Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lyndhurst Mansion and New York Times Fish Stew from 1904


A few weeks ago I visited Lyndhurst mansion, less than an hour from NYC overlooking the majestic Hudson River.   That sounds corny –– “majestic Hudson” –– but it’s really true.  It’s enormously wide, at once serene and powerful, and Lyndhurst stands above it like an jagged stone sentinel overlooking the Tappan Zee Bridge. It is a great day trip for those who live around NYC.  I went with my friend Spence and his A Friend in NY tour Company.

Lyndhurst is a Gothic Revival  masterpiece and a tour de force of the art of faux painting  (making things look like what they are not)  ––the height of fashion when it was remodeled in the 1860s. Virtually everything was fauxed in the house… made to look like leather, stone –– everything save the real white marble floor with blue Minton tile and the gorgeous marble fireplaces (although often the surrounds are faux). Yes, the walls and ceiling in the hall above are painted to look like marble… insanely perfect and in remarkable condition.  If there ever was a time I wished I could take a thousand pictures of great faux painting, this was it –– but they don’t allow photography in the house.  Drat.

The house was designed and built in 1838 by Alexander Jackson Davis  (1803 -1892) who also did the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford and the US Custom’s House in NYC in 1842.  It was originally commissioned by former NYC mayor, William Paulding, and known as Knoll when it was first built as a Gothic villa. The charming booklet I purchased at the house quoted famous architectural critic, Andrew Jackson Downing, who said in his classic book, The Architecture of Country Houses:

“The villa… should, above all things, manifest individuality.  It should say something of the character of the family within –– as much as possible of their life and history, their tastes and associations, should mould and fashion themselves upon its walls.”  The house was built for “men of imagination, men whose aspirations never leave them at rest –– men whose ambition and energy will give them no peace within the mere bounds of rationality.  These are the men for picturesque villas –– country houses with high roofs, steep gables, unsymmetrical and capricious forms.  It is for such that the architect may safely introduce the tower and the campanile, any and every feature that indicates originality, boldness, energy and variety of character.” 

Individual it certainly is.  For all of that, the house was considered very odd for its unusual profile, even called “Paulding’s Folly” by his neighbors used to quiet Georgians or staid Greek Revivals.

Jay Gould (1836-92)

The second owner, George Merritt (who made his fortune in springs) bought the house in 1864, doubled its size with the help of the original architect, renamed it Lyndehurst and sold it to Jay Gould­­––the much reviled robber baron, in 1880 for $255,000 –– still full of Paulding and Merritt possessions.  It was to be a country refuge from the New York City society that rejected Gould.  He was not welcome in Newport after his market rigging shenanigans (among other things, he tried to corner the gold market and was a brutal if not vicious competitor).  Renamed Lyndhurst, it stayed in the Gould family till it was given to the National Trust in 1961.

The ceilings in the house are remarkable

I really love the style.  There is something about it that screams American arriviste, true, but also has this amazing optimism and self-possession.  It feels so American somehow–– in laying claim to the Gothic ideal, you break out of the demure clapboard houses of the earlier part of the century –– dream big, live big.
The gallery (believe it or not, this window was shuttered at the beginning!) 

Let’s be clear.  I have never been a white box girl.  I love odd corners and 2 story parlor windows and stained glass.  When my grandparents gave up their big Victorian pile for a normal house I cried for days (I was 8… but I would do the same today).

I love dark, rich, super-saturated jewel box colors.   When I walked into the Lyndhurst dining room, I felt embraced by the dark-blood walls that looked like fine leather.  The textures, the arches and twirls of the plasterwork play at Gothic strings but also evoke natural patterns, reminiscent of the arched avenues of great old forests  –– always striving upward to the light of possibility that was so much the American spirit at that time.  I know most people feel exactly the opposite about the Gothic architectural form –– they think it is suffocating and oppressive. In fact, the very word Gothic only began being used in the Renaissance and was highly pejorative –– the style was thought to be barbaric and vaguely pagan (perhaps those gargoyles!) –– hence associating it with plunderers (a word that has often been associated with Robber Barons). I guess it depends on one’s point of view… I think it soars.  This new Gothic celebrated the new faith in commerce and its titans of business as much as the Catholic church had inspired the original Gothic style.  The earliest skyscrapers had Gothic details (think Woolworth Building)!

