Friday, December 4, 2009

Melon en Nougat via Tiffanys

If you want to know why they called it “The Gilded Age”, take a gander at this 41-piece place setting from Tiffany’s from the 1870’s.
Forty-one pieces, each having a specific purpose from orange and sherbet spoons to turtle and bon-bon forks (the golden vermeil pieces were for acid foods that might discolor silver). Sterling protection against the abhorrent possibility that human fingers might touch food at table (bread was the only exception) and offend the sensibilities of the fine guests!
Tiffany Vine Pattern, Roslyn Berlin Fine Silver

In The New England Antiques Journal, Duncan A McKee wrote: “The number of articles that appeared on a properly set Victorian dinner table seems truly intimidating today. For the dinner hostess of the period, each piece of silver, china and stemware had its chosen place. In many cases, it was not unusual for as many as 24 pieces of silver to be at each place setting. As many as eight forks might be laid out, ranging from a fish fork and dinner fork to an ice cream fork. Knives could add up to eight more pieces for butter, cheese, game, roast, and fruit, all accompanied by individual knife rests. 
All the stemware that would be needed through the meal was placed on the table beforehand, arranged in two rows: a water glass, a glass for chambertin, a glass for latour, champagne, a green glass for sauterne, a sherry glass, and a red glass for Rhine wine. An unbuttered slice of bread rested on a napkin to the left of the plate with an individual salt close by. In the center of the table stood a sophisticated centerpiece.”

When reading up on Tiffany silver I found a surprising intersection of my interests in the giant character of J.W. Mackay. When I researched an article on food at the NY Players Club a few years ago (I’ve shared some of this with you on a few other posts and it was the genesis of this blog), the name came up in a great anecdote from club history.

J.W. Mackay

John William Mackay made his fortune with the Comstock Lode silver strike in 1873 near Virginia City, Nevada (partnered with William Randolph Hearst’s father, George) and became wealthier still after the mine dried up with his Commercial Cable Company. His Players’ Club friends (he had lived in NYC as a young man) decided against an opulent spread when they honored him at a dinner in 1893. Instead, they instructed the kitchen to produce a miner’s menu of a hearty soup, raw oysters and corned beef and cabbage -- much to the delight of Mr. Mackay. This simple meal brought back memories of his adventurous youth in the wild west of Virginia City as only food can do. Mark Twain arrived around midnight to join his old friend from his Roughing It days days and they swapped tall-tales till dawn while enjoying the humble but hugely evocative repast.

The truth is, Mr. Mackay did have opulent tastes and stands like a colossus in the world of silver for more than one reason.

Mr. Mackay, was called the “Silver King” or the “Bonanza King”. According to legend, when his wife, Marie Louise Hungerford Mackay, visited the mine, she decided to have a half a ton of silver shipped to Tiffany's with instructions to make an elaborate dinner service. “There, reportedly, two hundred craftsmen worked exclusively on the service for two years; a total of over one million man hours. When complete, Mr. Mackay purchased the dies so that the service could never be duplicated. The service was delivered to the Mackays in Paris” (where they had moved when NY society snubbed the shanty Irish parvenus), “accompanied by a silver clasped leather bound album of photographs and fitted in nine walnut and mahogany chests, each mounted with a silver plaque detailing its contents.”

Tiffany's silver exhibit at the 1878 Exposition Universelle (that saw Bell's telephone, Edison's phonograph, electric arc lights as well as beginnings of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower) in Paris included the spectacular Mackay dinner-and-dessert service for 24, one of the most elaborate silver table services ever produced, consisting of 1,223 pieces of which 305 were holloware items. Edward C. Moore of Tiffanys designed the pattern of flower-encrusted Persian and Indian motifs, with thistles, shamrocks, and American flowers. Nearly 100 years later, in 1990, the famous punch bowl from the set sold at Christies for $225,000. It had elephant trunks and tusks making up the feet and a Chinese dragon etched on the interior.

Many pieces are housed at the Keck Museum at the University of Nevada (Mackay endowed the Mackey School of Mines there). Much of the story of the Mackay silver and the photographs came from their website.

Mackay Melon Knives by Tiffany

Melon en Nougat, Inspired by Queen Victoria’s Chef Francatelli

4 egg whites

pinch cream of tartar

½ c + 4T sugar

3 T port (it is really best to use a little of the good vintage port, the flavor is much richer)

2 c heavy cream, whipped( I use Milk Thistle Farm cream, the best ever!)

small Charentais melon or cantaloupe

2 pinches of black pepper & allspice

Mint for garnish

2 T ground almonds + 2 T toasted almonds for garnish

Take 4 T sugar and heat to caramel, remove from heat and slowly add warmed port and pepper. If caramel seizes, gently reheat to liquify(this is great stuff, you may want to double the recipe!). Toss 1/2 of the melon cubed in the syrup and allow to mellow.

