Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ode to Janet Mckenzie Hill

Ode to the Chafing Dish

Oh, I am a festive chafing dish,
I foam, and froth, and bubble.
I sing the song of meat and fish,
And save a deal of trouble.
In kitchen realm and dining hall,
The housewife now is able,
When I respond unto her call,
To cook dinner on the table.

Oh, I am a festive chafing dish,
Comely, quaint and cosy,
In circles rather revel-ish,
My mission somewhat rosy.
I'm ever ready to command
To do the best of cooking,
Am always sure to be on hand,
And, best of all, good looking.

I offer this poem an "Ode To The Chafing Dish," which I found in the book titled Aspic and Old Lace published by the Northern Indiana Historical Society. I thought it quite appropriate in light of the fact Janet McKenzie Hill author of Salads, Sandwiches and Chafing-Dish Dainties was born in December. I'm not usually in the habit of recommending cookbooks however, I have to say, this cookbook is so much more than signatures filled with recipes. I believe it to be a must for anyone interested in delving deeper into the recipes, cooking and fashions of long ago, especially related to Indiana. I can't begin to offer the delicacies you will discover in rhyme, recipe and reason.

Janet McKenzie Hill

Janet McKenzie Hill was born in Westfield, Massachusetts in December of 1852. (Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find the exact date) She was the daughter of Alexander McKenzie, a prominent clergyman, author and Harvard graduate and Nancy (Lewis) McKenzie. Janet McKenzie graduated from Massachusetts State Normal School in 1871, and became an assistant teacher at Stockbridge High School. In 1873 she married Benjamin M. Hill. Years later, she went back to school to study cookery, and in 1892 graduated from the Boston Cooking School, where Fannie Farmer was assistant principal. (#1) Four years later, in June 1896, Janet M. Hill founded the Boston Cooking School Magazine.

The official journal of the Boston Cooking-School Corporation from 1896 to 1905, the magazine began its publishing life as The Boston Cooking-School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics from 1896 to 1914. The title changed to American Cookery from 1914 to 1946, then became Better Food between 1946 to 1947, and ended as Practical Home Economics in 1947. (#2)

Many graduates from the Boston Cooking School of Culinary Science & Domestic Economics contributed editorial columns to the The Boston Cooking School Magazine and eventually had cookbooks of their own published. Alice Bradley began her lifelong culinary career by giving cooking demonstrations with Janet McKenzie Hill. In addition to the magazine, Janet McKenzie Hill was an author, demonstrator of cookery, and lecturer on domestic science. She authored many books on cookery. Some which include Salads, Sandwiches, and Chafing-Dish Dainties (1899) Cooking For Two: A Handbook For Young Housekeepers (1909). The Book of Entrees (1911) and The Up-to-date Waitress in 1912. She co-authored and contributed to many advertising recipe books. Some which include The Minute Man Cookbook for the Minute Tapioca Company in 1909. It is a beautifully illustrated 32 page pamphlet. Her recipe for Raspberry Jell-O Supreme appeared in a 1912 booklet for Jello.

Thoughts on Chafing Dish Cookery

A fine table-cloth, pretty dishes, a vigorous fern in the centre of the table, a brass kettle for boiling water for the coffee, a chafing-dish, a bowl of eggs, a silver fork, a daintily-clad woman, leisurely preparing the attractive dish for the breakfast, is a background that lends poetry to the hardest and most vexatious day. With its aid cold meat can be made delicious, and many dainties too delicate for the clumsy brain and hand of the maid-of-all-work can be easily supplied by the mistress, even in her dinner toilet. For the Sunday night tea it becomes a pan of magic, the contents of which are mixed with grace and home love. The House and Home: A Practical Book By Lyman Abbott (1896)
Chaffing-Dish, Chafin Dish: The chafing dish of coals was a portable brazier to hold burning coals or charcoal and designed to be set on a metal stand. Dishes could thus be finished or reheated away from the fierce heat of the hearth. The "chafing dish of coals" ultimately became the elegant silverplated chafing dish set over a spirit lamp and used for the table cookery of Edwardian dishes. By then the ‘dish’ was the dish of food to be cooked or heated, not the dish containing the fire. source

Food historian Alice Ross in the Journal of Antiques, praises chafing dishes as a symbol of luxury. In a letter dated 1520, chafing dishes are held in high esteem, especially in colder climates, they were used to serve meals to the Aztec ruler Moctezuma.

