A (Small) Dinner Party

Nichols House Museum-  1906 menu
Nichols House Museum- 1906 menu

Menu, Club Dinner, March 28, 1906

Menu card

Made: Boston, Massachusetts, 1906

Materials: Paper, ink, graphite

In the permanent archival collection of the Nichols House Museum

Visitors often comment on the small size of the Nichols family dining table—it seats six people. The elegant room with tall ceilings and golden walls understandably conjures images of large, elaborate parties. The Nichols family did host large events from time to time, such as their daughter Margaret’s wedding reception when they hosted 235 guests, but they also entertained for small groups more regularly at their Beacon Hill home. Each family member held dinner parties for their friends, or even to honor and welcome visiting dignitaries and international guests. Arthur Nichols often hosted dinner parties for his doctor friends, signified by the designation “Club Dinner” on some of the menu cards, which are preserved in the Nichols House Museum archival collection.

Each course on the menu cards is separated by a simple drawn line, and the courses roughly follow the order suggested in Fannie Merritt Farmer’s popular 1906 cookbook, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, available on Google Books.[i] The courses would have been prepared in the kitchen by the cook, laid on a sideboard in the dining room by the kitchen maid, and served by William (Arthur’s manservant). For large events, the family hired wait staff to serve at table. Arthur Nichols loved good food, often describing his favorite meals in letters to his family.[ii] This menu from March 28, 1906 may have incorporated some of his favorite foods to impress his guests.

Below is a brief description of the unusual (to twenty-first century eyes) food included on the menu:

White Soup, Farina balls: Creamy almond soup with wheat dumplings. Farina is still sold in stores today as a hot wheat cereal.

Planked Shad Roe: Shad is a fish from the Chesapeake area, which, when cooked on a plank of wood in front of the fire, is imbued with a smoky flavor. Its roe, or egg sack, is considered a delicacy.[iii]

Potato Balls: Mashed potatoes with optional additions mixed in, such as sliced ham, onions, eggs, and herbs; then they are shaped into balls and fried in oil.[iv]

Sweet Breads: This is a term to describe the edible organs of various animals, often the thymus and pancreas glands of calves and lamb. Sweetbreads are described as both sweeter and juicier than regular cuts of meat and are considered delicacies. For a modern take on sweetbreads, visit this Serious Eats blog post.[v]

Tomato Salad: This dish is probably a composed salad, such as a whole tomato that has been cored, filled with creamy dressing or cheese, and placed on a bed of lettuce.[vi]

Guava Jelly: Guavas are fruit originally from Central and South America and are high in pectin, making them perfect for jellies and candies. This cheese course gets a tart, strawberry-like accent with the guava jelly.

Sherbert and dulces: For the dessert course, sherbet, as defined by Fannie Farmer, is “water ice [frozen fruit juice, mixed with water and sugar] to which is added a small quantity of dissolved gelatin or beaten whites of eggs.”[vii] “Dulce” is Spanish for “sweet,” which may refer to either candies or even small cookie-like pastries.


[i] Fannie Merritt Farmer, The Boston Cooking-school Cook Book, 1906. http://books.google.com/books?id=UXkEAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=fannie+farmer&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ke7HU-eqJtOGyASkiIKQBA&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=fannie%20farmer&f=false

[ii] B. June Hutchinson, At Home on Beacon Hill: Rose Standish Nichols and Her Family, 2011. Page 47.

[iii] “Planked Shad,” midatlanticcooking, August 20, 2012. http://midatlanticcooking.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/planked-shad/

[iv] Farmer, Boston Cooking-school, http://books.google.com/books?id=UXkEAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=fannie+farmer&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ke7HU-eqJtOGyASkiIKQBA&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=fannie%20farmer&f=false, 313, 315

[v] Chichi Wang, “The Nasty Bits: Sweetbreads,” Serious Eats, June 14, 2011. http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/06/the-nasty-bits-sweetbreads.html

[vi] Farmer, Boston Cooking-school, http://books.google.com/books?id=UXkEAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=fannie+farmer&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ke7HU-eqJtOGyASkiIKQBA&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=fannie%20farmer&f=false, 333-334

[vii] Farmer, Boston Cooking-school, http://books.google.com/books?id=UXkEAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=fannie+farmer&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ke7HU-eqJtOGyASkiIKQBA&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=fannie%20farmer&f=false, 433


By Ashley Jahrling, Assistant to the Director