Dec 312017
 

On this date in 1853 a celebrated New Year’s Eve dinner was held in the mold of the Iguanodon being used at the time in the construction of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs. It was immortalized in an image in the Illustrated London News (above). Following the closure of the Great Exhibition in October 1851, Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace was bought and moved to Penge Place on Sydenham Hill, South London by the newly formed Crystal Palace Company. The grounds that surrounded it were then extensively renovated and turned into a public park with ornamental gardens, replicas of statues and two new artificial lakes. As part of this renovation, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was commissioned to build the first-ever life-sized models of extinct animals. He had originally planned to just re-create extinct mammals before deciding on building dinosaurs as well, which he did with advice from Sir Richard Owen, a celebrated biologist and paleontologist of the time. Hawkins set up a workshop on site at the park and built the models there. The models were displayed on three islands acting as a rough timeline, the first island for the Paleozoic era, a second for the Mesozoic, and a third for the Cenozoic. The models were given more realism by making the water level in the lake rise and fall, revealing different parts of the dinosaurs. To mark the launch of the models, Hawkins held a special dinner on New Year’s Eve 1853 inside the mold of one of the Iguanodon models, although the exact location of the dinner has been disputed. The mold does not appear to be big enough to accommodate all the invited guests, but there may have been some seated in the mold and some beside it.

Specially engraved invitations were sent out bearing the following:

Mr Waterhouse Hawkins requests the honour of — at dinner in the mould of the Iguanodon at the Crystal Palace on Saturday evening December the 31st at five o’clock 1853 An answer will oblige.

The scene shown in the Illustrated London News depicts a collection of gentlemen sitting around a table inside one of the Iguanodon models under construction over the winter 1853-54. In the image, waiters deliver dinner. On the floor are pieces of the mold used to cast the model. Different reports put Richard Owen at the head of the table and Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins standing center and facing the viewer. The model is surrounded by a tent decorated with a chandelier and four plaques honoring famous paleontologists (William Buckland, Georges Cuvier, Richard Owen, Gideon Mantell). Because the Iguanodon model stood so tall, a stage was required for waiters and guests to get inside.

This picture in Illustrated London News was based on a drawing made by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, preserved in the Academy of Natural Science of Drexel University. This drawing was meant to be a report to the geologist Joseph Prestwich, but Waterhouse Hawkins intended it for wider circulation. At the time, much was made of the fact that Professor Richard Owen was placed at the head of the table – quite literally, sitting where the brain was located. Waterhouse Hawkins’ drawing was accompanied by a small report.

THE DINNER IN THE MOULD OF THE IGUANODON

Given by Mr. B Waterhouse Hawkins

To Prof R Owen, Prof Edward Forbes, Mr Joseph Prestwich and 18 other Scientific and literary gentlemen at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham on the 31st of December 1853

The Restoration of the lguanodon was one of the largest and earliest completed of Mr Waterhouse Hawkins’ gigantic models measuring thirty feet from the nose to the end of the tail, of that quantity the body with the neck contained about fifteen feet which when the pieces of the mould that formed the ridge of the back were removed the body presented the appearance of a wide open Boot with on enclosed arch seven feet high at both ends. The arch in the head of the animal was occupied by Prof R Owen the celebrated Palaeontologist who with Prof Edward Forbes liberally aided Mr Waterhouse Hawkins with counsel and scientific criticism during the whole time occupied by his unique, arduous and successful undertaking. The wider arch at the opposite end was filled by Mr Francis Fuller the Managing Director of the Crystal Palace with Prof Edward Forbes on his right and a musical friend on his left whose delightful singing greatly increased the pleasure of a memorable evening. The two sides contain nine seats each that in centre of left was occupied by Mr Hawkins as host and Chairman, was supported on his right by Mr Joseph Prestwich one of his earliest pupils & constant friend during the previous twenty five years. Mr John Gould FRS was on his left.

