Delectable dinner at the Hazens’ — circa the 1920s

Food historian Patrick Hollis discussed the history of grocers, restaurateurs, diners, ingredients, dishes and practices of the Roaring 20s in Knoxville.

There are several challenges incumbent upon those who try to recreate a meal from times long gone. First of all, the original ingredients might not be available. Secondly, trends and tastes have changed. Thirdly, you never really know exactly what the recipes were because they were written so imprecisely long ago.

Nevertheless, the folks who run Knoxville’s historic Mabry-Hazen House on Dandridge Avenue gave it the old college try last weekend when they invited guests to “dinner at the Hazens’ ” as it would have been served in an affluent Knoxville home in the 1920s. Nine of us guests attended and had a fabulous time — even if we did fudge a little on the details by making a run to buy wine during the middle of the dinner. (Knoxville, like the rest of America, was in the throes of Prohibition in the 1920s. Although illegal liquor often was served before and after dinner, there would not have been wine served with dinner, we were told.)

This drink is called a Scofflaw. It was invented in Paris as a way of poking fun at American Prohibition! It contains rye whiskey, dry vermouth, lime, bitters and grenadine. (I may or may not have had two of them.)

The Mabry-Hazen House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1858 and housed three generations of the same family from 1858-1987. It served as headquarters for both Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War. And today, the stately, elegant home showcases one of the largest original family collections in America of artifacts including china, silver, crystal and antique furnishings.

We have been to the Mabry-Hazen house before. Click here for a Blue  Streak post about a scandal that made the house’s last resident, Evelyn Hazen, the first woman in the United States to win a lawsuit for breach of trust when she sued her fiance after he refused to marry her.

Last weekend’s visit was special because some of the velvet ropes were removed, allowing us to have access to  several rooms not normally open for the public to enter. We actually ate at the real dining room table. And the food and drinks were not only interesting, they also were delicious. Dinner was by HeartFire Culinary. Libations were by Craft Accommodations.

Alan Carmichael, left, and Calvin Chappelle, the executive director of the Mabry-Hazen House, prior to dinner. It is located near downtown at 1711 Dandridge Ave., on a hill, known as Mabry’s Hill, which made it very valuable to both sides during the Civil War.

Elizabeth and John Swindeman making their stylish entrance.

Six of our dining companions wore period outfits. From left, Troy and Jackie Cantrell, Elizabeth and John Swindeman and Becky and Todd Birdwell. Don’t they look great?

Chappelle with a portrait of Joseph Mabry II. Mabry, a wealthy land and railroad speculator, donated the land for Market Square to the city of Knoxville. Of course, it was in the center of 10 other acres that he owned, guaranteeing that those properties would drastically increase in value as Market Square was developed. Clever.

Palmer Mason of Craft Accommodations mixing a Lemon-mint Dew, a nod to the fact that Mountain Dew was created in Knoxville. This drink contains moonshine, caramelized cane sugar mint syrup, lemon and soda.

Here it is. It also contains a huge ice cube.

Like these!

Becky and Todd Birdwell looking spiffy.

Food historian Patrick Hollis escorted us into the parlor where appetizers were served.

Deviled eggs and salmon salad on toast.

Hollis explained some of the challenges of this meal prep. The chef was tempted to put a little horseradish in the plain deviled eggs, but Hollis said no. That would not have been done during the ’20s. Also, he had to insist that canned salmon be used for the salad — fresh salmon, which might be used today, was not available. Both appetizers were delicious, by the way.

The deviled eggs were creamy due to the use of mayonnaise, which started to be used as a binder in 1896. Canned salmon was available on the West Coast starting as early as 1864, Hollis said, and it gradually became more widely available. With the industrialization of the food processing industry, grocery stores sprang up. Piggly Wiggly came to downtown Knoxville in the 1920s, he said, citing a Knoxville newspaper ad for the store. Even so, Knoxville’s Market House on Market Square continued to thrive.

