Final post of the year!
First, thank you for reading and subscribing. Every week I get a few more people signing up and I appreciate you.
I’m not a big one for Auld Lang Syne, or resolutions. I wrote about deferred New Year’s celebrations during covid, and right now the clock has ticked past midnight in Sydney, where they are celebrating the first unrestricted NYE since the start of the pandemic.
So I thought I’d share with you this jaunty menu from New Years’ Eve, 1895, at the Portland Hotel, in Portland, Oregon.
It is from the fabulous menu collection at the New York Public Library, and shows signs of surviving a singe or at least some torn corners. Like many of the menus they hold, it was for a special occasion. Because those are the menus people save: galas, balls, receptions for famous people. Few people save the menu from a random Tuesday lunch.
The Portland is long gone, but it was quite new at the time of this dinner, having opened in 1890. The menu features some things you might still see today on a fancy menu, and quite a few you wouldn’t. Turtle appears twice, and while beef tenderloin would still be on the list for many New Year dinners, I doubt “boned turkey in aspic” is showing up.
The oyster though has stood the test of time as a delicacy; from a fairly affordable street food in the early nineteenth century in many coastal cities, it had transitioned to elite offering by the end of the century, and remained there since. In this menu they are described as “Blue Point” oysters, a name technically reserved for oysters from a particular place in New York. They are not a specific species, but have to be from the waters of the Great South Bay. Indeed, New York State’s legislature made that official in 1903.
Transport being what it was at the time, it’s unlikely that a hotel in Portland had oysters shipped in from the opposite coast (there are plenty of oysters in the Pacific, and oyster farming started in the Coos estuary by the 1870s). But Blue Point would have been a term recognised by diners and thus used to indicate quality. It’s an example of terroir being a brand, in much the same way that before DOC laws started coming in, wine makers outside France would label their product “Burgundy” or “Chablis”.
Frozen eggnog in the middle of the meal sounds fun, perhaps in place of a palate-cleansing sorbet. Note too, the plum pudding with brandy sauce, and once again our friend the mince pie.
Wishing you all the best for 2023, readers!