By Nancy Armitage
Potage and Consomme
A perfect topic on a cold wintery, January day. Potage & Consommé, both French words: “Potage” means soup & “Consommé” means a clear soup from a richly flavored stock or broth. Some chefs take egg whites to clarify the broth to remove sediment & fat. Some consommés are flavored with ground meats & a mirepoix (which is a combination of carrots, celery, & onion) & sometime tomatoes. Often, on Gilded Age menus (all written in French) you will see these soups listed as the 2nd course.
I personally love soups, they just make you feel warm & cozy! I like making soups, I love the great smell from the kitchen when making soups. I would truly have soup everyday for any meal (hot or cold ). I grew up having soup & stews often & really enjoy a flavorful broth. Growing up in the 1960’s, most restaurants offered a soup or a salad, before your entrée. Soups are one of the great flavorful culinary treats of life.
Even last night when our family had a take-out Mexican feast for “Taco Tuesday” we ordered soup. One of my sons ordered Mexican Pozole Soup, a tasty flavorful soup with chicken or pork, hominy, green chiles, cumin, garlic, & lime. I didn’t know this, but pozole can be made 3 ways: red, white, or green. My son, told us that it was quite outstanding in a red tomato base. It can served with shredded cabbage, thinly sliced radishes, chopped avocado, cilantro, onions, & wedges of lime.
I judge a restaurant from the flavor & taste of their soups. Some of my best travel memories are the delicious soups, I’ve tasted along the way: Mexican Tortilla soup in Mexico & the Mission Inn in Riverside CA (Glenwood Mission Inn). Cream of Mushroom Soup with brandy added in a café on a super cold rainy day in Amsterdam. Or hot New England Clam Chowder on the top of the ski slope at the half way house in Squaw Valley, Calif. All amazing . Ok, moving on….
Soups in the Gilded Age
From the 1880’s to 1920’s, in wealthy American households, soups were served twice daily for formal luncheons & formal dinners. The more I research this topic I think, the Huntington’s probably employed a cook just to make soups.
At lavish multi-course Gilded Age dinners, soup was usually the 2nd course. Oysters on the Half Shell was often the 1st course. Sometimes, the Collis Huntington Family had 9-16 different courses at these opulent dinners, banquets or parties served to their dinner guests.
I have seen Huntington menus where each course was paired with different wines including 2 or 3 different French & California champagnes at the same dinner. These extravagant dinners lasted about 2 hours & there was a break in the middle. The break gave a chance for people to excuse themselves from the table. The butlers & footmen, offered Huntington “Roman Punch” at this break in the meal.
Sometimes, while entertaining, high society in the Gilded Age, they would offer a choice of two soups at these fancy dinners. They would offer a “bouillon” (clear soup) sometimes called “consommé” (served hot or served cold & jellied served with lemon wedge) or a cream soup.
Every kind of soup was served at the Huntington Family dining table(s); each state where the Huntingtons lived, they had different traditional soups. Whether they were in New York, California, or Paris. In San Francisco, they enjoyed a “Bisque of Ecreusses”” Crab soup (SF is known for their delicious crab) & a California Cream of Artichoke soup(a California Watsonville specialty). In New York, at the Huntington Dining Table, Consomme Royale was often served, as was Turtle Soup, Asparagus Soup, Lobster Bisque, & Oyster Soup. In Paris, the Huntington ate French Onion Soup, & Potage St. Germain. At the San Marino Ranch, soups were made for the abundance of Ranch veggies: Corn & Potato Chowder, Pumpkin or Squash Soup, Cream of Mushroom Soup, Scottish Barley Soup, Cream of Asparagus Soup and so many more.
Mrs. Arabella Huntington was also a Southern Belle, so different delicious Southern soups were served at the Huntington tables. From New Orleans, they would serve Chicken & Shrimp Gumbo, Oyster Soup at Christmas time (we know it was also served to H.E. Huntington (1905) on the private railroad car “Oneonta I”), & Navy Bean Soup, Salisfy or Oyster Plant Soup (where their grew the salisfy (Oyster plant) vegetable, as in the San Marino Ranch),
Cooking for In-house staff of 25-30 people (SMR):
The family’s cooks also had to feed their entire household staff in all the Huntington mansion(s)! That is a amazing amount of people to feed 3 meals a day. The Huntingtons in their different residences had servant staffs of 12-30 people, sometimes larger during Thanksgiving & Christmas time. Mr. H. E. Huntington (Belle & Edwards) paid every servant staff year long, even if the Huntingtons’ were not “In-residence” at their different mansions. The San Marino Ranch – Huntington Mansion “In-house” staff ranged from 16-22. With the Traveling servants there could be 9-11 more servants & employees. So Miss Nora Larsen & Head Cook, Mary James could have been cooking for over 30 in-house staff. They fed the Huntingtons & their houseguests, luncheon guests & dinner guests.
