Tuesday, March 08, 2016

An Asparagus Dinner in 1882.

I am intrigued by dinners which have as their theme a single ingredient, and I have featured a number of these on this blog over the last decade. I have a new one for you today – an asparagus dinner. Here is the report in the New York Times of June 4, 1882.

An asparagus dinner was served yesterday afternoon to a party of hotel-keepers and merchants in Emil Helm’s restaurant at no. 19 West Twenty-seventh Street. Once a year Mr. Helm serves such a repast to a limited number of his friends, and the affair of yesterday, it was said, exceeded all previous efforts of that description. The room was fragrant with the most expensive flowers, and the guests expressed their astonishment and delight over what was to them their first asparagus dinner. The following was the menu:

Pureé d’asperge.
Salmon à la Maître d’Hotel
Point d’asperges.
Selle d’agneau.
Salade d’asperges à la Lubeck.
Jambon de Westphalie.
Asperges assortie.
Blanch, Oyster Bay, Jersey.
Reutier, Goronsola.
Fleur de Moselle.
Mumm, Extra Dry

The asparagus was remarkable for its quality and was said to be the finest every brought to New York. The white asparagus salad especially gratified the gourmands.

I was more than a little baffled by the menu items ‘Blanch, Oyster Bay, Jersey’, ‘Reutier, Goronsola’ and ‘Fleur de Moselle.’ I assume that the first refers to white asparagus from Oyster Bay in New York, as this is named on other menus of the time.  Searches for ‘Reutier, Goronsola’ is immediately converted by Google into ‘Reuters, Gorgonzola’ - which turns up nothing, thank goodness. I have found nothing asparagus-related in searches for ‘Fleur de Moselle.’ I suspect these latter two are also somehow intended to indicate specific varieties of the vegetable. Please do let us all know if you have any insider information.

As the recipe for the day, I wish to provide a counterpoint to the sublime fresh asparagus temptations of this menu by offering some of the very pedestrian, but cheap and convenient, opportunities offered by the canned product.  

From Asparagus for delicacy and variety: a collection of recipe and menu suggestions for the service of California canned asparagus (undated, but probably mid-1920’s,) prepared by Belle De Graf)

Asparagus Rarebit.
(A Meat Substitute)
Melt l tablespoon butter; add 1 tablespoon flour and mix well. Place in a double boiler, then add ½ cup milk and cook until thick, constantly stirring; add 1 cup grated cheese, 1 tablespoon tomato catsup, ½ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper. Stir until cheese has melted, then add 2 cups California Canned Asparagus cut into short lengths and thoroughly heated. Serve on triangles of fresh buttered toast.

Yankee Asparagus Salad.

Drain California Canned Asparagus. Hard cook 4 eggs and chop 2, reserving 2 to use for garnish. Measure 3 cups diced cold boiled potatoes. Mix potatoes and chopped egg. Heat ½ cup mild vinegar, add ½ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon pepper, 2 tablespoons butter or substitute and 1 tablespoon grated onion. When butter has melted, add to potatoes and chill mixture. When ready to serve, arrange salad in a mound in center of serving dish on lettuce leaves. Pile asparagus on 2 sides of the salad. Pour French Dressing over the asparagus. Garnish mound of salad with slices of egg and sprinkle with chopped parsley.


Mercy said...

Mumm is a sparkling wine/champagne brand, so I wonder if Fleur de Moselle is some kind of wine? I know that the Moselle is a big wine region (mostly white wines, IIRC, which would fit).

Here in Bavaria, the restaurants still have a special asparagus menu when it's in season, and it's not uncommon for people to have an asparagus themed dinner (although not usually as formal as this one!) --my husband and I always go out and have asparagus soup followed by a main dish involving asparagus as soon as they come into season. I can't wait!

Unknown said...

The Rarebit would be great if only they would lose the cheese and catsup and use the remaining bechemel. Maybe cheese could go well with asparagus in some recipes, but catsup on asparagus would be like beer on ice cream.

Pieter said...

Belle De Graf was the Food Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1920s (and syndicated in 50 or so newspapers), as well as "Director: Domestic Science, California Prune & Apricot Growers Association. Instructor: U. S. Naval Reserves, New York City. For many years in charge of the Domestic Science Department of the Sperry Flour Company."

{Read more: http://chestofbooks.com/food/recipes/De-Graf/#ixzz42MlpOb3U }

I have a copy of her 1922 /Mrs. De Graf's Cookbook/, and it's a trove of information on food habits in the period. The author photo shows a matron of the well-upholstered type, and I always hear her in my head as a direct but kindly teacher. I believe she ran a cooking school for a time, also.