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A Historic Menu from 1883

The history

Just picture it. April 14, 1883. Inside the Nymphenburg castle in Bavaria, Tommaso Alberto Vittorio, the royal prince of Savoy-Genoa, is standing next to his young bride, Isabella of Bavaria.
Mendelssohn’s Wedding March has just come to an end and many of the guests’ mouths are beginning to water, reading what they were about to be served.

Finally the happy couple sits down in blue velvet armchairs. The chairs, the color of the ruling family, and are carefully held up by pages. The newlyweds signal for the beginning of the gala celebration.
With an appetite that has grown throughout the long ceremony, the guests turn their eyes to their menus – just as we will do now.

The menus are presented in five-inch long cylinders, closed at both ends with royal crowns of spiraling gold metal. The body of the cylinders are covered with blue silk. The silk is printed with a diamond pattern in even darker blue, which represented the colors and symbols of the Royal House of Bavaria. Wrapped around the menu holder, is a thin ribbon made of three colors: white, red and greed, the colors of the Savoy family.

The design represents the groom hugging his bride. On the side of the cylinder, there is an opening where the edge of a piece of parchment emerges. A small ribbon is attached to the paper, and to it a little ebony stick. Bicolor cords are tied to both ends of the stick and are secured together with a golden metal seal. A figure of the rampant lion of the House of Bavaria is carved into the seal. By carefully pulling on the seal, one can unravel the parchment menu. The menu is 8 inches long and 4 inches wide. Its border is decorated with heraldic symbols. On the left, there is a figure of a page in Renaissance clothing that supports, with his right arm, the shield of the two royal families. With his left hand, he points towards the courses of the menu.

Each dish on the menu warrants special attention. In the Courts or homes of powerful families, menus were created and written according to dictates of the great French chefs. There was, however, some room for interpretation.

The wedding menu begins with oysters. Then a hot potage, or soup, is served to open the stomach. The soup is followed by hors-d'œuvre, including an excellent salmon served with a sauce béarnaise normally used for grilled meats.

Then come the atelettes al fois gras and an unlikely reindeer saddle, served with a Cumberland sauce, usually associated with cold game.
For the entrée, game appears again in the form of small spring woodcocks, beautifully garnished with truffles.  Strangely, the fish course comes after the game. Lobster is served in a sauce mayonnaise, creating some difficulty with pairing the wine.

Then comes a pineapple granita, served as a palate cleanser, followed by a roast chicken with asparagus. (However, after the woodcock, roast beef might have been a better option.)
The regal meal concludes with a Champagne gelatin, ice cream, fruit and dessert.
This menu is characterized by the presence of canonic elements, like the soup to begin, the roasts and the final dessert. Based on a desire to make the meal more grand and incorporate specific foods, the courses are not served in the correct order and the wines are not necessarily paired in a traditional manner. This could happen even in the Court of a King…

Gastronomic Library
L. CARRARA, Come mangiavamo: gli Italiani e il cibo negli anni Cinquanta, Parma, Academia Barilla, 2006, 111 pp. ill., (Biblioteca Gastronomica Academia Barilla, AC 9.26.10).
L. CERINI DI CASTEGNATE, Il menu tra storia ed arte, Catalogo della mostra in Asti, Palazzo Mazzetti, dal 26 maggio al 16 giugno 1990, Costigliole, All'insegna del Lanzello, 1990, 166 pp. ill., (Biblioteca Gastronomica Academia Barilla, AC 9.94.03).
L. CERINI DI CASTEGNATE, I menu famosi, Milano, BE-MA, 1988, 142 pp., ill., (Biblioteca Gastronomica Academia Barilla, AC 9.94.13).

The recipes

Game Consommé

In a casserole, sauté the usual vegetables in butter, and add three filleted partridges, a boiler hen and the remnants from the chicken or game; add half a glass of good stock and leave to glaze, turning the larger pieces from time to time.

When the liquid has been consumed, add a glass and a half of Marsala or Rhine wine, to be reduced in the same way; then fill the casserole with stock, and place on high heat. Later on, pull the casserole to one corner of the stove, add a bouquet garni, some cloves and some peppercorns, as well as the loin of a hare that you have browned; in the absence of the loin, the shoulders and thighs may be used, cut into pieces.

As soon as the partridges and poultry are cooked, filter the stock through a cloth,  degrease and clarify it.

Recipe taken from: G. NELLI, Il Re dei Cuochi, Milan, Legros & C., 1880, p. 62, no. 8 [BIGAB AC 1. 115. 1/80].

Woodcock salmi

Prepare and bind up the legs of fourteen woodcocks and cook them in a sautéed mirepoix (a mixture of chopped onion celery and carrot) enriched with abundant ham, lard, herbs and Madeira wine. Once the birds are cooked, sieve the cooking juices which will then be degreased and reduced. Take two of the woodcocks, the least attractive, and pound them in a mortar with some cooked liver from the same woodcocks and then dilute with reduced Spanish sauce, to which you have added the afore-mentioned concoction.

Cut twelve slices of toasted bread two centimetres thick and in the shape of baskets to contain a woodcock; a fillet shape is the most suitable. Having indented the “crostatine” all the way round, make a small incision in them with a knife, to be able later on, when they have been fried, to extract the soft inner part. Line the inside with cooked stuffing to which you have added a little chopped herbs and truffle.

Put the woodcocks into the “crostatine”, cover with small slices of lard and then with a sheet of greased paper; place for some minutes in a moderate oven, then sprinkle with their sauce and arrange on the plate in the following way: eight on the bottom of the plate belly up, three on top of these with the last on the summit.

Garnish the spaces between the “crostatine” with trimmed mushrooms and truffles, which you have hollowed out and stuffed with a finely-chopped filling of sweetbreads, tongue and mushrooms, dressed with some spoonfuls of cooking liquid from the woodcocks. Serve the remaining sauce on the side.

Recipe taken from: G. NELLI, Il re dei cuochi, Milan, Legros & C., 1880, p. 432, n. 938 [BIGAB AC 1. 115. 1/80].

Champagne Jelly

Prepare some jelly with 600 grams of sugar, 50 grams of isinglss and three glasses of water; when the mixture is cold, add the juice from three oranges and two lemons, and lastly, half a litre of Champagne. Fill the mould and keep it under crushed ice, and when it is time, upturn it onto a plate and serve garnished with dried pastries.

This jelly can also be served in Champagne glasses, in which case it should be more delicate. This is done by using a smaller quantity of isinglass and by pouring it into glasses when it is not completely chilled. Whisk some jelly well, to make it resemble Champagne foam, and use it to fill the glass.

Recipe taken from: G. NELLI, Il Re dei Cuochi, Milan, Legros & C., 1880, pp. 851-852, no. 1792 [BIGAB AC 1. 115. 1/80].