Parkinson, James Wood

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PARKINSON, JAMES WOOD. James Wood Parkinson (18181895) was one of the most influential American cooks of the nineteenth century. Trained by professional chefs from England, Italy, France, and Germany, his role was one of mentor to the profession rather than that of a popular cookbook author like Eliza Leslie or Sarah Josepha Hale. The core of his culinary education, however, came from his Scottish-born mother, Eleanor Wood, and his English-born father, George Parkinson, both confectioners by trade.

In 1818, Parkinson's parents purchased the Pennsylvania Arms, a Philadelphia tavern, with the intention of going into inn keeping. However, his parents' flair for confectionery soon established the family's reputation for ice cream, and it was the Parkinson family which made Philadelphia ice cream famous throughout the nineteenth century. During a banquet for the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824, the Parkinsons introduced vanilla ice cream featuring tiny flecks of the beans, thereby establishing a perfume essence as a signature flavor for a luxury desert.

By the mid-1840s, with financial backing from General George Cadwallader, the young Parkinson had established himself as a restaurateur in a lavishly furnished Philadelphia mansion located at 180 Chestnut Street. Complete with a rose garden for outdoor dining as well a delicatessen featuring imported foods from all over the world (including five types of French liver patés), Parkinson's Salon was generally considered not only one of the finest restaurants in America, but equal to those of Paris and Vienna.

James Parkinson was a master at marketing and something of an inventive genius when it came to recipes. In 1841, his delicatessen was the first in the country to feature Santa Claus at Christmas in order to draw children into a wonderland of French confections and imported toys. In 1850, he introduced his Champagne frappé à la glace which is now considered to be the original recipe on which the non-alcoholic ice cream soda was based. Parkinson's fame was firmly established in 1851 when he accepted a challenge from the Delmonico brothers to prepare a dinner that would would be more outstanding than one given earlier by Delmonico's. Parkinson's "Thousand Dollar Dinner" became a legend that helped launch the era of grand banquets in nineteenth century America. The menu survives and features such novelties as early eighteenth century wines, truffled poultry braised in Champagne, and a rare Tokay from the imperial wine cellars in Vienna frozen as sorbet.

Parkinson's influence continued even after he retired from the restaurant business during the 1860s. When the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia visited the United States during the winter of 18711872 and declared that there was no true American cuisine, James Parkinson responded with his culinary manifesto American Dishes at the Centennial. In a call to arms for the nation's cooks, Parkinson extolled the rich variety of American ingredients and said that it was this body of regional foods that should serve as a basis for our national cuisine. It was his hope that these ingredients would be showcased at the U.S. Centennial in 1876. Unfortunately, due to Centennial politics, Parkinson was never invited to put his vision into practice, yet even today this theme is one of the underlying forces in modern American cookery.

Parkinson's manifesto also launched his career as trade editor for the Confectioners' Journal, a position he held from 1874 until his death in 1895. During this period he published hundreds of articles on specific topics such as "The Raspberry: Its Peculiarities and Uses," "Gelatin," or "Colored Sugars for Decoration." His material not only contains information not readily available in cookbooks of the period, but also a wide selection of rare recipes from leading cooks and confectioners.

See also Candy and Confections ; Delmonico Family ; Ice Cream ; Leslie, Eliza .


Confectioners' Journal. Philadelphia, 18741895.

"Famous Old Caterer Dead," Philadelphia Times (16 May 1895).

Hines, Mary Anne, Gordon Marshall, and William Woys Weaver. The Larder Invaded. Philadelphia: Library Company of Philadelphia, 1986, pp. 6162

Kynett, Harold. For Better or For Worse. Privately printed, 1949, pp. 9798.

Parkinson, Eleanor, The Complete Confectioner. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1844.

Parkinson, James W. American Dishes at the Centennial. Philadelphia: King & Baird, 1874.

"Parkinson, Provider for Epicures," Philadelphia Ledger, December 1, 1907.

Valentine, R. B. "Les Bon Vivants," Confectioners' Journal (Jan. 1880), 1617.

William Woys Weaver

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