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Galaxy Dinner Treats Guests to Meal Circa 1812

"Stuffed" was the comment most commonly heard from students in the interdisciplinary Food for Thought class and the Kitchen Culture: Women, Gender and the Politics of Food class at the conclusion of the bicentennial Galaxy Dinner on Feb. 1. Despite being handicapped by a forkless table-setting, students gamely consumed a sumptuous serving of early 1800s dishes. The event was held with a bit of historical staging -- candlelight, fire roaring in the hearth,wooden utensils -- in the Great Room of Philip Spencer House.


The meal, based on early cookbooks and documents preserved in the Hamilton Archives, attempted to recreate the cuisine students would have enjoyed in 1812. The menu included whole grain bread, apple butter, roasted joint of beef with gravy, fruit compote and cider cabbage salad, custard pie, apple cider and hyssop tea. Diners in the first part of the 19th century usually used the tip of a knife coupled with a large wooden spoon to consume their meals, and some of the students gamely attempted the same forkless technique.


The dinner gets its name, "Galaxy," from the proceedings of the Hamilton trustees in 1813. Under the "Regulation of the Dining Hall," these proceedings describe the dinner: "At the expiration of each quarter the Steward shall provide a dinner in an extra style, which is to be considered as a galaxy dinner, and for which each Student shall pay the Steward an extra sum of fifty cents."


Entertainment was provided by singer and banjo-player Sheila Adams who opened the evening with an a cappella rendition of the late 1700s song "Mary Hamilton," which she said had been passed down in her family for generations.  Adams traveled to Hamilton from the Appalachian region of western North Carolina and also performed for classes on Feb. 2.

Food for Thought: The Science, Culture and Politics of Food is taught by David Gapp, the Silas D. Child Professor of Biology, and associate professor of Russian Frank Sciacca.  Described as an interdisciplinary exploration of food, topics covered include why we eat what we eat; where our dinner comes from; the politics of food; the cultural history of foodways; early 19th-century New York State agriculture; diet fads; food and disease; the locavore and Slow Food movements. One weekly session is dedicated to The 1812 Garden, food workshops and films.


Kitchen Culture, taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Women's Studies Joyce Barry, is described as a cultural studies examination of women’s long-standing association with the private space of the home, in particular the kitchen, and the production and consumption of food. Grounded by feminist theoretical discussions of domesticity, the class analyzes how notions of family, community and cultural practices connected to food are differentiated by race, class, ethnicity and nationality.




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