Seafood Juice, Young Turkey, and Hard Sauce: A Retro Thanksgiving Menu

By Michelle Railey

Grand Hotel Menu
Mid-twentieth century Thanksgiving Menu. Fancy!

Oh, mid-century American Thanksgiving at the Grand Hotel in Walla Walla, if only you still existed, I would happily pay a buck and eighty-five of my very finest cents to enjoy you.

I mean, how else would I know why the biscuits and mince pie on your menu are listed as “hot,” but nothing else? This raises questions, you must admit. For $1.85, I would love to know why guests must choose between tomato juice and seafood juice after their cocktails when, let’s face it, hotel dining room, you could have just offered Clamato (with vodka) and called it a day. Think of the printing costs the proprietors of the Grand Hotel could have saved. I mean, of course, back in the time when printing was hand-set and probably priced per letter and line.

Mid-century American Thanksgiving, I could have called you (5050) to ask why the turkey had to be young or what Chicken a la Royale soup is; to ask what Chicken a la Maryland might be; to delve into what a hard sauce might be and if it, as it should (see above: vodka/Clamato), contains liquor. If your phone hadn’t been disconnected in 1962, I would have inquired why “Mints” had their very own line on the menu. Maybe they were quite special, fancy, party mints.

Also, mid-twentieth century Americans, I confess: it seems so odd that beverages of choice for Thanksgiving include milk or buttermilk. For adults, even. Just seems like those things would be a little, erm, thick what with the starches and pies and proteins. And milk with seafood juice and oyster dressing?

Thank god for the mints, if you know what I’m saying here.

Luckily, from the vantage point of the “twenties” of the twenty-first century, I was able to discover that Chicken a la Royale soup was most likely a type of chicken consommé similar to one served by the Great Northern Railway in 1940 (that was a clear broth) or a creamier version served by the Strathcona Hotel (among others) as early as 1905.

And the Fried Chicken a la Maryland? It was probably very much like a chicken-fried or country-fried chicken, down to the cream sauce and flour dredging, and it seems to have originated in nineteenth-century America (Maryland, maybe).

Now, why the chicken consommé could not have been lumped in with the regular consommé (again, with the extravagant spending on printing costs), I have no clue. And the reasons for all the French bon-mot-ing for anything chicken on the menu? Equally mysterious, a la puzzlement.

My best guess on the Bavarian Cream Pudding was that it’s the same filling of a Boston Cream Pie. I wouldn’t ask you, dear Retro Thanksgiving, about that even if I could, because I pretty much need that to be true. So all we’re left with is that hard sauce. Which does, actually, contain alcohol (god love hard sauce): rum, brandy, whiskey or sherry is mixed with butter, sugar, vanilla “and other flavorings” (after the rum, brandy, whiskey and or sherry, no one cares that much) to create a sauced sauce.

So, all in all, for a dollar eighty-five per, well, I could feed my entire Facebook friendship club plus all my Twitter followers on a weeks-and-a half-ish pay: Happy Thanksgiving to every one I know. Which would be sort of awesome. Of course, we’d also, somehow, have to travel to Walla Walla, Washington, sometime before 1962.

The Grand Hotel was razed in 1962. Presumably the kitchen and fancy dining room went with it. The Internet is silent on the fate of the mints. The Grand Hotel had been built by adding on to the old Ransom Building on the corner of First and Alder Streets in Walla Walla and opened “with considerable éclat” on November 13, 1911, with a “grand” banquet (seafood juice and mints for everyone) that was stated by the local newspaper to be “some banquet” and “an auspicious occasion.”

For what it’s worth, the same newspaper page had a footer reading “It is only men who do things that count for much.” Well, what about the mints, I always say. Mints count for plenty.

Nearly a dollar eighty-five.

If you’re curious, a dollar eighty-five in 1950 equals nearly $23.63 in 2023. So, the Grand Hotel Thanksgiving dinner is quite a bargain. Even though you might have to drink buttermilk.

But the turkey is young. So there’s that.

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