We are about half way through the season of Holiday Feasting, where Thanksgiving dinners (and the leftovers) have mercifully worn off and many of us begin to look forward to the next traditional fancy dinner with joy or with dread—depending, of course, on who is cooking and who is washing the dishes.
Although some prefer a more spontaneous approach to planning their December feasts (“Anything but turkey!”), others begin contemplating their menus far, far ahead of time, as did Hortense Finch, who wrote an article about the hospitality of Davenport’s own Alice French for the July 24, 1966 Davenport Daily Times.
According to Ms. Finch, not only was Miss French one of the best paid authors of her time, she was a wonderful cook and hostess. The breakfast she served former –president Teddy Roosevelt when he visited her in November of 1910 would have stunned a lesser man, including as it did trout, quail, sweetbreads, cake and bread rolls, caviar with the trimmings, wild rice with fresh mushrooms, two kind of grapes, and something called an ‘Avacado Grapefruit a la Teddy de Roos.’
And that was, as mentioned, merely breakfast. What on earth would such a cook create for the holidays?
Ms. Finch provides details of the Christmas dinner Miss French cooked in her Davenport home at 321 East 10th Street for her family in 1912:
Head Cheese Sandwiches
Green Turtle Soup
Roast Pig, Clover Bend Style*, stuffed with pecans, apricots, prunes, etc.
Frozen Applesauce, decorated with cherries and Angelica
Haunch of Venison with Wine Gravy
Crabmeat and Caviar Salad
Whole Wheat Bread
Roquefort and Stilton Cheese
Chateau Yquem, 1868
English Plum Pudding
Christmas Black Cake and Little Cakes
Black Hamburg Grapes
Christmas candies, stuffed dates, prunes, apricots, mints
Port, London Deck or Marlborough
Savoury of Pare de Foie Gras on little rounds of vey hot bread with melted cheese.
Just a casual family dinner, you understand.
The nature of some of these dishes is something of a mystery,* as names and tastes have changed over the past 98 years. However, this does seem to put modern ideas of traditional holiday feasting firmly in their place, if only by sheer volume.
We leave you to contemplate Miss French’s whimsical recipe for one thing not on her dinner menu, but probably very much in evidence during the season: her Colonial Punch. Despite the dubious rhyme scheme, the results were no doubt holiday cheer in a glass, 1912 style.
Oranges Four and lemons two
You take the juice to make your brew
Eight teaspoons of sugar fine,
(Tablespoon I take for mine),
A quart of good red Bordeaux wine,
A large spoonful of old Jamaica
Will give a flavor delicious later.
Then , a generous glass of old Cognac
Will make you lips begin to smack;
But wait till you add the sparkling champagne,
Pint at least or your labor’s vain.
*Clover Bend was Alice French’s country home in Arkansas.
**If anyone knows what a Chassellar might be, white or any other color, please let us know. But we did manage to decipher the ten different alcoholic offerings, including four different kinds of champagne wines. This does not include, by the way, the wine gravy for the vension, the brandy flame for the plum pudding, or the Christmas Black Cake, which is fruitcake soaked in rum. One assumes the frozen eggnog was probably well-laced with spirits as well. Even the Café brule, according to the recipes of the time, had a tablespoon or two of brandy.
(Posted by Sarah)