A few years ago I published the first of what could be many posts on the prolific Salem publisher Samuel E. Cassino, whose diverse publications encompassed several popular periodicals and more technical reference works (including 30 editions of the Naturalists’ Directory published between 1877 and 1936). In that post I included a cropped postcard of what I thought was his grand residence on lower Lafayette Street, but it turns out I was incorrect, as his great-grandaughter has sent along a family picture of this very impressive house, which was completely destroyed in the Great Salem Fire of 1914. I think the real Cassino house is the house next door to the Greek Revival structure I featured in my earlier post: both were located in the vicinity of 190-194 Lafayette Street and both were completely destroyed by the Fire. I am so grateful to have received this photograph as we don’t have many of the pre-Fire streetscape of Lafayette, which was turned into a pile of ash (and a “forest” of chimneys) on June 25, 1914. Literary references to the Cassino house always use the words “stately” and/or elegant, and as you can see, these were understatements!
Photographs of 194 Lafayette Street before and after the Great Salem Fire of June 25, 1914, Blackburn Archive; Valuations of loss from the F.W. Dodge Company’s Report “Data on Burned District at Salem, Mass.”, Digital Commons, Salem State University; 194 (blue house) and 192 (white house) Lafayette Street today.
It was a beautiful house to be sure, but let’s not dwell too much on material loss. Mr. Cassino was a survivor: he was born in 1861 and was still living in Salem (on Savoy Road–much further down Lafayette Street) according to the 1940 Federal Census. His great-grandaughter recalls that he was greatly loved, especially by his grandchildren with whom he spent much time.
It’s back-to-school time and that mean I’m spending money: on myself. When I was a little girl, my elegant grandmother (still quite immaculately dressed at 101) would drive up from Massachusetts to Maine with a trunkful of dresses in late August or early September, and I would immediately run up to my room with all my loot, change into these beautiful frocks, and “treat” everyone to a fashion show. Many years later, I still think I deserve a back-to-school shopping spree every September, even though I’m a professor rather than a student (and I have to pay for it myself). I remain the clotheshorse/monster that my grandmother created, but this year I haven’t been spending much money on clothes: instead I seem strangely drawn to stationery. In the past week I’ve purchased calendars, planners, notecards, mousepads and other pads, and lots and lots of folders. I’m concerned that this is the administrative side of me taking over, now that I’ve been department chair for a year, and hope that my materialistic side reasserts itself when my term is over. And looking at the array of paper spread out before me, one thing is patently obvious: there are a lot of queens. Apparently mere mundane paper products are not enough for me; I must have royalty.
I love to read old cookbooks–I mean really old cookbooks, from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and of course these texts reflect a culinary culture that is far more tied to the land than that of the present: farm to table was the rule rather than the trend. From a pre-modern culinary standpoint, September is the month of feasting, the time when all manner of meats and fruits are now in their proper vigor and perfection in the opinion of Richard Saunders (Apollo Anglicus: The English Apollo, 1665). September was not only the time of the harvest, but the commencement of both Oyster and Partridge seasons, so it was truly the time of plenty. One of the most popular cookbooks of the seventeenth century, reprinted time and time again, was Robert May’s The accomplisht cook or, The art & mystery of cookery, whichcontains a bill of fare for an extravagant September feast–beginning with an “Olio”, a stew of beef, lamb, veal and poultry mixed with herbs and vegetables and proceeding through many dishes. Even though May claimed to be writing for the “greater good” and “meaner expenses” in his preface, this particular menu definitely reflects more aristocratic tastes and pockets.
Robert May’s September Feast (1665)
OYSTERS/ An Olio/Breast of Veal in stoffado/ Twelve Partridge hashed/Grand Sallet/Chaldron Pie/Custard
Rabbits/Two Hearns, one larded/Florentine of tongues/ 8 Pigeons roasted, 4 larded/ Pheasant Pouts, 2 larded/ A cold hare pie/Selsey cockles broil’d after
There is certainly no sentiment of saving or storing for the lean months ahead here, but rather fattening up for the winter. I just love the language of these dishes: Florentine of tongues, Pheasant pouts! Essentially there are lots of baked stews and pies on this menu: “sallet” is the seventeenth-century spelling for “salad”, chaldron refers to a measure of coal, but there is a traditional recipe for calf’s foot chaldron pie, so I assume that is what May is referencing, and “hearns” are herons. The Sussex seaside town of Selsey had definitely earned a reputation for its catches of cockles by this time, so May is using that term in much the same way we would say “Maine lobster”.
Title page of Robert May’s The Accomplishtcook(1671 edition), British Library; Pieter Claesz, Still Life with Turkey-Pie (and Oysters!), 1627, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam