Welcome to “The Club,” old sport
Through one accident or another, I’ve actually dined a few times at The Somerset Club on Beacon Hill in Boston. This was an exclusive men’s club until recently when it finally allowed women to join (but after my time there). I had friends who were and still are members, including some who practically lived there.
Naturally, to become a member of such a place, you needed to leap a variety of hurdles – including how blue your blood was, how pure your pedigree, and whether your ancestors were Cabots or Lodges or Ameses, Saltonstalls or Forbeses – that kind of thing. Membership was super-spendy, so it helped to have a massive trust fund behind you – which luckily tends to go with the territory of the aforementioned names. To be fair, these restrictions could have loosened up considerably in this age of (supposed) non-discrimination. I really don’t know. Maybe they even have scholarships now…
No matter. As Groucho Marx famously said, “I’d never join a club that would have me as a member,” so I always went there (just a few times) as a guest, several times as part of our old poker group. It was way cheaper, and it wouldn’t eat away at my non-trust fund (except for my poker losses).
Somerset Club facade, Beacon Hill, Boston. (Wikimedia commons licensed photo, for noncommercial reuse)
Among the membership, you’re likely to encounter a living artifact or two of the Gatsby era, given to decades-old phrases like “Oh, you’re such a swell” and “We had a mahvelous time – it was the bee’s knees.” My favorite of all time came from a small gathering of younger types (guys), trading quips and oh-so clever ripostes, when one said something especially amusing and another responded, “Oh, Forbesy, it always takes me days to get over you!” Merriment all around, doled out in half-gagged sputters and snorts. The drawn-out word days still lingers in my auditory memory as a tiny aria from a bygone era.
The dining experience could be alarming. What are these tiny bowls of warm water?! Finger bowls. For cleansing fingers. Am I going to eat with my hands, is that it? I still don’t know. Freshly-ironed white tablecloths, soft as satin, Sterling silverware, sparkling crystal, you get the picture. Prompt waiters bringing drinks, using the word “sir” at every opportunity.. And on the menu?
Welsh Rarebit! Be still my heart, one of the joys of my life. Served on toast points. Toast points! Squarish bread slices toasted and cut corner to corner so they become four triangles – voila! Toast points! Who needs the points? Why not just, like, toast? Not at the Somerset Club – toast didn’t exist, it had to be in points. No matter. The cheese sauce, a staple at the Somerset for many many moons, could be spooned over poached squirrel and still be delish.
I don’t have it often, because it will clog up your vessels like bear grease down a drain, but every year or so I realize I can’t make it through another day without it. Sadly, it’s absurdly easy to make, so it’s always a possibility as a quick supper dish. What makes it what it is? Beer! Or Ale!
Okay, I relent, it’s also known as Welsh Rabbit – it goes back hundreds of years, but I’ve always called it “rarebit,” and when it was available in cans from Snow’s, the label backed me up. Here we go, and yes, this is a repost from about 3 years ago —
Sumptuous, velvety Welsh Rarebit
Here it’s ladled over grilled summer tomato, sliced ham, eggs, and “pointless” toast. My pic.
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 6-8 ozs. beer or ale (depending on how thick you want it – use 6 ozs. for a thicker sauce)
- 1 lb. very sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 beaten egg
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- dash cayenne
- dash nutmeg (optional)
- 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
Melt the butter in a double boiler over (not in) gently boiling water. Pour in the beer or ale, and when it’s hot stir in the cheese with a fork until the mixture is smooth. Add the beaten egg and keep stirring. Add Worcestershire, cayenne, dry mustard, (nutmeg), and stir until it’s all velvety smooth. Serve it up right away.
We pour this over toast, grilled ham, eggs (poached or fried), and grilled tomatoes, but it’s good enough just over toast.
Have a salad on the side, fresh fruit for dessert, and your usual dose of statins before bed. Yum.
There it is.