Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!
The time is the 8 o’clock on the evening of June 4, 1898. The venue is the Saint Charles Hotel located on Saint Charles Avenue in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Prior to dinner, the New Orleans Law Society gathered at the Opera House for their annual meeting.
Attendees were presented with a menu that would be ornamented with legal terminology and references from Shakespeare and dishes to match the lavish nature of the event.
Some of those in attendance included…
Henry P. Dart, president of the association, was known as a “lawyer, historian and archivist” in the book, Old Families of Louisiana.
Charles F. Claiborne,a grandson of Louisiana Governor Claiborne, served as vice president. Charles served as a Judge of the Louisiana Court of Appeals.
The Honorable Newton Blanchard, who would have been serving as a member of the House of Representatives at the time and would later become Governor for the State of Louisiana. He was granted the distinction by the president, Henry P. Dart, to give the toast entitled “Stare Decisis”.
The “Ad Hoc” toast was delivered by the Honorable Horace L. Dufour, who was approved by the Louisiana general assembly to be a judge for Orleans Parish Court of Appeals.
Needless to say, this was a powerhouse dinner, with men whose family histories are recorded in such records as books entitled Old Families of Louisiana. Several of these men had the distinction of being judges, members of Congress and even governors.
The location of this dinner, the St. Charles Hotel, is no longer standing. As a result, I was unable to visit the hotel. However, the hotel that these gentlemen would have been dining in would have been the third version of the hotel (after the first two burned down).
When embarking on this research adventure, I chose to choose a menu that combined two things that have been on my mind recently:
- New Orleans, since I attend school there and am graduating in a few weeks. I am sad that I am going to be leaving and I am actively seeking to learn more about this city before I leave.
- Law school, which has remained at the forefront of my mind since late August and now is the first thing I think about in the morning both consciously and unconsciously as I try to make a decision of where I will be attending in the fall.
I am planning on going about this investigation into this event in two ways:
First, breaking down the menu and its items. Including the legal terminology. For this I will utilize another menu from the Saint Charles Hotel from 1913. This menu will give me a better understanding of what sort of prices these items were.
Second, I will be utilizing a cookbook from the 19th century entitled La Cuisine Creole to create a better understanding of the types of foods and the processes that would have gone into making the foods at the dinner. Using La Cusinse Creole, I will attempt to make a 19th C dinner by selecting and cooking four items for my family:
Roast Beef in Stove
Green English Peas, to Stew
My selection of this cookbook in particular both fits the time period and was written for New Orleans cooking which will lend some legitimacy to the availability of ingredients as well as regional cooking considerations that may have existed at this time period.
The first food item is “Boiled River Shrimp, a la ‘Oyez, Oyez’”…
The proximity of New Orleans to the Mississippi River as well as the Gulf of Mexico would have made river shrimp accessible. “River Shrimp” are listed on the supplementary St. Charles Hotel menu for $0.30.
The term “Oyez, Oyez” serves to call attention to the opening of court, meaning “Hear ye, hear ye.” This seems a fitting title for the first item listed on the menu as it is the opening dish that patrons would be consuming.
Second is “Green Turtle Soup, a la ‘Citation’”…
Again, the proximity to water would have allowed for the turtle soup to be easily accessible. There are a few recipes for turtle soup in La Cuisine Creole, however it seems fitting that the recipe entitled “Turtle Soup for a Large Company” would be fitting:
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, “citation” means to appear on a day an do something.
Radishes, olives and almonds would be the next items served.
These three items were listed under the “a la carte” section of the supplementary menu from the St. Charles Hotel. Radishes priced at $0.15, olives (both queen and ripe) listed at $0.20 and almonds at $0.30.
Listed under the section of the menu entitled “Cum grano salis” (meaning with a grain of salt, or allowance of exaggeration) there are presumably two entrees that would have been served with their respective sides.
The first entree is “Broiled Sheepshead, a la ‘Vinculum Juris’” paired with “Potatoes, a la ‘Proces Verbal’”
Sheepshead fish can be found in a variety of different habitats from the Gulf of Mexico all the way down to Brazil. Again, along with the other seafood from above, sheepshead would have been readily accessible. Sheepshead was listed at $0.45 on the hotel menu.
The type of potatoes that would have been served with the fish is not as clear, as the hotel normally would have served fourteen types of potatoes as shown below:
Furthermore, there are six recipes for some of the fourteen types of potatoes that were listed on the daily hotel menu.
