Once upon a time, “Maine Apples” was a branded state food, much as lobster and blueberries are today. But over time, large-scale agricultural operations elsewhere took precedence over what small farmers and their individual orchards could produce here. In the process, considerable diversity in product variety was lost.
Maine orchards and heirloom varieties are making a comeback, however. Learn more about Maine apple history–and enjoy some samples–on Thursday evening with pomologist John Bunker. Visit the MHS program page for details.
If you’re any kind of food history buff, the Maine Historical Society Library is the place for you. Recently, two wonderful menus came across my desk.
One was for the Worster Hotel in Hallowell, built in 1832. This menu, dated September 7, 1949, includes everything from omelets to “Casserole of fresh lobster a la Maine” and many in-between, such as “Broiled sugar cured ham steak” and “Roast stuffed native chicken with giblet gravy.” First courses include “iced celery” and “chicken broth with celery and macaroni” while vegetables include “cream whipped potatoes” and “cream green peas.”
One could choose one dessert, such as “apple pie with American cheese,” “Baked Indian pudding with vanilla ice cream,” and the ever popular “fresh blueberry pie.” The prices are interesting to ponder, too, with the most expensive item on the menu being the “broiled western sirloin steak” at $2.50.
The second menu I had the privilege of cataloging was for the “Egyptian dining room” at the Eastland Hotel in Portland, which has this claim: “This dining room is believed to be the first, if not the only public dining room of its type in America, – the figures represented as being carved in stone after the ancient Egyptian manner.”
The menu, dated January 13, 1939, has nothing Egyptian about it, however. The offerings are more traditional New England dishes of the day, such as the plate luncheons of items such as “Roast beef hash, poached egg, Harvard beets” (65 cents) and items “cooked to order,” such as “Fried chicken, cream gravy, corn fritter, new peas, potato” (90 cents).
Desserts on this menu include “lime jelly,” “stewed prunes,” and “raised cinnamon doughnuts.” Shellfish includes oysters, lobster, scallops, and clams. “Cheese with crackers” comes with a choice of which kind of cheese one may want, including American cheese, Philadelphia cream cheese, Swiss cheese, Roquefort cheese, and camembert cheese (all for different prices). Salads include “Banana cream cheese and nut,” and sandwiches include “Ox tongue sandwich.” Finally a choice of beverages includes iced chocolate, “Horlick’s malted milk,” and a pot of “Kaffee Hag” (apparently a brand of decaffeinated coffee).
This is just a sampling of the menus that can be found in our library. By searching “menus” as a subject heading, one can find menus from Peaks Island, York Harbor, Rangeley Lakes, Belgrade, Greenville, and many other destinations. Some are more recent, such as the many menus collected for the Chinese American collection (Coll. 2080), including Chinese restaurants from Mexico to Millinocket and in-between (and beyond). Many more are not catalogued individually, but can be found in a browsable collection in our ephemera section.
The menus at MHS are a fascinating resource to show us what people ate in times past, whether fancy dinners or comfort food for travelers. Some of the offerings are more familiar to us, or at least within nostalgic memory, but others perplex and mystify. All will definitely make you either hungry or thankful that such items are no longer served.
Although the curtain is still up on 2012, we are well into scheduling public programs for 2013. January alone has no fewer than seven offerings designed to appeal to a wide range of interests and audiences:
Jan. 3, 12PM:Immigration, Education, and Photography in 1920s Portland (Speaker: American & New England Studies graduate Rachel Miller)
Jan. 15, 12PM:Maine Ski Competition: Highlights from the Last 100 Years (Speakers: Ski Museum staff Bruce Miles & Scott Andrews)
Jan. 22, 6:30PM: first session of We Are What We Ate book group (deadline for registration is January 11; group runs monthly through May)
Jan. 24, 7PM:Dirigo North and South: Maine’s Long and Varied Connection with the Polar World (polar expert Charles Lagerbom)
Jan. 29, 12PM:Book Event: Hoosh: Roast Penguin, Scurvy Day, and Other Stories of Antarctic Cuisine (author Jason Anthony)
Plus, two new “Intro to MHS” workshops start in January: a library tour, and a Maine Memory Network demo workshop. These will repeat six times throughout the year, as will a new library catalog workshop, and museum accession/MHS PastPerfect Online workshop, both of which begin in February. The tour and the workshops are free of charge and just require advance notification of attendance.