It seems that the Gilded Age is in the air these days. I don’t just mean the rise of the 21st century Robber Barons or the return of massive income inequality –– no, I mean interest in the 19th century Gilded Age. The concept for Downton Abbey rose from it (Cora was a Gilded Age bride), and now even the Networks (not PBS or cable) are flirting with it. With today’s CEOs beginning to pull down nearly a half BILLION a year (yes, Apple’s chief is making nearly $400 million a year), you could say too much is not enough – AGAIN.
When Chrystia Freeland wrote Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, she mentioned the Bradley-Martin Ball (February 10, 1897) as the match that lit a small tinder-box of discontent at the outrageous disparity between the haves and have nots (Dennis Kozlowski’s $2 million toga party in 2000 doesn’t come close –– most of the attendees were pikers and their clothes no better than rags by comparison to those on the Bradley-Martin guest list). Although the ball cost upwards of $300,000, today’s cost would be much more than the $10 million today-dollars I think –– values of a great variety of things things aren't properly reflected in a "1897 dollars today equals..." calculation. Also, the cost of the 800 guest's wardrobe was probably double that when all was said and done.
Much has been written about the Bradley-Martin Costume Ball. There is even an independent film that has been made on it (can you imagine a low-budget film based on a budget-busting party, well watch Party Likethe Rich and Famous (2012) and see for yourself.
1893 Waldorf Hotel
It was held in the old Waldorf Hotel (located where The Empire State Building now stands).
Mr. Bradley Martin
The Bradley-Martins were responsible for the event’s glorious excess. They were rich as could be even during the depression of the 1890’s (a depression that hit the poorest the worst). He was from Albany and came from a prosperous but not crazy wealthy family. She was the daughter of Isaac Sherman, a New York merchant (founder of Sherman and Romaine, a fancy woods and leather store). When they married, they lived comfortably until 1881 when Isaac died. They were shocked to discover his estate was 5 to 6 million instead of a few hundred thousand and their lives changes immeasurably (Mr. Martin was good with money and increased the inheritance by many millions). Hunting lodges in Scotland and an all-out assault on society beginning with a grand ball in 1885. Their daughter married an English Lord, the Earl of Craven. Martin money propped up the Craven family estates like Ashdown House (that I wrote about HERE) a la Downton Abbey.
Consistent with Cornelia Martin's ambitions, they thought it would be swell to pull out all the stops and out-do Mrs. Vanderbilt's famous 1883 costume ball and brighten the spirits of a depressed shopkeepers in New York at the same time. Mrs. Bradley-Martin thought that by announcing the party with short notice New York would supply the costumes since there would be no time to order from Paris.
The guests were told to dress in the style of the 16th to 18th century. This instruction inspired Egyptian princesses and Japanese noblemen, Pocahontas and George Washington as well as European historical figures –– Madame de Pompadour, the Sun King and the like. Florists, seamstresses and designers, jewelers –– all sorts of tradespeople would get a very welcome shot of cash because of their costume ball. What they also got was extraordinary press coverage.
Cartoon of Guests at Bradley Martin Ball, MCNY
Now that I’ve researched most of the big Gilded Age parties, I can say none of them got as much coverage as this baby –– even Consuelo Vanderbilt’s marriage to the Duke of Marlborough paled in comparison. Some of the press was good but lots of it was not–– many felt this much opulence during hard times was in the worst of taste. Some of the city’s clergy discouraged their flocks from attending the party.
Nudging controversy to the side, I think my favorite article about the notorious costume ball came from the New York Times the day before the party. Talk about conspicuous consumption:
Are you drooling yet? Wait, there’s more:
“There is no estimating the value of the rare old jewels to be worn at the Bradley Martin ball. All the jewelers who deal in antiques say they have been cleaned out of all they had on hand, and people still keep calling for old buckles, snuff boxes, lorgnettes, diamond or pearl studded girdles, rings, and, in fact, every conceivable decoration in gems.
“All this, of course, is outside of the costly jewels held as heirlooms by the old families of New York. These have been taken from safety vaults and furbished up for the occasion in such quantities that the spectator will be puzzled to know where they all came from.”
