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Heirlooms: Vintage Dinner & Dance Menus

My father’s mother, Constance Daisy King, or ‘Tiny Ma Ma’ as I knew her, was in many ways unlike my maternal grandmother, but I will focus on the fact she was not a cook. Connie didn’t care much for eating food, and she cared even less about preparing it. It’s sad to say, but when I helped Dad clear out the kitchen cupboards after she died they were filled with tins of Campbell’s Condensed and processed meat that had lain undisturbed for years. So long, in fact, that some of the cans had oxidised and expanded so that they exploded on contact and showered the kitchen in putrefying frankfurters.

Connie’s kitchen was geared towards the preparation of little more than a good cup of tea accompanied by something sweet from Mr Kipling. A bottle of lemon barley water was always kept on a little tray confusingly near to the washing up liquid, to be served in heavy cut glass tumblers. My grandma appreciated dainty place settings and, writing this, I could almost be sitting with her, cradling a cup and saucer from her ‘Black Velvet’ tea service: delicate, straight-sided and printed with a design of brown spots nestled in slim black frames.

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My grandfather (fourth from left) and grandmother (third from right), all dressed up for dinner

The heart of Connie’s home was her living room where I would always be surprised by the quantity of greetings cards she would have on display. I now find her brief 1984 diary of perhaps her only tour of Western Europe is lit up by her enjoyment at joining in ‘The Birdie’ and a good sing song, proving Connie to be far more outgoing than I ever witnessed. She loved dressing up and, ever generous, she took pride in giving me her favourite ‘paste’ to wear to my school prom: a chunky, single strand diamante necklace and four-stand cuff that she had once worn to a dinner dance. Some of Connie’s fondest memories, that I would ask her to relay again and again, were of the smart London events she attended with my grandfather Leonard, a ‘man from the Pru’.

I never knew my grandfather because he died from lung cancer when my dad was still a boy. Dad, an only child, rarely spoke of his loss and so Leonard became a mysterious figure for me as a child. On visits, he would look over handsomely from a photo frame on top of Connie’s television, near to an unending bowl of Cadbury’s Chocolate Eclairs. I have a hunch that Connie’s disinterest in all things culinary was exacerbated by the premature loss of her beloved husband. Food, after all, is best enjoyed in company, and, as a widow, Connie felt terribly lonely for much of her long life.

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My grandmother, father and grandfather on the beach

Although she passed away years ago, I can still recall Connie talking about her and my grandfather’s escapades with a cheeky grin and a giggle. Her photo albums, much diminished in quantity after Leonard’s death, are bursting with happy snapshots taken on holidays in Worthing, Broadstairs and Bournemouth. My grandfather is forever preserved as a smiling, strapping man not averse to wearing a silly hat or short shorts. It’s hard to glimpse at this small family unit, my own, that I never knew in its completeness, and not feel a lump in my throat.

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My grandfather is head of the table on the far left with my grandmother to his right

For this blog I have started, albeit haphazardly, to publish the recipes left to me by my family. I’m sorry to say I have no heirloom recipes from Connie, in fact, I can’t recall her ever cooking me a meal that might warrant one. What I do have, however, is this collection of five menus that represent some of the more notable events she attended in her married life. Perhaps, if I can decipher the French, these dishes can be her contribution to my heirloom recipe collection.

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The Prudential Assurance Co District Managers’ Association Dinner & Dance at The Mayfair Hotel, London W1, 4th April 1957. My grandfather L.J. King is listed as Honorable Assistant Secretary of the Committee. The back page is signed by a number of people I presume to be my grandfather’s colleagues

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A buffet menu comprising: Melon de Saison Rafraichi; Blanc de Turbot Grimaldi; Poulet Nouveau de Kent Bonne Maman, Petits Pois a la Francais, Pommes Fondantes; Peche Glacé Alma, Biscuit Glacé Napolitaine, Mignardises; Cafe. Music by Bill Savill and his Orchestra and Gordon Turner ‘will drop in during the evening with his piano’

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Rotary Club of Brixton ‘Ladies’ Night’, St Ermin’s Hotel, London SW1, 6th April 1959. My grandfather L.J. King is featured on the menu cover as then President of the Rotary Club of Brixton

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On the menu: Cocktail Florida; Scampi Frite, Sauce Tartare; Dinde Roti, Chipolatas, Cranberry Sauce, Pommes Parmentier, Petits Pois au Beurre; Savarin Glace aux Fruits; Café

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Empress Club Sports Society ‘Snooker Club Presentation Dinner’, London W1, 1st May 1958

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A personal message congratulating my father on his exam results is written on the back page, signed by cricketer Len Hutton and comedian Tommy Trinder, whose catchphrase was ‘you lucky people’

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On the menu: Hors D’Oeuvres Parisienne; Delice de Sole Veronique; Contrefilet de Boeuf Richelleu, Pommes Cocotte, Haricots Verts Frais; Poire Dame Blanche; Petit Fours; Café

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Rotary International District Youth Service Committee Dinner & Rally, Overseas League House, London W1, 21st January 1959. Signed by Sir John Hunt, army officer and leader of the 1953 British Expedition to Mount Everest

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On the menu: Creme Sevigne; Supreme de Sole Nantua; Carre d’Agneau Borgeois, Pommes au Gratin, Haricots Verts au Beurre; Quiche Lorraine (curiously positioned in place of dessert); Café

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Lambeth Chamber of Commerce and Trade Annual Dinner & Dance, Wingfield House SW8, 18th March 1959

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On the menu: Hors d’Oeuvres; Tomato Soup; Roast Turkey with Ham and Chipolatas, Roast Potatoes, Garden Peas; Ice Cream Sundae, Rolls and Butter, Petit Fours, Coffee. Cabaret from Jean Belmont’s ‘Gaytimers’ and music from Len Hempshaw and his band

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About Chloe King

I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.

