Mark Twain had a bit of a dust up with the famous Players Club in New York City over his dues during a period of financial upheaval. It was an oversight on his part. He was insulted that Players dropped him for non-payment since he had been a founding member (a mistake on their part). After a few years standoff, Twain came back into the fold and was honored in 1906 with a menu that had the evening’s dishes annotated with quotations from his writings, beginning with: “Well if we are all ready, I judge the dinner is. Come, fall to.”
Here, the dishes are familiar and the quotes, priceless. The accompanying words to “Cape Cod Oysters” set the tone for the evening; ”A blowout ain’t anything as a blowout unless a body has company”. Then
“Sweetbreads with Fresh Mushrooms” teased: “The precious juices of the meat trickling out and joining the gravy archipelagoed with mushrooms”. By the time they got to “Salad and Cheese” Twain’s words chide the gathering that the charms of food were wearing thin: “Pretty soon I want to smoke”. From what we know, the spirit of the attribution would be appropriate. As Twain once proclaimed, “ If smoking is not allowed in heaven, I shall not go.”
Only an extravagant dessert could have stalled that gentleman’s impatience to retire to cigars, billiards and brandy… and he got it. “Nesselrode Pudding” is a magnificent chestnut ice cream confection suffused with the subtle seductive charms of the maraschino cherry. The vile, chemical-red abominations we know today are no relation to their illustrious, favored–by-nobility forebears. The only way to approximate the 19th century Croatian Marasca cherries would be to soak sour cherries in fine Maraschino liqueur (a favorite drink of Napoleon) for a good long time—it is the crushed cherry pits which give the eau de vie the depth of flavor that the cherries absorb-- something that almond extract can only clumsily re-create. Currants, raisins and candied fruit were also added to the ice cream itself. To enhance its presentation, the dessert was often shaped like a beehive and encased in whipped cream or meringue, decorated with marron glaces and served with a maraschino cherry custard sauce.
Player's Club Pool Room, 1905
It would have been a dramatic finale befitting a celebration for the return of the prodigal as well as a luxuriant palliative for the enthusiastic smoking and drinking that was as surely to follow as a stampede after a thunder bolt. Oh, yes, the club still has Twain’s billiard table in its Grill where men still retire to drink and play pool… but without cigars. Although it would horrify Twain, smoking is no longer allowed.
Peel 40 fine Italian chestnuts, blanch them in boiling water to remove the second skin, and put them in a stewpan with 1 quart of syrup registering 160° and a stick of vanilla; Simmer gently until the chestnuts are done, drain, and rub them through a hair sieve; Mix in a stewpan 8 yolks of egg and a half lb. of powdered sugar, add 1 quart of boiled cream, and stir over the fire, without boiling, until the egg begins to thicken, mix in the chestnut purée and 1 gill of Maraschino, and strain the whole through a tammy-cloth into a basin; Set a freezing pot in the ice; Wash and dry a quarter lb. of currants, and boil them up in some syrup registering 30°; Stone a quarter lb. of raisins, cut them in halves, and boil them in syrup in the same way; Pour the chestnut cream in the freezing-pot, work it with the spatula until it is partly frozen, add 3 gills of whipped double cream, continue working until the cream is frozen, and mix in the prepared fruit, previously drained; Put the ice in a dome-shaped ice-mould. Freeze and un-mold. At this point the mould can be covered in whipped cream or meringue (which helps to keep it from melting).
It was often made to look like a beehive. Gouffe’ used pistachios and almonds to make bees on the surface.
Put 4 yolks of egg in a stewpan with a quarter lb. of pounded sugar and 3 gills of boiled cream, stir over the fire, without boiling, until the egg begins to thicken, take the stewpan off the fire, and stir for three minutes more; Strain the sauce through a tammy-cloth into a stewpan, add a gill of Maraschino and put the stewpan in the ice, so that the sauce may be very cold, but not frozen, and serve it in a boat with the pudding.
You can see more Nesselrode pudding here as I made it for the 1st anniversary of the blog!!