As the climate is cold, they put a chafing-dish with live coals under every plate and dish, to keep them warm. The meals were served in a large hall, in which Moctezuma was accustomed to eat, and the dishes quite filled the room, which was covered with mats and kept very clean.

Who invented these sometimes elaborate cherished warming platters? In her book Practical Cooking and Serving: A Complete Manual of how to Select, Prepare and Serve Food, Janet McKenzie Hill has this to say about the origins of the chafing dish.

The origin of the chafing-dish dates back to the period of unwritten history. Its use was common at least two thousand years ago. Like the brazier, chafing-dishes were once made of bronze and rested on the floor. As occasion demanded they were carried from room to room by means of handles on the sides...the Greeks and Romans—a saucepan of Corinthian brass—was also a species of chafing-dish, having several features of the modern chafing-dish...All of these appliances were a combination of sauce-pan and heat generator. Formerly the heat was supplied by live wood coals or the flame of burning oil. The ancient dishes were intended for gentle cooking or simmering, and for keeping hot food that had been cooked by other means. This is the rightful province of the modern chafing-dish and all other cooking, save that of a gentle simmering, should be left for some more appropriate utensil. This degree of heat, that of simmering, is well adapted to the cooking of eggs, oysters, and cheese, and the reheating of cooked materials in a sauce, the sauce having been first made in the blazer of the chafing-dish.

The blazer, a hot-water pan and a lamp are the indispensable parts of the chafing-dish—the hot-water pan is some, times though erroneously, omitted. A tray upon which the dish may rest, while the lamp is lighted, insures the tablecloth against fire from below.

I found quite a few chafing dish articles in the archives of The New York Times. One article especially caught my eye. It was published on March 17, 1908.

The Countess Lonyay, formerly Archduchess Stephanie, has invented a new chafing dish and spirit lamp combined, and taken out patents in England, France, Germany, Italy, and Belgium.

Since I found it, I may as well offer this circa 1900 photograph of the Countess Lonyay. If you notice in the claim, she has "invented" a new chafing dish. It appears to me, the chafing dish, in some form, has probably been around as long as there has been fire, fuel and cooking. Some chafing dish recipes have their legends ignited in the history of Lobster Newberg, Steak Diane, Cherries Jubilee and Shrimp Wiggle.


Salads, Sandwiches and Chafing-Dish Dainties by Janet McKenzie Hill
Preface to the First Edition
By many women cooking is considered, at best, a homely art, a necessary kind of drudgery; and the composition, if not the consumption, of salads and chafing-dish productions has been restricted, hitherto, chiefly to that half of the race "who cook to please themselves." But, since women have become anxious to compete with men in any and every walk of life, they, too, are desirous of becoming adepts in tossing up an appetizing salad or in stirring a creamy rarebit. And yet neither a pleasing salad, especially if it is to be composed of cooked materials, nor a tempting rarebit can be evolved, save by happy accident, without an accurate knowledge of the fundamental principles that underlie all cookery.
Chafing-dish Style Fillets of Chicken
Remove the breast from a plump and tender chicken and separate from the bone and skin. Detach the small fillets, then cut each side into two or three lengthwise slices the size of the small fillets. Keep covered closely until ready to cook. Heat the blazer very hot, butter slightly, and in it lay the fillets and sprinkle with the juice of half a lemon, salt and white pepper; add, also, one-third a cup of chicken stock and a tablespoonful of sherry. Cover and let cook about ten minutes. In the meantime prepare a sauce in a second chafing-dish, using two tablespoonfuls, each, of butter and flour, a dash of salt and pepper, and one cup of stock, in making which a small piece of ham or bacon was used. Add also a tablespoonful of mushroom or tomato catsup and a tablespoonful of sherry wine.
...Jean Anderson in The American Century Cookbook
Around the turn of the century, college girls kept chafing dishes in their dormitory rooms and cooked on the sly. A favorite production was Shrimp Wiggle: canned peas and shrimp heated in a basic white sauce, then served on toast. If the girls were living dangerously, they might sneak in a little "cooking sherry."

