Here at Broadstreet, we hope that all our readers are having a restful, safe, and/or productive holiday break! To celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, we’ve decided to highlight historical dishes from the archives — ones that might inspire your cooking adventures this week.
More specifically, one particular flavorful source of archival data has been collected by the New York Public Library, in the form of historical menus — see the website http://menus.nypl.org/. Here you can peruse through scanned copies of menus, from establishments across the US, and as far back in time as the 1850s.
Besides just being a fun source of data, this is a great example of crowdsourcing data entry. You can sign up to help transcribe the bibliographic description of the menus, or the content of the menus themselves. You can also help them geolocate the restaurants! So this Thanksgiving, ride out the dopamine wave by helping the NYPL assemble this database; no registration required, just click on a menu and go to town: http://menus.nypl.org/menus/status/under_review
It’s perhaps unsurprising that the Thanksgiving menus are fairly consistent, though foodies will nod when they note that these fine establishments often had an alternative to turkey on the menu. For example, try the Thanksgiving menu from Chicago in 1895, which looks delicious (though I might pass on the sea turtle soup).
Or relish the fact that a full Thanksgiving dinner at the Hotel New Yorker, delivered by room service, was $2.25 in 1937.
The collection also has menus from important events. Why not virtually attend the dinner given to the President of the United States, his cabinet, and the officers of the Atlantic fleet, at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1912?
Or the Coney Island Fire Department’s ball, in 1892?
They even have handwritten menus, like this one from Boston in October 1905. Readers can practice reading and transcribing handwritten script!
In any case, I and the rest of the editors of Broadstreet hope you enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday. Jugged Hare With Portwine & Quince Jelly or Devilled Kidneys On Buttered Toast, anyone?