The East Bedroom

We seem to live in a hope-sucking world of ‘we can’t’ and ‘not any more’ these days –– this house comes from a world where everything seemed possible and architecture seemed to strive upward with it’s builders and clients (did you know that no more sky scrapers are being planned for the United States even as they go up like mad in the Mideast and Far East –– that says it all).

Helen Gould (1868-1938)

I do not justify the dealings of ruthless men like Gould.  I don’t think his daughter Helen did either.  She bought the house from the estate soon after her father’s death in 1892 and spent the rest of her life paying back with her incredible fortune.  She was involved in many charities, using her $10 million inheritance that she grew to $30 million even as she gave much away. She was very good at running her charities personally from a small office in the house (with a law degree from NYU) with a helper and a very organized set of file cabinets.  Beginning locally with support for women and children in poverty and then extending outward to her alma mater, NYU (endowing a library and an engineering school), The Red Cross, Salvation Army and YMCA as well as the war efforts (she gave money TO the government for the Spanish American War!).   She even gave a dinner for 1000 at the Bowery mission to celebrate her wedding to Finley Shepard.

She was especially involved with Naval charities, and on her wedding night, ships in the Hudson saluted the newlyweds as they came out on their nuptial balcony.   This house is very much about its prospect –– a commanding view of the Hudson River.

So how did they eat? 

When I visit a place, I often wonder what they ate there ––Lyndhurst is no exception.

Anna Gould (1875-1961)

I began by reading about the nuptials of Jay Gould’s daughter Anna to Marquis Boni de Castellane in 1895… there were menus for the wedding breakfast and bachelor dinner in old NYT articles.   Something about the house didn’t scream fancy French food though… like les ouefs brouillies aux truffes (scrambled eggs with truffles), coquille de ris-de-veau, volaille et truffes (shells of sweetbreads, chicken and truffles) and glacé d’Abricots en Orchids (apricot ice cream in orchids or in the shape of them –– appropriate since they grew orchids in their fabulous greenhouse).  The marriage was a disaster and ended in 1906 after he ran through prodigious amounts of her money with lavish parties and building the extravagant Palais Rose on the Avenue Foch (later occupied by famous aesthete, Robert de Montesquiou).  She remarried a prince and when he died she moved back to the US just before WWII and was the last occupant of the house.  She gave it to the National Trust in 1961.

I read that Delmonicos had catered Helen’s wedding breakfast in 1913, but found no mention of what was eaten.  Her marriage was by all accounts successful and happy and blessed with the adoption of 4 children since she was in her mid-40s when she married. Her husband was a man she had known for sometime but fell in love with when they were in a train wreck together!!

As for Jay, well there was not much mentioned about his entertaining at all –– perhaps his vile reputation led to less public, and therefore unreported, parties and dinners.

Stuck at a dead end for a dish that was tied to the house, I suddenly remembered a wonderful 1904 article I had found in the NYT archive a few years back with real New York recipes for fish soups and chowders.  For some reason, that just felt right to me.  Reading what I have about Helen (and her astonishing best friend Mrs. Russell Sage), I felt she was, for all of her wealth, a solid citizen.  I could imagine Helen in that wonderfully eccentric yet surprisingly comfortable dining room, eating a stew like this–– cooked in that kitchen …after a long day righting what wrongs she could and making things better.  This soup would fortify and give pleasure as well.

Gould era kitchen (sadly, this has been made into a gift shop!)

Pantry (it’s now full of period china and glassware –– love the ribbed marble sink and cork floor to help with breakage)

When I first saw the recipe, I was filled with trepidation, yet intrigued.  Who would put red wine in a New York fish stew???  This was not a combination I was used to. True, I’d had red wine with lentils and salmon but….  The recipe also called for ketchup, ketchup???   Whenever I thought of cod and potatoes I thought creamy white chowders (I know, you’re going to say what about Manhattan clam chowder, but that is a fairly recent invention ––1930s).   And ketchup has been used in America for a very, very long time, at least from the beginning of the 19th century –– Heinz had been bottling it since the 1870s. 

