Our second pastor, Reverend Michael J. Crane, was consecrated as a bishop one hundred years ago on September 19, 1921. Afterwards, he and his fellow priests celebrated with a grand feast. Some dishes seem ordinary now, but were exotic at the time. Some were chosen to surprise and delight. Today, the menu offers a portal into another age.
Celery was a status vegetable in the early 1900s — luxurious enough to be served in first-class cabins on the Titanic — and it appeared twice on the bishop’s menu: in Cream of Celery Soup and as an appetizer, probably served in a special-purpose dish.
Other pre-meal crunchies included olives and salted nuts – typically served with alcoholic beverages — which could hint at off-menu refreshments during Prohibition. Radishes, also, are supposed to aid in “detoxing” the liver.
“Braised Sweetbread” is a mystifying first course. Was it a favorite dish, a reminder of mother’s home cooking, or a nod to Irish heritage? “Sweetbread” is a polite term for thymus or pancreas of calf or lamb – much more popular in Britain and Ireland, than in the United States. (Unconsciously ironic, since Bishop Crane was afflicted with a malfunctioning pancreas that caused his diabetes. The following year, Cardinal Dougherty would pull some strings to get his new bishop enrolled in a clinical trial of insulin on humans in Toronto, which saved his life for a few more years).
“Rashers of bacon” and “Saratoga Chips” were next — both shown on the same menu line. “Saratoga Chips” was a fancy name for potato chips! Listing pig and potatoes together could have been another nod to the Bishop’s Irish heritage. It could also have referenced something closer: Saratoga, NY appears to have been a popular vacation spot for clergy (Rev. Francis O’Neill, after whom our parish may have been named, died there of a heart attack in 1882). Curiously, a town in Saratoga called “Bacon Hill,” had formerly been known as “Pope’s Corners” – which, if commonly known, could have made a good inside joke around the table of a newly-consecrated Bishop.
It’s a fair guess that “Long Island Duckling” was the closest that the menu planner could get to putting a crane on the table. Long Island was a center for raising Peking Ducks, which first arrived in this country in 1873; and duck with applesauce was a luxury dish (also served on the Titanic!).
For vegetables, Candied Sweet Potatoes, now often served at Thanksgiving, were a novelty, reportedly dating back just to 1917! Succotash – a mixture of corn and lima beans – was a traditional Thanksgiving dish in New England and upstate Pennsylvania. Bishop Crane was from Ashland, PA, and the occasion being celebrated was certainly one of thanksgiving.
The beverage accompanying the entree was “Punch A L’Évêque,” or “Bishop’s Punch.” Was it alcoholic? Unclear! The French name made the punch sound elegant and affords a cloak of ambiguity during Prohibition. Online recipes suggest it could have been a mixture of orange juice, lemon juice, and port. Bishop Crane was not a teetotaler, but Cardinal Dougherty, who publicly advocated against alcohol, is listed as a toastmaster at the event.
“Filet Mignon Saint Michel” (St. Michael’s steak) was the entree at Bishop Michael Crane’s feast, and the reference seems self-explanatory, though the cut could, in theory, refer to beef (American) or Pork (French)!
“Russian dressing” on the salad was trendy in 1921.The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink describes it as “a salad dressing made from mayonnaise, pimiento, chile sauce, green pepper, and chives. It is so called possibly because the mixture was thought to resemble those found in Russian salads, but it is American in origin, first found in print in 19
“Meringue Glacée” (Meringues with ice cream) is Swiss; “Petit Fours” cakes are French. Was this a nod to our Patron Saint Francis de Sales, who came from French Savoy and became Bishop of Geneva, Switzerland?
It’s easy to read too much into the menu today, but its long-ago planners also had reason to over-think! It is clear, in any case, that the spread was carefully devised with genuine affection for the new bishop. Speculation about its details recalls that energy and coaxes dusty history back to life.