History of Mass General

LOBSTER CORN CHOWDER, roasted native trout with sage brown butter, Johnny cakes, Indian pudding and wassail are not typical lunch fare served at the MGH eateries.

Updating an 1800s menu

04/Mar/2011

19TH CENTURY FARE: Duffy, left, and Manny Lopez, of NFS

LOBSTER CORN CHOWDER, roasted native trout with sage brown butter, Johnny cakes, Indian pudding and wassail are not typical lunch fare served at the MGH eateries.These dishes were, however, characteristic of the food served 200 years ago in New England, and thanks to the diligence and expertise of the staff of MGH Nutrition and Food Services (NFS), the hospital community had the opportunity to take a step back in time by enjoying these dishes in celebration of the bicentennial of the MGH charter on Feb. 25. NFS staff members regularly develop menu items in the Eat Street Café test kitchen and adjust ingredients to make dishes healthier. Prior to Feb. 25, Benjamin Duffy, food production manager, researched dozens of New England recipes from the 1800s and spent several hours in the test kitchen with NFS staff working on the bicentennial dishes.

“I looked up old recipes online and came across ‘American Cookery,’ a cookbook published in 1814,” he says. “There were many great recipes, but the only problem was back then, they didn’t use the measurements we use today, and they used wood stoves instead of ovens. So, we had to make adjustments to account for instructions such as ‘add butter the size of a hen’s egg’ and ‘roast under a two-pail pot with sticks at the bottom.’”

Despite the differences, Duffy and NFS staff made alterations and test-cooked all of the items over a period of three days and successfully brought the recipes to the modern day.

“It seems most everyone was pleased with how the bicentennial menu turned out,” says Susan Barraclough, director of NFS. “It was really interesting learning about the diet back in the 1800s. And quite honestly, we would never serve many of the dishes now because they are just loaded with lard, bacon and fat. But keep in mind these folks were very physically active. Also, they only had available what was grown locally and seasonally. Fish and lobster were staples, as well as corn, venison and all kinds of root vegetables. Johnny cakes, which are a mix of cornmeal, salt, butter and milk that is mixed together and cooked on a hot greased griddle, were served for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

In addition to the bicentennial-themed dishes, NFS renamed café favorites, such as the Bulfinch Burger, the Bigelow Melt and the Ether Dome Bulky, in honor of the charter bicentennial.