Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Great Gatsby, Design and Nick Carraway's Lemon Tea Cakes

When I was young I was a voracious reader. If you saw me there was a book nearby. I developed a habit early on as a reader held me in good stead when I started designing sets –– casting and then creating the locations described in the book in my head and having my characters inhabit my cranial creations.  It made books very real for me.

Frame from Original 1926 Trailer for Gatsby, all that remains of the film

That’s exactly what I do now when I read a script. Styles and shapes and colors start to coalesce, then props and art and –– well, you get the picture. The casting director in my head has gotten a bit out of shape since I usually know who’s going to be in the movie by the time I get a script but when I saw The Great Gatsby was going to be made again my casting director self bristled because I have never never, never been satisfied with the casting or the production design for one of my favorite books–– nope, never.

DiCaprio and Mulligan 2013?

Redford and Farrow in 1974?

Ladd and Field in 1949? 

Baxter and Wilson in 1926? (this isn’t fair, the film is lost so hard to tell)

I still haven’t gone to see the new version but I know I will (even if I am not over-the-moon with the casting). Baz Lehrmann movies always have a great look when his wife, Catharine Martin does the costumes and the sets and she does fine work (Moulin Rouge, Oh Yes).

When I watched an interview with her, I enjoyed the way she waded through the script and designed intelligent visual storytelling through her costumes and in sets and decoration. That she had a few years to work on the project shows in all the astonishing details.

Even the cars are consistent with her interpretation of the novel and the script and for all of it she decided to play with styles throughout the 20's and not be locked in to 1922 (the famous Paris Deco Exhibition was 1925, '22 wasn't up to Deco speed yet). When Martin and Luhrmann didn’t like the way cars looked in 1922 (they felt the cars looked too Beverly Hillbillies-Keystone Cops boxy or Muntster’s ghoulish hearsey), they went to a 1929 Duesenberg since the look suited them better (Fitzgerald mentions a Rolls Royce carting people around as Duesenbergs weren't yet hot in the early 20's).

1922 Duesenberg

1929 Duesenberg used in the film

Wardrobe was also matched to the characters with Daisy clinging to the hem of the early part of the century with a more gauzy look and Jordan looking forward as a modern woman with pants and dresses that were backless or cut on the bias.

Jewelry was actually created with Tiffany’s so many of the star’s pieces are real –– that is a costume designer’s dream. The headache band was from the Tiffany design archives as were many of the pieces used in the film. Daisy’s bracelet-rings were a collaboration with Miller and the Tiffany jewelry designers, inspired by Indian pieces. All the pieces were then made in Tiffany’s workroom above the Fifth Avenue store.

Headache band from original 1917 Tiffany design

wrist ring


deco ring

When deciding what Gatsby’s house would look like they visited many old mansions on Long Island and looked at photos of historical houses (the only way to see them –– sadly, many have been demolished). Fitzgerald described Gatsby's house this way:

Two of the largest influences for Luhrmann and Miller were Oheka Castle (which is still around and used as a hotel) and Alva Belmont’s Beacon Towers (demolished in 1945).

The old photos come from the  Old Long Island site –– a treasure of historical documents and new photos of old estates as well as great history – it’s addictive.

Oheka Castle, Photos from Old Long Island blog

Otto Kahn’s Oheka Castle,Photos from Old Long Island blog
Beacon Tower,Photos from Old Long Island blog

Beacon Tower, Photos from Old Long Island blog

From these and others, Miller ended up shooting in a Gothic Revival building, the former St Patrick’s Seminary in Sydney and added the towers digitally 

St Patrick’s Seminary, Sydney

Miller/Luhrmann fantasy version of Gatsby –– part St. Patricks Seminary, part Beacon Towers, part Oheka Castle and a little Disney.

Gatsby twilight
Gatsby night

Miller took the interiors into the 20th century, and applied new-money Deco to the old world style. It’s a little bit tacky and too much, like Xanadu meets McMansion but that’s what she wanted to say about Gatsby.

