In this post, Estate Historian Maggie Lidz continues her research into wine and the du Pont family.
Colonel Henry Algernon du Pont (1836–1926), the second owner of Winterthur, is a difficult man to understand. Today, his likes and dislikes, prides and prejudices seem more suggestive of his time than his individuality. This may be more of a modern failure to understand this upright, patriotic Civil War hero who strove, as with so many of his generation, to embody the Victorian ideal of manhood. Even his wine and food selections seem formulaic, more representative of a type than personal preference.
The menus that he saved over his lifetime resonate with Gilded Age excess and display a numbing repetition and uniformity. This is true whether they were created for a dinner held around his own table or for a more public event. (Of course, these are the menus that were saved; they do not necessarily reflect the everyday meals.) The menus that entered his archives typically included ten courses: hors-d’oeuvres, soup, fish, entrée, roast and vegetables, game, salad, cheese, ices, and coffee and sweets.
A Look at Two Menus
The September 18, 1887, menu for a 12-course banquet initially appears to be the feast of a lifetime. Oysters initiated the evening and were eaten with the famous sweet Sauternes Chateau Yquem. A grand procession of food followed: the soup was green turtle (served with Amontillado sherry); the fish was salmon, oyster, and crab with potatoes and cucumbers (served with Liebfraumilch); and the entrée was chicken cutlets (served with a choice of two champagnes: Veuve Clicquot or Roederer Grand Vin Sec).
The roast was fillet of beef with olives, served with potato croquettes, peas, and sweet potatoes (and four champagnes, two distinctly sweet: Pommery Sec, Jaunay Sec, Giesler Blue Seal, and Delbeck); an intermezzo of sorbet created a break before the showstopping centerpiece of terrapin served with the great Bordeaux Chateau Lafite. The dinner began to ease off with a game course of wild reed birds and a burgundy from Clos Vougeot.
A salad of lettuce and tomatoes led into a cheese course with Roquefort, Gruyere, Gorgonzola, and Brie along with a ’55 madeira. A dessert of ices and fruit followed. The banquet ended in a flourish with coffee, cordials, candy, and an 1815 cognac.
The luxury dishes of oysters, turtle soup, and terrapin interleaved with courses of fish, chicken, and beef evoke images of the corpulent figures of American millionaires of this period: the buxom lady draped in pearls and the bearded gentleman. Jean Francois Revel, in Culture and Cuisine, observes that, based on cookbooks and menus, 19th-century gastronomy extended right until World War I. This seems to be the case with Colonel du Pont. The 1887 banquet, rather than being a one-time bacchanalia, has a surprisingly close resemblance to a series of dinners served at his Washington, DC, home in the first decade of the 20th century.
The first one, to 24 guests on January 21, 1907, began with caviar rather than oysters. Turtle soup was the first course. Rather than fish, terrapin was served as the seafood course, a mousse of ham and spinach was the entrée, and the roasted meat was saddle of mutton served with peas and new potatoes.
The crescendo was an elaborate cold course of chaudfroid of chicken and mushrooms, the sort of decorated and molded savory concoction very few people today aspire to serve but which was the specialty of the professional cook and the gourmand at the time.
The wild game was quail, and the salad was composed of chestnuts and celery. Dessert was vanilla ice with brandied peaches and mocha biscuits. The cheese and fruit before the sweet dessert and the coffee and cognac after dessert are absent from the record, but were standard to a formal meal at this time.
The wines served were lumped together at the bottom of the menu. They are not at the level of the 1887 feast: an Oloroso sherry is listed first and would have been the usual accompaniment with the turtle soup. It was followed by a white wine listed as “Henri Restaurant” and a vintage champagne recorded by the du Ponts as “dry:” Veuve Clicquot 1899.
