Moryâ€™s started out as a neighborhood New Haven bar on Temple Street, not far from campus, frequented by Yale students in the late 19th century. In 1912, Moryâ€™s was scheduled to close and be demolished, but the affluent Yale men of that era refused to give it up. They simply purchased the bar and moved the whole building, kit and caboodle, to a new location on York Street, even closer to campus, and arranged to have it operated as a private club.
Before WWII, Moryâ€™s was exclusive and expensive and membership was restricted to wealthy (and non-Jewish) Yale men. As time passed, however, Moryâ€™s became more democratic. First every male undergraduate could join, then every Yale faculty member & employee, then females, now God only knows.
In my day, Moryâ€™s was still the preferred drinking place for undergraduate singing groups and societies, but it was already too expensive to be a real undergraduate institution. Moryâ€™s really made its money serving lunches and dinner to Yale bureaucrats and New Haven bigshots. The Moryâ€™s of the late 1960s was already unionized, and one fine day its management announced that Moryâ€™s no longer cared to stay open to 11:30 PM. They began closing earlier, after dinner service ended, so undergraduate clubs were no longer able to adjourn to Moryâ€™s at the conclusion of evening meetings for a shared toasting cup and a few beers.
Moryâ€™s (in my view, deservedly) went broke in 2008, and closed indefinitely. The Yale Alumni Magazine searched its soul over whether such an (imaginarily) elite and reactionary institution ought ever to be re-opened. But, the Yale Administration, in the final analysis, really did need a traditional sort of place to eat lunch and entertain, so a fund-raising effort was made and the old whited sepulchre saved and re-opened.
Moryâ€™s continues to close early, but it does remain an exemplar of old-fashioned WASP elite culture in one respect: its menu. In my day, and even today, Moryâ€™s retains essentially the same old fashioned simple and stodgy menu of yore, featuring such offerings as Welsh Rarebit, French Dip Sandwiches, and Rhode Island Clam Chowder, characteristic of the genuinely elite WASP club.
Elite WASPs like that kind of cuisine, and they abhor change*.
David Ross â€™92, now an English professor at Chapel Hill, retains a particular affection for, of all things, Baker Soup, a menu item apparently unique to Moryâ€™s, and he has devoted considerable energy and research into duplicating the secret recipe. Mr. Rossâ€™s resulting article, Iâ€™m told, appeared yesterday in some newspaper in North Carolina, but he graciously agreed to allow me to share it with my readers here.
My eight years in New Haven, Connecticutâ€”four as an undergraduate and another four as a newspaper reporterâ€”ended in a hail of bullets and a falling body. The former redecorated my apartment lobby, the latter plummeted past my eighth-floor balcony at 3 a.m. New Havenâ€”at least during the early 90sâ€”was that kind of town.
I donâ€™t miss the sirens, the dirty snow or the fake gothic. I do miss Moryâ€™s, the legendary dining club situated in a clapboarded, warren-roomed manse incongruously tucked between two epitomes of the modern mindset: the Yale graduate school and a rock club called Toadâ€™s Place.
Moryâ€™s is to New Haven what Antoineâ€™s is to New Orleansâ€”a redoubt of bygone sensibility. You go there to eat, but even more to ponder the fork- and knife-carved words in the old wood and to pretend that itâ€™s 1912, the year Moryâ€™s opened at its present location.
As you order pommes de terre souffles and bread pudding at Antoineâ€™s, so you orderâ€”unwaveringly and rituallyâ€”the Baker Soup and Welsh rarebit at Moryâ€™s. The Mediterranean dieter who orders the seafood risotto for $27 misapprehends everything.
What is this â€œBaker Soupâ€? Nobody knows. Superficially, itâ€™s a curry-flavored cream soup of vaguely ochre hue. The operative ingredients seem to be carrot, celery, onion and tomato, though this is a controversial speculation.
A year ago, feeling oddly homesick for the film noir dankness of New Haven and remembering the life-infusing counter-dynamic of the Baker Soup, I set myself the task of engineering a recipe based on twenty-year-old memories.
I devised a pumpkin-apple soup to which I naturally added a splash of Calvados in homage to my Francophile hero A.J. Liebling. Though luscious, my soup was not the soup. The color was right, but there was too much richness, sweetness and complexity. And my 2-hp Vitamix produced a super-silky potage plainly over-beholden to technology. Baker Soup, in my recollection, is homier and earthier: a peasant rather than a Parisian soup.
I put the question to a Yale listserv. There was an animated response: philosophies unfurled, chemistries clashed, recipes flew. There was a certain amount of nonsense, but one Baker Soup devotee claimed to have a friend who had cooked at Moryâ€™s back in the day and had divulged the outline.
This devotee wrote: â€œItâ€™s a cream of tomato and curry soup, starting with fresh tomatoes and chicken stock and thickened with bread. The secret ingredient is carrot. The current Moryâ€™s incarnation uses a little too much carrot, a little too much garlic, not enough curry powder. And itâ€™s too smooth. The result is a slightly more elegant, but somehow less satisfying dish.â€
Building on these intelligent hints, I conjured a plausible facsimile. Here, then, are two recipesâ€”mine and hisâ€”both warming, one classic.
Pumpkin-Apple Soup with Curry and Calvados (serves 4)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Â½ large yellow onion (200 grams), preferably Vidalia, sliced
1 Golden Delicious apple, sliced
1 15 oz.-can pumpkin puree
3 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 cup whole milk
Â¼ cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. curry powder (or to taste)
2 tsp. Calvados
1 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)
In a stock pot, melt the butter until it begins to brown. Add the onion and sautÃ© until softened and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the apple and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin, stock and milk. Simmer at medium temperature for 15 minutes. Transfer to a blenderâ€”preferably a Vitamixâ€”and process to a silky, airy puree. Return the soup to the pot. Finish with the cream, curry powder, Calvados and salt (in quarter-teaspoon increments, tasting as you add). The soup should be thick but not inert; it should run, but just barely. Adjust the consistency by adding additional stock. A full tablespoon of curry powder produces a modest piquancy; for a milder soup reduce to 2 tsp.
Moryâ€™s Baker Soup (serves 4)
2 medium beefsteak tomatoes (575 grams)
3â€“4 large carrots (400 grams)
Â½ large yellow onion (200 grams), preferably Vidalia
2â€“3 medium stalks celery (150 grams)
3 cloves garlic
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Â½ cup dry vermouth
1 Tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ground ginger
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 Â½ cups fresh breadcrumbs (roughly food-processed French baguette)
Â¼ cup heavy cream
1 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)
Parboil the tomatoes (to release the skins), 1 minute. Peel, seed and dice the cooled tomatoes. Dice the carrots, onion and celery. Finely mince the garlic. Melt the butter in a stock pot. Add the carrots, onion, and celery. Sweat until softened, 15 minutes. Add the vermouth and reduce by half. Add the garlic, curry powder and ground ginger, stirring to combine. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock and bay leaf. Simmer at medium-low temperature for 20 minutes. Add the breadcrumbs and continue to simmer, 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and roughly puree (be sure to retain some texture). Return the soup to the pot. Finish with the cream and salt (in quarter-teaspoon increments, tasting as you add). Garnish with parsley, chives or croutons.
â€œCurry powdersâ€ differ enormously. To avoid winding up with an excessively exotic or assertive soup, I recommend a mundane supermarket brand like McCormick.
The quality of your soup will depend on the quality of your stock. Do not be tempted by salted and MSG-laden stocks. A deep-souled homemade stock is ideal.
* Old Joke
How Many WASPs does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: 5. One to change the bulb, and four to stand around reminiscing about how great the old light bulb used to be.