Sifted peas, Vanderbilt dressing, kraut juice, steak Stanley, and kaffee hag – now that sounds like a hearty meal. Historic menus from the House Restaurant, dating back more than 80 years, include some incomprehensible dishes. Sifted peas? That’s just one odd delicacy among many showcasing the culinary evolution of the House Restaurant during the last century.
The oldest menu in the House Collection, from 1933, is an amalgam of foods from regions represented in Congress. “Pin-money pickles” from Richmond appear on the same page as “boiled New England dinner,” the Midwestern decaffeinated drink Postum, and popular hangover remedy Red Raven Split from Pennsylvania. The “dietary platter,” complete with Melba toast and stewed fruit, is given a prominent spot on the menu. Attending Physician George Calver introduced it just a few years earlier as “what’s good for brain workers in the sluggish days of spring” according to one newspaper report.
While the dishes served in the House Restaurant changed over the decades, a few remained on the menu year after year. The most famous is the House’s bean soup, which has been available every day since Speaker Joe Cannon, incensed that he could not get it on a hot summer afternoon, decreed that it would always be served. But what about the sifted peas, that mysterious dish that, unlike bean soup, was consigned to the dustbin of culinary history? Sifted peas turn out to be dried green peas that were reconstituted by boiling them, rather like split peas. No bean soup, certainly.
As for the other taste sensations of the House Restaurant menus? Vanderbilt dressing, found on a 1939 “dietary platter” offering, was made from a singularly rich mix of whipped cream and mayonnaise. Kraut juice was the juice strained from sauerkraut. It was popular in German-American communities for generations. Steak Stanley may be the most unusual combination of tastes in the long history of the House Restaurant offerings. It was a tenderloin steak topped with bananas and horseradish, and appeared on the menu in 1935. Kaffee hag was an early brand of decaffeinated coffee. It wasn’t the only decaffeinated beverage on the menu. Postum, buttermilk, and the antacid Bromoseltzer all showed up in the House Restaurant in the 1950s.
By the late 1960s, the House Restaurant menu’s dishes began to look like something one might order today. Hamburgers, chili, and hotdogs popped up. In the days leading up to Passover, gefilte fish appeared. Menus survived as treasured souvenirs from a lunch with one’s Representative. Tourists collected autographs from the Members of Congress in the dining room and jotted down the date of their visit. Unfortunately, not a single menu includes a visitor’s review of the sifted peas. Follow @USHouseHistory