Monday, January 11, 2016

Items from the New York Public Library Digital Collection: The Menu from the "Whale Steak Luncheon" (1918)

On January 6, 2016, the New York Public Library announced that it was expanding access to more than 180,000 public domain images through improved interfaces and tools (e.g., APIs, metadata). I started looking through the collection and found some amazing items (so far, dozens of images reviewed and 20 "keepers" for further review). Now and then, I'll be posting some images connected to previous posts on Mental Masala.

Let's start with three images from a unique menu from the Buttolph Collection of Menus:  the menu from the "Whale Steak Luncheon" sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History.

It was held in February 1918, during World War One, when food conservation was a big deal in the United States (the goal was to reduce consumption of certain foods like wheat and red meat so they could be shipped to our allies and troops in Europe).  The "conservation luncheon" at the American Museum of Natural History was intended to spotlight a food that offered the potential to quickly increase the supply of high-protein food:  whale meat.  Yes, whale meat, a food that is as “‘delicious a morsel’ as the most aesthetic or sophisticated palate could possibly yearn for,” according to Federal Food Administrator Arthur William, as reported in an article in the February 9, 1918 New York Times.  Much more about the historical context for the whale meat luncheon is in my original post "A "Conservation Luncheon” in 1918 featured whale meat."

Here's the cover page for the luncheon ("In the interest of food conservation").  

Cover page for Whale Steak Luncheon, from Buttolph Collection at NYPL
Cover page for Whale Steak Luncheon from Buttolph Collection at the NYPL

The menu, which featured whale in a "Whale pot au feu" and "Planked whale steak, a la Vancouver."  The guests were impressed, saying that it tasted like venison or beef pot roast.

Menu for Whale Steak Luncheon, from Buttolph Collection at NYPL
Menu for the Whale Steak Luncheon from Buttolph Collection at the NYPL

The last page is an acknowledgment to the Victoria Whaling Company, which provided the whale meat and supplied whale meat recipes for the guests, like "Curried Whale on Toast." I don't think I'll be looking for these recipes in on-line archives....

Last page for Whale Steak Luncheon, from Buttolph Collection at NYPL
Acknowledgement page for Whale Steak Luncheon from Buttolph Collection at the NYPL

You can get another view of the menus in the What's on the Menu? tool.

The Buttolph Collection of Menus was privately started by Miss Frank E. Buttolph (1850-1924). A passionate collector of menus, Miss Buttolph  amassed over 25,000 menus from around the world by writing to restaurants and placing advertisements in trade magazines. During her active collection phase, she donated her archives to the New York Public Library and kept seeking new menus to add to the collection. It's a remarkable resource, made even better by the What's on the Menu? project. The project aims to transcribe the 45,000 menus in the collection, dish by dish, drink by drink. An intriguing ‐ but not always correctly working — feature is a time-line showing the frequency of a menu item over the years.  Looking at consomme, you can see this term disappear in the mid-20th century (from the thus-far-analyzed menus).

Screenshot of a Consomme page at What's on the Menu?

Reference
Whale Steak Luncheon menu, Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. "The American Museum of Natural History" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1918. Public domain. Link, also in What's on the Menu?


Random link from the archive: Why Eucalyptus Trees Cover the East Bay Hills

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