Subgenre: foodie, cooking and cookery, celebrity chefs, U.S history
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County Public Library
The book is also a story of high society in the Eastern United States at the time. Additionally, the book is a culinary history as it looks at the courses and the food served. The author brings it all together in a book narrative.
The book is arranged based on the menu of Parkinson's 17 course event. After a short introduction opening the story we get the menu (La Carte). The menu is 17 courses, so we get one book chapter for each course. The book ends with "An Ovation," which serves as an afterword. To conclude, the book includes a section on notes about sources so you can see the documentation the author used, and a bibliography.
Each book chapter is like a small history lesson. The author describes the course, how it would have been served, techniques the chefs of the time used, and even where Parkinson varied from traditions. You also get a small history of the ingredients used. In addition, it is interesting to note that some items we do not eat anymore, like some of the small game bird or terrapin. We may not eat some items due to lack of availability, rising costs, or simply tastes have changed over time. The menu truly gives a glimpse of a different and interesting piece of Americana. The author put together a very well researched history and made it fun to read.
Overall, this was an interesting and entertaining read. Chapters are not too long, just enough, like a good course. If you are a foodie reader, you will probably enjoy this book. History readers, especially of social histories, may find it interesting as well. It is a well researched book with lots of notes, but it is for general readers. I'd say this is definitely a good acquisition for public libraries. Some academic libraries may want to consider it, especially if they have strength in 19th century U.S. history, culinary sciences, and/or pop culture. It was definitely enjoyable.
4 out of 5 stars.
Additional reading notes:
A bit of what was happening in 1851:
"It was 1851, a time of significant progress and change. That year, Britain's Great Exhibition-- the first of its kind-- displayed the marvels of industry and manufacturing from around the world, including the latest kitchen appliances, steel-making displays, textile looms, and firearms. The specialty grocery story, Fortnam and Mason, debuted their famous ready-prepared hampers packed with exotic foods, spices, and drinks to the delight of exhibition visitors. In America, the restaurant industry was experiencing rapid growth, where some of the foods displayed at the Great Exhibition could now be found on menus" (xiii).
The dinner's cost:
"But Parkinson successfully rose to the challenge, creating a seventeeen-course feast famously referred to by Philadelphia newspapers as the 'Thousand Dollar Dinner' (since it reputedly cost the Philadelphians $1,000, an enormous sum equivalent to perhaps thirty-two times that amount today). The guests sat down at 6 P.M. and did not rise from their chairs until 6 A.M. the next morning. A gastronomic turning point, this luxurious meal helped launch the era of grand banquets in nineteenth-century America" (xv).
For those interested, the author does explain if it would be possible to replicate the dinner today and what it would take at the end of the book.
On what the dinner featured:
"Parkinson's dinner paired different rare wines and liquors with each of the courses, which included such delicacies as fresh salmon and baked rockfish, braised pigeon, turtle steaks, spring lamb, out-of-season fruits and vegetables, and several dessert courses showcasing rich pastries, ice cream, cakes, and puddings. Each of Parkinson's courses was designed to meld familiar dishes with novel presentations. Special praise went to an artful and luscious sorbet that he created using an expensive Hungarian Tokaj wine" (xv).
As reader and librarian, looking through the bibliography was interesting. I would love to look over all those old cookbooks and culinary histories that the author looked over. Here are a few selections from the bibliography I think I could pick up down the road:
- Brillat-Savarin, Handbook of Gastronomy (1884. You find this one online for free via archive.org. If you prefer print, WorldCat lists a few editions like this one. Just search for it.).
- Choate, Judith, and James Canora, Dining at Delmonico's: the Story of America's Oldest Restaurant.
- Diamond, Becky Libourel, Mrs. Goodfellow: the Story of America's First Cooking School.
- Flanders, Judith, Inside the Victorian Home.
- Kurlansky, Mark. The Big Oyster. I was curious about this since oysters is one of the early courses in the dinner. As I write this I am a bit skeptical since I recently read another Kurlansky book that I did not particularly care for, so we will see. If I do not pick up this one, I may try to see if there is a different history of oysters available.
- Ranhofer, Charles, The Epicurean: a Complete Treatise of Analytical and Practical Studies. . . . (1894. Available for free online via archive.org).
This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges: