What 19-century Texans Ate for Independence Day

Categories: Days Gone Bite

Celebrate Texas Independence Day by eating a native dish -- like tacos, say, or enchiladas.
The first observances of Texas Independence Day were relatively sedate affairs: The semi-centennial in 1886 was marked by readings of the Declaration and a sprucing-up of Sam Houston's grave. In Brenham, a congressman gave a speech that the local press deemed "eloquent and appropriate."

Many Texans didn't bother with the March 2 holiday, including -- in 1887 -- members of the state Senate.

"A motion to adjourn the Senate was made on the ground that the day was the anniversary of the declaration of Texan Independence, but it was voted down by those who had more interest in certain measures than in the Texas Fourth of July," the Galveston Daily News reported.

It's unclear from the article, titled "A Humdrum Day: Nothing Particularly Interesting," just which measures distracted the men from their patriotic concerns.

But Galveston's Chamber of Commerce realized the holiday was an occasion to party, and in 1894 staged its first Texas Independence Day banquet. While the Daily News didn't report on the proceedings, it devoted dozens of column inches the following year to the banquet's second edition, billed as "a feast of good things."

The meal was held in a fern-filled dining room at the opulent Beach Hotel, with 88 dignitaries seated at a horseshoe-shaped table. The table was set with shaded lamps and calla lilies draped in crepe paper: The Daily News characterized it as "a bower of beauty."

And there was plenty to eat. While an orchestra played, guests worked their way through a lavish menu of Champagne, frog legs and potato chips.

In honor of Texas Independence Day today, you might drink Dr Pepper and eat a brisket taco. Or, if you're in a snazzy mood and have access to turtle meat, you might want to feast as the Galvestonians did. Here, the complete menu from The Galveston Chamber of Commerce's Texas Independence Day banquet, 1895 (Note: As reprinted in the newspaper, the dinner wasn't divided into courses. But the various wines likely signaled the natural service breaks.)

First course
Celery en branches
Clear terrapin quenelles
Russian caviar
Baked red snapper a la Chambord
Pommes croquettes
Sliced tomatoes
Queen olives

Second course
Frog legs a la diplomate
Saratoga chips
Sweetbreads a la financiere
Asparagus Hollandaise

Third course
Escalloped oysters
Nathalie punch

Fourth course
Broiled quail sur canapé
French peas
Marmalade jelly
G.H. Mumm's Extra Dry

Fifth course
Boned turkey
Toasted crackers
Chicken salad

Dessert course
Vatican ice cream
Assorted cakes
Nuts and raisins
Roquefort cheese
Café noir

"The occasion was a memorable one," the Daily News concluded.

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Alexa Lord
Alexa Lord

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I wonder what they use for the cream

Hanna Raskin
Hanna Raskin

Margie, another reader asked me about Vatican Ice Cream via Twitter yesterday. I haven't been able to find any references to it in my usual culinary sources, but didn't have any trouble scaring up 19th-century mentions of Roman Ice Cream. A travel writer in 1881 advised tourists in Italy to "get some granite (Roman ice cream)" http://bit.ly/eVjRws

I don't think it's too much of a stretch to imagine a hotel in a city with a significant Catholic population calling the same dish Vatican Ice Cream. So I'm pretty sure we're talking about granita or sorbet, which would have been a fitting ending to such a rich meal.

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