Category Archives: Books

Book Review:Restaurants in American Food History


Recommended reading for food and genealogy buffs: Ten Restaurants That Changed America by Paul Freedman

Restaurants and History

Today we take restaurants for granted. We ask “where do you want to go?” when celebrating birthdays, anniversarys and holidays.  Families have a multitude of choices for a quick meal. More upscale restaurants provide baby chairs and booster seats to accomodate the kids, assuming they will serve families. We expect five minute service, food that is predictably the same in any region of the country and refillable drink cups in fast food restaurants.  In finer dining establishments we take for granted they will offer a wide range of foods, many sourced from outside our country. Or they will offer seasonal, locally sourced food. The decor will be individual: calm, exciting, or exotic depending on the restaurant.

We can easily forget how recently restaurants as we know them today arrived on the scene.

Early Restaurants were Taverns

Old etching of Red Horse Tavern/ Wayside Inn, used with permission of Longfellow’s Wayside Inn archives.

The taverns that welcomed stagecoach riders came first in this country. My Howe ancestors ran Howe’s Tavern in Sudbury Massachusetts, and I have written about that tavern, and stayed at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, the descendent of Howe Tavern, now the oldest operating inn in the United States. And the header photograph on this page shows the family restaurant operated by my grandmother and grandfather in the 1930’s in Killbuck, Ohio.

The Restaurants That Changed America

A new book, Ten Restaurants That Changed America by Paul Freedman traces the path by which we traveled from taverns to, for instance McDonalds or Chez Panisse. I highly recommend the book to family historians who want to know more about how the every day lives of their ancestors.

Clearly, this is not about the ten best Restaurants in America–a subject that could be argued vociferously at your next dinner party.  Instead, it is an analysis of what trends developed in our eating habits, and who started those trends. Freedman digs deep to find out what lies behind trends in dining out. The book is enlivened with insider information about incidents and people and the reader can visualize choosing what to eat from the historic menus that illustrate the book.

What restaurants would you put on a list of the innovators?  When I asked friends, they had a little trouble getting past the idea that I was not asking for best– I was asking for innovations that influenced the development of the way we eat today.

Where Did Your Ancestors and Family Dine Out?

Of course you can also play the game of “how many of these have you eaten at?”  Although some expired before you were born.  So a better game is, “do you have ancestors who might have eaten at these restaurants?

Delmonico’s

Delmonico's Restaurant

Supper after the Opera at Delmonico’s, New York, 1898, engraving by Albert Sterner, public domain

I think particularly of Delmonico’s in New York City, the place to be seen in turn of the century America, when emphasis was on elegant and lush surroundings and meals consisting of a bewildering number of courses and amounts of food.  My great uncle, William Morgan Stout and his wife Jean lived in Manhattan and were in the social class that could afford Delmonico’s.  I can imagine them dining there, and now have a better idea of what they might have ordered.  I knew oysters were popular in that period, but was not aware how people would choose wild game and duck, something I learned from the text and  the menu illustrations. Also, lush paintings of people give me clues about hair styles and clothing of the period.

Schrafft’s and Antoine’s

The section on Schrafft‘s in New York made me focus on how differently women were treated, even in the early twentieth century.  Antoine’s in New Orleans brings forward the dominance of French cooking in the United States and a “destination restaurant”.

Mamma Leone’s

When in college, I traveled with a friend from Ohio to New York City in 1959 and we dined at Mamma Leone’s. (While this qualifieds as current history for me, for my younger readers, it might be the experience of grandmother.)

At the time, I had no idea the restaurant  was setting new expectations for an ethnic restaurant. I just knew that Mamma Leone’s fame had spread all the way to Ohio. There Italian food, while not completely unknown, did not feature on many restaurant menus. I remember Mama Leone’s restaurant served a huge numer of people (4,000 a night according to Freedman). Dining here was an experience– huge portions food comfortably Americanized Italian. Noise and excitement characterized the atmosphere.

Freedman says:

Mama Leone’s combined many of these images {love of music, amorous appreciation, spontaneity, and volatile personality} refining them into an early example of a “theme” restaurant, a place where the staged ambience is as important as the food.

In its forty-year heyday, 1930-1970, it provided staggering portions in a setting that offered huge capacity, strolling musicians and distracting surroundings.

The authors points out that Italian food as transformed from its early small family-run places appealing to the “artsy” crowd, to mass dining for the middle class to the point where Italian food is now “the preferred cuisine of the upper class.”