There was an eight-course dinner, details of which we know from copies of the menu card:

Soups: Mock Turtle, Julien, Hare

Fish: Cod and Oyster Sauce, Fillets of Whiting, Turbot à l’Hollandaise

Removes: Roast Turkey, Ham, Raised Pigeon Pie, Boiled Chicken and Celery Sauce

Entrées: Cotolettes de Moutonaux Tomates, Currie de Lapereaux au riz, Salmi de Perdrix, Mayonnaise de filets de Sole

Game: Pheasants, Woodcocks, Snipes

Sweets: Macedoine Jelly, Orange Jelly, Bavaroise, Charlotte Russe, French Pastry, Nougat à la Chantilly, Buisson de Meringue aux Confiture

Dessert: Grapes, Apples, Pears, Almonds and Raisins, French Plums, Pines, Filberts, Walnuts &c, &c

Wines: Sherry, Madeira, Port, Moselle, Claret

Many newspapers reported the event in the following days. All press accounts followed the tongue-in-cheek spirit of holiday celebrations. For example, Punch reported “Fun in a Fossil” (1854 volume 26 page 24),

The world of scientific gastronomy will learn with interest that Professors Owen and Forbes, with a party of other gentlemen, numbering altogether 21, had an exceedingly good dinner, the other day, in the interior of the Iguanodon modelled at the Crystal Palace at Sydenham. We congratulate the company on the era in which they live; for if it had been an early geological period, they might perhaps have occupied the Iguanodon’s inside without having any dinner there.

The London Quarterly Review asked,

Saurians, Pterodactyls all! . . . Dreamed ye ever . . . of a race to come dwelling above your tombs and dining on your ghosts.

Hawkins benefited greatly from the public’s reaction to the dinosaurs, including the publicity generated by the dinner in the Iguanodon. He was able to sell sets of small versions of the dinosaur models, priced at £30, for educational use. But the building of the models was costly (around £14,000 each) and in 1855, the Crystal Palace Company cut Hawkins’s funding. Several planned models were never made, while those that were half finished were scrapped, despite protests from sources including the Sunday newspaper, The Observer.

With progress in paleontology, the reputation of the models declined. In 1895, the US fossil hunter Othniel Charles Marsh scorned the inaccuracy of the models. The models and the park fell into disrepair as the years went by, a process aided by the fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace itself in 1936, and the models became obscured by overgrown foliage. A full restoration of the animals was carried out in 1952 by Victor H.C. Martin, at which time the mammals on the third island were moved to less well-protected locations in the park, where they were exposed to wear and tear. The limestone cliff was blown up in the 1960s.

In 2002, the display was totally renovated. The destroyed limestone cliff was completely replaced using 130 large blocks of Derbyshire limestone, many weighing over 1 ton, rebuilt according to a small model made from the same number of polystyrene blocks. Fiberglass replacements were created for the missing sculptures, and badly damaged parts of the surviving models were recast.

The menu for the meal gives you ample scope for celebratory dishes, and might inspire a New Year’s Eve feast of your own.  Here’s Isabella Beeton’s recipe for Charlotte Russe, which would be perfectly in keeping with the times. If you like, you can add a topping of seasonal fruits. I’m fond of berries. Beeton’s cautions about unmolding the dessert are well taken. I butter a spring-form pan, line it with greaseproof paper, and set the lady fingers in right-side-up. Then fill with the cream mix, let set in the refrigerator, then loose the spring-form. Molding upside-down in a fixed mold, and turning out by inverting is a recipe for disaster.

CHARLOTTE RUSSE.

(An Elegant Sweet Entremets.)

  1. INGREDIENTS.—About 18 Savoy biscuits, 3/4 pint of cream, flavouring of vanilla, liqueurs, or wine, 1 tablespoonful of pounded sugar, 1/2 oz. of isinglass.

Mode.—Procure about 18 Savoy biscuits, or ladies’-fingers, as they are sometimes called; brush the edges of them with the white of an egg, and line the bottom of a plain round mould, placing them like a star or rosette. Stand them upright all round the edge; carefully put them so closely together that the white of the egg connects them firmly, and place this case in the oven for about 5 minutes, just to dry the egg. Whisk the cream to a stiff froth, with the sugar, flavouring, and melted isinglass; fill the charlotte with it, cover with a slice of sponge-cake cut in the shape of the mould; place it in ice, where let it remain till ready for table; then turn it on a dish, remove the mould, and serve. 1 tablespoonful of liqueur of any kind, or 4 tablespoonfuls of wine, would nicely flavour the above proportion of cream. For arranging the biscuits in the mould, cut them to the shape required, so that they fit in nicely, and level them with the mould at the top, that, when turned out, there may be something firm to rest upon. Great care and attention is required in the turning out of this dish, that the cream does not burst the case; and the edges of the biscuits must have the smallest quantity of egg brushed over them, or it would stick to the mould, and so prevent the charlotte from coming away properly.

