2012-08-29 / Front Page

Let’s party like it’s 1888!

Metuchen pub re-creates 19th-century dinner, based on Historical Society cookbook
Staff Writer
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Customers at Hailey’s Harp & Pub, Metuchen, enjoy a circa-1888 dinner on Aug. 21. Customers at Hailey’s Harp & Pub, Metuchen, enjoy a circa-1888 dinner on Aug. 21. METUCHEN — A couple dozen patrons set their palates back 124 years at the Hailey’s Harp & Pub last week.

Pub Manager Moshe Atzbi said it was about a month ago when he came across “Crumbs of Comfort,” a cookbook first published in 1888. The Metuchen-Edison Historical Society reproduced many copies of the cookbook in 1992, and it is dedicated to the memory of the Rev. James Gilbert Mason. Mason, who was the pastor of the Metuchen First Presbyterian Church, was born in Jonesboro, Tenn., on Oct. 31, 1841, and died in Metuchen on March 18, 1938.

Mason had compiled the historical elements of the book for the Ladies’ Aid Society in 1888.

Atzbi said his roommate had left the cookbook on the kitchen counter.

“I started looking through it and thought it would be fun to do a historical beer dinner,” he said.

And that is what they did. Atzbi and John Labarbera, chef at Hailey’s, teamed up with the Metuchen-Edison Historical Society to hold the 1888 Dinner on Aug. 21 at the Irish pub on Main Street.

Tyreen Reuter, of the historical society, filled people in on what was going on in 1888, including the great blizzard, which saw snowfalls of 40 to 50 inches on parts of the East Coast, including New Jersey and New York; Jack the Ripper was on his serial-killer rampage in London, killing women in impoverished areas; artist Vincent van Gogh cut off the lower part of his left ear with a razor; and Grover Cleveland was president of the United States.

Atzbi said they picked six dishes and paired them with beers that they thought would be best, including older beers such as Yards’ Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale, English Old Ale from the Carton Brewing Co. in Atlantic Highlands, Dominion Oak Barrel Stout beer and a German beer.

For the selection of food, Atzbi said the cookbook was so dry and simple that they tried to look for the more interesting dishes.

The dishes included Mrs. Emery’s Chow- Chow, Mrs. Gilbert’s Chicken for Supper, Mrs. Emery’s Filet of Beef, Mrs. Rowland’s Pickled Blackberries, Mrs. Emery’s Lobster Rolls, and Mrs. Mason’s Trifle.

“This was interesting to put together,” Atzbi said. “We have done 20 or so different beer dinners before, and this I have to say has been the most difficult because the book doesn’t offer how high we should preheat the oven or how long — it just says bake.”

Words in the recipes included stir, boil and mix; however, that was pretty much it.

Atzbi said they tried the dishes a few times before the dinner.

The lobster rolls were served first, derived from the recipe for lobster salad dressing. The pickled blackberries then were served as a salad.

The chicken dish arrived next, served with some sides of lemon and yellow beans, which were touches that Atzbi and Labarbera added.

“The lemons came from my grandmother’s recipe,” Atzbi said.

The Chow Chow, a mix of peppers, cucumbers, green tomatoes, string beans, onions, corn, cauliflower, white mustard seed, turmeric, vinegar and celery seed, was served with the filet of beef and potatoes.

Atzbi said that because the selection of desserts in the cookbook was not good, they added their own twist. The cake was soaked in rum and topped with fruit.

Atzbi and Labarbera said they did the best they could to make the meals as close to the recipe book as possible

“The filet of beef was the closest,” he said.

The people who attended the dinner enjoyed their meals. Some liked the chicken and some liked the filet of beef, with one patron saying the staff at Hailey’s should place the filet of beef on the menu.

Before the dinner, a toast was made to Robert Collins, a committee chairperson of the historical society in 1992, who happened to find the cookbook in the New Jersey Room of Rutgers University’s Alexander Library.

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