On Catering, Quality, Chickens, Eggs, and More!

This week’s post may not answer the question of which came first, but it does have a great day to say about quality chickens, eggs, and other poultry–not to mention meats, salads, and pastries.

The title of this publication, in full, is John Hill’s Book: The Culinary Art as Applied to Catering, Including an Abridged List of Cooked Articles Available for Home Service (c.1929). If that isn’t quite clear, don’t worry. Even once you unravel it, the contents aren’t quite what you might think. The title suggests is might be a catering menu–which it is. But that’s not all it is. It’s also a short treatise on quality ingredients, an advertisement for catering services, and, one might argue, a collection of food management/storage hints.

Most of right hand pages include some examples of items the caterer can provide. We see a wide range of foods, from cakes and pastry to sandwiches and salads. However, we are informed that this is only a small fraction of what the company can provide, though listing the full range “would be burdensome for [the company] and confusing to you, were we to list them all.” One wonders how a catering menu might prove confusing for potential clients–perhaps it’s because, as the publication later states, they have no “‘regular’ or stereotyped menus.” At the very least, it’s clear John Hill prefers to meet in person. The photographs of the business certainly suggest a desire to show off the fine supplies and capabilities it can provide.

Another portion of the text is taken up by a series of mini-essays on quality ingredients. On the one hand, they are a chance to talk about the high quality of foods used by the company in their catering efforts: “We will not talk bout eggs in the abstract, but of John Hill eggs, about which there is nothing abstract” and “There is no chicken quite like ours.” The publication also touches in kitchen processes and technology, spending two pages on cold storage and the disservice it does.

But freezing does more than ruin the flavor of meat and poultry–it is conceivably responsible for the prevalence of dyspepsia and kindred ills among Americans–so, if you want to avoid dyspepsia, avoid frozen foods.

(On a side note, according to the 1915 Jell-O and the Kewpies, you may also want to avoid pie: “Twenty years ago everybody ate pie and nearly everybody had dyspepsia. Jell-O had not been heard of. Now there is scarcely a housewife in America who does not make and serve Jell-O desserts, and stomach-ache is not so common as it used to be.”)

Perhaps most striking about this publication, though, is the quality of the item itself. It may not be obvious from the scans above, but this is by no means ephemeral. It has a nice paper cover, with a paper dust jacket, and large photos. It appears to have been printed on handmade paper that was folded, and the edges were not cut smooth. Was it merely a way to attract a certain caliber of customer? Was it intended to be something more than just an advertisement? Were the tidbits on quality meant to be taken as hints for the everyday household? Unfortunately, we don’t have answers to those questions, but John Hill’s Book, with its mix of advertising, lecturing, and menus makes for a unique addition to the History of Food & Drink Collection.

Oh, and just remember, “Speed is as incongruous in good cooking as it in in a good golfer’s game of golf.” Or if you prefer fashion metaphors to sports, menus should be “just as special as the dresses of the most fashionable couturiere.” Whether you’re cooking, eating, or both, the point is, take a little time and enjoy something special this week.

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