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What's on the Menu?, Food for Thought
Hold the Applause! Testimonial Menus
Perhaps you’ve noticed a few more people joining the menu party lately. The . As are our friends from the National Life Insurance Company. We’ve even extended an invite to our canine crew (and their owners) from the Philadelphia Dog Show Association.
Clubs, organizations, companies, and associations often hosted an annual dinner, usually at a hotel or large restaurant, to reflect on the year’s accomplishments and perhaps to recruit new members, but their menus differ widely. Some, like the National Life Insurance Co., treated its members to a wide variety of foods, from sweetbread croquettes to lobster salad. Others, like the dog show, kept the food offerings simple with the ubiquitous Blue Points and Waldorf Salad.
But some of these menus go well beyond the one-pager or folder, and flirt with the size of a pamphlet, managing to fit in addition to the menu, toasts, songs, names of board members, hymns, psalms, and much more into a complete souvenir program. Like this example from dinner by the St. George's Society in New York in 1900. Far more than a menu, this booklet includes not only toasts to the Queen and to the President of the United States, but to the Day, to the Land, to the Colonies, to the Sister Societies, and (finally) to the Ladies. And for those who need a little extra help, lyrics to God Save the Queen and The Star Spangled Banner.
Or this graphically arresting menu from the National Shorthand Reporters Banquet, also in 1900, held at Hotel Victory in Lake Erie, Ohio.
The menu of mock turtle, Philadelphia capon, Roman punch, and Petits Fours is fairly standard. The after-dinner speaking program, on the other hand, is anything but short, featuring such riveting discussions such as “Friendship among stenographers” by Dr. Rudolf Tombo of New York, and "Who are these stenographers?" by W.H. Macfeat of Columbia, South Carolina.
Important note to menu transcribers!
While these menus contain a wealth of information beyond the food (musicians, artists, popular songs of the time, organizations that no longer exist today), our goal (for now!) is to capture the food and dishes served at these events and not to worry about capturing every name, toast, speech, or Shakespearean quote, regardless of how interesting they may be (and they are!).
So as you transcribe pickles, potato croquettes, Delmonico potatoes, and sherbet, feel free to explore the social, literary, and professional worlds inhabited by these groups and organizations ... just don’t, as it were, "make a note" of them.