Well, I decided to try it.  It was great.  Although I thought this combination was a bizarre anomaly, I discovered, thanks to the research of Jasper White and his book 50 Chowders, that something like it was published nearly 150 years before in the Boston Evening Post  on September 23rd, 1751 (sans ketchup).

“First lay some Onions to keep the Pork from burning

Because in Chouder there can be not turning;

Then lay some Pork in slices very thing,

Thus you in Chouder always must begin.

Next lay some Fish cut crossways very nice 

Then season well with Pepper, Salt, and Spice;

Parsley, Sweet-Marjoram, Savory, and Thyme,

Then Biscuit next which must be soak'd some Time.

Thus your Foundation laid, you will be able

To raise a Chouder, high as Tower of Babel;

For by repeating o'er the Same again,

You may make a Chouder for a thousand men.

Last a Bottle of Claret, with Water eno; to smother 'em, 

You'll have a Mess which some call Omnium gather 'em.”

Here is the original NYT recipe from 1904.

Both soups use the layering technique and red wine.  I found that fascinating.  Now I wonder where the custom to never have fish with red wine came into being???

I ended up changing the NYT’s recipe very little.  The result was rich and dark and satisfying and so easy to make.  I made lovely crackers to have with the soup, basing them on a Thomas Keller recipe from Bouchon Bakery… they are ridiculously easy.  It was a nod to the biscuits that thickened the 18th century version of the soup… biscuits then being more like our crackers today. Back then, they needed to be soaked to make them easier to eat since they were often hard as a rock!  My crackers are buttery good and perfect for the stew.  I did add the shrimp to the stew and liked the contrast in texture since they were lightly cooked (and no matter how good it was, I just couldn’t take a picture of a bowl of brown… I needed to brighten it up a little).

Fish Stew based on a 1904 New York Time’s Recipe

6 slices bacon
1 onion, diced
2 T butter
3 c mashed potatoes (made with milk and butter)
4 pounds white-fleshed fish, chopped into big chunks -sea bass, halibut or fluke (I used cod)
¼ t nutmeg
¼ t mace
1/8 t ground cloves or 5 or 6 cloves
1 or 2 T mixed fresh herbs (parsley, marjoram, thyme, savory etc)
salt and pepper to taste
1or 2 small hot peppers or ½ to 1 t pepper flakes
1 ½ c claret (I used cabernet sauvignon)
¼ to ½ c ketchup

a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce
18 Shrimp, lightly cooked

Sauté the bacon until crisp and then remove.  Add the butter and the onion and sauté till softened and slightly browned.  Remove ½ the onion mixture and add ½ the bacon.  Add ½ the cod, then ½ the mashed potatoes then the rest of the bacon and onions, the rest of the cod and the rest of the potatoes.  Pour the wine and an equal amount of water.  Gently mix in the ketchup and Worcestershire.  Cover and cook over low heat for about ½ an hour.  Place the shrimp on top and serve with crackers.

Butter Crackers from a Thomas Keller Recipe

¼ c warm water
¾ t active dry yeast
¾ c plus 1 T all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 t cornstarch
1 t kosher salt
2 T plus 2 t butter, softened

Warm oven to 350º, line 2 baking sheets with parchment or silpat.

Sift the flour and cornstarch.Combine the ingredients… breaking up the butter in the flour into small chunks and knead for 10 will seem too wet but be patient. Let rest for 10 minutes.  Divide into 2 pieces and role the 1st 1/8 thick.  I also used a technique of folding the dough like an old fashiones envelope twice to give it layers, but that is up to you… I liked the effect.

Cut out circles or squares or whatever you fancy (like fish) and place on parchment.  Pierce with sharp fork to keep them from puffing or don’t and let them puff.  Do the same for the second part of the dough.

