Monday, June 09, 2014

At the World's Fair, 1939

"It is possible for the collector of wine and food books to do a bit of international browsing at our World's Fair." So began a New York Times article published July 30, 1939, titled "New Editions, Fine & Otherwise: International Gastronomy or Notes for the Xenomanic Pantophagist" by Edward Larocque Tinker.

The article provides readers first with a description of cocktails and rum drinks that appeared in an "educational leaflet" at the Cuban Pavilion, continues with a few notes on the Brazilian, Swedish, and Swiss reading materials, and finally reaches the French Pavilion, naming five books on sale, including their prices -- which can be compared to the 75-cent admission fee to the fair (eventually reduced to 50 cents), and similar additional fees for specific attractions.

The list begins with Auguste Escoffier's Le Guide Culinaire at $2.50. "Its author, who was born in 1847 and died only four years ago, was the most famous chef of the last two centuries, greater, some think even than Carême," Tinker says. Escoffier's Guide, with 5000 very sketchy recipes meant for professionally trained chefs, had been in print for a couple of decades by this time. A current edition of this classic is depicted at left; it's available in English translation as well.

Next: "La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange" ($1.50), described as "a useful book for the house-keeper exhausted with the arranging of daily menus," including "800 recipes and 500 planned meals."Madame E. Saint-Ange had written for a cooking magazine called "Le Pot au Feu" for years, and "La Bonne Cuisine" was a compendium of her writings that had been published in 1927. An English translation became available only relatively recently.

For "families who live on a more modest scale," the bookshop offered "La Véritable Cuisine de Famille" by Tante Marie. It was "designed to achieve an intelligent economy" and included 1000 recipes, 500 seasonal menus, and a glossary.  I've checked and Tante Marie's popular book had been in print in various editions since at least 1903. Tante Marie was probably fictitious, sort of like Betty Crocker, but very little information about her appears to have survived. The front cover of one of the many early editions is shown at right. The book is still popular enough to merit an English-language Kindle edition!

The next book on the list is by Pomiane, the author I've been researching. (In fact, I found this article when searching for information about him.) Tinker writes:

  "A very different kind of book is Edouard de Pomiane's '365 Menus, 365 Recettes' (90 cents). The author is a physiologist who, in accordance with the latest scientific discoveries, balances each menu with the proper relative quantities of fats, carbons, proteins, vitamins, etc. A preface contains a general discussion of the chemical role food plays in keeping us in  health and a treatise on diets for different ages and for those suffering from various diseases. Under each meal's menu is printed the recipe for the main dish."

The final two books from the French Pavilion were "L'Art Culinaire Moderne" by Henry-Papul Pellaprat, and "L'art du Bien Manger" compiled by Edmond Richardin. There may of course have been other books available, not mentioned in the article.

The French Pavilion at the New York 1939 World's Fair is a famous source of American gastronomy. At the French Pavilion (shown in a postcard, right) the French government decided to install a completely French restaurant, with restaurant professionals and all food products sourced from France. This was a major undertaking, but its importance long outlasted the fair itself because several of the French staff remained in the US after the end of the fair to work in restaurants in New York. The most famous offshoot was the restaurant Le Pavillon, run by Henri Soulé who had been the maitre-d'hotel at the fair.

Soulé and Le Pavillon have been written up numerous times. For example, in an article a few years ago, Le Pavillon was classified as one of the ten best restaurants ever in New York City:
"Under restaurateur Henri Soule, Le Pavillon began life as Le Restaurant du Pavillon de France, the eating establishment of the French pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair. The food it presented was a revelation to New York diners, who were still eating French food directly descended from Delmonico's, with heavy cream-based sauces and massive portions. Le Pavillon presented the cuisine for the first time in its evolved form." -- From "Our 10 Best NYC Restaurants," by Robert Sietsema, Jan. 14, 2011, Village Voice blogs. 
The enduring fame and influence of Soulé has been covered in the press ad infinitum and maybe ad nauseum if like me you don't appreciate New York restaurant snobbery. I find this list of historic cookbooks, which seem more or less forgotten, to be of at least equal interest.

1 comment:

~~louise~~ said...

Hi Mae,
Another great post! I've been wanting to do a post on the 1939 World's Fair for such a long time. I'll be saving this post for future reference. As for that list, priceless!!!

Thanks for sharing, Mae...

P.S. I'll be posting the start of the Picnic Game next Wednesday at 12 noon. I do hope you will get the letter C before anyone else picks it but unfortunately, I can't give you that letter until then. I hope you understand:)