In the previous post we brought you the life and times of Lemuel Benedict, the New York stockbroker and man-about-town who claims to be the creator of our favourite breakfast – when in 1894 he suggested the recipe to the maître d’hôtel of the Waldorf in an attempt to cure a hangover.
But in part one we laid out the two competing claims to the recipe – with a Mrs LeGrand Benedict and her family suggesting she was the originator of the idea a year earlier, at New York’s first ‘public dining room’. LeGrande Lockwood Benedict and his wife would eat every Saturday at Delmonico’s. Mrs. LeGrand Benedict was tired of the usual fare at the restaurant and said to the maître d’hôtel, “Haven’t you anything new to suggest?” He said he’d like to hear some ideas from her, to which she suggested poached eggs on toasted English muffins with a thin slice of ham and hollandaise sauce, and a truffle on the top. With the help of the Chef Charles Ranhofer this is what she was served, and Mrs LeGrande Benedict’s relatives are adamant this is the recipe which has travelled around the globe
Although Lemuel Benedict was regularly mentioned in the New York Times, less is recorded about LeGrand Benedict (and his wife). What we can tell you is that he too was keen on sports – in particular horse racing. In fact, he was among a large group of rowdy American racing fans who travelled over to the UK to watch the famous 1909 Epsom Derby where an Italian horse called Signorietta beat off contenders from the Royal stables and U.S. trainers to romp home at 100-1.
LeGrand was also an avid polo fan, who would be seen huddling in the clubhouse stands, even when it was pouring with rain. He was also a gambler, who would place bets on the outcomes of the U.S. elections.
One article reports a break-in at the family’s Cedarhurst ‘cottage’ in Long Island. A servant noticed that one of the first-floor windows was open, and in the distance saw two men making off across the ‘plaza’. Instead of alerting the police (which would have been very tricky in 1895 as telephones were few and far between!) he went straight for the family’s shotgun and fired off a few rounds at the fleeing intruders – he missed, but I’m sure they never came back.
The LeGrand Benedicts were very rich. In 1901 he bought a home at 125 East Fifty-Sixth Street – the road in Manhattan where the 58-storey Trump Tower now stands. Mrs LeGrand Benedict was part of the international jet-set and also had an apartment in Rue Lalo in Paris. As France stumbled towards World War I the American aristocrat defiantly held tea parties for the ex-pat social set. Attendees included the U.S. Consul-General.
The photo above shows 123 East 56th Street – so this gives you an idea of the sort of place the LeGrands would have been living in – I love the old car parked out front!
In September 1967 Craig Claiborne wrote a column in The New York Times Magazine about a letter he had received from Edward P. Montgomery, an American then living in France. Montgomery claimed that the dish was created by Commodore E. C. Benedict, a banker and yachtsman, who died in 1920 at the age of 86. Montgomery also included a recipe for eggs Benedict, stating that the recipe had been given to him by his mother, who had received it from her brother, who was a friend of the Commodore.
As Commodore E.C. Benedict lived in France, and was a cousin of the LeGrande Benedicts, it is very possible Mrs LeGrande Benedict passed the idea and recipe on to Montgomery’s uncle during one of these tea parties – who knows!?
Genealogy sites report that Mr LeGrande L. Benedict passed away in October 1923 in Paris – but Paris, Oneida County, New York…As LeGrande’s son was LeGrande Benedict Jnr it’s difficult to be certain of the accuracy or relevance of this French link – but the dates seem to match, and it certainly makes for a more interesting story to tell your friends over brunch!
So who do you think was the genius behind our favourite breakfast? The bored wife of an aristocrat looking for something new to brighten her usual routine, or the broker looking for a tasty hangover cure? Either way one thing is certain, as certain as eggs is eggs in fact, it’s one American import we’re happy to invest in!