The swirling ballroom is a visual stunner, especially with the pillow pit out of Arabian Nights – Gatsby drinking orange juice like Diamond Jim Brady!

Gatsby’s bedroom with another swirly staircase, master-of-the-universe bed and the library of shirts.

Gatsby’s enormous party seems like a peacock fanning it’s tail to attract his mate --- Gatsby overdid it to get Daisy’s attention.

When you move to food within the book, the pickings are spare. For the most part, the book and the films are about champagne and cocktails like the gin rickey (gin, lime and seltzer) –– there’s a good deal of drinking and Jazz Age hedonistic partying and a lot of orange juice.

Aside from a late night plate of fried chicken at the kitchen table and sausage and mashed potatoes at a NYC eatery, there are only 2 other scenes where food is mentioned. This makes sense in a historical context. With Prohibition, fine food fell down a well. How do you make fine French food without wine? Almost every sauce has wine. Restaurants without liquor tabs couldn’t make a go of it and many of the great names went out of business. What happened was food seemed to take a back seat to booze –– food was a necessary evil. You had to eat but didn’t much matter what. American versions of Italian and Chinese food became popular.

Still, Fitzgerald freighted his party table with meaning. Nick, his narrator describes it:

The food here is all about ostentation. The homey ham and turkey are gilded for Gatsby and the description is about display not taste (I imagine they are en croûte - pig and turkey shaped pastries would be a bit odd).

The scene that I loved is smaller and it is the tea at Nick Carraway’s charming arts and crafts bungalow in the new film.

Gatsby has sent a whole florist’s shop of flowers to decorate the place for the tea with Daisy.

So this:

becomes this:

I love that Nick sent his housekeeper to the delicatessen to get teacakes! Gatsby would have had gold-plated pastries brought from NYC for this meeting with Daisy for the first time in 5 years. The new film added quite a few more desserts than the little lemon cakes!

That’s what I wanted to make, Nick’s lemon cakes not for show but for simple good taste. I found a recipe from a wonderful book from the first decade of the 20th century by Janet McKenzie Hill. I have an incredible little book of hers called The Book of Entrees that is chock full of photographs of dishes from the 1920s. She also wrote a book called Cakes Pastries and Dessert Dishes. In it I found a recipe for Lemon Queens. Small lemon cakes like the ones that Nick might have had on the tea table.

I think they would stand up to a forest of orchids quite well. They are lemony, light as air and wonderful with old-fashioned boiled frosting.  The delicate perfume of candied violets make them perfect for a romantic tea or just on your own.

Lemon Queens

1/2 c butter, softened
1 c sugar
4 egg yolks, beaten
grated rind of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon (about 2 1/2 T)
1 1/4 c flour
1/4 t baking soda
1/8 t salt
4 egg whites, beaten to soft peaks

boiled frosting
candied violets and herbs (optional)

Cream the butter.  Beat in the sugar, yolks, rind and juice.  Sift the flour salt and soda.  Fold in the egg whites and put into 16 well buttered cupcake tins or something like -– mine had decorative flutes so my cakes were upside down.  If you use a regular cupcake pan, turn them the regular way.   Bake 350º for about 20 minutes.

Cover with boiled frosting and violets.

Boiled Frosting for Lemon Queens

3/4 c sugar
1/4 c boiling water
1 egg white, beaten to soft peaks
1/2 t vanilla extract

Boil the sugar and water together till it reaches 238º.  Pour slowly into the egg whites, beating all the while.  The frosting will be soft.

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ArchitectDesign™ said...

those look so delicous, even to my non-sweettooth self. I saw the movie and it was overwhelming visually in a good way. I think thats brought out in the novel. I too loved Moulin Rouge -this won't disappoint. However casting is atrocious -the acting is even worse. I went back and watched the 70s version shortly after which has much better acting (if a tad melodramatic) but inaccurate bad sets. I'm about to reread the book. I'm having a Gatsby moment.