The Colonel’s dinners fit neatly into the what the New York Times called on September 6, 1906, “a modern little dinner” in the anonymously written article, “Cover For Two: A Gastronomic Study…at the Smart New York Restaurants.” Astrakhan caviar served on thin golden toast was suggested as “a dainty before the soup.” Clear green turtle was “the very king of soups” (sherry the mandatory accompaniment). Terrapin was promoted for the fish course (“each mouthful…golden,”) and a mold of chicken or ham/mushrooms or truffles was suggested as an entrée. Both fish and entrée were served with white wine. The roast is described as “the crowning effort” and champagne was specified as “opened at this point.” The game course was served with burgundy—“either a Romanée-Conti or Clos Vougeot.” Alligator pear was the fashionable salad, and the last course consisted of frozen sweets, cakes, and fresh fruit with coffee and cordials as the conclusion. Just in case anyone was peckish, salted almonds were “always on the table.”
When reading menus of this sort, it must be remembered that everything that could be molded was (savory mousses, butter, ices, and salads as well as desserts). After being removed from the mold, the food was usually covered in the appropriate coating—a variation of white sauce, a mayonnaise, or an aspic—and then decorated with sliced truffles, red peppers, olives, or eggs. Even into the 1950s, the Winterthur kitchens included a large number of molds in a variety of sizes and shapes for a range of foods, including ham and fish.
Besides the emphasis on cold and molded food, the clearest difference between the Colonel’s 1887 banquet menu and 1907 dinner menu is in relationship to the wines, which are reduced in number and generally simplified. It is interesting to see a similar reduction in the New York Times menu. Sherry, white wine, and champagne seem to be the correct dinner wines.
Lucy G. Allen’s 1919 Table Service (described in the 1914 introduction as having grown out of a textbook in table-service courses used for years at the Boston School of Cookery) suggests only one or two wines at formal dinners “though three may be properly served.” Oddly enough, she then suggests four: sherry with the soup, Sauternes or Rhine wine with the fish, Claret with the entrée, and champagne with the meat.
Red wine was absent from the record of the du Pont home meals. Both Lucy Allen and the New York Times writer refer to red only with the game course. At this time, champagne was the correct drink with roasts. The Colonel’s 1887 feast indicates champagne with the beef as does the menu for an 1889 New Year’s Day dinner suggested in the Delmonico’s Restaurant cookbook by Alessandro Filipini, The Table (New York: Merriam Company, 1889).
Colonel Henry Algernon du Pont’s Wine Cellar
Colonel du Pont’s regard for wine may be revealed most impressively in his expansion of the wine cellar at Winterthur. In 1902 he had his architects Perot & Bissell of Philadelphia create a spacious wine storage room: 22.6 feet x 22.6 feet with a cement floor and outside access for deliveries. A custom-made iron door was designed for the entry.
In 1896 August Dauphin, the first butler at Winterthur, was hired. One of the primary duties of a butler is to oversee the wines and liquors. The Colonel’s household receipts and cellar inventories indicate that he had a particular fondness for French champagne, white wines from the Rhine, and red wines from Bordeaux. In the 1870s and ’80s, he bought from the importers Park & Tilford in New York. By the early 1900s, he bought from Goddard-Groome-Drayton, a Philadelphia importer, as well. A 1913 inventory included plenty of red wine, including 75 bottles of the Bordeaux Haut Brion, 23 bottles of Margaux, and 3 of Chateau Latour. Rounding out this inventory were 3 bottles of Veuve Clicquot 1899 and 85 bottles of Veuve Clicquot 1904 as well as Pommery, Chateau Lafon Yquem, Niersteiner Riesling, and gallons of Oloroso sherry.
The white wine “Henri Restaurant,” served in 1907 on the menu above, was a mystery until I came upon postcards for this New York restaurant in the du Pont family papers. The du Ponts may have been acquiring wine from this restaurant in 1907. Henri, at 15 East 52nd Street in Manhattan, billed itself as “A Bit of Paris in New York, A National Institution Since 1906.”
There is a lot more material about the wines at Winterthur buried in the massive amount of family correspondence spread between Hagley Library and Winterthur Library. It would be a great research project for someone!
To learn more about wine in 19th-century America, visit Winterthur’s 2012 exhibition, Uncorked! Wine, Objects & Tradition. For more about wine at Winterthur, see Maggie’s posts on Winterthur’s first residents, the Bidermanns; Samuel Francis DuPont; and the museum’s founder, Henry Francis du Pont.