Take 1/2c sugar and 2 T water and cook 4 minutes or till 238º.

Beat the egg whites with 1 tsp sugar. Mix in hot syrup. Fold in drained melon, add cream and powdered almonds and refrigerate.

Cook rest of melon, sliced thinly and decoratively, with a pinch of pepper and allspice for a few moments over a low heat.

Combine port syrup and cooked fruit. Spoon the nougat on a plate and surround with fruit and syrup, garnish with mint and toasted almonds if you like. You can also freeze this lightly for an unusual ice cream!

Serves 6

The nougat is an old-fashioned treat, encasing velvety melon in this incarnation. Imagine using those melon knives to slice the melon with stately, silver grace, But remember, as Eliza Leslie advised in 1864, avoid “all discussions of sicknesses, sores, surgical operations, dreadful accidents, shocking cruelties or horrible controversies” while dining… then as now, excellent advice.

Mackay’s 36” high candelabra, one of a pair with 29 candles by Tiffany

Mackay’s Silver Tureen by Tiffany

Honestly, wouldn’t any meal be extraordinary with this fabulous silver service? As long as you didn’t have to polish it!


The Cooking Photographer said...

Wow. Just wow. I adore every bit of this post. This is wonderful. I want to go through your whole blog now.


Mari @ Once Upon a Plate said...

Such a lovely blog! Thank you for leaving a comment on mine ~ it made it easy to find yours. :)

I look forward to visiting often. Cheers! ~Mari

Deana Sidney said...

Thanks Laura, I am new at this and have found the blogging community to be the most talented, generous group on the planet. I hope you enjoy my posts and listen to the music on the Thanksgiving-NYT link!
You do great work... and that dog!!!

Mari--still dreaming of hollandaise sauce and those pictures... I've been flagging your recipes for a long time... so good!

Sarah said...

Your blogs are like reading a good book - so much research done. I can't believe you are new at this! Congratulations. I was addicted to Ebay for awhile finding more pieces to my flatware. Your recipe reminds me of a dinner I did with my dinner club several years ago - Last Dinner on the Titanic. Such detailed 'Victorian' dishes.

Pam said...

What a beautiful blog. I love the info about the silver. You've done a lot of research. This is obviously something you love. I am happy to share your knowledge! Lucky us the readers!
I buy bits and pieces of silverware whenever I am in Paris. I love the patina and care used when the pieces were made.
The melon looks delicious. I just so happen to have a bottle of vintage port.......I will have to try this.
I will be following your blog.
Thanks, Pam

Deana Sidney said...

Thanks Sarah... i wish i could belong to your dinner club... that Titanic dinner would have been sooo much fun. I am a bottomless
pit of information about historical minutiae... good to finally have a place to lay it out and wonderful to have others enjoy it. Don't get me started on Ebay!

Pam, I love old silver and don't ever like it too polished up... it's the nooks and crannies that make it special. You will enjoy the Nougat, and if you want to snazz it up, you can pipe it or freeze it in an antique mold. My next post will be about ports and sherrys... love them!

I look forward to reading your blogs.


Faith said...

Wow, what a fantastic post! It was so much fun reading about such an opulent period! The Melon en Nougat looks absolutely divine!

Deana Sidney said...

Thanks Faith, you have a great blog... love pomegranate!!!! This is great finding new sites! Enjoy the Melon... it's really sinful!

food with style said...

what a beautiful blog!

you stopped by my blog once in a blue and asked about my santa stencil cookies, they are edible wafer papers that you can buy, on sale even, at fancy flours, check them out, the cookies come out gorgeous!

your take wonderful food photos, i have another blog called food with style, if you would like to share your pics there send me an email, love to share you there!

Deana Sidney said...

Food with style... thanks for the compliment!! I am just learning so you have no idea how excited I am that you'd like me to share my photos... email is on the way!

food with style said...

oh yippee its BIGGER! more to bite into!

Deana Sidney said...

Yeah, bigger and better... but no more calories..

Ravenous Couple said...

what a great blog you have--such a well thought out weaving of food and culture!

Deana Sidney said...

Thanks so much for stopping by, ravenous couple!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Oooh I absolutely loved this story! I am a bit of a sucker for a story about extravagance (perhaps I was Marie Antoinette in a former life) and learning about the Silver King was fascinating! :D

Unknown said...

I Love melon because it is a fruit that nourishes and hydrates the skin. So if you want to see the best benefits is better to consume frequently.
the melon is a great alternative when you are doing diet, because melon can help you to get the weight that you want.

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