Dining at the New Falmouth Hotel

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On New Years Eve in 1909, at the New Falmouth Hotel, attendees dined on some of the finest foods they were interested in consuming instead of eating foods that had to be cultivated in the region around the hotel. In the early 1900s, the farm to table and locality aspect of food culture started to diminish. The wide variety of food items on the menu harvested in a variety of climates most likely portrays that only the wealthy were capable of attending this dinner.

The first item on the menu is Russian Caviar. An item that appears to be rare, fancy, and affordable only to the upper class. If this dinner was in the mid 1800s it wouldn’t be as obvious to see that only the wealthy were attending. Caviar is a bi-product of sturgeon,which was fished in the Delaware region and sold at a high price, but the fish eggs were not[1]. They were as common as peanuts are in a bar today. As the industrial revolution began, sturgeon started to become overfished and underpopulated. In the early 1900s caviar transformed from a common saloon snack into a delicacy, like it is today. Due to the Industrial revolution, the value of caviar increased and the supply of who could afford it decreased. The menu has the caviar labeled as, “Russian Caviar”, which makes it appear fancier and less common. The hotel might think they’re buying and selling Russian caviar but that was most likely not the case. In 1900, it was very common for caviar to be harvested in North America, exported to Europe, and then resold as European caviar; creating a facade that it is of higher quality and should be sold for a higher price. Approximately 90% of Russian caviar actually originated in North America before reaching its final destination at this time. Although the hotel might be accidentally labeling their caviar, the attendees paid a high dollar to attend the dinner and probably believed the caviar was what it was said to be[2].

The other seafood items on this new years eve menu also assert the fact that this was mainly a meal for the upper class residents of Maine. The menu offers Cherrystone oysters, oyster cocktails, and a filet of pompano.   At this time, pompano and oysters are rather esoteric. Pompano especially more than cherrystone oysters because pompano is a fish usually caught off of the coast of Florida[3] which is approximately 1500 miles away from Maine. Cherrystone oysters are typically caught in Virginia and their are several other types of oysters harvested off the coast of Maine. Before 1862, it was impossible to transport seafood 1500 miles away because it would take to long to deliver and would spoil upon arrival without the use of railroad transportation and refrigeration. Therefore, Pompano would be non-existent in Maine before the refrigeration and railroad boom in the mid nineteenth century. In 1909, transporting fish 1500 miles was still quite the task and explains why only the wealthy can indulge on its fine tastes in Maine. The fish transportation business was not at its best in 1909 because transportation methods were still improving and the use of refrigeration really just started to expand on a new level where it was becoming more common. According to economics, only the wealthiest are eating these seafood items due to the fact that there is such a low supply at this time in Maine.

The Julienne potatoes are an item on the menu that isn’t surprising to see and is quite fundamental for the palate. Julienne is just a fancy word for a way of slicing and cooking the potatoes. The style of the potato supports the idea that this new years dinner is a social gathering for the wealthy, but some form of potato was guaranteed to be on the menu. The potato in North America was first found in the 1700s and was referred to as an, “Irish potato”, due to its origins and the large famine that occurred in Ireland resulting in the mass production and consumption of potatoes. Potatoes were highly produced and distributed out of many states including Maine in the early 1900s resulting in why they’re on the menu.[4] This starchy food can withstand cold climates while growing and was seen to be a nutritious vegetable and pairs well with a variety of food types. It would be quite surprising to see a menu like this not have any potatoes. Lastly, potatoes last 3 to 4 weeks in a pantry and about 3 to 4 months in a fridge. Since this dinner takes place at a hotel, they most certainly invested in a fridge or an ice box and store a large quantity of potatoes and serve them at most meal offerings.

Ice harvesting started in the mid 1800s and hit its peak around the 1930s[5]. It would be unlikely for the hotel to be serving items such as iced grapefruit, malaga grapes, celery, cucumbers, cauliflower, or havana oranges. It is very interesting that all of these fruits and vegetables are served on the menu considering that it is winter time in 1909 in a state that has horrible winters. Also items such as radishes or green turtle would be incredibly hard to keep fresh for an extended period of time before the use of ice boxes[6].

Without the development of the railroads during the industrial revolution and the ingenious idea of methods of preservations along with ice cultivation, many of the food items would be mythical in Maine at this time. Both of these inventions are crucial in the expansion of the artistic side of the culinary industry. It is fascinating that such exponential growth over a one hundred year period allowed for so much to change in the food industry. It allowed for America to blend all types of cultures together creating new, exciting and delicious recipes. The new years dinner menu for the New Falmouth Hotel does a great job of showing how much can change in the culinary industry in such a short period of time. There are items of food on this menu that were never heard of in 1890 and never seen again after 1920. America’s culinary industry will always evolve due to external forces such as technology or ecology.

 

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[1] http://caviaremporium.com/history-of-caviar/

 

[2] http://caviaremporium.com/history-of-caviar/

[3] https://www.seafoodsource.com/seafood-handbook/finfish/pompano

 

[4] http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=48

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icebox

[6] https://www.freshdirect.com/shared/popup.jsp?catId=root&attrib=CAT_STORAGE_GUIDE_MEDIA&tmpl=large