In 1919 -1920, the Huntington’s in-house staff including traveling servants & employees, they had a extra 25 more people to feed for 3 meals a day. Except for Thursdays, which was a Cook’s night off and the servant staff most high society mansions. Even in the social register in Pasadena & Los Angeles, California it is states that Thursday was cook’s night off. Often, at private clubs, Thursday night was “Seafood Buffet Feast” for “cooks night off”.
Cooking at the Huntington Mansion (SMR)
Besides the in-house staff, the Huntington’s San Marino Ranch cook: Mary James fed numerous people. Like, Mr. Wm. Hertrich (Head Gardener), Mr. Clarence Williams (the chauffeur), Miss Reifer (Mrs. Huntington’s personal ladies’ maid, (Miss Carrie Campbell- Mrs. Huntington’s social secretary & friend) & Mr. George Hapgood (Mr. Huntington’s social secretary) & several others.
For the Mr. & Mrs. Huntington’s house-staff: The Lunch might have been soup & sandwiches, a nice filling lunch. The more I think about it, there might have been a cook that just focused on cooking for the In-house staff. In the servant’s Dining-Room, the cook would have cooked up something hot & delicious for dinner. The Huntington’s did not like waste of any kind. The Huntington staff most likely ate the extra food from the Huntingtons “entertainments” if there was a overflow. What’s the old saying: “waste not, want not.”
Soups at the Huntington’s San Marino Ranch
At the San Marino Ranch Huntington Mansion, many soups were made from the abundance of the vegetable crops that Mr. H. E. Huntington grew. The ranch had 2 massive vegetable gardens (the west & the east veggie gardens). This is a short list, they grew corn, pumpkins, salsify (oyster plant), squashes, caulifower, artichokes, spinach, every kind of mushroom, “Petit pois” (French baby peas), okra, avocados, every kind of potatoes, carrots, broccoli, & tomatoes. The Huntingtons had so many beautiful fresh vegetables on the ranch, they could have had a different soup every day for one month; & not have the same soup twice. Document: HEH Coll. 8/9 uncat (San Marino Ranch papers-)at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
In 1919-20, Mary James, the Huntingtons Head cook (s) had so many soup choices. From all the vegetables on the ranch, she could have made Corn & Potato Chowder, Savory Pumpkin Soup, Salsify Soup, Autumnal Squash Soup, French Cauliflower soup with French Tarragon, Spinach or French Sorrel soup, Potato & Leek Soup, French Mushroom Soup with Cream, “Potage St. Germain”- a soup the Huntington’s ordered at Hotel Bristol, in Paris (Split Pea soup with Virginia Ham & French Tarragon), Southern Navy Bean Soup or New Orleans Gumbo with tomatoes & okra, Los Angeles creamy avocado soup, Mexican Tortilla Soup with chicken & avocado, or New England Clam Chowder or Manhattan Clam Chowder. So many choices!
Parisian Cream of Mushroom Soup
The Huntingtons enjoyed this lovely soup Paris mansion or Huntington Mansion at the San Marino Ranch. They grew many of these mushroom blocks under the Huntington’s garage (Boone Gallery now). A great mushroom soup is a combination or several mushrooms.
3 t. butter
3 T. olive oil
1 onion, yellow, chopped
1 clove garlic
2 c. mushrooms (button or Paris mushrooms)
1 qt. chicken stock
1/2 c. heavy cream
finely chopped parsley, lovage, or baby chives
Saute the mushrooms, onions, & garlic in a mixture of butter & olive oil in saute pan. Saute for 8-10 minutes. Place in a blender (or Braun hand blender) with chicken stock & cream. Heat in small stock pot. Pour into pretty soup bowls or 1-2 c. Haviland sugar bowls with lids. Sprinkle minced herbs on top of soup. For thicker soup, add less Chicken stock. Makes about 2 qts. Recipe: Nancy Armitage
By Huntington invoices, we know that the Huntingtons served Asparagus Soup, Cream of Mushroom Soup, & California Artichoke Soup, which are just delicious cream soups.
Pasadena, CA Soups:
The Hotel Huntington in Pasadena, California served amazing soups like , “Bouillon en Tasse Madrilene” (April 26, 1924 menu). This fancy Madrilene, is a clear consomme with a tomato base but can also be jellied and serve cold by adding Knox gelatin in the making. I found a Huntington recipe in a Pasadena cookbook in 1914 for Cheddar Cheese Soup . It was a Huntington recipe made by HEH’s daughter- in- law, Mrs. Howard Huntington (Leslie). She and Howard lived in in Oak Knoll, Pasadena, CA. Leslie’s Cheddar Cheese Soup had eggs, flour, paprika, grated cheese & milk in it.
