Mansion’s dining room, known for elaborate holiday entertaining, opens to the public
When Englishman William Tyndall designed the grand dining room at the Moody Mansion at 27th Street and Broadway, it was the largest dining room on Galveston Island.
That was in 1893, before the mansion’s original owner died and Galveston businessman W.L. Moody Jr. bought the house, just after the 1900 Storm. He moved his family in the same year.
The oldest Moody child, daughter Mary Moody Northen, staged many elaborate dinners in the beautiful Romanesque dining room with its intricate coffered ceiling, mahogany woodwork and plaster friezes, and kept extensive hand-written notes detailing who was invited, where they sat, what she served and even the designs of the floral centerpieces.
Now, to expand the use of the Moody Mansion, turned into a museum for the public by the Mary Moody Northen Endowment, the dining room is available to rent for seated dinners.
Parties of up to 14 can take in their own catered or personally prepared meals and their own dinnerware to use the dining room in the manner of Mary Moody Northen, who apparently adored a good dinner party. The table, tablecloths and the butler’s pantry for setting up service are provided, though no cooking or warming amenities are available.
Sharon Gillins, researcher for the Mary Moody Northen Endowment, has painstakingly combed through and filed away Northen’s notes on her dinner parties, often written on backs of envelopes or company stationery she found lying around the house, and recently shared them with Chef Paul Mendoza, program director of culinary arts at Galveston College.
“The college was a beneficiary of Ms. Northen, so we’re very grateful to her,” Mendoza said. “Our program is housed in the Mary Moody Northen building.”
To kick off the opening of the dining room to public use, Mendoza and his students created a holiday menu for Coast Monthly and laid it out on the dining room’s massive table, inspired by the notes Northen kept, including dishes she often used for parties and her eggnog recipe.
Among Northen’s notes about nutrition, favorite dishes, party plans and seating arrangements was one hand-written description of “Papa’s eggnog party,” an event that took place around Christmas in 1944, the year after her mother died.
“After her mother passed away, Mary made the holidays special for her father,” Gillins said. He lived until 1954.
At Christmas in 1944, Northen invited 150 guests to a dessert party — “She loved sweets,” Gillins said — and chronicled a menu of three fruitcakes (“one was used”), eight other cakes including chocolate, spice marble and angel food (“five were used”), salted pecans, three pounds of candy and an unknown quantity of eggnog that required 10 dozen eggs (“one gallon was left”).
On the massive dining room table, Mendoza and his students laid out a platter of chicken breasts touting the holiday theme — poached, then coated in a gelatin-fortified velouté and decorated as Christmas trees with bits of chive and red bell pepper. A salad of pears — one of Northen’s favorite fruits — mesclun greens, spiced pecans, dried cranberries and cherry tomatoes, graced another platter and, down the table, urns were heaped with English peas and roasted baby potatoes.
On the dessert sideboard, Mendoza’s students showed off a baked Alaska (Papa’s favorite), fruitcake; Nesselrode pudding, a fruit-, nut- and cognac-infused frozen dessert that appeared on several of Northen’s holiday menus; and a punchbowl filled with the rich eggnog.
“I basically started out by taking her recipe that called for 10 dozen eggs and dropping it to one dozen,” Mendoza said.
Northen specified 4 1⁄2 quarts of Old Forester Bourbon in her recipe as well as 31⁄2 gallons of whipping cream and “1½ cooking spoons to each egg of sugar, not very heaping.”
Cut down proportionally, but made in Northen’s traditional manner, the luscious result was frothy and creamy but not too heavy.
To inquire about renting the Moody Mansion dining room, email firstname.lastname@example.org.