Delmonicos Menu from meeting with founders of Players to set up club
Chafing dish for a yacht that could move with the waves
As I researched the earliest days of The Players Club for the article, I was fascinated by a unique activity called “Time of the Chafing Dish” –– a culinary joust that would take place late Saturday night after theaters closed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The evenings began when stewards would set up individual chafing dishes; requested ingredients were then placed at member’s cooking stations. Masters-of-the-chafing-dish prepared their creations with the dramatic flourish one would expect from a theatrical crowd. Flames, high pours and rich aromas would elicit oohs and ahhs from the appreciative assembly. “Oh what foods these morsels be!” was an oft-repeated Shakespearey-ish pun. The results of their mostly cheerful rivalry were passed around the room and judged by all present. Stanford White, the infamous architect best known for his unusual sexual proclivities (the famous ‘red velvet swing’) and spectacular demise (he was shot on the roof of Madison Square Garden by an ex-mistresses’ deranged husband), was one of the more notable contributors to this event. His esteemed specialty was a Welsh Rabbit with oysters. Other popular chafing dishes there were Rum Tum Tiddy, Scotch Woodcock and Golden Buck –– all variations on a warm cheesy theme.
One of the earliest chafing dish books by Thomas Murray -- published by Gorham Silver Co 1890
I had thought that the chafing dish fad was an anomaly at the Players – you’d expect that actors would be experts at alcohol burner cooking out of necessity (small towns after performances would be food deserts), but it wasn’t just happening with actors at the Players –– it was all the rage in gentleman’s clubs and in single men’s (and women’s) lodgings for 20-odd years. In a small rented room, a chafing dish with a, “larder in a shoe box, nailed to the window ledge”, and a tiny selection of condiments could make you a warm inexpensive meal in a jiffy. When you think about it, who doesn’t like the idea of a bunch of mates sitting around your table enjoying cooking with you instead of waiting as you slave away alone in the kitchen! No wonder it was popular.
A book from 1890 called Cookery with a Chafing Dish proclaimed, “ Chafing dish cookery is the latest fad among the amateur and professional gourmets of Gotham. Chafing dish clubs have not only been formed the in the family circle but men of the leading clubs of New York have taken up the subject with the cheerful prospect that in a few years from now, to be an American will be synonymous with possessing a knowledge of the art of cookery although it has been the reverse in the past…Society today is advancing so rapidly towards the practical, that not to know a great deal about cookery and dainty dining is to announce one’s educational deficiencies and lack of social standing.”
by Deshler Welch, 1895
When I perused the NY Academy of Medicine library catalogue before my visit there last fall, I was pleased to find they had a treasure of books on the subject from the 1890’s through the early teens. I gleefully leafed through them in their reading room (snapping iPhone pics all the while).
One great discovery involved Lobster Newberg (that I wrote about HERE). The common legend is that Captain Wenberg, the dish’s inventor (and chafing dish master by all accounts), fell out of favor at Delmonicos and his famous dish was renamed Newberg out of pique. Two of the chafing dish books I read were by men who knew Delmonicos at the time of the creation of the dish said it was renamed because Wenberg didn’t want the notoriety and Delmonicos changed it out of consideration for his wishes. Much nicer, don’t you think?
Although I loved handling the real books, I had limited time at the library, so I augmented my hardcover selection by exploring an equally rich vein of virtual chafing dish cookbooks to be had by all at Google Books (they are free and you can copy and paste favorite recipes). I thoroughly read up on the phenomenon of men and their chafing dishes.
In The Cult of the Chafing Dish, the author coos "An American Chafing-Dish book in my possession contains the following quaint apothegm : " The Chafing Dish not only makes possible the sincerest expression of the most perfect hospitality, but it seems the true symbol of good fellowship." The sentiment herein expressed is unimpeachable, and I should like to be able to use such pretty talk myself. It is exactly what I wanted to explain, but being clumsy in the expression of intimate feeling, I cannot get beyond something to this effect : " The Chafing Dish is a handy thing to have about the house, and turns up usefully at the most unexpected moments. It is a ripping good idea ! " He continues, "Chafing-Dish cookery, I am delighted to be able to add, seems to engender the love of beautiful things. It is so easy to pick up and use, in parlour cookery, all sorts of quaint and delightful pieces of china of curious and old-fashioned design. They may not all be genuine ; in fact, most of them are pretty certain not to be. But if the shape is good, the colouring pleasing, and the form well adapted for holding sauce, sweetmeats, condiments, or anything else, then, so far as Chaffinda is concerned, their genuineness and intrinsic value is a secondary matter.
