Tuesday, December 14, 2010

So, what did the modern epicure pair with oysters?

Published 1920

Let's be honest, the situation has changed a lot in the last 100 years.

What we've lost: long and comprehensive book titles that stretch on in their description of contents for a third of a printed page.

What we've also lost: the printed page.

What we've gained: anytime access for everyone to books and newspapers in digital form, often free of charge.

Awhile back I made the discovery of The Epicurean: A Complete Treatise of Analytical and Practical Studies on the Culinary Art Including Table and Wine Service, How to Prepare and Cook Dishes, an Index for Marketing, a Great Variety of Bills of Fare for Breakfasts, Luncheons, Dinners, Suppers, Ambigus, Buffets, etc., and a Selection of Interesting Bills of Fare of Delmonico’s from 1862 to 1894, Making a Franco-American Culinary Encyclopedia by Charles Ranhofer (a former chef at Delmonico's restaurant), which was published in 1920, and which can be accessed (for free) at this archive

It is a fairly amazing resource, encompassing over 1,100 pages and basically summing up what could be considered the apex of fine dining and drinking in an America on the edge of the descent into Prohibition. Delmonico's, located in Manhattan, was at the time one of the premier restaurants in the country and had held such prominence for many years (the enumerated list of notables who had dined at the restaurant does not fail to include U.S. Presidents).

Many suggested and actual menus are supplied within the book. Proposed food and wine pairings are also provided at extended length. Some of the pairings that seem perhaps a bit at odds today: Barsac with oysters, Vin de Paille with cold roasts, Piesporter with tournedos of beef, Rauzan with lettuce salad, Sherry with truffled omelette, and Champagne with warm asparagus dressed in vinaigrette. It is funny to think about how often one hears the idea of "classic" food and wine pairings bandied about, when history seemingly bears little relation to how we go about matching meals in the age of pneumatic presses and cool fermentations.

One of the unique faucets to The Epicurean is that one can get a handle on what at the time would have been considered a seasonality chart, as a distinct menu with wine pairing is proposed for each month in the calendar. Curious about what a particular dish was composed of? The recipe for that dish is also included.

A representation of the Delmonico Wine List is also reprinted within the book. A large section of the list is devoted to Sherry, and Madeira has quite a few representatives as well. Of course there is Malaga. You drank some Malaga today, right?

Other points of curiousity regarding that wine list:

Under “Moselle” a listing for “Scharzberg Muscatel”

Under White Bordeaux, “Château Yquem” as well as “Château Yquem Crème de Tête” and a listing for a (white) “Latour"

Two words: "Montrachet Mousseux"

One facet of the Manhattan wine lists from this time period is the regular and significant presence of wines from the Austro-Hungarian empire. Funny that one doesn't hear so much about that today. The links of Madeira to America are well known, but in the case of "Tokay," it is less so. The wines are frequently on lists from this era.

Those interested in the cocktails of the Roaring 20's (that is sort of a thing now, right?) will find a Mixed Drink and Punch Recipe list (pages 1065-1067).

Elsewhere in the book one learns that Americans tended to prefer Perrier-Jouet, Germans often reached for the Pommery Sec, and Frenchmen preferred “Yellow Cliquot." I find it gratifying to know that people have been leaving the second "c" out of Clicquot for close to 100 years now.

I also am drawn to "Holland Gin" as a usage. I think I prefer it for everyday use over "Genever."

My personal favorite sentence from the text: “Bottle the wine on a clear, cold day; avoid stormy weather, and if possible select a day when the wind blows from the northeast” the context being a discourse on the art of bottling wine from barrel in one's home or restaurant. Yes, I too have often found that a wind from the southwest bodes only ill tidings.

The .PDF file of the book is fairly large (about 200MB), but the it is easy to read online with a decent internet connection, and there is a handy page slider at the bottom to help you proceed along. Also, the search function brings down dandy little markers, much like the pins in an iPhone map.


Steve said...

Awesome, dude.

Cliff said...

Wow, thanks so much for this.

Tricerapops said...

agreed - this is all pretty sweet.

Nick Bumstead said...


Keith Levenberg said...

Fascinating stuff. The white Bordeaux Latour was likely La Tour Blanche of Sauternes, no?

Levi with an i said...

Good point, Keith.

Surely there is more than one tower to choose from.