What’s on the Menu

A dig through the food archives reveals what people were eating a century ago.

Bright speeches made after justice had been done to the menu — The Morning Guardian, April 19, 1901

Apparently the best party ever to take place on Prince Edward Island was a dinner for two hockey teams held the evening of April 18, 1901.

I make this declaration based on a report in the next day’s Morning Guardian in which the reporter says that no dinner “has ever been passed off more pleasantly.”

The dinner was hosted by the management of the Hillsboro Rink at the Davies Hotel, which is now known as the Great George Hotel on Great George Street.

What made this a most pleasant evening? Well . . . everything. “The tables were neatly decorated with cut flowers, the trophy occupying a prominent position and there were feasting and toasting, music, song and possibly no similar event has ever been passed off more pleasantly.”

The 60-plus guests included, of course, the players of the two hockey teams (The Victorias and The Abegweits), various city toffs, singers, companions, and the press. The team captains, with the pleasantly consonant names Captain Worth and Captain Unworth, sat at the table of honour.

After the toasts and speeches guests dug into a sprawling menu that included a couple of things which stood out as new to me.

The Dinner

Raw oysters
Two soups: Mock turtle and consommé
Fish course: Boiled bass with anchovy sauce
Entrees: Filet de beef with mushrooms,
peach fritters with brandy sauce,
and ox tongue with persu of spinach
Roasts: Young turkey with cranberry sauce
and sirloin of beef au jus
Relishes: Green peas and squash,
mashed potatoes, cabinet pudding
and wine sauce
Entremets: Apple pie, jellies, and coffee, whipped cream, cheese and crackers
Fruit: Strawberries, ice cream, tea,
and café noir

Cabinet pudding is a new one to me while “persu of spinach” must be a typo.

Cabinet pudding is a substantial English dessert said to be hearty enough to get ministers through marathon cabinet meetings.

I think that what the menu was meant to include was perdu of spinach which would be a savoury French toast. An internet search returned nothing for persu of spinach and the Food Lover’s Companion and Larousse Gastronomique were both equally unenlightening. Unless someone can correct me I’m going with that, but I am open to suggestions.

Next month we will look at some high-society Island teas!


Cabinet Pudding

This recipe for cabinet pudding is taken from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management first printed in 1861. Variations can be found online and if you happen to be in Wales anytime soon you can have a slightly more up-to-date version served at Powis Castle.

1–1/2 oz. of candied peel
4 oz. of currants
4 dozen sultanas
a few slices of Savoy cake, sponge cake, a French roll
4 eggs
1 pint of milk
grated lemon-rind
1/4 nutmeg
3 table-spoonfuls of sugar
“Melt some butter to a paste, and with it, well grease the mould or basin in which the pudding is to be boiled, taking care that it is buttered in every part.

“Cut the peel into thin slices, and place these in a fanciful device at the bottom of the mould, and fill in the spaces between with currants and sultanas; then add a few slices of sponge cake or French roll; drop a few drops of melted butter on these, and between each layer sprinkle a few currants

“Proceed in this manner until the mould is nearly full; then flavour the milk with nutmeg and grated lemon-rind; add the sugar, and stir to this the eggs, which should be well beaten.

“Beat this mixture for a few minutes; then strain it into the mould, which should be quite full; tie a piece of buttered paper over it, and let it stand for 2 hours; then tie it down with a cloth, put it into boiling water, and let it boil slowly for 1 hour.

“In taking it up, let it stand for a minute or two before the cloth is removed; then quickly turn it out of the mould or basin, and serve with sweet sauce separately. The flavouring of this pudding may be varied by substituting for the lemon-rind essence of vanilla or bitter almonds; and it may be made much richer by using cream; but this is not at all necessary.”

Spinach Perdu with Parm

This is a slightly more accessible dish and it’s a great option for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and takes just minutes to make.

The best thing about this dish is it’s another reason to use Parmigiana (which you have as a staple in your refrigerator, right? Right?). And you can feel good that you’ve managed to get some greens into your diet.

6 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup grated Parmigiana with more to sprinkle on top
8 slices of good crusty bread
Fresh spinach
Fresh basil
Olive oil

Beat eggs in a bowl with the milk, cheese, and pepper. Dip the bread in the batter and fry in butter over medium heat until it, you know, looks like French toast.

Plate it and serve with fresh spinach and basil, extra cheese, and a drizzling of olive oil.

About Rod Weatherbie

Rod Weatherbie is a writer working in the hospitality industry. He spent a number of years in Toronto as a member of the financial press before returning to PEI. Rod has published one piece of short fiction, one book of poetry, and has had work published in Red Shift, the Antigonish Review, Mitre, and the Toronto Quarterly. He has also recently co-produced, co-directed, and acted in a stage production of old television shows.

He also likes writing about food. Go figure.

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