Troy and Jackie Cantrell enjoying the appetizers and the ambience.

First course at the table was a warm dish of peaches and Cherokee purple tomatoes, which were a regional specialty in the ’20s.

While the china on which we dined was rented, the silver belonged to the house.

Souse meat with pickle. (Think of an early version of Spam!)

The next course was Cock-a-Leekie soup, a reminder of this area’s Scotch heritage. “It was thrifty,” Hollis said. “All you needed was an old rooster and some easily grown leeks.”

Cock-a-Leekie soup.

Speaking of Scotch heritage, this was a time during American history when immigrants were pouring in, bringing with them all kinds of new foods and new ingredients. There was, of course, a push-back, which was a rebellion against things that sounded too “high falutin’ ” or fancy. Thus, the next dish was called “Trout in Egg Sauce.” “Egg sauce” was just another name for “Hollandaise sauce,” which was too “foreign-sounding.”

Call it what you will, this trout dish was darn tasty!

The palate cleanser course was called “Fire Water Melon.” Yep. Watermelon in moonshine.

At this point, Hollis explained, diners in the 1920s took about a 20-minute break and left the table. This gave the men a chance to step outside and smoke and the women time to freshen their makeup.

In our case, some of the men made a wine run, with Alan driving, to the Downtown Wine + Spirits store just a mile or two away on Gay Street. The rest of us explored the house.

Some of the family crystal.

My favorite piece.

Master bedroom.

Children’s room.

A newspaper headline when Evelyn Hazen won her lawsuit. And a copy of the Social Register, from which she was dropped, sending her into a tailspin of odd and somewhat hermit-like behavior.

Soon, we were called back to dinner — this time with wine glasses on the table!

Main course was fried chicken cooked in a cast iron skillet and summer succotash.

Hollis said that many of the recipes for the evening were inspired by the “women’s sections” of Knoxville newspapers of the time. “The Household Hints column was a godsend,” he laughed.

Tiny biscuits with marmalade and ham were served next.

The salad course was green beans with “Southern Gribiche” — a dressing made with hard boiled eggs.

Dessert was berry ice cream. “During Prohibition, ice cream became the new American vice,” Hollis said. “Soda fountains took the place of saloons.”


Coffee came in a beautiful silver service. Talk about heavy!

And more food, as if we needed it. Mini pineapple cakes and banana muffins.

The chefs came out to take a well-deserved bow. From left, Amber Lloyd, Jacob Suter and Chris Cantrell.

Guest Tutti Knowles with Chef Lloyd.

Shot of the table at around 11 p.m. (The dinner was supposed to have ended at 9, but we were having so much fun.)

Don’t forget your hat!

This charming evening was a fundraiser for the Mabry-Hazen House. Tickets were not cheap — they were $180 each. But it was a night we will not soon forget.


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4 Responses to Delectable dinner at the Hazens’ — circa the 1920s

  1. Melinda Meador, on August 11th, 2017 at 2:31 pm said:

    What a fun food adventure in an interesting historic location. And wasn’t it smart of you, Cynthia, to take along your own bootlegger!

  2. Cynthia Moxley, on August 11th, 2017 at 2:33 pm said:

    Absolutely, Melinda! Thunder Road all over again!

  3. Gay Lyons, on August 11th, 2017 at 8:26 pm said:

    I would love to have been there. It looks lovely & so elegant. The silver is gorgeous! What a great idea for a fundraiser. Having done several historic menu-themed events, I can say that you walk a fine line between authenticity & contemporary appeal. Prohibition era theme or not, I think you serve wine with dinner in 2017. Good thing you had a source so close by. And your own personal rum runner (um wine runner!).

  4. Deborah Sams, on August 11th, 2017 at 9:21 pm said:

    This was a wonderful local history lesson. I would have not thought about the wine store run…but think that Pinot Grigio is a menu necessity. Good job!

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