The Art of (Alice) French Cooking

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.

You will find amazing ideas here.


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:


Swedish Liquor

Cloverleaf Rolls

Head Cheese Sandwiches

Green Turtle Soup

Florida Rolls

Amontillado Sherry

Roast Pig, Clover Bend Style*, stuffed with pecans, apricots, prunes, etc.

Frozen Applesauce, decorated with cherries and Angelica

Potatoes Anna

Glace Onions

Turnip Loaf

Grilled Mushrooms

Plum Jelly

Cucumber Rings

Haunch of Venison with Wine Gravy

Champagne Moet

Chandon Brut

Crabmeat and Caviar Salad

Whole Wheat Bread

Roquefort and Stilton Cheese

Chateau Yquem, 1868

English Plum Pudding

Frozen Eggnog

Christmas Black Cake and Little Cakes

Champagne Pommery

White Chassellars

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.

Café Brule



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)

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4 Responses to The Art of (Alice) French Cooking

  1. Adrian says:

    Wow. I don’t think I could even begin to eat that, let alone prepare it!!

  2. swesson says:

    Well, to be honest, Adrian, Alice French did have a cook to help her, though by all accounts she did a lot of the fancy stuff herself.

    It is a lot for one meal, by our standards. But can’t you just imagine the leftovers? Beats a turkey sandwich all hollow, doesn’t it?


  3. kathie snyder says:

    Looked up the word Chassellar in wikipedia and it appears it is a white grape used in making wine.

  4. swesson says:


    Thank you! That’s very interesting—and quite appropriate, given the circumstances!

    I suspect that Alice French’s ‘White Chassellars’ was served in glasses rather than in fruit bowls at this particular meal . . .


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