Mrs. Robert Craig, my neighbor, had cleaned out her back house and appeared one bright morning at my doorstep carrying a load of the Boston Cooking-School Magazine publications dating back to the turn of the century. They had been her grandmother's, she said, and she wanted me to have them. The November 1910 issue lay on top. Serendipity, I thought. A Thanksgiving issue. Just in time for my Thanksgiving plans. And yours.
There were nine Thanksgiving menus in the magazine. All glorious examples of the days when the cooking was done by a large kitchen staff, not a lone, harried working gal rushing home from work. The book exploded with the pitter-patter of bustling feet in the kitchen, the call of the cook, the maid, the butler, the rattle of the pans, the wooden spoons, the rustle of crisp, starched aprons. I could hear the call for tea from the mistress of the house through an ancient intercom somewhere upstairs. A symphony no longer heard. Extinct.
I imagined I could hear Basil Rathbone reciting the magazine's "New England" menu:
Cream of Clam Soup,
Fresh Codfish Boil With Egg Sauce,
Gherkins, Olives, Celery,
Roast Turkey With Cape Cod Cranberry Sauce,
Mashed Potatoes Nantaise ,
Onions in Cream Sauce,
Sweet Pickled Peaches,
Ice Cream Sundae, Sultana Roll Style,
Grapes and Apples
I could hear Teddy Roosevelt reciting the "Southland Menu":
Bisque of Crab Meat
Young Guinea Hens, Roasted, with Guava Jelly
Rice Croquettes. Candied Sweet Potatoes
French Endive and Kumquat Salad
Banana or Squash Pie
Grape Juice Syllabub or Zabione
There were other equally wonderful-sounding menus, including Simple Dinner, which started with cream of oyster soup and included roasted chicken, buttered onions, mashed potatoes, squash au gratin and Waldorf salad, with pumpkin pie and Charlotte Russe for dessert.
An elaborate dinner called for lobster cocktail, consomme a la royal (topped with salted whipped cream), truffled fish timbales with lobster sauce, oyster patties with brown sauce, roasted turkey with giblet sauce, sausage cakes with cranberry jelly, squash au gratin, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts with Hollandaise, ginger-ale punch, roasted wild ducks, kumquat and celery salad, pumpkin pie, ice cream sundae, fruits and nuts.
A chafing-dish Thanksgiving supper--meant, we suppose, for the B list after the A list had their early-afternoon Thanksgiving feast--included clam bouillon, celery with olives, chicken a la King, Waldorf salad and rolls and zabione for dessert. Not bad for a second-class menu.
Yet another chafing-dish supper started with cream of oyster soup, olives, salted nuts, chicken-and-celery soup molded in aspic jelly, bread and butter sandwiches, vanilla ice cream with maple sauce and chopped nuts. We could hear the kitchen staff moaning and groaning.
It was all too wonderful. Choices galore to muse. Kaleidoscopic visions to amuse. Then finally we decided.
We found our menu among the "Seasonable Recipes" that graced the pages of all the Boston Cooking-School Magazines in my possession, I noticed.
The cooking instructions presumed knowledge of cooking, which, by today's home-cooking standards, were extraordinarily high. Cooks in those days apparently knew, without being told, all about cooking times, intricate techniques, carving, mixing batters, stuffing sausages, pickling cauliflower, making syrup, cleaning squirrels.
The recipes in those days were general maps, not detailed blueprints upon which cooks today rely to pull them through. A recipe for sugar cookies, for instance, told the cook to "mix (ingredients) in the usual manner, adding milk according as a rich, crisp or a less rich and soft cookie is desired." Try those instructions in The Times' Food Section today and see what happens.
There were, however, a few recipes, such as the Cauliflower au Gratin, whose simplicity pleased me. All you do is cook the cauliflower, pour a can of cream sauce over it and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Although canned foods were beginning to enter the marketplace at the turn of the century, homemade cream sauce was standard. We use canned cream sauce or mushroom soup for convenience.
So we streamlined all the recipes, except for the cauliflower dish, to meet time limitations and skills of today's cooks, tested them and now pass them on for anyone, like me, who needs a little help with Thanksgiving menus now and then.
Crab Meat Bisque Roasted Turkey with Guava Jelly
Cauliflower au Gratin
Candied Sweet Potatoes French Endive and Kumquat SaladCranberry Tarts