The Ladies' Tea Guild

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #20 -- Eggs a L'Exposition

The Palace of Fine Arts, from
_Splendors of the Panama-Pacific Exposition_.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The Challenge: #20 -- Foods served at notable events in history 
What kind of food was served at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth? What did Benjamin Franklin eat at the Constitutional Convention? Find a food item that was served at a notable event in history, research the recipe, and recreate the dish.

The Tower of Jewels, from _Splendors of the Panama-
Pacific Exposition_. Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
This year is the 100th anniversary of one of the most iconic events in California history: the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.  Held in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, the Pan-Pacific Exposition was California's message to the world that the city of San Francisco, and the entire state, had completely recovered from the catastrophic earthquake and fire in 1906, and that California had not only recovered, but surpassed its previous accomplishments to become a cultural, economic and technological leader of the United States, on a par with New York City, Boston, Chicago, and other eastern cities.  The fair lasted an entire year, and the city was transformed by the beautiful buildings, gardens, walkways, public art, and evening light shows, not to mention the exciting and wonderful international exhibitions in each of the pavilions.  The fairgrounds became the most fashionable place to be, and the fair was absorbed into San Francisco life and California culture to an extent that, when it came time to close the fair and remove all the buildings and gardens, Californians felt like the heart of the city was being destroyed.  Residents protested the removal of the buildings – which had been built of plaster and chicken wire over wooden frames, and never intended to last more than a year – and succeeded in saving the Palace of Fine Arts and the Temple of Art, which were kept in their original locations until several years ago when they needed to be re-created in concrete due to deterioration.  The re-created buildings are still there, part of an art museum complex, and are used for countless photographs and concerts to this day.
The Tower of Jewels at Night, from _Splendors of the Panama-
Pacific Exposition_.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach

The fair was so popular that souvenirs of all kinds were created, from replica glass "jewels" to imitate those decorating the Tower of Jewels, to illustrated picture books – one of which I have! – to special "Exhibition" cookbooks.  I decided to make one of the recipes in the souvenir cookbook, The Pan-Pacific Cookbook: Savoury Tidbits from the World's Fare, which features international recipes as well as ones apparently created especially for the Exposition. This recipe is on the Pan-Pacific Exposition website. The book is available for free in PDF form on OpenLibrary, and available in paperback re-print for $13 or so on Amazon.

Playing catch-up with the Historical Food Fortnightly: Challenge #17 -- Tea caudle.

Chinese teapot.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
 The Challenge: #17 -- Revolutionary Food. The theme is revolution, and it’s all about ch-ch-ch-changes. Food can be inspired by revolution, can showcase a revolutionary technique, or come from a revolutionary time. Give us your best documented interpretation of revolution.

Of course, being a tea drinker and tea blogger, I am interested in the history of tea, and I'm very aware of the part tea played in English and American history.  Although tea was advertised as early as 1658, it was officially introduced to England in 1662, as part of the dowry of the new Queen of England, Catherine of Braganza, who married King Charles II.  A Portuguese princess, Catherine also brought to England trading rights at all of Portugal's trading posts around the world, including the ones where tea could be purchased.  Tea became extremely popular at court almost immediately, and spread to the aristocracy within the first few years.  Within twenty years, the upper middle classes were also familiar with it, and drinking it enough to provoke articles and dire warnings against it in newspapers and the increasingly popular domestic manuals and recipe books, aimed at the aristocracy and the upper-middle classes, as well as their servants.  By 1750 tea was being called "unwholesome" or even "of a poisonous nature", and said to cause "distempers, tremors, palseys, vapours, fits" and other nerve damage, when "drank to excess;" people were encouraged to put "cream, &c." in their tea to counteract the "corroding" nature of the lime and alum used to make loaf sugar (when people sweetened their tea), or to use lavender oil, nettle flowers, or quicksilver-water, in making their tea, to "prevent the rise of vapours"!  But how was the tea made?  

There is some suggestion in the earliest books, that people were drinking tea, or perhaps ordering it ready-made, along with the other fashionably new drinks, coffee and chocolate, in tea and coffee houses, more often than making it at home, since the recipe books from those first 20 years don't contain any recipes for making tea.  The diarist Samuel Pepys wrote in 1660 that he sent for a cup of "tee, a China drink" one day when at home, but it's not clear where he got the tea, whether it was made in his own kitchen, or brought from a tea house.  These tea and coffee houses became wildly popular, rivaling taverns in their customer numbers, but more fashionable than taverns because they sold the exotic, expensive, imports, so they were patronized by the aristocracy and upper middle classes, as well as anyone else who could afford the price of a cup of tea or coffee, including women, in many cases. 

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)