Those can be found here:
As far as the legal terminology goes… the legal term attached to the sheepshead means “bond of law” and the potatoes “setting forward a statement of facts”. It is at this point of time during my discovery that the terms attached to the titles of the menu items are consistently appearing to me as not making any sense.
The “Filet of Beef, a la ‘Res Adjudicata’” paired with “Stuffed Tomatoes, a la ‘Obiter Dicta’” and “Green Peas, a la ‘Stipulation Pour Antrui’” all come together next. And would be the focus of my experimental cooking that I have documented in the next section below.
The legal term “res adjudicata” means something that has been adjudicated.
The legal term “obiter dicta” means a remark made in passing by a judge that is not apart of the official opinion of the court.
The legal term “stipulation pour antrui” is not in itself a term that can be found in Black’s Law Dictionary however it is found on Merriam-Webester as “a contract or provision in a contract that confers a benefit on a third-party beneficiary”. This is a term that is specific to Louisiana as Louisiana follows a civil law system unlike the rest of the United States which follows common law.
In order to make these dishes I relied on my new favorite book, La Cuisine Creole. I chose the recipes for a beef roast, stuffed tomatoes, green peas as well as a mushroom sauce to help with the flavoring.
The recipe for the beef is as follows:
The recipe that I followed for the stuffed tomatoes:
And for the peas:
And finally, the saving grace for the meal, the mushroom sauce. This recipe was found in the section entitled “Sauces for Meat and Game” so I thought that it was fitting. The recipe can be found below.
I will return to the recipes above as well as my experiences with them after I finish going over the last section of the menu.
Under the section entitled “Tribonius Punch” is the remaining part of the menu. This term is not legal, but rather apart of the references that the menu makes to Shakespeare. Trebonius (not sure why it is spelled differently on the menu) was a conspirator against Julius Caesar. Directly below this heading is a quote from Julius Caesar that reads, “This was the noblest Roman of them all” which is was said by Antony about Brutus (but we all know that Brutus was not the noblest with the famed line “Et tu Brute”).
“Roast Spring Chicken, a la ‘Lis Pendens’” paired with “Lettuce and Tomato Salad, ‘Nunc pro tunc.’” are the last of the substantial items on the menu.
The roast chicken, looking back at the recipe, probably would have been very tasty, however I do think there is something wrong about serving chickens with hard-boiled eggs…
“Lis pendens” is a pending suit for someone who has been suspended.
Lettuce and tomato salad was priced at $0.40 on the St. Charles Hotel menu, which when compared to the other salads, was a price somewhere in the middle. “Nunc pro tunc” means “now for then” according to Black’s. It is a stipulation that allows for something to be completed now, rather than when it should have been done before, and have a retroactive effect.
Finally, there are desserts and end-of-meal treats. This would include Neapolitan Ice Cream, Bonbons, Cakes, Fruit, Cheese, Coffee and Cigars.
In addition, throughout the menu there are wine pairings that go with most of the dishes mentioned above. These include Saternes, Sherry, Haut Sauternes, Claret, Mumm’s Extra Dry Champagne and finally Johannis Water to wash it all down.
In all, it was an elaborate event full of food and drink, as well as toasts that were recommended by the president to be given throughout the meal.
This portion of my “hands on” research was completed at my family home in Castro Valley, California. Admittedly, this is further away than where I originally had anticipated on cooking the meal. However, the amount of kitchen resources that are available to me are tenfold, and I have committed to making this meal for 7 adults.
4:41 PM – sitting anxiously at my father’s law office in California with my printed recipes from the La Cuisine Creole cookbook awaiting him to end his meeting with a client for his advice on how much meat to buy. As I am doing this, a hauntingly large copy of Black’s Law Dictionary is directly in front of me.
4:51 PM – time to go shopping. Probably the worst time time of day to embark on this adventure as I will have to fend off the last minute dinner shoppers. Here goes nothing!
5:45 PM – DONE and HOME! Searching for some of the items was daunting. English green peas? Not available at the store I went to yet (however I did find some in a farmers market in San Francisco three days later) so I gave way to the frozen peas as pictured below.
A list of other ingredients is as follows:
Coppola Claret wine
Mumms Brut Champagne
An insane amount of butter (who dislikes butter, this too would be a saving grace)
5:47 PM – as soon as I took the picture above my mother came into the kitchen in a frantic state telling me to start to cook the beef otherwise we would be eating at midnight (spoiler alert: we did not, in fact, eat at midnight).