Time.—5 minutes in the oven.

Average cost, with cream at 1s. per pint, 2s.

Sufficient for 1 charlotte. Seasonable at any time.

May 012016
 

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On this date in 1851 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert opened the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations or The Great Exhibition, sometimes referred to as the Crystal Palace Exhibition in reference to the temporary structure in which it was held. It was an international exhibition that took place in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 11 October 1851. It was the first in a series of World’s Fair exhibitions of culture and industry that became popular in the 19th century and was a much anticipated event. The Great Exhibition was organized by Henry Cole and Prince Albert. It was attended by numerous notable figures of the time, including Charles Darwin, Samuel Colt, members of the Orléanist Royal Family, and the writers Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Music for the opening was under the direction of Sir George Thomas Smart and the continuous music from the exhibited organs for the Queen’s procession was under the superintendence of William Sterndale Bennett.

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The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations was organized by Prince Albert, Henry Cole, Francis Henry, George Wallis, Charles Dilke and other members of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce as a celebration of modern industrial technology and design. It was primarily a response to the highly successful French Industrial Exposition of 1844; its prime motive was for “Great Britain [to make] clear to the world its role as industrial leader.” Prince Albert was an enthusiastic promoter of the self-financing exhibition; the government was persuaded to form the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 to establish the viability of hosting such an exhibition. Queen Victoria and her family visited three times. Although the Great Exhibition was a platform on which countries from around the world could display their achievements, Great Britain sought to prove its own superiority. The British exhibits at the Great Exhibition “held the lead in almost every field where strength, durability, utility and quality were concerned, whether in iron and steel, machinery or textiles.” Great Britain also sought to provide the world with the hope of a better future. Europe had just struggled through “two difficult decades of political and social upheaval,” and now Great Britain hoped to show that technology, particularly its own, was the key to a better future.

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The Exhibition was described as,

Large, piled-up ‘trophy’ exhibits in the central avenue revealed the organisers’ priorities; they generally put art or colonial raw materials in the most prestigious place. Technology and moving machinery were popular, especially working exhibits. [Visitors] could watch the entire process of cotton production from spinning to finished cloth. Scientific instruments were found in class X, and included electric telegraphs, microscopes, air pumps and barometers, as well as musical, horological and surgical instruments.

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A special building, nicknamed The Crystal Palace, or “The Great Shalimar”, was built to house the show. It was designed by Joseph Paxton with support from structural engineer Charles Fox, the committee overseeing its construction including Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and went from its organization to the grand opening in just nine months. The building was architecturally adventurous, drawing on Paxton’s experience designing greenhouses for the sixth Duke of Devonshire. It took the form of a massive glass house, 1851 feet (about 564 m) long by 454 feet (about 138 m) wide and was constructed from cast iron-frame components and glass made almost exclusively in Birmingham and Smethwick. From the interior, the building’s large size was emphasized with trees and statues; this served, not only to add beauty to the spectacle, but also to demonstrate human triumph over nature. The Crystal Palace was an enormous success, considered an architectural marvel, but also an engineering triumph that showed the importance of the Exhibition itself. The building was later moved and re-erected in an enlarged form at Sydenham in south London, an area that was renamed Crystal Palace. It was destroyed by fire on 30 November 1936.

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Crystal Palace, Sydenham, London, in ruins following the devastating fire of 30 November 1936

Crystal Palace, Sydenham, London, in ruins following the devastating fire of 30 November 1936

Six million people—equivalent to a third of the entire population of Britain at the time—visited the Great Exhibition. The average daily attendance was 42,831 with a peak attendance of 109,915 on 7 October. The event made a surplus of £186,000 (£18,370,000 in 2016), which was used to found the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. They were all built in the area to the south of the exhibition, nicknamed Albertopolis, alongside the Imperial Institute. The remaining surplus was used to set up an educational trust to provide grants and scholarships for industrial research; it continues to do so today.

