Cindy Batten, Alice Gromisch, Dr. Donald Gromisch and Andrew Batten, chef-educator.
As part of their educational outreach, Raynham Hall Museum presented a Victorian St. Patrick's Day dinner. The Friends of Raynham Hall Museum gave a live demonstration of what the Irish servants working for the Townsend family would eat at their own St. Patrick's Day celebration. Most of the servants were Irish. Andrew Batten, former director of Raynham Hall was the chef-educator for the afternoon.
"This dinneris one that would have been prepared in the 19th century. It is working class fare. Here the Irish ate far better (more food) than in Ireland. They would have started the meal with tea and spice breads and preserves," he said which is what happened.
The next course was St. Patrick's Soup consisting of a blend of finely chopped potatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms and spinach, cooked in a chicken stock, thickened by oatmeal and spiced with ground cloves, salt and pepper and served with whipped cream.
Boiled bacon followed, in this case it was a pork shoulder than spent two days packed in brine - when you can float an egg in it, the brew has enough salt - then it was boiled in pickling spices and served with horseradish sauce. Next on the menu was colcannon, a dish of mashed redskin potatoes with kale and scallions, cream, butter and thyme, salt and pepper. The cooking was begun on the stove and finished in a casserole dish in the oven. Irish bacon and cabbage casserole was next on the menu. They used Savoy cabbage, slices of Irish bacon, and salt and pepper to taste, and allspice berries all cooked in chicken stock. It was served with parsley sauce. Next was a casserole of winter vegetables including turnips, parsnips and carrots.
Dessert was a barmbrack, a bread pudding supreme. Think of it as a perfect French toast seasoned with whiskey, but infinitely better. There were about three cups of whiskey poured into the bread as well as many eggs and much cream. The guests went home with the recipes.
Historically speaking of the dinner he said, "We will eat more than they typically did. In America the servants were not well fed, but they ate better here than in Ireland. Typically, immigrant children were taller than their parents, as a result of getting more protein in their diets."
At Raynham Hall itself, Mr. Batten said it is possible that they didn't prepare desserts, but got them from local catering houses or restaurants.
To place the meal in its historical era, before our modern times when food is available year round, he said, "By St. Patrick's Day, March 17, food was already getting scarce after the winter. The vegetables they would have eaten were the root vegetables that kept well in the cellars: turnips, parsnips. Bread was baked fresh. When bread went stale it was used for bread pudding."
After giving this short lecture he told everyone they were welcome to "Help as much as you wish, no more than you like." Most guests were all for helping and chopped and peeled vegetables. Andrew was like a chef in a large kitchen, giving orders to others as he cooked himself, his wife Cindy filling in at places: working smoothly as a team.
Mr. Batten said the first St. Patrick's Day parade was held in Boston in 1737. St. Patrick's Day parades are very different in Ireland, he said. There, after the march, people go to church. "It is a holy day of obligation, a day you have to go to Mass, not a day of celebration," said Mr. Batten, who was raised protestant, but had an Irish Catholic mother, so he is familiar with their traditions.
One of the things that made it so easy for the Irish to work in people's homes when they came to this country was that they spoke English, he said. "Their aim was like the Hispanics today who come and work as landscapers with the goal of running their own businesses. The Irish wanted to become part of the middle class and when they did, the first thing they did was to hire a maid, they were so inexpensive to hire. The wages of servants remained stable from 1850 to 1907. They were paid $4 a week; the cooks received $10 a week. In the 1860s that was a decent living," he said.
Although Americans think corned beef and cabbage as a St. Patrick's Day tradition, Mr. Batten said their Irish bacon was not smoked, it was soaked in brine. "The tradition of having corned beef and cabbage is a result of the Irish not being able to get bacon soaked in brine. Instead they bought corned beef from Jewish butchers as an acceptable substitute."
There wasn't fresh meat in March, he said. "The last slaughtering was done in November and in early December people had their last fresh meat. The saying 'taking scraps from the bottom of the barrel' is from that time." He said in Ireland, the Irish often hung some bacon on the rafters of the house. "The smoke cured the ham and being on the rafters kept it away from hungry people and animals."
Mr. Batten said Raynham Hall was the first house in Oyster Bay to have running water. That was done in 1851 to 1852. It used a gravity system to get water to the sink, located somewhere in the kitchen. "This was a state-of-the-art kitchen," he said.
Before serving dinner, Mr. Batten sang an 18th Century Irish Song called The Jolly Tinker. "Tinkers had a bad reputation in the 18th century. They were considered people who were not willing to beg, and not willing to work. They were known for mending things. The song is about a tinker invited into a home to do some repairing," he said before he sang.
Everyone enjoyed Mr. Batten's educational information and had only one question left for him: "When's the next dinner?"
Andrew Batten, the former director of Raynham Hall Museum and the current director of the Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City, came back to Oyster Bay to share his talents as a chef-historian-educator. There is an interesting connection between his former and present jobs: tied in through the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The Townsend family surviving members gave Raynham Hall to the DAR in 1941. For many years the DAR tried to raise money for its upkeep by operating a tea room. In the end, they deeded the house to the Town of Oyster Bay in 1947. The town did some renovations on the house over the next few years and the museum opened in 1953. The town is responsible for the maintenance of the house museum. The Friends of Raynham Hall are responsible for managing the collection. The Oyster Bay Chapter of the DAR meet monthly, on Mondays at Raynham Hall Museum.
Mr. Batten said the DAR is responsible for the preservation of Fraunces Tavern, where he currently works. "The DAR shamed the Sons of the Revolution into preserving the building. The whole block it was in was set for demolition in 1904. Fraunces Tavern was being run as a restaurant and a flop house at the time. The Sons of the Revolution decided to run it as a museum. Then and now they own five buildings on the block. The entire block is a New York City landmark," he said.
He also noted that Fraunces Tavern reopened last year after a $2 million restoration outside and a $600,000 interior restoration.