Now (almost) fully in holiday entertaining mode, having (almost) left the semester behind me, I have been perusing old cookbooks in pursuit of a famous punch traditionally served at Hamilton Hall’s annual Christmas Dance. It’s a particularly potent rum punch, which led to a few horrible hangovers in my youth. Now I know how to handle it and have no fears of this weekend’s dance! I had my own little party a few days ago and hoped to serve it myself, but I didn’t find quite the right recipe, despite consulting the most obvious source, the 1947 Hamilton Hall Cook Book. I like this slim volume for several reasons: the shortness of its recipes, which are limited primarily to ingredients and very few processes, the odd names and ingredients (“Shrimp Wiggle”, “Maggi Essence”, “Veal Bewitched”, “Forced Meat Balls”, “Old Election Cake”), historical information embedded in the recipes, and the various topical features, primarily those on the Hall’s Rumford Roaster (which I wrote about in an earlier post) and one of its most famous resident caterers, Edward P. Cassell. The most amazing image in the little book is a portrait of Cassell in front of the Peirce-Nichols House, basket of “coveted invitations to an Assembly, a debutante ball or a wedding at which he was to be major-domo” in hand, taken by Salem photographer E.G. Merrill in 1907. It’s an iconic image of an iconic man: at this time, the cookbook proclaims, Cassell had been “a Salem institution for nearly half a century and Salem [was] justly proud of him.”
I wish I could find the correct rum punch recipe and I wish I knew more about Mr. Cassell. He was the second African-American resident to cater to the crowds at Hamilton Hall, succeeding John Remond, the patriarch of the well-known Abolitionist family and quite the entrepreneur himself. Despite his more recent vintage, Cassell seems much more mysterious than Remond, although I haven’t really taken the time to dig into his life and work. The long history of service provided by African-Americans to the denizens of Salem, in and around Hamilton Hall, needs more attention, I think, along with the cumulative experience of African-Americans in Salem. I do know that at the commemorative exercises held in recognition of the 250th anniversary of John Endecott’s landing in Salem in 1878, the tables were laid by Mr. Edward Cassell, the well-known caterer, and were handsomely decorated with a choice display of flowers, arranged beautifully in large bouquets, and a small one at each plate, with a neatly designed carte de menu, memento of the celebration and that the lunch embraced more than a score of dishes, substantial and elegant”, that he was famous for his ice-cream figures (mostly animals) and savory salads, that his Ropes Street home burned to the ground in the Great Salem Fire of 1914, and that he died in the following year. But that’s about it. As to the punch: no rum variety in the Hamilton Hall Cook Book, but there is an interesting recipe for “1858 Mulled Wine” involving lots of boiled wine thickened with egg yolks and topped with frothy egg whites which looks to me far older than 1858. This is the forerunner of egg nog, called caudell in the medieval era and caudle later. This popular drink, like its cousin posset, was enjoyed at Christmas and all winter long, and inspired the creation of bowls, spoons, and cups for just that purpose–like the charming late 17th century cup made by John Coney, which later came into the possession of Oliver Wendell Holmes and the collection of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.