Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Food, Glorious Food

What were people eating in the classic era of the Mythos?  The answer can be found in the New York Public Library's Buttolph Collection of historic menus.  It's an amazing peek into everyday fare and fine dining that includes dinner menus dating back to the 1850s.

For our purposes the 1920s are the decade of interest, and the collection doesn't disappoint.  You'll find a nice selection of period menus from restaurants, hotels, cruise ships, and train dining cars.  This one hails from the Pennsylvania Railroad back in 1926:

From a prop perspective these are a goldmine.  The high resolution scans can be used as-is or retouched for different locations more appropriate for player circumstances. They're just the kind of thing someone would jot an important note or clue on.

Beyond the theatrical utility they're interesting documents in and of themselves.  One thing that struck me while browsing through the 20s is how popular bouillon was as a beverage.  I'd never seen it offered at a dining establishment here in the US until the "bone broth" craze started a few years ago.  Even odder is how prevalent clam bouillon is.  It pops up again and again as the sole bouillon choice for travelers.  I would have thought beef would be the flavor of choice.


CoastConFan said...

What a gold mine and a boon to period researchers. BTW the broth thing goes easily back to the Victorians as an expected course during a meal on even a middle class table as the soup course could easily be a broth. It could also be served cold in the summer. You had special two handed broth bowls and specific bullion spoons. These implements are still dirt common and were generally part of a decent dinner service.

For the Brits, Bovril (see below) was advertised everywhere when you watch 20s and 30s period movies. It even remained as an advertising that pops up into the 1960s. I would be great for expeditions everywhere. But I digress

Before 1929, folks ate as well as they could afford, but were still pretty careful. After the crash the slop houses, only seen in slums, cropped up everywhere because people simply couldn’t afford to plunk down 35 cents for a diner meal anymore. Beer was a nickel everywhere and reminded so until WWII.

The key here became the widening gap of pay disparity between the destitute, the working poor, the guy with a good factory job or a small clerks job and those who had a secure white collar job, the guys were weren’t hurting and the small business owner that was doing just OK. Farther up you had the moderately wealthy that weather the crash and afford to be opulent occasionally, to the well heeled swell who could afford to go the top clubs with $20 cover charges, $5 martinis and a meal that could easily cost $18 apiece. A buck was always hard to cage before the crash and afterward it was, “brother, can you spare a dime.”

From Wikipedia “The first part of the product's name comes from Latin bovem, meaning "ox". Johnston took the -vril suffix from Bulwer-Lytton's then-popular novel, The Coming Race (1870), whose plot revolves around a superior race of people, the Vril-ya, who derive their powers from an electromagnetic substance named "Vril"” So you see there is a SF connection there after all.

Propnomicon said...

@ CoastConFan

The death of bouillon seems like such an odd historical quirk. It's still popular as a beverage internationally, particularly in England and its former colonial possessions. A cup of bouillon and a smoked meat sandwich were always one of the highlights of a winter trip to Montreal.

As you point out, after the early 30s it just seems to vanish from period menus in the US. Some casual Googling turns up a few mentions of it being served as a restorative at soda fountains and then...nada.

Anonymous said...

You keep saying 'as a beverage,' and what I immediately think of is a drinking glass full of hot beef broth.

CoastConFan said...

Prop, you really need to do an extended Bovril post. Knowing your interest in Artic exploration,it's got to be on the "to bring" list. After all Shakelton drank it.

damanoid trapezoid said...

As astonishing as the menu listings are, I am more fascinated by the weird sermon on transportation. Poetry? Bah! Railroads are the real apex of civilization, and don't you let anyone tell you different. Steel rails bind and harness the life-energy of a continent like the sacred athame of ancient pagan ritual. This message has been brought to you by the Church of Imperishable Wisdom. Enjoy your meal.

Propnomicon said...

@ gndn

That's exactly what it is.

The Last Northumbrian said...

It's basically a thick, tarry, salty beef paste. You take a big spoonful and melt it in boiling water. It's like a meaty, savoury hug in cold weather. It's also good spread on not buttered toast