Friday, February 18, 2011

On Our Plates, A Side of History

For a belated St. Valentine's Day celebration, my sweetheart and I went to The Kitchen in Englewood, New Jersey, which features American cuisine with a wink at the 1930s. From their site:

"The 1930's was a special era for America in terms of entertaining and dining out...With the repeal of Prohibition, cocktail parties with passed canapés grew in popularity even with the middle class. Americans had not legally been able to import alcoholic beverages for over ten years. Bourbon, an American spirit, became very popular among Americans and the Mint Julep became the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, spreading through the nation as well. America was developing an identity for food and beverage."

Their dining room is tiny but cozy. American artwork adorns the walls, including this poster encouraging, "See America Visit the National Parks".

Did you know it was the Great Northern Railway who adopted the "See America First" slogan in 1906 to promote their resort facilities in northern Montana? Learn more.

It's bring your own wine here, and we brought some sparking wine and Crème de cassis for our own festive cocktails. Five complimentary appetizers are passed: mushroom puff pastries, spinach pastries, cheese puffs, eggplant with goat cheese and a sweet potato bite.

The vegetarian plate, $20, with quinoa, sauteed winter greens and king mushrooms. Two shared sides came for the table with the two entrees: tonight it was creamed spinach and carrots with Rösti potatoes, the potatoes a Swiss German dish (fitting, since my parents are both originally from Switzerland). Consider the dishes that immigrants brought, and food that developed on its own.

To share, a grown-up versions of a campfire classic, s'mores, $8. Graham cracker crust, chocolate ganache and homemade toasted marshmallows.

Short for "some mores," s'mores appeared first in the 1927 book Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts, according to The Food

Forget the latest in celebrity gossip, I find perusing food menus of days gone by far more fascinating. For food and history lovers alike, visit The Food Timeline's American food through the decades. Find everything from a 1939 New York Times article on "the herculean task of feeding 50,000,000 people....the number of visitors expected at the New York World's Fare of 1939;" what was served at Mother Goose children's parties in the 1950s, to what John F. Kennedy favored for lunch.

Sticking with the 1930s, consider a family dinner menu from Aunt Sammy's Radio Recipes Revised, Bureau of Home Economics, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1931:

"Dinner menus for February"
Scalloped oysters, five-minute cabbage, pickled beets, jellied fruit; Lima beans in tomato sauce with crisp bacon, mashed rutabaga turnip, lettuce with tart dressing, fruit, chocolate drop cookies, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, scalloped parsnips, turnip greens, pickled cherries, Washington pie.

Or in the later 1930s, the timely "Washington's Birthday Luncheon" (this was before Americans paid homage to our first President by going to the mall to buy sheets).

"Halves of oranges, with Maraschino cherries in center, chicken a la Maryland, with drum sticks, southern sweet potatoes, Virginia corn bread, cherry salad, Boston brown bread, chocolate log cake (cocoa roll), nuts, raisins, coffee, Washington punch."

Exploring our history extends to so many facets, not just our leaders or famous battles won and lost. History is everywhere, including on our plates, and it is worth devouring.


  1. Hi Catherine, The vegetarian dishes sound irresistible here. Thanks for sharing the delicious slice of positive history.

  2. Hi Jennifer. Thanks for the comment. They are! They always use a lot of wonderful seasonal ingredients. Isn't it interesting how it's so popular to "eat seasonally" now - but that's just the way it was done before modern mass food production.