIS magazine has from time to time mentioned marzipan, and given directions for its manufacture in the home kitchen by slightly simpler processes than are used at candy factories. It is a confection much esteemed abroad, and, though it consists only of almond paste and sugar, the foreign name "marzipan" makes people think it something too unheard-of to consider.
In attractive forms, such as peas in their pods, asparagus ends, tiny rosebuds, potatoes, carrots, turnips, pigs, etc., it may be found at all good candy stores. Wish-bones are favorite shapes for Hallowe'en; but it is announced, by a New York authority that in London it is being used for edible menu cards.
There is a box propped upright by each cover, which contains pink marzipan, on which are lettered in white icing the dishes one may enjoy. At the end of the dinner the marzipan forms an agreeable sweet, or a very dainty souvenir, for future tasting.
A certain Herr Willy is said to be the inventor of these. One may give him the credit of using marzipan as a menu card; but marzipan so ornamented in boxes has long been used for gifts on the Continent. So, if Herr Willy has just introduced them in London, he is but copying from the Christmas gifts familiar in Germany. Often elaborate wreaths surround such boxes, with lettering appropriate to the occasion, and the recipient's name or initials in the centre, just as we have the same upon wedding cake or Easter eggs.
The ideas was also being discussed at this time in England. From the London Evening News of July 20, 1906:-
At several fashionable West End restaurants, the guests have been seen recently to eat their menu cards. This practice is an expensive one, for each of the cards cost a guinea.
The “cards” are made of almond paste and sugar. One a thin slab of marzipan the various courses are printed by hand in sugar, the process, which is a long and delicate one, taking often three to four hours.
The work is a distinct departure in confectionery, and is confined to Herr Willy, the well-known culinary artist.
Some of the menus Herr Willy has executed are marvelously beautiful. One used at Windsor Castle is a marvel of charming and accurate printing.
Wealthy London hostesses wishing to agreeably surprise their guests have set before them these edible menus, some of which have the strange line at the bottom, “Entremets – eat the menu.”
As a rule, the guests pack them away in dainty boxes, and preserve them as a quaint recollection of a good dinner.
So, another mention of edible menus at Windsor Castle menus - but this time of marzipan, not sugar paper. Is this one story, a bit muddled in the telling, or did Edward VII make a series of menu-eating experiments?
As the menu for the day, I give you another use for edible paper. From The Dessert Book: A Complete Manual from the Best American and Foreign Authorities. With Original Economical Recipes, (1872) by J.E. Tilton:-
Ingredients: 1 lb. of scalded sweet almonds, 1 oz. of bitter almonds, 2 lbs. of sifted sugar, about 6 whites of eggs.
When the almonds have been scalded, freed from their hulls, washed, wiped, and dried in the screen, they must be allowed to become quite cold before they are placed in the mortar; let them be thoroughly pounded into a smooth pulp, adding a little of the sugar and some of the whites of eggs occasionally, to prevent the almonds from turning oily; and, as soon as you find that the almonds are well pulverized, add by degrees the remainder of the sugar and whites of eggs, remembering that the paste must be kept quite firm. The gpste being ready, cover some baking-sheets with wafer-paper, and lay out the macaroons in the form of small round balls about the size of very small walnuts; take care to place them at least an inch apart from each other; and, when the sheet is full, pass a wet paste-brush over their surfaces, push in the oven, very moderate heat, and bake them of a light fawn-color. When done, and cold, break away any excess of wafer that may cling to the edges of the macaroons, and keep them for use in a dry place.
Prepare the paste as directed in the foregoing case, keeping it somewhat firmer; add two whites of eggs of royal icing, work both together until thoroughly incorporated, use this to fill a biscuit-forcer, and push out the macaroons upon wafer-paper, as shown in the preceding.
Bear in mind that macaroons must be baked in very moderate heat; otherwise, if the heat of your oven should be at all excessive, it would cause the macaroons to run into each other, and thus produce a useless mass.
The reason macaroons soufflés are so liable to spread is owing to the addition of the royal icing.
Note. — Macaroons soufflés may also be baked in very small plaited paper cases.