Admittedly this is the latest point in time that I have an actual account of the time until we sat down to eat dinner, but I will document my experience (and make necessary approximations, after all that is what the recipes call for).
According to La Cuisine Creole, the ingredients that would go with the roast would include salt, pepper and a basting in water for liquid. The recipe also allows for “a little onion if liked.” The peanut gallery at my home watching and taking photos of my ordeal insisted that we liked a lot of onion considering the lack of other flavorings seasonings.
It suggested that I baste the meat every 15 minutes. My mother did not allow this much basting, again with time concerns. The recipe does not give an over temperature. We went with 400 degrees so we could eat before tomorrow. Also, I misread that the roasting dish should have a lid. We removed that too.
We did not have a muffin ring or trivet so I, being the clever woman I am, kept the meat from the bottom via balled up tin foil. It worked just fine.
Sometime-after-that PM – I began to work on the stuffed tomatoes as they were the next item that needed to be baked in the oven. Prior to removing their guts, I thought that this process would be harder than it turned out to be. I started with a paring knife, followed up with a spoon that had a somewhat pointed end and was able to save the tomatoes and reserve the pulp and other meat that came out with it.
Then, I began with the filling.
I cooked up the bacon and the canadian bacon (I found out after I went shopping that this should not have qualified as ham as the recipe called for, but I rolled with it anyways).
I added some of the pulp from the tomatoes and parsley to the mix.
I then added breadcrumbs. This was the only real measurement on any of the dishes that I made. However, I was making more than the initial recipe called for so I just eyeballed it. Eyeballing would be the theme of the night when it came down to measurements.
After adding the egg as a binding element, it was time to stuff the tomatoes!
They later would be cooked in the oven while the meat was finishing up, just before we sat down to eat.
Probably around 6:30 PM – I sat down for 5 minutes to revamp my game plan for the rest of the meal. This was accompanied with wine. There was also a basting session in this break.
6:35-ish – Time to start working on prepping the rest.
Here I am cutting mushrooms for the sauce. The mushroom sauce recipe caused the most disagreement from the peanut gallery, second only to the basting of the roast. The most disagreement was the order in which the flour and butter were to be added because of the recipe’s vague directions on this. I have made a roux once, and only once, and it was scary. The advice I got was “Whatever you do, DO NOT BURN THE ROUX!”
I decided to make up my own rules when it came to adding the flour and the butter. I melted the butter, added some flour and kept heating it up until it made a paste. I then added the paste into the pan that had been boiling the mushrooms (per the instructions of the recipe). It tasted fine. By no means was there anything wrong with it, but there was not exactly anything right about it. This is when I decided to add some of the water-beef drippings into the sauce. I felt like I had just invented the wheel.
The sauce turned out to be the perfect touch to make sure that the meal for six was edible. Thank you mushroom sauce.
7:15(?) – My dad called. He was running late to get home to eat. A sigh of relief from my mother that the meat could cook longer. Some additional wine was enjoyed at this point.
7:30 – finishing touches and peas. I added the frozen, shelled, sweet peas (instead of the English peas) into a pot with butter. I forgot to “roll the butter in flour”. The peanut gallery informed me of this mistake.
7:45 (not midnight) my father arrived home and my cooking adventure was complete.
Once we finally sat down to eat we enjoyed the Claret wine and the “starters” of radishes and olives.
I am so glad that I do not live in the 19th century. Not only was the food that I cooked was lacking in spices, it was exhausting for me to make with my modern kitchen.
Additionally, as someone who is planning on going to law school and being an attorney someday, this would not be a friendly environment for me! All of the attendees at the dinner were male and of high-ranking political and legal prominence. I would not have been able to attend the dinner or be a practicing attorney at this time. I felt that there was a parallel at the end of the meal and how exhausted I was just from cooking for a few hours.
If I did live in the 19th century, it is likely that it would have been my responsibility to prepare meals similar to this frequently. My inability to join the “boy’s club” kept me separated from fulfilling my current career aspirations.
Also, I cannot even imagine how hard and time consuming it would be to access all of the materials that I needed to make the meal. My 21st century experience consisted of one grocery store that I drove to and was able to pay for everything on a credit card. While I did make a shopping list, my planning was relatively limited outside of my list. I played it all by ear and made do with the convenience of frozen products that are available to me.
I would do a similar cooking exercise like this again but would do it not on a work/weekday and would like to spend more time searching for more authentic ingredients.