While we are thinking of memorials, as of course we are today, let us not confine ourselves to the names scrolled in brass or the bronze generals on horseback.
Let us think of all the people memorialized in the most ephemeral fashion -- having given their names to food. Who bothers to think of Bonaparte when reluctantly foregoing a tart and ordering instead a Napoleon?
Does the Earl of Sandwhich leap to mind each time you make a bacon, lettuce and tomato? Does a plate of Oysters Rockefeller make you think of Standard Oil, or of Rockefeller Center or even the late vice president?
Who was Suzette of the crepes? Why was the beautiful Helene memorialized in a dessert which is the bane of small boys; ice cream and hot chocolate sauce spoiled by the intrusion of poached pears?
Do you dwell on the romantic career of Chateaubriand when ordering the same in a restaurant, and have you even heard of Peaches a la Madame Recamier, named for the famed charmer whom Chateaubriand loved?
"Madame Recamier had lost all interest in food," wrote in a maitre d'hotel of the early 19th century. "We could see her fading away. No one dared disobey the doctor's orders for her -- a diet. Very well. I said to myself, she likes peaches -- I'll serve her some in my own way. And I put one, the best I could find, to cook in a bainmarie. I smothered it with exquisite sugar syrup, poured some cream over it and there it was."
The connection between peaches and cream and beautiful women struck another chef, Auguste Escoffier, who honored the popular opera singer, Melba, with Peches Melba. (Peel and stone peaches, sprinkle them with sugar. Put vanilla ice cream in a serving dish, arrange peaches on top and cover with sweetened raspberry puree.) If indulgence in her peach dish added too much to her girth, the opera singer could turn to her other culinary namesake for relief: Melba toast.
Being beautiful may have helped get a dish named in your honor, but being rich didn't hurt either.
A shipping magnate named Ben Wenberg was allowed to create his own sauces in the kitchen of the famous New York restaurant, Delmonico's. One was adopted by the restaurant and appeared on the menu as Lobster a la Wenberg. Then, alas, the fiesty magnate got into a brawl and was banned from restaurant and menu. Lobster a la Wenberg was flipped around to become Lobster a la Newburg.
Another Delmonico's customer fared no better. Foxhall Keene was honored by a dish called Chicken a la Keene; popular use turned it into Chicken a la King.
But Delmonico's lingers on in Steak Delmonico, to be eaten perhaps with those other hotel memorials, Waldorf salad and Parker House rolls.
Any Memorial Day dinner can be built around namesake foods and for a few minutes at least, diners will remember that Melba may have been a peach, but she could sing, too.