HoJo’s Restaurant

Howard Johnson's Restaurants

Howard Johnson’s Restaurant, U.S. Alternate Route 1 (on the by-pass), Fredericksburg, Va. 1930-1945, Boston Public Library

My family has always loved road trips–going back to my grandfather and grandmother’s car camping and my mother’s summer trips with fellow teachers. Perhaps we should count great-great-grandfather Jesse Morgan and his insatiable wander lust in that group. But those road trips had something in common. The miserable food, either cooked over a campfire or poorly prepared stuff in a rooming house.

Road trips had changed by the sixties. My husband and I and our three sons set off for Washington D.C. and to Cape Cod. The New England portion of the trip included my husband’s parents and sister. Any trip with my father-in-law inevitably included stops at Howard Johnson‘s.  Paul Badertscher took a conservative approach to life and liked the predictability of Howard Johnson’s restaurants. You could count on the food from place to place. You could count on the cleanliness. And there was a comfortable hominess in eating in the familiar turquoise and orange collored surroundings. Besides, an Ohioan indulged in adventurous eating by ordering fried clams. Wayne County, Ohio menus did not include clams.

Freedman sees Howard Johnson’s restaurants known by the nickname HoJo’s, as pioneers.  Without Howard Johnson’s we might not have the roadside fast food places we have today like McDonald’s and Denny’s.  Johnson pioneered central food production sites that shipped food to individual restaurants. The operation included detailed instructions on preparation that guaranteed every site would be serving identical plates of food. In addition, the decor and architecture would be designed to be identical. The restaurants with their brightly colored, angled roofs could be found along major highways. The architecture attracted travelers because of their brightly colored, angled roofs even before you were close enough to read the sign.

Other Restaurants That Changed the Way We Eat

I have mentioned only a few of the ten restaurants Freedman talks about. The others, in roughly chronological order are:

The Mandarin, San Francisco, that took Chinese food upscale.

Sylvia‘s, Harlem, brought Southern black “soul food” to a white clientele.

Le Pavillion, New York, the New French cooking in mid-century.

The Four Seasons, New York, combining a modern aesthetic with the concept of seasonal foods.

Chez Panisse in Oakland, starting the strongest trend in today’s dining–locally sourced foods.

I hope you will leave a note and tell me if any of the restaurants in this list strike a note with you. Realizing that the restaurants are almost all in New York, your ancestors may not have eaten in that particular one. But in their time period, do the innovations shed light on how you family might have eaten?

Note:  I am not under the illusion that many people sit breathlessly waiting for a post from Ancestors in Aprons. However, for those who might wonder about my absence in the last few weeks, I would like to reassure you that all is well. And thanks for sticking around. I have pulled back from writing regularly in order to go deeper in some research.  I do have one more letter related to Jesse Morgan to share with you before I move away from his fascinating life. If you have not read about the wandering Jesse, please type his name in the search bar and decide whether he was a scoundrel or something less damning.

Family Heirloom: Gift Book for Christmas

This post is dedicated to those of us who are tempted to give an Amazon gift card for a present. Here is a hint on how to make a gift book into a family heirloom.

My Gift Book

Our family frequently gave gift books for Christmas presents.  My mother and father almost always wrote inscriptions in the front of the book and dated and signed them.  I treasure those gifts, particularly this one which probably accounted in large part for my life long fascination with Greece and the culture of the Golden age.  I read that book so much that the hard cover is long gone.  Here is the title page, and the very treasured inscription written by my father, Christmas 1947 when I was eight years and nine months old.

Grandma Vera’s Gift Book

What a nice surprise it was to discover that this tradition went back two generations before me. I found books that my great-grandmother, Harriet Morgan Stout gave to my grandmother and to my great-uncle–writing an inscription in each.  Even more fun, my Grandmother, Vera Stout (Anderson) did what many young people do–she “wrote” on the pages. The inscription indicates that she would have been six years old when she received this book, but the book seems a bit young for a six-year-old, and she surely would have known better than to draw in a book by that age!

The book is beautifully illustrated and teaches us much about how children dressed and what they played with. Some things have not changed–skipping rope and blowing bubbles. Some toys have disappeared–whipping tops and hoops.

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Great-Uncle Will’s Gift Book

Vera’s older brother William Morgan Stout (Willy or Will), received a very different book for Christmas 1886 when he was 13.  The inscription is in the handwriting of my great-grandmother, but my mother added the “age 13”.

Review of Davy and the Goblin in American Magazine advertising section January 1888.

Review of Willy's Book

Review of Davy and the Goblin in January 1888 issue of The American Magazine.

This is a very odd book. The author, Charles Carryl, was known as the Lewis Carroll of America–writing humorous fantasy, perhaps as an escape from his day job as a stock broker.

This book published in 1894, obviously aims to cash in on the popularity of Alice In Wonderland which was first published in 1865, and continued to be a best seller.  Carryl tells some original stories, like Davy’s confrontation with the giant Badorful, but he also riffs on familiar tales like Sinbad the Sailor, Jack and the Bean Stalk, and Robinson Crusoe.

