The Archives: A Gourmand’s Delight

If you ever stop by to visit the Becker Library archives – and as the archives are open to the public you’re more than welcome to do so – you’ll be asked to follow a few rules. Sign into our ledger book, only look at one folder of archival material at a time, and, please, no food or drinks near the historical documents. Despite this last policy, food often does show up in the archives – in the form of various menus, which are scattered throughout the archival collections.

If you were patient at Barnes Hospital in 1916, a few years after its opening, you ate the same meals as the general hospital employees, according to the daily handwritten menus that were prepared for the hospital superintendent. The medical staff of the hospital, however, were given a more varied daily set of dining options. A typical supper for patients and general employees consisted of spaghetti, potatoes, fruit, coffee and milk. On the same day, house officers were served, among other things, spaghetti, fried oysters, roast veal with dressing, carrots and peas, mashed potatoes, chocolate layer cake, chicken salad, coffee and milk. At nearby Jewish Hospital, patients in 1940 could order a 50-cent sandwich plate, which included a roast meat, cheese, or hard egg sandwich; a lettuce and tomato salad or choice of pears, apricots, or peaches; and the option of coffee, tea, Postum, cocoa, or milk to drink.

The military medical units that were stationed overseas during World War I and World War II, and which drew their officers mainly from the Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes Hospital medical staff, also generated menus during their deployments. Base Hospital 21, which was active during World War I, offered different Christmas dinner menus to their officers, non-commissioned officers, enlisted men and nurses who were serving in France in 1918. Consistent across the officers’, non-commissioned officers’ and enlisted men’s menus were the conclusion of the meal with cigars and cigarettes, while the nurses’ meal finished with white wine and demi-tasse. While stationed in France in 1944 during World War II, General Hospital 21 officers dined on potage aux tomates à la crème, filet mignon grillé, petits pois à la française, and tarte de citron cremée.

More recent menus are included in the recently organized and indexed Wesley A. Clark Papers. Clark retained menus as souvenirs from a 1972 trip to China, where he had traveled to consult with Chinese computer scientists. Menu items from this trip include consommé of spongy bamboo with quail egg, stewed chicken cube with fish maws and fried prawns chop.

Most unusual of all is the menu, written as a joke and included in the event program, for the Jewish Federation of St. Louis’s dinner for social workers in 1937. Cocktails included Freud oyster with Jung roast lamb following as an entrée. Dessert was Oedipus eclairs and involution coffee with melancholic cream to drink.