La Table De Nana said...

Your lemon queens are woks of art:) I love them..
To bits.
I know they were not for show..but they are wowing me..

The Great Gatsby circa 1974 is very dear to me..Jacques was my fiancé at the time .. we saw the movie..and we married in 1974..he wore a cream suit :) and I thought he was totally Great Gatsby:)
I think I want to see the new version:)
I mean he was great in The Titanic..and she is so dear.Maybe the casting is off..
I can't tell unless I seet it..Knowing us we will wait until The Movie Network shows it:) Homebodies here..

Marjie said...

I've always been a bibliophile myself, too, and can read a good book time and again.

Gatsby's Lemon Queens sound wonderful. I might have to try them this weekend, after I get my grocery delivery tomorrow.

And stop by to meet the newest member of our family! You'll just love him!

La Table De Nana said...

PS I could live in that cottage no problem!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

What a great way to start my morning; too bad I already ate my breakfast, but one Sunday morning, these little cakes will have to appear on my morning menu!

I have not seen the new film, and for that matter, ANY film of the Great Gatsby. But certain things take time to grow on me, and I think that through time and different exposures to various people, this era for sure has left an impression deep enough in me to re-read the book again, then see the latest film. But your early established habit of reading has certainly become a valuable asset to your profession dear Deane, and makes your work even that more genuine! The bungalows, the details and other fineries are as delicious as these cakes. And I wish my father was still alive, however, he would be 108 if he was still with me! Reason being is that I would love to hear AGAIN from his lips, his experience as a young man in the 1920s when he was the chauffeur to the chewing gum mogal, WRIGLEY. He had great stories to tell even about his own (my dad's) personal life and his flapper girlfriends. Those were the days.

Thank you for visiting my post and don't you just love exploring story telling? You do it all the time. Enjoy the weekend my dear. Anita

Karena said...

Your little Queens are just beautiful. Works of art! I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. The visuals, fashions, jewels, the home all of it was exciting to me! Of course he Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books of all time.

2013 Designers Series
Art by Karena

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

I love it when you take on the movies - and particularly one is being recognized for such visual excess and splendor. Was particularly taken by the photos of Long Island Gold Coast mansions. Living in suburban LI today, I cannot imagine what the Beacon must have been like. The tea cakes are exquisite!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Film and food-your two fortes Deana!! I loved the way that the two came together in this post :D

Sarah said...

These are gorgeous teacakes. I love the violets with leaves. Just adorable.

Barbara said...

I'd love to see the 1949 version...have only seen the Redford version, which I liked. What fun to discover there was a 1926 version! Had no idea. I adored the book.

However, I'm going to wait til the 2013 version hits Netflix...have never been a DeCaprio fan.
Love the bungalow. Without the flowers!
Your Queens are lovely, Deana. Presented so perfectly with floral toppings.

foodieportal said...

I love your pictures and recipes, they are mouth watering. Would love for you to share them with us at Over at we are not photography expert snobs, we are just foodies, so pretty much all your pictures will get accepted.

lindaraxa said...

I think these little cakes are going to be a great compliment to the Benedictine cucumber sandwichesI

I am so glad you gave us a peek at the new film. Now I know I will definitely wait til it comes on cable.

I am not a great fan of all these modern day versions of old classics like the Marie Antoinette, Anna Karenina (boy, that WAS awful) and even Moulin Rouge. I understand the "artistic reinterpretation" but it doesn't do it for me. I know this one won't do it for me either even though I am a fan of DiCaprio. The new house...yikes!

Karina A. Fogliani-Ahmed said...

The look so cute and Victorian!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I did see that the reviews were not stellar but the sets, oh my! I will also wait to see it until it comes to cable.

What lovely tea cakes! So beautifully done, Deanna!