The illustrations are black and white, but surely would appeal to an adventure-minded young man.  Thirteen year olds today might find this a bit young for them, but I can imagine my great-uncle “Willy” eating it up.

Willy's gift book.

Willy Stout’s gift book, Davy and the Goblin meet Giant Badorful, 1887

I post this in the hope that it will influence you not only to give books to family members, but always, ALWAYS, write the date, their name, an inscription and your name. It will enhance the value of the book in the century or two to come.  Amazon gift certificates may disappear in the cloud, but books will stick around for a long, long time.

Sick Food: Barley Water For Invalids

No, not food that is sick. Food you eat when you are sick, like barley water.  A better term is the chapter heading in one of my vintage cookbooks: “Invalid Cookery.”

1925 Cook Book

1925 Cook Book Cover

I had noticed this intriguing chapter title in the 1925 book, The Home Makers’ Cooking School Cook Book by Jessie M. DeBoth (cover title: Buffalo Evening News Cooking School Cook Book).  This book, which qualifies as an heirloom, belonged to my great aunt, Maud Stout Bartlett.  As I’ve explained before, a number of newspapers across the country carried Miss DeBoth’s column on cookery, and each published a book of recipes, putting their own name on the cover.

I’ve had a cold that knocked me down this past week, and I kept thinking if I had the energy to get up, I’d cook something from the chapter on “Invalid Cookery.”  Now I’m back up and at the computer, and still feeling the need of comfort food, although not feeling good enough to actually cook anything complicated..

Sick Child

Child in Sick bed, photo from The London Blitz, 1940, Photo by Cecil Beaton, public domain

We all have our sick food favorites, some the same from childhood. Mine include Vernor’s ginger ale (it has to be Vernor’s and if I have to explain why, you’re not from the mid-West); pudding of any kind, but particularly rice pudding; tea with lemon juice and honey; white bread toast to dunk in the tea–or spread with applesauce. Soup and club crackers. It has now been scientifically proven that chicken soup actually IS good for you when you’re ill.

From Mrs. DeBoth’s Cook Book

Back to the book. The introduction to the chapter “Invalid Cookery” is preachy and thorough– as is every chapter introduction in this book. It encourages the housewife by saying,

Caring for the invalid falls to the lot of a large majority of homemakers at some time.  Very often the homemaker has much to do with the recovery of the invalid.  Special foods must be cooked, appetites must be coaxed back to normal, and the patient must be catered to in every possible way.

That is a proposition that I am sure every husband would agree to, and every homemaker might wonder just who was going to “cater to [ME when I get sick]..in every possible way.”

Not only must you prepare the right food, but the appearance of the food affects the appetite.

Sick person breakfast tray

From American Food Roots website.
In “Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent,” Fannie Merritt Farmer called for setting a pretty breakfast tray to stimulate the appetite. / Courtesy of Little, Brown and Co. and the USDA National Agricultural Library

A simple dish of pudding can be made to look so attractive that the person for whom it is intended will be glad to take it no matter what it is.  Daintiness is of primary importance.  The tray must be attractive.  The portions should be small.  A large serving may look so overwhelming that the patient will not try to eat it.  When hot liquids are served, they should be brought in a covered pitcher to be kept hot.  By pouring it in the room, there is not the danger of spilling in carrying.  Nothing so quickly mars the appearance of a tray as a saucer into which some of the liquid of the cup has been spilled.

Oh, dear! Heaven forfend that I should slop some liquid into a saucer!

Monotony should be avoided, even if only the garnish on the food is changed.  When the diet is so limited that great variation is not possible, it sometimes helps to change the dishes with which the patient is served.  A bit of parsley in place of other garnish makes the plate look a little different.  Cress, too, makes an attractive garnish.

The author of this book, does not apparently have a high opinion of the brain power of the reader.

Special care should be taken that no liquid food is ever served in the glass which has contained medicine.  Even if the glass has been thoroughly washed, it may have a slightly unpleasant taste or odor.

Okay, got it! Be dainty. Don’t spill stuff. Add some parsley. Don’t put the lemonade in the paregoric glass. But what should I prepare?  Some suggestions sounds okay, but some just sounds downright weird.

Rennet

When I was a child, and my children were small, I made rennet custard.  My vintage cook book calls for Junket tablets in an eggnog, which sounds awfully good, but I didn’t have any Junket (a brand name) rennet tablets on hand, so I couldn’t try that.

