Story of a Menu

sfds garden court

A card fluttered out of a book at the rectory and into a different century.

Its color was pale green, and its lettering,  gothic and ceremonial: a formal invitation from an age of suits and hats. It was addressed to the Ushers, Choir Members, and Aids (all male), from the Clergy of the Parish, inviting them to an annual Appreciation Dinner on January 25, 1926.

The event would be held at the newly-built Garden Court Apartments at 47th and Pine. A shield at the top of the invitation may have represented Clarence Siegel, the developer, anxious to promote  his luxurious new construction. The Garden Court Restaurant was advertised in the Parish Monthly Calendar as West Philadelphia’s smartest restaurant.

First on the menu was a Salt Oyster Cocktail. Sources suggest this was a precursor of the Bloody Mary: a beverage made with tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, and salt – with an oyster stirred in, instead of alcohol, as Prohibition was in force in 1926. The appetizer was celery, the status vegetable of the day, forced in a greenhouse and served in a special vase at the table. After Oxtail Soup, entrees were Sea Bass and Chicken. Dessert was  Peach Melba, consisting of vanilla ice cream topped with raspberry sauce and a peach. This special occasion dish was created in 1895 by celebrity chef Escoffier for renowned singer Nellie Melba. Due to primitive refrigeration, ice cream tended to be a winter treat, and peaches, a luxury.

After the meal, the menu lists cigars and cigarettes. Picture the room wreathed in smoke, as the men discussed news of the day over coffee: Dame Nellie Melba’s recently published autobiography (parishioner Baptiste knew her!); Irish Independence; the upcoming Sesquicentennial Exposition downtown; and the construction of the Delaware River (today the Benjamin Franklin) Bridge to New Jersey. Silent comedies starring Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, and the new Chrysler Automobiles probably inspired a comment or two. Business would include De Sales Night planning and a report on construction of the new school wing. Nobody knew that the Great Depression was just ahead.

One document, one time machine! What will future parishioners discover about us?

 

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