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)

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Men of the Upper Crust

My last post took a peek at the sweet treats most frequently served to the Thursday's Club over 1748-49, when the club first started recording its weekly dinners.  40 years later, the club mysteriously stopped recording its meals.  But what happened in between then?

Joseph Banks: Botanist, Collector, Gastronome
(I think he looks the part)

The club had witnessed some pretty significant changes over this period.  In 1779, the botanist Joseph Banks (most famous for his travels with Captain Cook) was elected President of the Society.  Banks was quite the dinner party aficionado; he headed the Thursday's Club for 42 years, and it was said that when he wasn't collecting exotic plants abroad, he patronized 12 different eating clubs in London. 

Then, in 1784, the club relocated from the Mitre Tavern to the popular Crown and Anchor on the Strand (only after drawing up a few new dinner provisions, which you can read about here).  The Crown and Anchor appears quite frequently in accounts of 18th century public dining.  Because of its large size and central location, it served as venue for everything from political rallies to charity events to Masonic meetings.   

So what did members get for dessert at this new location, almost 40 years after my last post?  You would think that, given the changed venue, and the greater availability of sugar and exotic fruits, we would see a little more creativity in the offerings. 

But lo and behold; my amateur "Pye Chart" reveals virtually the same sugary culprits: Gooseberry Pye, Marrow Pudding, and the marked persistence of the apple.  There are a few variations, of course –– dumplings and tarts popping up every now and then –– but pye remains the most ubiquitous form of pastry.  There are a few new additions, such as "Almond Cake," "Hunting Pudding" "Blamange" and the rather mysterious "Fruit Pyes," but these dishes are few and far between.      

To me, this suggests that the club members, whilst at the Mitre, cultivated a particular proclivity for the dish, which was, by the 1780s, ingrained as an unwritten tradition.  Apple Pie was, of course, believed to be a quintessential English dish in the 18th century; I've run across a couple poems about it throughout the course of my research.  You certainly can't say that about the suspiciously francophillic "Blamange."  

To the right, I've added an example "menu page" that demonstrates how the information was set down on the page at this time.  Notice all the repetition; the second half of the menu looks like a mirror image of the first half, and the roast (here a 'chine of mutton') constitutes the center piece.  I'm pretty sure this list resembles the way the dinner looked like when it was set upon the table.  It doesn't look like a modern-day menu in the slightest, with a progression from appetizer to main course to dessert.  But it doesn't say whether there was any rhyme or reason as to how the dishes were eaten.