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The problem of providing bodily sustenance for the students of Harvard University has been one that has been very much to the front since the first day of registration, close to three hundred years ago. The records of the University are full of references to it and not a few times its final solution has been reported. From the fact that a few years later it had to be solved now, we may infer that the solutions were not as final as could be wished.
In those early days there was nothing like the variety of viands to choose from and the students were almost wholly from Boston and vicinity. Today the student body of Harvard University is made up of men of an extraordinary range of origin, accustomed to widely different styles of food and cooking. Also they are at the time of life when they are acquiring new tastes and likings, and extending their knowledge of good eating. Their tastes change and become more catholic as they go through the University. For example, a spaghetti done in true Italian style, seasoned with garlic and other herbs, and plenty of full flavored choose may be turned down by a boy just of school, but as a Senior he may consider it a treat. Similarly with meats which are all improved by being "hung" the proper length of time unfrozen before being served. The schoolboy often refuses "hung" meat as being spoiled; the older man demands it and complains if it is too fresh. Also likes in hours of dining change as well. The Freshman Dining Hall is pretty well filled at quarter of six. Some houses do most of their business at six-thirty.
Must Consider Ages
The Manger of the dining halls, who is catering to Freshmen, Upper Classmen, and Graduates, must take into account this variety of tastes when planning his menus as well as the average ages of the different groups. In addition he must be constantly on the alert to provide variety as nothing will so quickly cause dissatisfaction as monotony at the table. In his search for variety, on the other hand, he must not serve dishes which are unusual to the bulk of his customers.
The menus for each dining hall are prepared by the stewards and chefs several days in advance and submitted to the Manager for his approval. The Manager has on his staff two dietitians, part of whose duties are to watch these menus, and, if necessary, to rearrange them so that a properly balanced varied diet is provided. The purchasing of all food supplies is done by the Manager of the Dining Halls, who keeps constantly in touch with the market and prices, and is always on the alert to make the most advantageous selection.
6 Kitchens for 17 Dining Halls
At the present time the Dining Hall Department operates six distinct kitchens and seventeen dining halls, as well as three bakeshops which make all the bread and pastry used in the dining halls.
The Union, Adams House, and Vanderbilt Hall at the Medical School, have individual kitchens. A central kitchen in Smith Hall prepares the food for Leverett, Kirkland, Winthrop, Eliot, and Lowell. a system of tunnels quite distinct from the heating tunnels provides communication between Smith Hall and the other Houses through which heated food trucks convey soups, vegetables, roasts, etc. In each of the dining halls so served there is a serving kitchen, where the food from the general kitchen is kept hot and many articles such as chops, steaks, egg dishes and special orders are actually cooked. At the Business School the layout is the same, namely a central kitchen for the six dining halls.
Each kitchen has its individual mechanical refrigeration plant, making its own ice and having cool, cold, and freezer rooms for storing supplies. Ice cream is bought from the outside, but is conditioned on the promises so as to be the right consistency for serving.
Varied Menus First Aim
The first aim of the Dining Hall Department is to provide ample varied menus adapted as far as possible to the tastes and likes of the different groups which it is serving, and to serve this menu hot and in attractive fashion. The second aim is to do all of this at the minimum of expense, and not to spend more than the total of the receipts for board and meals.
The receipts of the dining halls are, of course, limited by the very proper attitude that the cost of board should not be excessive, so that there is perforce a certain amount of compromising between the two aims mentioned in the foregoing paragraph, and it is only by extremely careful management that satisfactory results can be obtained. As a matter of fact the dining hall operations have shown a slight surplus in recent years after all expenses, which expenses, by the way, do not include any allowance for investment in plant and equipment, which amounts to over $500,000.
Waste Scrupulously Avoided
This surplus amounted, for the college year 1933-34, to a little over one cent per meal. With such a narrow margin, it is evident that only a slightly increased amount of waste would turn the scale. It is the endeavor to avoid waste which sometimes results in a dish being used up before every one who may order it has been served. This has been known to occur even in the best hotels and clubs.
The price of board at the University Dining Halls has fluctuated considerably in recent years, being this year and last year at the lowest rate in ten years, being this year and last year at the lowest rate in ten years, namely, an average of about eight dollars and a half for twenty-one meals. Any surplus resulting from the Dining Hall operation prior to 1932-33 was set aside for equipment replacements and renewals and to cover deficits which might occur in the future. In 1933 about four-fifths, and in 1934 the whole of the surplus was used for Student Aid.
Mem Hall in '93 "Luxurious"
A student of the history of dining halls at the University will find a wealth of material in the clippings, old bills of fare, and bills preserved in Widener Library. For example: in 1874 a regulation provided that there should be "Three courses, served at suitable intervals, and the joints of meat should not be carved at the table. In 1893 the Boston Sunday Herald made a feature story of Memorial Hall, describing its luxuries, its architectural glories, and its negro waiters, "not quite the worst to be found," and very much addicted to a game played with little ivory cubes. There are also copies of the platforms of various candidates for the Dining Hall Association (until 1910 Memorial Hall was managed by the students).
In 1895 the following Christmas menu was served. History records no ensuing fatalities:
Blue Points on the half shell, bisque of oyster crab, consomme a la Russe, bouchees of terrapin Maryland style, celery, olives, chutney, and boiled pompano, maitre d'hotel.
Potatoes Anglaise cucumber, filet Chateaubriand with truffles, mashed potatoes, spinach with poached egg, escalope of sweetbreads Bordelaise, fresh peas, and to wash it down, frozen claret punch.
This was just to get the gastric juices tuned up to digest roast turkey with cranberry sauce, baked sweet potatoes, cauliflower, boiled quail on toast with cress, and lettuce.
English plum pudding with hard or brandy sauce was next provided, and after it followed maraschino jelly, charlotte russe, French kisses, assorted cake, macaroons, Neapolitan ice cream, fruits, assorted nuts, raisins. Roquefort and Neufchatel cheese, and finally coffee.
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