Just when it appeared as if Grapegate had evaporated into the mists of time, a reminder bubbles up in the Star Tribune’s dusty archives.
Remember Grapegate? When the New York Times selected an iconic Thanksgiving recipe to represent each of the 50 states, and saddled Minnesota with a grape salad?
The social media response was cataclysmic, a collective you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me that rang out from Bemidji to Burnsville. Even the newspaper’s public editor chimed in, describing the “epic recipe fail” as “bizarrely wrong.” Ouch.
The whole sorry episode came roaring back as I gingerly thumbed through the fragile remains of the Dec. 18, 1980 issue of the Minneapolis Tribune’s Thursday Food section. Imagine my surprise when I spied the lead item in “Ask Mary,” the interactive (well, pre-Internet, anyway) recipe column penned by longtime staffer Mary Hart.
Yes, there it was: Grape Salad.
It started with a query from Mary Jane Leonard of Colorado Springs, Colo., who wrote: “I attended a brunch at Les Quatre Amis in Northfield, Minn., (in 1977 or 1978) at which was served a delightful concoction of green grapes, brown sugar, sour cream and walnuts. I would very much like to have this recipe and wonder if you can get it for me. Thank you so much.”
Hart’s reply: “Our letter to the Northfield restaurant came back, but we located Roger Mallet, who is involved in the eating establishment in Minneapolis at the Lumber Exchange Building.
“Mallet is busy getting ready to open the French restaurant on Hennepin Av., but took time to send this recipe:”
Who knew? The grape salad isn't Minnesotan. It's French! Here's the recipe:
LES RAISINS A LA CRÈME
5 lbs. seedless grapes
8 oz. sour cream
Juice of 2 lemons
8 oz. brown sugar
2 oz. granulated sugar
8 oz. walnuts
8 oz. pecans
1 pt. fresh strawberries
Mix grapes with sour cream. Add lemon juice, brown sugar, granulated sugar, walnuts and pecans. Mix well. Use strawberries for decorations.
Just reading that recipe makes my teeth hurt (that's approaching two cups of sugar, yikes). Hart offered a helpful, ‘tis-the-season suggestion: The green of the grapes and the red of the strawberries made it an “appropriate holiday dessert.” Noel!
I have a vague memory of dining at Les Quatres Amis. Not in its original incarnation in Northfield – I would have been in high school at the time, and my parents leaned more towards the Mr. Steak/Embers side of the dining-out spectrum -- but I do recall visiting a few years later, when it relocated to a beautiful space deep within the Lumber Exchange Building in downtown Minneapolis. (The 1983 photo, top, is not Les Quatre Amis, but the restaurant that replaced it, City Tavern; the Strib's archive doesn't have a photo of LQA, but this image gives you an idea of the space, which I'm guessing is the Lumber Exchange's former trading floor).
The restaurant’s Northfield location (original name: Gharabally) was described in a special “Dining Out” issue of Taste, published Nov. 1, 1978, as “exquisite, excellent, the best restaurant [our] reviewer has tried in Minnesota. Entrees range from fillet de sole Stephan, $11.25, to tournedos Henri IV (twin filet mignons), $13.75, and Chateaubriand for two, $28.50.”
Those prices might not raise eyebrows today, but that was a considerable amount of dough for Carter-era diners. The 2015 equivalents of those three price tags are $41.33, $50.52 and $104.71.
Les Quatre Amis chef Rene Debon (pictured, above) was featured in a Thursday Food story from Oct. 3, 1982. Staff writer Kate Parry's story asked three chefs (the other two were Klaus Mitterhauser of Mitterhauser La Cuisine and Eugene Stoffel of the Link, the restaurant at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts), to substitute moderately priced turkey for expensive veal and lobster.
I'm half-curious, half-repelled by his solution, but it's quite the snapshot into the early 1980s. Here's his recipe:
PAUPIETTE DE DINDON FLORENTINE
4 5-oz. turkey breast slices, pounded out to large scaloppine
10 tbsp. (1 stick plus 2 tbsp.) butter, divided
8 oz. cleaned and washed spinach
1/2 onion, chopped fine
Salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste
2 dill pickle sticks
2 hard-cooked eggs, quartered
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. finely chopped garlic
4 tbsp. butter
8 tomatoes, peeled, sliced and diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
To prepare roulades: Wrap turkey slices in plastic wrap and, using the smooth side of a meat tenderizer, pound turkey to form large, thin scallopine. In a medium pan over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Saute onion and spinach. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Remove from heat and cool.
Cut pickles into 6 long, thin strips. Top each turkey piece with a fourth of the spinach mixture. Lay two egg quarters end-to-end and put three pickle strips right beside them.
Roll up the scaloppine and secure with a toothpick. Season the meat with salt and pepper. In a medium pan over medium heat, melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter and saute roulades until golden brown on all sides.
To prepare sauce: Meanwhile, in a medium pan over medium heat, melt butter. Saute onion and garlic. Add tomato pieces and season with salt, pepper, bay leaf and oregano. Let tomatoes cook for about 15 minutes, uncovered. Serve tomato sauce over roulades.