So, it’s great subject, right? A bona fide forgotten fashion just waiting to be rediscovered by Lost Past Remembered – HOWEVER -- after looking over a zillion recipes in 20 or more chafing dish books I had nothing to cook. Although many of the books started out well with witty repartee and juicy, quotable bon mots, their recipe sections were a slurry of banal floury sauces for EVERYTHING. Fish, lobster, beef chicken, game, it didn’t matter what it was – add butter, flour, sometimes mustard sometimes pepper and/or cheese – wash rinse repeat. There was not much in the way of creativity or flavor to pique anyone’s interest – blech. I was in despair – I saw the same recipes over and over again. It appeared that I had barked up a very dull tree. There was nothing worth cooking.
Phillips thought the world was awash in instructions for everything BUT training to be a proper bachelor:
“There is no ‘ complete compendium’ for the ambitious bachelor who wishes to become bon vivant, epicure, " connoisseur de vins " and " up " on all the little things that combine to make him an authority on the things of single men of the world.”
Note the chafing dish with pride of place on the table in the advert?
A Bachelor’s Cupboard was terribly amusing (perhaps a bit tongue and cheek as well?) and I would imagine terribly useful to a modern bachelor of the day. Phillips made canny suggestions on how to live well without spending a fortune – how to eat, how to furnish a bachelor flat (renting a piano rather than buying it), "And even a man of average salary may afford a large, tastefully-decorated room in which to set up his Lares and Penates, where he can entertain in a small way."
Refined quarters of the period
Phillip’s advice for setting up a closet and a kitchen is ambitious:
“If the room has an alcove, so much the better. In this his chiffonier may be set, and portieres may screen it from sight. He may sleep upon his couch, and the alcove might serve as a dressing-room. If the man is handy with tools, he might make for himself from old packing boxes a cupboard for his boots, shoes, blacking brushes, etc., to be kept here. A shelf could be put across one side of the alcove, upon which to keep hatboxes, with hooks beneath; a curtain tacked along this shelf would cover his clothing and keep the dust from it. With this provision, his closet could be used for the storage of his eatables or as a " kitchenette." If it be fitted with running water, as many closets are in old-fashioned houses, so much the better. If the bachelor wants to pay a particular compliment to one of his women friends, then let him ask her to help select the curtains. For $2.00 a pair at the most he should succeed in finding something quite recherche that will be in keeping with the hangings of the room. If he wishes sash curtains, then let them, together with the curtains before the bookshelves, be of raw pongee silk. If the lady is a very particular friend, perhaps she'll offer to make them for him. “
“The stocking of the cupboard may be divided into three classes: the service, the utensils for cooking, etc., and the supplies.” How he fits his batterie de cuisine in a tiny alcove with everything else he has recommended is beyond me, since it includes 6 full place settings of dishes, glasses (5 kinds) and silverware, serving pieces as well as a pretty substantial selection of cooking things:
“1 covered agate kettle, 2 mixing bowls, 1 tin oven to use over gas, 1 colander, 2 large frying pans, 2 small ones, 1 chain dish cleaner, 2 covers for frying pans, 1 flour sifter, 2 basins, 3 oblong baking tins, 2 small skillets 1 quart measure, 3 kitchen knives 3 forks, 2 mixing spoons, 1 measuring spoon, 1 graduated measuring cup, 1 chopping bowl and knife, 1 strainer, 1 egg beater, 1 toaster, 1 meat board. 1 broiler, 1 ladle, 1 dish pan, 1 skimmer, 1 large tin pan, 1 pitcher”
There is even a quite comprehensive list of staples are needed to thoroughly stock your cupboard (although where do you put it all?):
NECESSITIES: Salt, Pepper, black and red, Oil, Biscuits in variety, including sweet biscuits and water biscuits as wished, Soup herbs or poultry seasoning, Vinegar, Mustard Worcestershire sauce, Sugar, cut and powdered, Tabasco sauce. Ginger, Rice, Macaroni, Laundry soap, Wheat flour, Coffee, Spaghetti, Tea, Indian meal, Cocoa, Onions, Condensed milk or cream, cereal –whatever desired, olives, Lard, Eggs, Lemons, Bacon and salt pork in jars, Tinned soups, Tinned fish, Tinned vegetables, Cheese, American or in jars, LUXURIES: Pickles, Curry powder, Chutney, Anchovies and Anchovy essence, Kitchen bouquet, Tarragon vinegar, Tinned French vegetables, Tinned or dried mushrooms, Tinned red peppers, Marmalade Jam, Potted meats, Capers, Caviare, Celery salt, Chow chow, Macedoine in glass, Mango pickles, English relishes, Cooking sherry and white wines, Rum and brandy, Bottled Mayonnaise, Noodles, Parmesan cheese, Soy, Tinned Truffles, Pate de Foie Gras tinned or in jars, Asparagus in glass, German sausages in jars, Jellies for use with game, Foreign cheeses Preserved fruits in glass, Irish bacon, Virginia ham, Garlic, Caramel, Essences of vanilla, lemon, and pistachio, Cocktail olives and cherries”
Gustav Stickley chafing dish cabinet
Charles Rolf 1904 chafing dish
Gustav Stickley, 1909 dish
And of course no apartment is complete without a place for the chafing dish and its cabinet!