... Woman's Home Companion, April 1904; The Chafing Dish and the College Girl
She did not always possess the luxury of a chafing-dish, this young collegiate hostess. Many a bain-marie, or double-boiler proviso, has her ingenuity fashioned to meet the emergency of the moment - one small saucepan tottering perilously within another on top of a small kerosene-stove balanced on a mahogany desk-chair, or a tin pail, perhaps, bobbing about in a basin. These were always harrowing performances...
...The Bachelor and the Chafing Dish (1896) Twentieth century bachelors may have single handily brought the mystifying "magic utensil" back into the modern spotlight with their bohemian midnight suppers of Welsh Rabbit.
The new chafing-dish which is a most delightful evolution is accomplishing much as a civilizer. It is certainly an important factor nowadays in breaking formality and bringing people around a festive board under the happiest sort of circumstances. Its very general use by both men and women, its convenience for a quick supper or for a dainty luncheon, and its success as an economical provider where it is necessary all this is putting the chafing-dish upon a queenly dais. source
...Marion Harland's Complete Cook Book By Marion Harland
For a chafing-dish supper there should be no more guests than can group themselves comfortably about the dining-room table. As a rule, the dishes that are prepared are not of the variety that one can eat readily from a plate balanced on the knee, or in the hand. If the main table be not large enough to permit of all being seated about it, there may be smaller tables for the "overflow." If one chafing-dish is too small to prepare as much as the appetites of the eaters crave, there may be one at each end of the table, and there should be an expert in charge of each. The table may be simply set—either bare, or covered with a plain cloth. Flowers are out of place in the middle of it, as interfering with the free view of the chafing-dish by the guests. For it makes no difference how often one has seen a dish cooked, there is always curiosity to see it done once more. About the chafing- dish are placed all the paraphernalia that attend upon that kind of cookery—the condiments, the utensils, the spoons, forks, knives, measuring cups and the like. In chafing-dish cookery nothing can wait, and everything that by any chance can be needed must be there in advance...The occasion should be most informal. Persons who can not unbend readily should never go to chafing-dish parties. They will find themselves much out of place. To those who are fond of easy laughter and simple fun and a good deal of nonsense, and whose digestions—this is chiefest of all—are in good working order, there are few social relaxations that are pleasanter than a chafing-dish "affair."
...Hood's Practical Cook's Book
There is nothing in the way of cookery for which a chafing-dish is recommended that cannot be accomplished as well with a gas or oil stove, or common cooking range. But the chafing dish is exceedingly nancly for a social luncheon, where but one or two things are to be cooked, and where the heat of the range would be objectionable. Besides, it enables the party to sit around the table and see the process of cookery, and make suggestions to the cook, or exchange badinage with the other guests...The rule for stewing oysters or clams in a chafing dish does not differ materially from the rule for stewing on the stove. There are some variations in methods, and either can be used on the chafing dish. They may be stewed in milk or in their own liquor.

Nicole Aloni in her book Secrets from a Caterer's Kitchen offers unique uses for some of those lovely chafing dishes you can some times pick up for less than renting a sterno set up.

As long as understand their appropriate use, a chafing dish adds a lot of flexibility to your entertaining menus. I have an attractive four-quart chafing dish for my home I use at nearly every party.

Resources (all images will open larger)

  • 1) Feeding America
  • 2)
  • 3) Marion Harland's Complete Cook Book (page 680)
  • 4) Fannie Farmer
  • 5) The Up-to-date Waitress By Janet McKenzie Hill (google book)
  • 6) Hood's Practical Cook's Book
  • 7) Perfection Salad, Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century
  • 8) The House and Home: A Practical Book By Lyman Abbott(Published 1896) (online @ google)
  • 9) Salads, Sandwiches and Chafing-Dish Dainties by Janet McKenzie Hill (online reader)
  • 10) Recipes for Chafing Dishes from Fannie Farmer
  • 11) Home Made Candy Recipes by Mrs. Janet McKenzie Hill

    1. Fascinating! I just found a paperback, abridged version of Cooking for Two, and history major that I am, I wanted some history. This is a really delightful post!

      1. Hi M.D!
        Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on this post. I was recently thinking about updating it since it is a post that I did way back when at the beginning of my blogging "career." It warms my heart to know you enjoyed it. Thank you so much for visiting...

    2. I should add, Louise, that the paperback I found is circa 1951, the year after my parents were married. I guess that is what attracted me to it. I found it tucked behind some other things in my mother's pantry.

      1. I just love finds like that M.K. I will be on the lookout for a paperback edition...just because:) Thank you so much for taking the time to visit:)


    Through this wide opened gate,
    none came too early,
    none returned too late.

    Thanks for dropping in...Louise