Los Angeles Soups
So many good soups served in Los Angeles. At the Jonathan Club in downtown Los Angeles, they served Cream of Avocado soup. The Jonathan Club is where H. E. Huntington was a member, in 1905 he was the president of the club.
At the Valley Hunt Club in Pasadena CA (Howard was a member) and the San Gabriel Country club (HEH was a member) they served a delicious Cold Vichyssoise soup. A beautiful cream soup Vichyssoise is made of cooked & pureed leeks, potatoes, onions & cream and sprinkled with chopped chives. It was actually invented in NYC at the head chef of the Ritz-Carlton.
In the famous Olvera Street restaurants on Alameda Street, they make the best Mexican “Albondigas Soup” in Los Angeles. Albondigas is a delicious meatball soup, the meatballs are made with rice & ground beef. Then vegetables like potatoes, zucchini, onions, green beans, garlic, & tomatoes are added to the flavorful broth. Poured into a large soup bowl, chopped cilantro or baby chives can be sprinkle on top before serving at the dining table.
Soups at the Huntington’s Mansion on No. 2 East 57th St. NYC, New York:
At the Huntington’s Mansion at No. 2 57th Street & 5th Ave, in New York City, they seemed to have soups brewing at all times. Especially New York in the winter is especially cold – perfect for steaming hot soup to warm you up. Soup was served at luncheons & dinners, also. Remember at The Huntington Mansion, they fed the Huntingtons & their family, houseguests & friends and the staff and traveling servants. But they also feed about 16 in-house servants or more at this New York mansion.
Soups at No. 2 Huntington Mansion:
On Huntington New York fancy dinner menus like the Hobby Club there was often Green Turtle Soup, Oxtail Soup, or Chicken Consommé. For another Hobby Club of New York Dinner, Mr. Huntington’s cook in December 16, 1915 served Consommé Royale a beautiful labor intensive flavorful soup: which has a mutton/lamb/or veal clear stock. It had leeks, carrot, onions & celery in it; flavored with cloves, peppercorns, sherry wine, and/or vinegar & salt. With savory custard cubes that have been cooked in the oven & cubed up with a knife. For a substitute for custard cubes, you could also use firm tofu curds & mince up in cubes & sprinkle in the hot broth.
They always had the makings for Manhattan or New England Clam Chowder, Lobster Bisque, Crab Soup, & Christmas Oyster Soup (often on the Huntington menus or Oysters on the half shell, Asparagus Soup and Mushroom Soup also..
In April & May of 1919, the Huntington’s cook ordered massive quantities from the fish monger, huge amount of shellfish & fish were ordered at the same time. They could have used Cod and Snapper for Seafood soup, Lobster for Lobster bisque, Clams, Lobster, Crab, clams & mussels for Spanish Paella, both Archer & Arabella had gone to Spain & really enjoyed it.
Huntington’s “Homestead” Estate at Throggs Neck in Westchester Co. NY
Collis & Arabella Huntington bought this “Homestead” estate which used to be the Havermayer, Ashe and Mitchell estates. They enjoyed their honeymoon at “Homestead” in (1884). It was a seaside estate between Long Island Sound & the East River. Fresh fish and seafood would have been abundant, I found many invoices with 100 lb. of fish & shellfish orders for No. 2 & “TN” Throggs Neck.
The Huntingtons could have had Oyster on the Half Shell, Red Spicy Clam Chowder (Brooklyn style), Shrimp or Crab Cocktail, Crab Cakes with tartar sauce with dill or French Tarragon added, Clam & Mussels at a Clam Bake on the beach, Clam balls (New England tradition), French style mussels (mushrooms, onion,s and cream) or Spanish Paella was fish, mussels and clams, or a New England Lobster Feast on the beach or in their yacht. Served with sweet butter. After H.E. and Arabella Huntington were married in 1913, they too enjoyed the Huntington “Homestead” Estate.
Throgg’s Neck Red Clam Chowder (Brooklyn style)
4 lb. quahog clams
1 t. olive
2 celery stalks, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped fine
4 Irish russet potatoes, chop and cube
1 qt or more Clam broth
2 qt. water
2 t. thyme, minced
1 t. butter
1 onion, minced
2 carrots, chop
1 lg. can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes, cut up in pieces
2 t. tomato paste
2 t. Greek oregano, minced
salt and black pepper fine grind
dash of Tabasco or cayenne pepper
In the bottom of a stock pot, add clam & water, to take out sand & grit from the clams. Rinse several times & drain water. In a large stock pot, add 2 qts. of water, & all the clams. Put on high heat & bring to boil, reduce heat & wait for the clams to open. If any clam doesn’t open, throw them away.
Take the clams from their shells & discard shells, but save the clam juice & set aside the clams.