Although there were rumors that some paste might show up, Tiffany’s dispelled the rumor –– all the bling would be the real deal, some the REAL REAL deal because some of the gems at the party came from the 1887 auction of the French crown jewels (you can read about it HERE ), a sale that was heavily attended by American millionaires and Tiffanys (additional acquisitions of the royal jewels had been made in the decade that followed as well). This sale helped to up the ante on the quality of the jewelry at the ball –– and gives me an excuse for a show-&-tell about the spectacular jewelry collections called parure –– love them. According to Internet Stones, the word parure was first used in the 17th century but the concept really took off as a style from 1760 to 1830. The name was given to matching sets of jewels –– necklaces, earrings, bracelets, pins, crowns and tiaras and combs and buckles –– all put into gorgeous presentation cases. Napoleon was extremely fond of the sets and gave them to his favorite court ladies as well as to his Empresses. They all showed masterful craftsmanship but were not always made with precious stones (although in some cases, the gemstones were removed and lesser stones took their place as they passed from owner to owner –- most famously emeralds were exchanged for turquoise in a crown re-done by Van Cleef & Arpels who dealt in gems before becoming a store).
François-Regnault Nitot : Parure en or et mosaïquesoffert par Napoléon Ier à l'archiduchesse Marie-Louise comme présent de mariage le 28février 1810 from Notes de Musees
Parure d'opales de la reine Hortense from Notes de Musees
I think the Swedish royal malachite parure set is pretty spectacular… and the original presentation case a wonder on its own.
Queen Desideria’s Malachite Parure from Artemesia's Royal Jewels
Josephine’s set is lovely too.
Empress Josephine's similar malachite parure from Artemesia's Royal Jewels
Mrs. Bradley-Martin wore bracelets from a ruby and diamond parure of Marie Thérèse of France put together as a necklace. They have been repatriated and now rest with their jewel-encrusted pals at the Louvre (many of the pieces lost in the 1887 sale have found their way home).
Bracelets, once part of a parure owned by Marie Thérèse de France (1778-1851) from Paris Atelier
Mrs. Bradley-Martin wearing the bracelets
But, as the NYT’s mentioned, there were many other items that were sought after to add realism to the costumes, for men and women. Snuff boxes, rings and lorgnettes…
1720 Snuff Box
1840 French ring
Gold Lorgnette from Morning Glory Antiques
And then there were the hand-made laces, we forget that they were terribly valuable and reused in some families for centuries –– it could take a year of work to do intricate pieces: “It would be equally impossible to fix any value to the rare old specimens to be worn at the ball. Laces that have been locked away in family chests or in safe deposit vaults for long years have been dragged forth tenderly and reverently and drafted into the service of display…. One of the largest lace houses, having buyers abroad, began to gather in old specimens as soon as the coming ball was announced. Orders were sent by cable, their agent in France secured several rich pieces of very old Venetian lace, and they were sold before they left Paris. Price is no object.”
17th c V & A collection
1740 stomacher. V & A Collection
1740 Belgium, V & A Collection
1867 Bayeaux, V & A Collection
1860 Belgium V & A Collection
Harriet Crocker Alexander
“Many of the guests who will wear tempting fortunes in jewels and laces at the ball have engaged private rooms at the Waldorf where preparations can all be made. From there they can proceed to the ballroom, and return to them again without leaving the building and exposing themselves on the street…. One lady, who expects to wear a fortune in old and very delicate lace, had adopted this plan to secure it against being torn in the crowd.”
After ingesting all this finery you must have quite an appetite –– I know I do.
Waldorf Ballroom decorated for the party (NYT 1897)
The food was served in a supper room off the ballroom and was set off by windows that were thrown open at 1 a.m. so the guests could feast. “The decorations were a tracery of clematis vines around Dutch chimney pieces, banked with yellow forsythia which show up in fine effect against the dark oak surrounds while the tables were adorned with centre pieces of Beauty roses…. The tables seated about 6 persons each and about 100 waiters were on hand to meet their wants.”
Menu for the Bradley-Martin Ball:
The party food is pretty standard for the day with the requisite luxury items of truffles, foie gras, terrapin and canvasback duck. But it also featured Filet de Boeuf Jardiniere. This dish has appeared all over Gilded Age menus that I’ve seen –– it was a huge favorite for an upscale party. It appeared at NY society racing parties and Vanderbilt and Astor–– you can see why when you look at the picture, it’s a stunner. The arbiter of taste of the 19th century, Ward McAllister, said the dish was de rigueur for a good dinner as the Relévé (a large, roasted meat or fowl dish following an entreé) of choice (there were usually a number of roasts and birds in this course at a large dinner).
