History of Eggs Benedict

When it comes to the origin of Eggs Benedict, food historians tell us there several stories and that we will never know which one is true. All versions occur in 1890s posh New York City restaurants (Waldorf Astoria & Delmonico's) and attribute title to wealthy related people with surname Benedict.Lemuel Benedict (hungover yet hungry) concocts this dish with the help of Waldorf-Astoria kitchen crew Mrs. LeGrand Benedict (sometimes with her husband, always on a Saturday) bored with Delmonico's lunch menu, requests something new for lunch. (3) Commodore E. C. Benedict "invents" this dish. The most cogent summary we've found so far.

"The story of eggs Benedict is a hard one to tell. The beginning is shady at best, the main character has a hangover, and there are decades when nothing much happens. But the genre is certain, and the setting clear: Eggs Benedict is a mystery rooted in a long-vanished version of New York. Despite the dish's twisted history, it provides a link to one of the city's more glamorous eras. Of eggs Benedict's origins, much has been said, but little has been settled. Key witnesses are long dead.

One cookbook contradicts another. Even the Oxford English Dictionary shrugs: 'Origins U.S.'...And while there are several eggs Benedict creation myths, some of which may be the subject of discussion among aficionados on National Eggs Benedict day...April 16, they share decidedly genteel roots: rich and distinguished New Yorkers, fabulous New York restaurants and an adventurous 19th-century dining culture unfettered by contemporary concerns about trans fats and cholesterol. If there is a starting point to the debate over the provenance of this quintessential brunch dish, it would be 1942. That was the year The New Yorker published an article about a stockbroker named Lemuel Benedict and a breakfast order he had placed nearly 50 years earlier, in 1894, at the old Waldorf hotel at Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street. By 1931, when the hotel, renamed the Waldorf-Astoria, moved to its current location on Park Avenue, eggs Benedict had been enshrined as a classic American dish...By all accounts, Lemuel Benedict was a dashing ladies' man, typically outfitted in fine dark suits and high white collars...His name appeared often in newspaper society columns, and he had a reputation for leaving huge tips at New York's finest restaurants...Although Lemuel Benedict had a hangover that morning in 1894, the New Yorker article recounted, he didn't shy away from breakfast. He ordered two poached eggs, bacon, buttered toast and a pitcher of hollandaise sauce, a rich, egg-based sauce flavored with butter, lemon and vinegar. Then he built the dish that bears his name. Lemuel's innovation attracted the attention of Oscar of the Waldorf, as the maitre d'hotel there was widely known. He promptly tested it and put the item on the menu, although Oscar's version substituted ham for bacon and an English muffin for toast..Lemuel benedict reveled in the attention and prestige that resulted from his breakfast order. But his original request had specified toast, and he never warmed to the idea of English muffins...Lemuel Benedict died at age 76 in 1943, less than a hear after the New Yorker article was published The article had, however, caught the attention of Jack Benedict, a real estate salesman from Colorado who was the son of Lemuel's first cousin.

As other stories about the creation of eggs Benedict surfaced, Jack Benedict's interest in the dish grew into full-fledged activism and, eventually, obsession. He became dedicated to the task of making sure that his dead relative got credit for his famous breakfast order. Jack Benedict was particularly upset by an article published in March 1978 in Bon Appetit magazine titled 'Perfect Eggs Benedict, ' which credited a Mr. and Mrs. LeGrand Benedict as the founders of the dish. According to Bon Appetit, the couple requested the ingredients one morning around the turn of the last century at Delmonico's...The article noted that one account credited the dish's creation to a young man with a hangover at the Waldorf, but in an error that must have further inflamed Jack Benedict, it referred to the young man not as Lemuel Benedict but Samuel. And in 1894, the year Lemuel placed his order at the Waldorf, the legendary's chef Charles Ranhofer published a huge cookbook called The Epicurean that included and almost identical recipe, Eggs a la Benedick. The LeGrand version of the eggs Benedict creation story came to eclipse the account offered in The New Yorker in many cookbooks and food reference books...One seeming hitch in the version that credits Oscar of the Waldorf, who plays such a key role in that account, never confirmed the story, despite ample opportunity to do so. Oscar had no aversion to publicity...But Oscar never mentioned eggs Benedict, either by name or by description...Some food historians are also skeptical about Jack Benedict's claims. 'It's not a 100 percent invented's an evolution...'" 

What interests us more than the actual "invention" of the dish (which, food historian Mark Zanger quite rightly points out [American History Cookbook (p. 139)] was known in 1830s Kentucky, is the "invention" of the story behind the dish. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest print reference to Eggs Benedict appeared in 1898: "Poached eggs...benedict, split and toast some small muffins; put on each a nice round slice of broiled ham, and on the ham the poached egg; our over some Hollandaise sauce." [A. Meyer, Eggs & how to use Them] . We agree with Mr. Zanger & Mr. Beyer: this recipe was not invented, it evolved. The oldest description we find for this dish predates the earliest creation legend by 50 years. None of the "creation" stories state a particular date. In the food world this is not unusual. Doing the "math" on Lemuel's story places the dish in 1894. Food historians remind us the gap between "invention" and print evidence can take years, if not decades. Newspapers do the best job reporting new recipes & food trends. Magazines follow close behind. Cookbooks us date general overall knowledge/acceptance of a particular dish/by name.


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