375 Years of Food at Harvard: Beef Consommé

Beef consommé first appeared in French cuisine in the 16th century used as a supplement to other recipes. It re-emerged as a soup in its own right in Europe during the early 19th century, and it was even served to the first-class members of the Titanic on April 14, 1912. The consommé was a part of their fateful last dinner before the ship would eventually sink. Consommé served to the ship’s first-class “signaled not just the raw economic worth of the passengers; it aimed to reflect their own confidence and suggest their potential for success”. 
 From classical French cuisine to the Titanic, beef consommé has been a soup, which caters to and for the elite and their tastes. In true Harvard fashion, only the best food was appropriate for its students, and thus the Harvard Dining Association starting in February of 1786 served beef consommé to undergraduates.  
The beef consommé is made in the traditional sense by simmering finely mixed beef and vegetables, otherwise known as a raft, in a pot in which it goes through a series of steps of simmering and straining. Egg whites along with other seasonings are added and simmered creating a foam mixture at the top of the soup, which serves to clarify the soup as it rises. Once the foam is removed, the remaining soup is a clarified flavorful beef consommé ready to be eaten and served. The recipe used today is very similar to this traditional recipe, in that it still uses the same clarifying process and many of the same ingredients. Consommés can be still seen today in higher end culinary institutions and restaurants.

Research and writing by Jill Smith, Cabot House, ’14
Photo courtesy of: By User:Rainer Zenz (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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