April 20, 2011

What's on the menu - A New York Public Library project


menu from dinner held at Republican House
in Milwaukee, 1900
via New York Public Library
What's On The Menu project
Cafe Luncheon at Hotel Marlborough
in New York, 1900
via New York Public Library
What's On The Menu project

In 1900 at the Hotel Marlborough in New York, you could have had a sumptuous meal for Fifty Cents.  Soup, fish, choice of 3 entrees, vegetables, dessert, coffee/tea/milk (I don't know if the milk is for the coffee and tea or served on its own :-0 ). The proof is in the white menu above from the New York Public Library's Rare Books Division.

The New York Public Library's restaurant menu collection is one of the largest in the world: There are about 40,000 menus from the 1840s to the present. Until now, it has been impossible to search the menus to see what people were eating when they ate out in their days. So the library has launched a crowdsourced project, What's On The Menu, to transcribe the menus in its collection. Crowdsourced means you can help! It's very easy, you just have to click on the menus in progress, click on the dishes and type in what you see.

I put a little time into transcribing some dishes today. This is a sample of what I worked on:

1900 menu from Gould's Hotel Cafe in Boston
via New York Public Library
What's On The Menu project

from the wine list in the March 29, 1900 menu of Gould's Hotel Cafe in Boston. Fancy list. It also includes champagne like these:

1900 menu from Gould's Hotel Cafe in Boston
via New York Public Library
What's On The Menu project

Have you ever wondered when pizzas first appeared in menus, or apple pie, or oyster stew? Or how much corned beef hash cost in 1900? (browned: 30 cents, with egg 40 cents, at the Hotel Marlborough in New York).  Imagine if you had a database from which to look all that up. As of Wednesday April 20, 4,443 dishes have been transcribed from 68 menus in the NYPL's menu collection. The list is growing, it could grow quicker with your help.

There are many benefits to be derived from the project. As Laura Shapiro, culinary historian and author of Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century, says on the What's On The Menu site: "This project will open up the menus and all they can tell us about ingredients, dishes and meal structure, about the economics and sociology of eating out, about the very language of food."

Adds Paul Freedman, author of Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination, and editor of Food: The History of Taste (California Studies in Food and Culture: "How people socialized, what they ate, how things change over time and the actual experience of people living in the United States in the past 170 years can be made vividly alive with these materials."

It really would be like bringing history to life!

Related links
What's on the Menu? @twitter
About the project What's on the Menu
Related posts
illustrated recipes blog They Draw and Cook (interviews)

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by liberal sprinkles


Cindy Lew's Studio said...

That was pretty cool information, thanks for sharing.

Happy Easter to you too and thanks for stopping by.

Warm Wishes, CindyLew

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