“The bachelor in an apartment, who has limited space and wishes to confine his cookery to a few chafing dish dainties, may invest properly in one of the handy chafing dish cabinets that are so attractively fashioned in mission style with a " place for every thing." Perchance he may also have — and probably will — a cabinet in which to keep his bottles, mixing glasses, shakers, etc., which is styled appropriately enough " the Bachelor Cabinet."
The book is full of wise recommendations that encourage creativity and taste in the reader, not obsequious sycophancy. It is a priceless 1906 time capsule.
Chafing dish dainties
After the charming lessons comes a luscious barrage of recipes like a bay and orange scented escabeche! Can you imagine such an adventurous dish in 1905? The book was full of great recipes, often from famous men of refined tastes and adventurous palates. Yes there were some classic floury-cheesy-things and a few devilled dishes (that were the rage in 1906), but there were many other really exciting dishes–– even Mexican and Creole favorites like enchiladas, a fiery pepper sauce for fish and Bouillabaisse. Eureka. There’s also a stellar chapter on drinks with delights like Walter Raleigh’s Sack Posset, Chatham Artillery Punch or an Immortal Sour and a smashing section on what to pay for wines which should shock and awe you (a case of Chateau Margaux 1877 is $42. – less than $4 a bottle!!).
The real gem of a chapter is one sweetly named “Bachelor Bonnes Bouchees”, a collection of recipes of well-known bon vivants from all over the world with De Wolf Hopper’s amazing toasted bread potato dumplings, Counte Boni de Castellane’s crab stuffed potatoes, a Caruso inspired Sabayon, Prince Henry of Prussia ) ’s sausages with celery, a brilliant sandwich spread of butter, brown sugar rum and nutmeg and Marquis de Massa’s quails with grapes. Some do require a bit more than a chafing dish but could be possible with some innovative modifications.
I can't help but think that with today's micro housing gaining popularity, it may be time for a chafing dish renaissance!!
It was hard to decide what to make since so many things looked great but I did have a lovely wood pigeon from D'Artagnan in my freezer that was asking to be used so it stood in for the Marquis Quail. I would think duck breast (cooked rare) or even cornish hen would be delicious with this preparation-- couldn't be simpler and fabulous with wild rice.
QUAILS A LA MARQUIS DE MASSA The Marquis de Massa really does invent dishes. Recently he gave to the world! delicious morsel in a piquant dish of quails that he has wished to bear the name of a Capus. The quails are " poached " in a saucepan, which means " completely cooked at slow ebullition," together with a good quantity of Muscatel grapes that are yet green. When nearly done a finishing touch is added in a Madeira wine — only a little, remember — but ah! what fascination!
Game Birds a la Marquis de Massa
2 Scottish Wood Pidgeons or Quail
2 T butter
1 1/2 c stock (duck would be great or game bird stock but chicken will do just fine)
1 1/2 c green grapes.
2 T madeira
herbs for garnish
Cut the birds in half, remove any innards and rinse and dry. Salt and pepper your birds. Brown them
quickly and then add the grapes and stock. Bring up to boiling and then turn down to a low simmer and cover.
Cook for a few minutes. Remove the birds and cover and reduce the stock till slightly thickened.
Add the madeira and stir to blend. Pour over the birds and serve!
It's hard to believe it's just 5 1/2 years since Petunia came into my life. She died suddenly Tuesday. The day before we had gone to the park as usual. Turns out she had a tumor and 3 seizures took her in a matter of a few hours. I think she didn't suffer long, thank heavens.
She was an incredibly sweet, loving dog that had been through a lot before I got her (18 pieces of buckshot in her). Despite that, she could love and be loved -- a beautiful spirit who got me through a lot. It will take a long time not to think she is going to come down the hall or wake me with that special snuffling sound at 5:30 -- my organic alarm.
RIP my beautiful dog.