Bake for about 10 minutes, turning halfway.   Remove and let cool on the sheets.  Store in an airtight container after they cool

Thanks to Gollum for Hosting Foodie Friday


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Deana:
Oh yes, Deana, Lyndhurst would be exactly our kind of place too. What a fabulous panorama it enjoys of the Hudson River and what spirit it exudes from its numerous pinnacles.

This is, as you say, ambitious architecture. No ceiling that cannot be raised yet higher, no amount of ornamentation that cannot be decorated further and, if all fails, just fake it!! We love it all and have so enjoyed your wonderful guided tour.

As for the Fish Stew, this also has an appeal although sadly, the fish in Budapest is generally a disappointment and so we tend to avoid it here. We can well imagine the beneficent Helen Gould sitting at one end of that dining table, stretching to eternity, sipping her stew and thinking fondly of the many 'good works' that her wealth could support!!

Ken Albala said...

OH man! I LOVE this place. I haven't been in about 20 years. Like you I'm amazed that people just used to throw up houses like this ona whim. Further north Oleana is also magical. It all makes me want to read Ruskin again. Have you? Ken

Diane said...

Love this interesting post and that recipe is right up our street. We would, and will enjoy this. I agree the prawns give it a nice touch. Bookmarked for when Nigel is here.

Sorry to hear about your flooded cellar hope it is not causing too many problems, but what a pain. Take care Diane

La Table De Nana said...

Your stew is beautiful..and the fish cracker? Gotta try:)

Love the Gothic windows..I made the photos larger to see if there were Lion's heads on any of the dark furnishings..we have my grandfathers..judge's chambers suite now..and for many years ..used as a dining room set..perhaps Jacobean.. well over 125 yrs.. But didn't see any..My husband says it's 150 yrs old..anyways I made the images larger..

The Gould kitchen..I have seen similar here in my past 27 yrs as a realtor in an old town:)
I would love to visit! It looks gorgeous,and the location stunning..

PS Have you been to the new Ladurée?

Trevor Sis Boom said...

What a wonderful narrative and story about a great place! I too wonder what they ate when I visit landmarks! Trix sent me here and I'm so glad she did!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

That house is just amazing and it has had such a history! And I loved your story about crying when your grandparents sold their house. You were clearly besotted by history and historical beauty from a young age-so cute! And I'm glad you gave this a go because I would be the same-red wine and ketchup? But it looks delicious!

Unknown said...

Wow, what a place! I will try to visit next time I am in NY. Such a beautiful estate with a rich history. You bring the fish stew ;). What a wonderful recipe, but the TK butter crackers are the icing on the cake, how fabulous!!!
*kisses* HH

From the Kitchen said...

I so agree with you about homes that are outside the "white box". I have such lovely memories of the big square brick home that I grew up in. The wide staircase with two landings that my sisters and I "performed" on for family and guests (they were always receptive of our amateur offerings) was more fun than a jungle jim. We presently live in a 1921 bungalow that has high ceilings, lovely built-ins and many nooks and corners to enjoy.

I also agree with your description of the Hudson River. My maiden name was Hudson!!


Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

Wine in NY fish stew? Who woulda thunk? BTW, I MUST get to Lyndhurst soon. So many things to do in little time.

Lori Lynn said...

Hi Deana- love how you plated the stew. Very creative, and pretty.
And I love that dining table at Lyndhurst!!

Lazaro Cooks said...

Agree with you on the stained glass, love it.

When I saw the stew on KA, I thought the plating was perfect. Now reading the ingredients I can see it has the flavor profile to match.


SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I think Jay Gould lives on in Wall Street in some form! What a beautiful estate and home. I feel I've visited some of the most gorgeous estates and mansions through you :)

I love your rendition of the fish stew and your idea of adding the the fish crackers! I think I'm imagining a shark :) The shrimp look huge!

tasteofbeirut said...

I was fascinated by this post; Jay Gould looks like such a benevolent man in the photo; his shenanigans sound commonplace if one compares what has been done lately.. his daughter sounds like a remarkable woman. This house may be ostentatious or nouveau riche but I did not detect bad taste; as for the lack of grandiose houses and skyscrapers, dear Deana, next time, head to Dubai and check out the lavish and (questionable taste) of some mansions and tall tall buildings there..!