In sauté pan, add butter & veggies (carrots, onions, celery, and garlic) & sauté.
In the same clam juice/stock, sautéed veggies & all other ingredients. Cook for 40 mins. Add clams just before serving. Serve with warm crusty bread and butter. Recipe: Nancy Armitage & Kathi Davis
The Huntington’s San Francisco Nob Hill Mansion:
At the Collis P. Huntington Mansion at 1020 California St. in San Francisco (now Nob Hill) many soups were served. Crab Soup with a French name “Bisque of Ecreusses”, Artichoke Soup with a French name.
In May of 1897, “Consomme Seveigne” was on the dinner menu at the Collis & Arabella Huntington mansion. They served it to over 100 guests in the Ballroom-Art Gallery at the Southern Pacific Co. annual banquet.
“Consomme Seveigne” (Huntington Nob Hill Mansion)
This is a simple & elegant Victorian soup, served with meatballs & stuffing called “Forcemeats”. One could substitute the chicken forcemeats for turkey burger or garlic meatballs.
2 qts. chicken consomme or chicken stock
20 chicken forcemeats
1 head lettuce, chopped thin
1/4 c. french French “petit pois” garden peas
2 T. French chervil herb, minced
Place ingredients in a stockpot, and heat. In the last minutes of heating, add the lettuce, it cooks very fast. Serve in Victorian 2 handled soup bowls, sprinkle with fresh chervil. Make 3 qts. Recipe: Nancy Armitage adapted from Escoffiers’s recipe.
Often, in the 1890’s, the Huntington clan would go on vacation in Monterey, CA. They would stay at the famous Hotel del Monte, in Monterey CA; owned by the Southern Pacific Company. At the Hotel del Monte, they would serve a Cream of Cauliflower soup. The Hotel del Monte also had a Chicken Broth, Bellevue on a Huntington menu, I found in Mr. H.E. Huntington menu ephemera. Document: HEH Coll. HEH Eph 41-33 (Huntington family menu Ephemera) at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
Soup at the Huntington’s Chateau Beauregard (Paris, France):
While vacationing in France each summer, the H.E. Huntingtons (HEH & ADH) leased Chateau Beauregard (1913-1923.) At the Chateau, they had a 4 acres garden of French vegetables & herbs & Fruit trees (pears, plums & apples).
A the Chateau Beauregard, the cook served French traditional soup called “Pot-eu-feu” (boiled beef simmered in carrots, leeks, celery & roasted potatoes). Pot-en-feu is usually served in 2 courses French-style: 1st course just the broth of beef & veggies. The 2 nd course: served as a hearty stew, with the meat & potatoes & vegetables from the Chateau Beauregard gardens. You could use beef shank or rump roast with marrow bones.
Potage Saint-Germain (Huntington Honeymoon Soup at Hotel Bristol, Paris -1913)
In the Summer of 1913, Mr. & Mrs. H.E. Huntington stayed at the Bristol Hotel in Paris. They stayed there for 5-month honeymoon. I found a long tally of food eaten at the Hotel Bristol; this soup was one of the French culinary delights. Document: HEH Coll. MS 12 /1-30 uncat (Chateau Beauregard papers) at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA
Potage St. Germain means French Garden Pea Soup in French. The best Potage St. Germain I ever made, was a combination of “Chantilly Soup” (peas, parsley onions and flavorful stock) & this recipe. I bought a ham hock & had my butcher cut in 5 pieces; I boiled it for a nice chicken stock with onions, garlic & chopped lettuce. I used romaine lettuce, instead of Boston lettuce; I substituted French Tarragon for the mint & a bit of white pepper. If you sauté the onions & omit the sugar. With a Braun hand blender, remove the bones & puree the soup & then add some ham. Perfection!
1 head Boston Lettuce
2 lb. shelled peas (baby petit pois peas)
1 t. mint or spearmint
1/4 lb. butter
1/2 t. salt
moisten with chicken stock
freshly ground black pepper
pinch of sugar
a couple teaspoons of heavy cream
Wash lettuce & shred leaves in strips. Shell peas if using fresh peas. Put butter in a saucepan, Add lettuce, peas, salt and sugar. Cover & simmer over low heat for 10 mins. Add 4 cups water/chicken stock & simmer another 10 minutes until peas are tender. Puree soup in blender. Return to a clean saucepan. Add pepper & bring soup to a simmer. Add a couple teaspoons of heavy cream. Serves 6. Recipe: Nancy Armitage
In the famous Maxims Restaurant, the Huntingtons used to eat in Paris, they had a wonderful French Onion Soup & also Mushroom Soup. At the Hotel Bristol, where they stayed often in Paris, the Huntingtons were served “Potage St. Germain”, which is Split Pea soup with ham hock.