Barley Water

Nor did I have pearl barley on hand for barley water.  (See UPDATE below) But I know that barley water was a headliner in feeding injured soldiers during the Civil War, and it hung on into the twenties. By the way, have you been watching Mercy Street on PBS? Set in a Civil War hospital, where the head nurse spends quite a bit of time worrying about what the soldiers are eating.

In case you want to try it:

  • 2 Tablespoons pearl barley
  • 1 Quart cold water
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of salt
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • A little sugar if desired.

Wash the barley, pour the water over it and soak for several hours.  Add salt and cook in a double boiler for at least three hours.  Strain through cheese cloth or a fine strainer, flavor with lemon, and add sugar if desired.

Note: Most current day recipes call for cooking barley for 45 minutes–but that is for eating it as a grain. Also, pearl barley has had a lot of the nutrients removed (which apparently Ms. DeBoth hadn’t caught on to, so its benefit to invalids is a bit questionable.)

The Book of Household Management by Mrs. Beeton has a similar recipe for barley water , but a more intriguing one proposes barley gruel made with red wine. Mrs. Beeton’s book, published just before the Civil War, must have been quite influential. I found her book at the intriguing site called Ex-Classics and from another site that contains her whole book, Mrs. Beeton.com.

Mrs. Beeton’s barley water recipe.

INGREDIENTS – 2 oz. of pearl barley, 2 quarts of boiling water, 1 pint of cold water.

Mode.—Wash the barley in cold water; put it into a saucepan with the above proportion of cold water, and when it has boiled for about 1/4 hour, strain off the water, and add the 2 quarts of fresh boiling water. Boil it until the liquid is reduced one half; strain it, and it will be ready for use. It may be flavoured with lemon-peel, after being sweetened, or a small piece may be simmered with the barley. When the invalid may take it, a little lemon-juice gives this pleasant drink in illness a very nice flavour.

Time.—To boil until the liquid is reduced one half.

Sufficient to make 1 quart of barley-water.

UPDATE: I could not stand the suspense, so finally got out to buy some pearl barley and try making barley water.  I used Mrs. Beeton’s recipe, because it sounded a little more logical to me.  The tiny amount of barley in relation to the water, gives the barley water a pinkish-brown hue. I got just over a quart of liquid at the end.  I added to one glass, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of sugar (channeling my grandmother Vera Anderson who would put the maximum amount of sugar in anything).  Neither of the recipes specify drinking it warm or cold, but I drank it cold, thinking that would be more soothing for a sore throat.

 It really is not bad. You get a bit of the flavor of the grain, plus the lemon and slight sweetness.

Medieval Recipe for Barley Water

Finally, if you want to go back to Medieval days for a recipe for Barley Water for Invalids:

This is an excerpt from Libre del Coch
(Spain, 1520 – Robin Carroll-Mann, trans.)
94. Barley-water for Invalids. You will take barley and cook it the night before, according to the quantity that you wish to make. Then take a pullet or cockerel, and break its bones and then make a pot boil with water that is clean; and moderately, in such a manner that when you cast in the pullet or cockerel, the water only covers it; and [this is] if it is little, of necessity you will have to cast in more water if the pullet is larger, and it is necessary that it cooks longer; and it must cook or boil constantly, and never cease to boil. And do not cast in salt until the last, when you know that there is no more than a dishful of broth, because it will be more flavorful. And having done this, after the patient has supped, you will take a few peeled almonds and grind them with a little of the white meat of the pullet in a mortar; and blend them with the broth of the cockerel or pullet; and when you have strained it, put this milk in a little pot; and if you wish, cast in a tiny bit of starch; you can cast it in at the same time as the milk; and then take the barley or ordio when it is cooked, and take a hemp-tow which should not be very thin, and put it in that ordio or barley, and press down the hemp-tow very well, in such a manner that all the liquor comes out of the barley; then take that milk that you removed, and strain it through a sieve, in such a manner that little of the starch passes through it; and then strain everything again, the barley and all; and it should be a little clear and thin. Because in resting overnight it will turn thick. And I wish to say this now: let it cook the night before with sugar; and in the morning, when the patient is going to drink it, make it boil a little, and that will make it of great benefit; and when you give this barley-water, cast a little sugar over the dish; and if you don’t wish to cast in starch, do not cast it in, [and see] that nothing goes into it.

The things you can find on the Internet!!

What I Will Not Cook

I’m going to pause here, but promise that I’ll bring you some more–but probably NOT “Toast water” (a piece of stale bread soaked in boiling water). And NOT Irish moss (it’s a seaweed and is controversial because it is the source of carrageen which some health experts warn against.) So while cold and flue season is still upon us, I’ll be back with more Invalid Cookery in the future.

Source in addition to those linked above: A Manual for Invalid Cookery. (1880) (available on line)