Special to the Elmira Star-Gazette
Elmirans used to eat more elegantly than today.
J.D. Iles asked me last month what kinds of foods Samuel Clemens (our Mark Twain) used to eat. That got me thinking. When Sam was in Elmira, he stayed with either his in-laws on North Main Street or at his sister-in-law Susan Crane’s house (Quarry Farm).
So, what was served? And when he went downtown to the two big restaurants, what did he order?
As far as eating at Quarry Farm, Susan Crane much preferred Miss Maria Parloa’s New Cook Book, printed in 1880. Apparently, Miss Parloa was much like today’s Chef Gordon Ramsay — a celebrity chef. Her books were in everyone’s home. Hotel restaurants modeled their menus after her recipes as well.
On July 18, 1891, Maxwell Haight, owner of the Rathbun House, Elmira’s premier hotel, served a banquet to the Elmira Board of Trade in his dining room. On the buffet table were Little Neck Clams, Imperial sherry, Green Turtle Soup, Boiled Halibut with Caper Sauce, Olives, Potatoes in Cream, Broiled Spring Chicken, French Fried Potatoes, French Peas, St. Estephe, Filet of Beef with Mushroom Sauce, Butter Beans, Asparagus, Lobster Salad, Potato Salad, wafer crackers, Roman punch, Squab on toast, Saratoga Potatoes, Neapolitan ice cream, Mumm’s, Roquefort cheese, toasted crackers, Coffee and Cigars.
Now, that is a buffet.
I know French fries. I had to google St. Estephe — it is a wine from the Bordeaux region. Roman punch, a famous cocktail of the 1800s, is a combination of citrus juice, champagne and rum, sugar and frothy meringue on top. Yes, this was in downtown Elmira. Saratoga potatoes are now known as potato chips.
On April 26, 1892, Fannie Strauss married Maurice Garson at the High Street Temple. After the ceremony, the 100 guests were driven in carriages to the Rathbun Hotel. Their dinner included Imperial Sherry, Blue Points on Shell, Purée a la Reine, Kennebeck Salmon with Hollandaise, Boiled New Potatoes, Queen Olives, Sweet Bread Patties Toulouse, Tenderloin of Beef with Mushrooms, Kempner Berg, Lobster Salad, Broiled Spring Chicken, Benedictine, French Peas, Stuffed Philadelphia Squab, French Fried Potatoes, Moët and Chandon, Strawberries with cream, Café Noir and assorted cakes.
On May 17, 1897 at the Langwell Hotel on State Street, a group of local physicians held their annual Medical Society meet to hear Dr. C.A. Murray’s paper “Blood Letting,” followed by a sumptuous banquet of Terrapin Soup, Boiled Chicken, Halibut with Shrimp Sauce, Parisienne Potatoes, Great Western (wine), Roasted Canvas-Back Ducks, New Browned Potatoes, Punch a la Reine, Broiled Lamb Chops, New Peas, Fresh Lobster Salad with Mayonnaise Dressing, Strawberry Shortcake with whipped cream, Walnut Layer Cake and Black coffee.
I’m guessing that Parisienne potatoes are French fries.
On the evening of June 22, 1899, the Elmira Free Academy graduating class of 1899 held their banquet at the Langwell Hotel. On their menu was Little Neck Clams, New Lettuce, Sliced Potatoes, Consommé Royale, Baked Bluefish, Robert Sauce, “Roast Spring Lamb ’99 with Green Mint Sauce,” New String Beans, New Bermuda Potatoes with Cream Sauce, Lemon Water Ice, Soft Shell Crabs on Toast, Asparagus, Braised Sweetbreads with New Peas, Fresh Lobster Salad with Mayonnaise, Neapolitan Ice cream, American Cheese and Café Noir. Yes, high-schoolers were served this menu.
Elmira’s City Club also served trés élegant food.
On the evening of July 13, 1900, a reception for Spencer Meade, superintendent of the Northern Central Railroad, who was leaving Elmira to take a job in Philadelphia taking charge of the Pennsylvania Railroad. They gave Spencer a good sendoff with 75 in attendance. Manager Gus Kuhn “was in charge of the spread and the service and cooking were perfect.”
It was a delicious dinner, and Kuhn received many compliments.
His menu included Champagne Punch, Anchovies on Toast, Mumm’s Extra Dry, Consommé City Club, Salted Pecans, Salted Almonds, Kennebeck Salmon with Sauce Hollandaise, Cucumbers with French Dressing, Sweet Bread Croquettes, Tomato Salad with Mayonnaise, Roquefort and Brie cheese and Coffee.
“The reception lasted until late in the evening. Friendships were renewed, toasts were drank, and it was an evening of rare enjoyment.”
Now the Elmira Country Club dinner menu was harder to find. In fact, I didn’t.
The Star-Gazette reported that on June 3, 1906, an “elaborate dinner was served after the (golf) match. Levi Holmes, the new club steward from New York City, had charge of the culinary arrangements and a most elaborate repast was provided. A number of colored waiters had been engaged from the city to serve but owning to difficulties and the steward and the waiters, they went on strike and prompt service was handicapped in consequence.”
Elmirans still enjoy buffet or banquet dinners. Many restaurants and hotels serve them on special occasions.
Diane Janowski is the Elmira city historian. Her column appears monthly.
More Elmira History:When it comes to pizza, it was love at first slice
More Elmira History:In 1919, an alligator got loose in the city. Or was it a crocodile?