Barbara said...

The ceiling is amazing. I find myself looking up most of the time in so many of our historic homes. There was a wonderful series on TV about these wonderful gems; I recently watched it on Netflix as I had missed so many when it came out originally.
As far as red wine and fish...I made a recipe recently with salmon, red wine and oranges that was an old Robert Mays recipe. It was marvelous.
Your stew looks delish and I'd love those butter crackers!
I really enjoy your love of history, historic homes and food, Deana!

Stay safe this weekend. There's a good article by Peggy Noonan in the WSJ...

Lora said...

what a fascinating post, especially enjoyed reading about Helen and Anna. I t's on the list now for a day trip.

Magic of Spice said...

What a fascinating place and history. I just want that kitchen and! So sad they turned that portion into a gift shop.
The stew is such an interesting recipe, although I never really follow the no red with fish myself. I especially love the spices used. Very nice :)

Laura@Silkroadgourmet said...

Hi Deana:

This post really brought me back to my childhood and the school or family trips to historic places in the area - Lyndhurst, Phillipsburg Manor, Kykuit, Sunnyside etc. Very nice!

I've gone back to several since and particularly love Sunnyside - we took a tour one freezing day with a docent in period-era garb who looked and acted like an elderly "Riff-raff" from Rocky Horror - it was wonderful!

Love the chowder and remember if the addition of a condiment like catsup offends, you can always deconstruct it and have folks add tomato sauce, vinegar, brown sugar and amp the Pacific spices.

The crackers are wonderful too - especially the fish-shaped ones - beautifully whimsical!


Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Dearest Deana,

WHAT A PLACE!!! I had ONE magical trip to NYC while living in Boston 15 years ago, and we were unable to see everything. There are so many wonders to behold and these old remnants of a bygone era are really such beautiful crown jewels. Going to Newport to see the Breakers was a look into a world I never thought I would see, but thanks to YOU, we can experience the nostalgia of a time when it just SEEMS things were more "romantic"...and thank you for coming to comment on my post. I cannot imagine your neighbor's horrible experience on 9/11. I just can't. It was bad enough being here in Minneapolis, watching the news and seeing the unthinkable. BLESS YOU and your loved ones Deana; you always show compassion in all you do and say, and that is what I wish everyone would do in this world...peace and love to you, Anita

Anonymous said...

We've been to Lyndhurst Mansion on our first trip with Jr. though she was only one and doesn't remember :) What a gorgeous and fascinating place! The fish stew sounds excellent, I'd love to make it for my family.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Isn't Lyndhurst fantastic? I have visited all the "stately homes" on the Hudson, and it's time to go back again. The Rockefeller mansion with the unpronounceable name is a real must-see as well.

Marjie said...

I took a cruise out of Newburgh down the Hudson River last summer. It was magnificent. Most people don't realize just how wide and imposing the river is at its southern end.

I love old houses. Whenever I go through one, I think of how I could furnish and live in it. I could absolutely see myself in this house - it isn't that big - but there are a lot of rooms that are of no use today. Some day I'll tell you about the Publisher's Mansion which I so much wanted....

Your soup sounds great, and the crackers sound wonderful, too! I might just have to try them soon!

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

Really enjoyed this post on your blog. This spring we toured some of the interesting homes along the Hudson River. This one will be on the next visit to this area. Your blog is so interesting.

Anonymous said...

Must make this sometime when my fish and stew hating son is out of the house! I occasionally toss a dollop of ketchup into odd places to brighten flavors. Works!

Jacqueline said...

I like the house too, very regal - Europe isnt the only place that can do regal. I adore the dining room. Your bowl of brown is complimented very well by the lovely pink shrimp and little fishies. Lovely.

How interesting to read about the people that lived there too.

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ArchitectDesign™ said...

How have I not seen this post till now, I never discovered you until all too recently apparently. I visited Lyndhurst myself a few years ago and loved it for all of the same reasons as you. I love how you sum it up so succinctly; the attitude of 'we can't do that anymore'. Why the h*ll not?! I say DO!