Filet de Boeuf Jardiniere The Royal Cookery Book, about 1890
For the presentation, pastry frames, artfully larded beef filet (19th century beef was much leaner than ours is today) and skillfully arranged hatelet skewers holding vegetable cups or stacks of vegetables and truffles would be deployed – whatever appealed. The beef roast was coated with a meat glaze (which might also be served with it) and often set on something like a built-up ring of rice to give it additional height and majesty (and to give the skewers a bit of height-help –– the vegetables would disguise the trick). The jardinière part of the dish was composed of a group of separately-cooked vegetables often served with a beautiful Béarnaise sauce that would compliment both the beef and the cauliflower that would always be in mix of vegetables as would carrots –– turnips, peas, asparagus, small onions, mushrooms, beans and cabbage were often used.
Ah Béarnaise sauce –– as part of my sauce series, Béarnaise is one of Escoffier’s mother sauces (that I wrote about HERE). History says the sauce was probably invented by Chef Collinet for his restaurant Le Pavillon Henri IV (that opened in 1836). Henri IV was from Béarn. It is essentially a hollandaise with shallots and tarragon that uses wine vinegar instead of lemon. It is fabulous with both beef and vegetables… if you add a bit of meat glaze to the sauce it becomes Sauce Foyot, very delicious with your beef. It’s also a breeze to make.
Although you can make the whole tenderloin, I decided that I would do little filets in the style and make cabbage cups of Béarnaise with the vegetables strewn about under the sauce. You can do an old style garnish if you wish –– gelée encased cauliflower. It's fun and delicious.
It doesn’t get better than this. Honestly, it can be ready in ½ an hour (if you don't get fancy with the gelée).
I used D’Artagnan’s pasture-raised filet mignon which is a magnificent piece of meat. It has a buttery, cut-with-a-spoon texture and rich deep flavor. Party like a plutocrat, you won’t be disappointed.
Filet Mignon a la Jardiniére, serves 4
4 D’Artagnan’s pasture-raised filet mignon (6-8 oz each)
salt and course ground pepper to taste
2 T butter (or a bit of lard or bacon fat for the flavor of the original larding)
4 t madeira
1 c cooked peas
1 c cooked green beans
2 cooked carrots, sliced into thin sticks
1 cup cooked cauliflower (plus another cup if you want to make the gelée)
4 small cooked onions
4 - 8 leaves of cooked cabbage cut to make small cups
*cauliflower in gelée garnish (optional)
Keep the vegetables warm.
Put the butter (or lard) in a hot pan (preferably cast iron). Salt and pepper the meat. Brown on top and bottom and on the sides if the meat is very thick. It will be rare when you are done with this. Cook a few minutes longer if you want it MRare. Tent and let rest for 5 minutes. Warm the demi-glace and madeira and pour over the meat.
Place the vegetables on the plate and put the cabbage leaf like a cup. Add some Béarnaise to the cup, place the cauliflower gelée and the meat.
8 T butter
2 egg yolks
1 shallot, minced
pinch of nutmeg
1 - 2 t chopped fresh tarragon
1/4 c white wine vinegar (tarragon vinegar if you have it) plus 1-2 T
salt and pepper
Put the shallots in a heavy pan if you have it with 1/4 c vinegar and a pinch of pepper and reduce till nearly dry. Let cool.
Add the egg yolks, stirring to blend and put on low heat. Add a few tablespoons of butter and stir to dissolve, removing from the heat from time to time and continue adding butter till all of it is used up. Never let it get too hot or it will separate. Just enough to melt the butter. Add the remaining vinegar to taste and salt and pepper and the chopped tarragon.
You can add a bit of the meat glaze from the beef when you have finished cooking it. Keep warm.
3 cups stock
3 envelopes gelatin
2 egg whites and shells, crushed
3 T tomato, chopped
dark green top of 1 leek, chopped
1 sprigs parsley
1/3 c chopped celery leaves
a few slices of carrot
salt and pepper to taste
Put 1 cup of stock in a pot. Add 3 envelopes of gelatin to the stock and let sit for 2 to 3 minutes.
Stir in the rest of the solids and egg whites and shells and add the stock. Bring to a heavy boil then immediately turn down to a low simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and pour through double thickness of WET cheesecloth… DO NOT PRESS ON SOLIDS!!!! Let it drip slowly and you will have perfectly clear, golden stock. You can make it before you need it and refrigerate, just warm it to return it to a liquid state. It freezes beautifully
Put thin slices of cooked cauliflower in a dish of choice and pour the warm gelée over it. refrigerate and serve as a garnish. It is very forgiving. If you don't like the way it looks in the gelée, just warm and start over.