The Exhibition caused controversy as its opening approached. Some conservatives feared that the mass of visitors might become a revolutionary mob, whilst radicals such as Karl Marx saw the exhibition as an emblem of a capitalist fetishism of commodities. King Ernest Augustus I of Hanover, shortly before his death, wrote to Lord Strangford about it:

The folly and absurdity of the Queen in allowing this trumpery must strike every sensible and well-thinking mind, and I am astonished the ministers themselves do not insist on her at least going to Osborne during the Exhibition, as no human being can possibly answer for what may occur on the occasion. The idea … must shock every honest and well-meaning Englishman. But it seems everything is conspiring to lower us in the eyes of Europe.

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In modern times, the Great Exhibition is a symbol of the Victorian Age, and its thick catalogue, illustrated with steel engravings, is a primary source for High Victorian design. A memorial to the exhibition, crowned with a statue of Prince Albert, is located behind the Royal Albert Hall. It is inscribed with statistics from the exhibition, including the number of visitors and exhibitors (British and foreign), and the profit made.

The official descriptive and illustrated catalogue of the event lists exhibitors not only from throughout Britain but also from its ‘Colonies and Dependencies’ and 44 ‘Foreign States’ in Europe and the Americas. Numbering 13,000 in total, the exhibits included a Jacquard loom, an envelope machine, kitchen appliances, steel-making displays and a reaping machine that was sent from the United States.

Naturally we have to go with Mrs Beeton for a recipe. Her extravagant displays (often involving crystal) are a start.

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But then there is this:

GENERAL REMARKS.

  1. AN ANECDOTE IS TOLD of the prince de Soubise, who, intending to give an entertainment, asked for the bill of fare. His chef came, presenting a list adorned with vignettes, and the first article of which, that met the prince’s eye, was “fifty hams.” “Bertrand,” said the prince, “I think you must be extravagant; Fifty hams! do you intend to feast my whole regiment?” “No, Prince, there will be but one on the table, and the surplus I need for my Espagnole, blondes, garnitures, &c.” “Bertrand, you are robbing me: this item will not do.” “Monseigneur,” said the artiste, “you do not appreciate me. Give me the order, and I will put those fifty hams in a crystal flask no longer than my thumb.” The prince smiled, and the hams were passed. This was all very well for the prince de Soubise; but as we do not write for princes and nobles alone, but that our British sisters may make the best dishes out of the least expensive ingredients, we will also pass the hams, and give a few general directions concerning Sauces, &c.
  2. THE PREPARATION AND APPEARANCE OF SAUCES AND GRAVIES are of the highest consequence, and in nothing does the talent and taste of the cook more display itself. Their special adaptability to the various viands they are to accompany cannot be too much studied, in order that they may harmonize and blend with them as perfectly, so to speak, as does a pianoforte accompaniment with the voice of the singer.

Sauce soubise, named in honor of the prince, is easy to make, and goes well with ham, fish or poultry.

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Sauce Soubise

Ingredients

250g (9 oz) onion, peeled and finely sliced
60g (4½ tbsp) butter
12g plain flour
2½ dL (1 cup) clear veal or chicken broth
2 tbsp crème fraîche
pinch nutmeg
pinch caster sugar
salt and white pepper

Instructions

Place the onions in a thick bottom saucepan with 40g of butter and sauté them gently over medium-low heat, covered, for 20-25 minutes. Stir frequently and do not allow them to take on color. Stir in the flour and allow to cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes. Stir in the broth and add the seasonings to taste. Bring gently to a simmer while stirring constantly. Cover and let the sauce cook, at a very gentle simmer for at least 45 minutes. Stir from time to time.

Force the sauce through a double layer of cheesecloth lining a sieve and put back on the heat. Then add the rest of the butter and the crème fraîche. Let the sauce cook for another 5 minutes. Check the seasoning and serve (in a crystal jug !!).