Robinson Crusoe Quote

"He preferred, however, "gourmandization," was an idolater of a certain decent, commodious fish, called a turtle, and worshipped the culinary image wherever he nozed it put up."
---The Contradiction (1796)

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Lord Mayor's Banquet Extravaganza of 1727: Part One

Very exciting news, loyal readers.  It took a while to get into the LMA's special "conservation room," but man, did the wait pay off.  Upon the pages of this immaculately preserved leather tome are the complete party planning records for one of the most extravagant yet fabulous sounding dinners I have ever dreamt of tasting.

Good times had on Lord Mayor's Day
What's the occasion, you might ask?  The entertainment was designed for the Lord Mayor's Banquet of October 30, 1727, an event put on annually by the Corporation of London.  The whole point was to commemorate the 'swearing in' of the newly elected Lord Mayor from the court of Aldermen.  But this wasn't just any regular old Lord Mayor's Banquet.  George II, the new, very recently crowned King, was also planning to attend the dinner, which didn't happen all too often.  And while it's true that that there was no shortage of (mostly Tory) haters who saw the feast as a bastion of corruption and excess, most of London's movers and shakers (excluding Jacobites and such) were in the mood to celebrate.

The careful attention paid to planning and executing a banquet of this magnitude is revealed in the 20 or so different meetings that took place over the month of October, where absolutely nothing was left up to chance.  Below is an excerpt from the meeting held on October 13, 1727.

"Mr Bowler Miller and Mr Pead (Cooks) attended this Committee and laid before them the Bill of Fare and Drafts of the Tables for the ensuing Entertainment. 
ORDERED: That the said Mr Pead and Mr Miller be two of the Cooks to be Employed by this Committee in Dressing the Dinner and that they bring their proposals next Monday at two of the Clock in the Afternoon. And it is recommended to them to provide the said Entertainment in the most Elegant and Magnificent manner.

Elegant and Magnificent?  Those are some rather lofty expectations.  Judge for yourself.  I've listed a few highlights from their proposal.

The Standards:
--  "Dry’d Tongue" 
-- "20 Dishes cold Pyes fill'd with all sorts of Fowle" 
-- "2 haunches of Venison and Udder in Raggoo"

Particularly tasty looking:   
--  "Orange loaves, Lemon Tart, Tanzey, Rice Pudding with Cherry and Apricock Fritters
-- "Raggoos of Mushrooms, Morrells, and Truffles of Pease" 

Complete culinary mysteries: 
-- "10 plates of Indian Creame of sorts stuck with Almonds in coloured and fine green Citrons" 
-- "Olio Pattys" 

Admittedly, the descriptions of these dishes don't always adopt the same level of hyperbole that relentlessly plagues the 21st century menu.  That doesn't meant that the dinner itself wasn't meant to impress.  Check out the table arrangement below.  

Plan for the King's Table
That's certainly a lot of plates on the table, and I suppose it looks rather cluttered to the modern eye.  Today we expect individualized courses served in progression –– an appetizer, followed by a main course, and finished by a dessert.  But dining in the 18th century was usually done in a style known as “a la francaise.”  Each "course" involved an array of different dishes, which were placed on the table at once.  Diners could then choose what they wanted according to their individual tastes.  It was totally feasible to start out with some artichoke bottoms and a plum pudding, have some fruit in the middle, and later snack on some "fish in jelly."  Sweet dishes and savory dishes were served side by side.  

Having spent the morning consumed by these many novelties on an empty stomach, I decided that, for lunch, I would embark on a gastronomic adventure of my own.  Indeed, my curiosity had been aroused by a recently imported craze that has been taking the UK by storm.  Behold, noble readers: the English Burrito. 

Black beans, fajita vegetables, rice, guac, sour cream, salsa, cheese
Hmm.  Eh.  I guess they tried.  But the thing almost fell apart in my hands, the ratios were all messed up, and the "spicy" salsa was mild at best.  My vain and idle hopes were crushed, but I returned to the archive resolute that a Papalote Pit-Stop would be high on my agenda upon my return to the New World.