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18 comments on “Heirlooms: Vintage Dinner & Dance Menus

  1. April 9, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Fascinating. both the story of Connie to start, and the menus she kept as mementos.

    • April 9, 2014 at 9:19 pm

      Thanks Kavey, I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

  2. April 9, 2014 at 11:30 am

    What a great post. I only have a shortbread mould from my gran, but I think that is more to do with the fact, that they both dies when I was young and my mum was never much interested in cooking and just stuck to a few basic dishes, so she probably didn’t think of keeping anything herself.

    • April 9, 2014 at 9:24 pm

      Thank you Jacqueline, I do feel lucky that I have these reminders around, although I can also understand your mum’s decision to get rid of those that weren’t useful to her, these things can weigh a person down. I went on EBay today to see if I could replace my gran’s Black Velvet tea set but managed to hold back!

  3. April 9, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    WONDERFUL! Just such a great post Chloe and as we have discussed, I have some “Ships” dinner menus hanging around somewhere, that I must dig out and scan to share! LOVE the photos too…..everything looks better in B and W, I think, with the exception of food maybe! Karen

    • April 9, 2014 at 9:31 pm

      Thank you Karen, I’m looking forward to reading about your vintage cruise menus on your blog, I bet there are some fantastic dishes on those. My grandma’s menus are precious to me but it seems the food wasn’t the most inspired, I’d love to have a time machine and see what it actually looked like on the plate. Oh, the good old days before Instagram!

  4. April 9, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    What lovely memories and very nostalgic.

  5. April 9, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    So enjoyed your post. I am about to take possession of my grandmother’s baking file – she was a brilliant baker (I am not) and am looking forward to some inspiration from a generation now passed on.

    • April 9, 2014 at 9:27 pm

      Thanks Madeleine, that is so exciting about your grandmother’s baking file. I was speechless (albeit momentarily!) when my aunt gave me her mother’s recipe journal. I look forward to reading about your family recipes on your blog.

  6. April 9, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    I don’t have menus, but I do have the radiation cook book – the very one that Karen recently found in a junk shop! And, I have a wealth of old photos that I love!

    Great post xx

    • April 9, 2014 at 9:32 pm

      Well that sounds like plenty of treasure to me! I love the sound of that Radiation Cookbook, it certainly caught my eye on Karen’s feed! Thanks for kind words x

  7. April 10, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    Love the pics of your family- they seem like they were having a really nice time you know. It would have been fun to be at some of those dinners.

    • April 10, 2014 at 9:31 pm

      Thanks Bintu. I’m sure they did have fun, but at the same time I can’t help thinking the dinners must have been like some over-formal office party where you’re bound to be sat opposite an absolute jerk! When the dancing starts, however, I think that must have been quite something, Cabaret from Jean Belmont’s Gaytimers…

  8. April 12, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Such a nostalgic story – and Constance is such a pretty name. What a shame Connie didn’t leave you any recipes. Though I adore that she kept all of those special menus!

    • April 13, 2014 at 9:46 pm

      Thank you Ren, no recipes but plenty of memories!

  9. July 28, 2015 at 10:23 am

    Hello Chloe. Fascinating to read about your family in the 50s. I was reminded about Jean Belmont and The Gaytimers, only this morning when I received an email from my nephew who is on holiday in St.Remo right now. My parents used to run a banqueting house/hotel in Hounslow at that time and from May to January, five nights a week, they booked cabarets for the dinner dances held at The Red Lion, Hounslow. We had a wonderful reputation for beautiful food and although it’s very 50s now, the menus were well in line with the finest hotels in London’s West End. We usually catered for around 250 to 300 guests each evening at long banqueting tables, like the ones in your photo. Jean Belmont and her husband Don Calvi spent a holiday with our family in St.Remo and Alassio in 1958, when I was 18 years old. They were born entertainers and I have many happy memories of nights of fun and laughter spent in their company. They were well known on the London scene, along with so many famous entertainers of that era who also ‘played’ The Red Lion: Max Bygraves, Ted Heath and his Orchestra, Dick Emery, Joan Reagan, Alma Cogan, Johnny Ray, Roy Castle, and Tommy Cooper to name a just a few. I know I’m name dropping now but actually these were great names in show business then and being invited to the company’s annual dinner dance was the highlight of many a worker’s year. Those were the days and nostalgia ain’t wot it used to be! Thanks for the memory!

    • August 8, 2015 at 2:25 pm

      So lovely to hear from you Wendy – I’m sorry it has taken a while to respond, I have been neglecting this blog somewhat lately! Thank you for sharing your family stories, it’s great to think how sharing some ephemera that has just been hidden in a box on a shelf can trigger such good memories. I agree, seems things ain’t quite what they used to be, shame to lose this community vibe – or perhaps it is still alive in some way… xxx

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