Thanksgiving dinner at Quarry Farm in 1897 was planned by Susan Crane and described on elegant cards featuring the family cats. A surviving copy of these menu cards, located in the Mark Twain Archive at Elmira College, provides insight into how one prominent Elmira family celebrated the holidays near the turn of the century.
Familiar Thanksgiving staples, like roast turkey and cranberry jelly, shared the table with fashionable preparations from the era and timeless delicacies.
Mrs. Crane was clearly partial to Miss Parloa’s Kitchen Companion, an 1887 cookbook produced by one of the world’s first celebrity chefs. Maria Parloa began her career as a private chef in New Hampshire before taking over the kitchen at the Appledore Hotel in Maine. Her first cookbook, based on the Appledore menu, was published in 1872. Five years later she founded her own culinary school in Boston. She traveled throughout the United States and Europe, giving cooking demonstrations and studying regional and national cuisines and techniques. She continued to write cookbooks and articles on “domestic science” in magazines like Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal until her death in 1909.
The Kitchen Companion remained consistently in print for several decades, through dozens of editions. As the following image demonstrates, Susan Crane’s menu was loosely based on one of Miss Parloa’s suggestions for Thanksgiving.
Recipes for several of the non-traditional courses can be found in the Kitchen Companion.
The legendary Waldorf Salad, named after the Waldorf Hotel in Manhattan where it was invented, became an iconic American dish. It’s inventor, Oscar Tshirky, was a Swiss immigrant who worked in several of the most famous 19th-century restaurants: Delmonico’s, Hoffman House, and the Waldorf-Astoria. The dish which would shape his legacy had been invented only a few years before Mrs. Crane served it. It appeared in The Cook Book by “Oscar” of the Waldorf, published in 1896 and featuring recipes for many of the most popular dishes in New York City’s finest restaurants. The original salad recipe was exceedingly simple. Nothing more than chunks of raw apple, celery, and greens tossed in “a good mayonnaise.” But some of the other, more complicated dishes in the cookbook may have also inspired Mrs. Crane’s menu choices.
Bear in mind, while the traditional “matelote sauce” was made with eel, other protein could be substituted. That said, freshwater eels were abundant in the nearby rivers and Finger Lakes. Mrs. Crane was a passionate locavore. Her Quarry Farm Imperial Sandwiches were likely made with cream, cheese, and chicken raised on the premises. No doubt many other ingredients came from the Crane farm and those surrounding it. The kettle-cooked Saratoga Chips she served with her partridge were invented at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs, NY.
This is mere speculation, but the White House Soup may have been a recipe from Fanny Gillette and Hugo Ziemann’s White House Cook Book (1887) which recommends the following for holiday meals.
The bestselling cookbook, as its title suggests, draws upon the recipes of First Ladies and White House stewards. We invite cooks and foodies to comment or email if they have any additional insight about White House Soup, Imperial Sandwiches, or any of the preparations related to the 1897 Quarry Farm Thanksgiving menu.
Unfortunately, on this particular holiday, Susan was not joined by her sister or her famous brother-in-law. They spent the season in Austria. Nor was the dinner cooked by Mary Ann Cord, Quarry Farm’s longtime live-in chef and the narrator of Twain’s “A True Story Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It.” Cord passed in 1888.
Hopefully you have the good fortune of being home for the holiday. Happy Thanksgiving from the Center for Mark Twain Studies!