From vintage menu cards to prole drift

I was recently gifted a set of four menu cards from the S.S. Monterey in 1938. That faux Gauguin look may not appeal to some. Indeed, the whole mention of Gauguin is a minefield with what we know now. I like the colour and vibrancy of these, even while understanding it is a sentimental take on South Pacific maidens. I think the insight into days gone by is fascinating, even more so when you consider that these items were retrieved from the Luggate dump.

Luggate is a very small settlement in Central Otago which has recently undergone a period of rapid growth to reach a population of 648. There wasn’t a whole lot of information about Luggate on line but I did find this delightful, though irrelevant quote, from the Otago Daily Times:

”I think one of the biggest changes was when the cricket club took over the domain [in the mid-1970s] because it used to get cut once a year and was used to make hay,” Mrs Anderson laughed.

Anyway, that is where these menu cards were found, presumably in the days when it had an old-fashioned dump. I had to take one of the cards out of its frame because it had slipped and the inside revealed the date and the cruise liner. There was a lot more information about the S.S. Monterey on line than there was about Luggate. It was a luxury ocean liner first launched in 1931 and built to promote travel from USA to the South Pacific, including New Zealand. It was repurposed as a speedy troop carrier during World War 2 before returning to its cruise ship role, although it took over a decade for the refit from troop ship back to ocean liner.

I have never been on a cruise and frankly, the prospect of choosing to holiday on a modern behemoth makes me shudder. Plague ships, a friend of mine calls them and that was before Covid and the Ruby Princess and Diamond Princess. Besides, Mark suffers from seasickness to the extent that even short ferry rides can be problematic. But I am guessing a modern cruise does not resemble the privileged luxury of this earlier ocean liner.

The abbreviated wine list (‘Complete Wine List Available on Request’) is sourced from France – only French champagne, darls – Germany, Australia and just Chianti from Italy.

The food menu is likely to have been table service but not cooked to order, looking at its contents. It certainly looks extensive and impressive, ranging from Hawaiian Frog Legs to Apple Cream Pie, but I think our ideas of gourmet food have evolved in the last 80 years. The appetizers contain such delights as Canape of Bloater Paste, Sardines in Oil, Smoked Liver Sausage and Emrelettes. I had to Google Emrelettes – a trademarked brand of tinned grapes that have been peeled and de-seeded, tinted green and flavoured with Crème de menthe. So now you know, too, in case it ever comes up in a quiz.

I am cooped up at the moment, having just had cataract surgery. So I am not allowed to garden or to bend or lift anything heavy for a full week, leaving me with time on my hands. The insight into a luxury cruise of privilege had me looking online for photos of early commercial passenger airflights. We may laugh at the rattan chairs (chosen because they are lightweight?) but oh to have flown in the days of s p a c e and table service. I couldn’t find the photo that I have seen previously of the hot carvery being wheeled down the aisle that fresh meat may be sliced individually as required. It is all such a far cry from the utility economy class – cattle class – that most of us fly these days – or did, until the beginning of last year. Flying has certainly lost its glamour down the years.

Why have flying and, cruising lost their glamour? It is simple: because they have become accessible to the hoi polloi, the plebs, the common people. It is the process of democratisation – ‘the action of making something accessible to everyone’. It is clear in many aspects of the modern world we live in: leisure, flying, fashion… even gardening.

I have written often enough about the desire by many New Zealand gardeners to emulate the garden styles of the rich and powerful, usually historical English gardens but with forays into other European styles from the past. I still like this piece I wrote on prole drift and I am not at all sure that a whole lot has changed in the ten years since I published it. But who am I to complain, being a direct beneficiary of the process of the democratisation of gardening?

2 thoughts on “From vintage menu cards to prole drift

Comments are closed.