Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Truth about Marijuana

On the eve of Oregon's foray into recreational marijuana distribution, it is interesting to take a look at this piece of paper ephemera from nearly fifty years ago.
"The Truth about Marijuana: Stepping Stone to Destruction" was issued in 1967, by the Essex County Youth and Economic Rehabilitation Commission in Newark, NewJersey. My copy? It came into my hands when I was a student at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, probably in 1968. Apparently the pamphlet was distributed in some half-million copies in 31 states, according to a letter written by Martin Lordi of the ECYERC and published in the June1968 issue of Playboy.
The leaflet was an item of great amusement to my colleagues. This is evidenced by the added text: halitosis has been appended to the list of dire consequences of marijuana use. I hereby attest that this addition was made by a chap who is now a distinguished professor of anthropology.
If fifty years of research, debate, lawmaking, incarceration, serious study, and shrill squabbling has not brought forth the truth about marijuana, it has at least finally provoked us to attempt to deal with it as a substance to be watched and regulated, rather than criminalized and demonized. And what will come of this?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Rose for Rose and Her Sinful Deliciousness

For three decades, Rose’s Restaurant and Lounge in Portland was a clattering and rushing emporium of enormous sandwiches stuffed with corned beef, sauerkraut, and thousand island dressing, of chicken soup with matzoh balls, of vats of boiled tongue, and of wooden barrels filled with Mrs. Neusihin’s pickles. Yet the standouts at Rose’s were the desserts and sweets: immense and towering cakes of many layers, cakes with icings of apricot and strawberry, monster whipped cream roll cakes, German chocolate cake, crispy Florentine cookies, flaky raspberry Napoleons, and giant cinnamon rolls and glazed doughnuts.

Rose’s was the creation of the widowed Rose Naftalin (1897-1998), who had moved to Portland in 1955 from Toledo, Ohio, to be near her children. Born in the Ukraine, Rose came as a child to the Midwest with her family. She married young, and she learned baking from a Vienna-born friend, a skill she put to work during the Depression when she and her husband purchased a neighborhood delicatessen. The deli prospered, and after her husband died, Rose put her two children through college with her baked goods.

Rose was not one to sit about with the grandkids all day in Portland. She opened Rose’s Delicatessen and Lounge in 1956 on NW 23rd Avenue in a sedate neighborhood of dignified apartment buildings and aging Queen Anne domiciles. It quickly gained a following, open every day from the early morning hours until after midnight. It was unlike any place seen before in Portland’s relatively small Jewish community; to Portlanders in general, the food at Rose’s was novel but not quite foreign, familiar but very different, something rich and generous. Portlanders ate it up.

Rose tried to retire, and she sold the restaurant in 1968; it continued strongly into the 1980s, but limped on after that and appears now to have expired in all but name. Rose then put her restless talents toward writing a cookbook. In 1975, to wide acclaim, Random House published Grandma Rose’s Book of Sinfully Delicious Cakes, Cookies, Pies, Cheese Cakes, Cake Rolls & Pastries. It was followed in 1978 by Grandma Rose’s Book of Sinfully Delicious Snacks, Nibbles, Noshes & Other Delights. The two books sold more than 400,000 copies. Barbara Durbin, food writer for the Oregonian, dubbed the author “the Rose City’s most famous Rose.”

In the aftermath of graduation from college and the fumbling about over graduate school, the Vietnam War, and general angst, I worked as a busboy and occasional host at Rose’s in the early 1970s.  It was a place where everything happened fast; we splashed gallons of chicken broth around, and put one of Mrs. Neusihin’s pickles with every sandwich. The staff was full of characters: Polly the madcap waitress, weighing about 80 pounds with her carrot-red hair; Sparkle Plenty, who stamped her name, in Old English script, on every check in green ink; the obstreperous pot cleaner who threatened to toss me in a cooking vat for whistling; Max Birnbaum and Ivan Runge, the comedy team owners after Rose retired; the host with the lovely wife, several girlfriends, and an impulse to pat a young man’s thigh. There were the distinctive regulars, like my chatty neighbor Rena P. Squirrel (did I think she was squirrely? will she come bop me on the nose tomorrow?), and the lissome young man who occasionally piled the rear seat of his 1950s convertible with gladiolas, probably from the cemetery, and who rarely spoke, but only gazed with a wistful smile into the mirror across the counter.

Rose Naftalin was a notable food figure in Portland in the 1960s and 1970s, and Rose’s rates a prominent entry in one of the city’s first restaurant guides, Doug Baker’s Guide to Portland (1965), by a columnist for the Oregon Journal newspaper. Baker describes Rose’s as “kosher” (it wasn’t), and opines the the “peak of the sandwich art at Rose’s is the Nascher’s Delight, in which there are so many ingredients that the bread never quite encompasses them.” I’m sure he means “Nosher’s Delight”; and yes, there were many, many components to that sandwich. I don’t think we’ll see its like again soon, and I’m sorry that’s the case.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Land of Princess Charlotte

Henry Thiele
If ever a king there was of the Realm of Portland Food, it was Henry Thiele. As a celebrity chef, caterer to the social elite of Portland, spokesman for food and wine, purveyor of Princess Charlotte pudding, German pancakes, and bratwurst with sweet-and-sour lentils, Henry reigned as chef supreme from his arrival in town in 1914 until his death in 1952. And his name and fame lived on; Henry Thiele’s restaurant, helmed by his widow Margaret, lasted another four decades, finally closing in 1990.

Henry Thiele was born in Hanover, German, in 1882; his father ran a hotel, but died in 1885. His mother died in 1898, by which time young Henry had already been exposed to winemaking and confectionary creation in Germany and Switzerland. In 1904, Henry emigrated to the United States, where he found work in hotel restaurants in New York City and San Francisco, and cooked in Nome, in Canada, and in Seattle before arriving in Portland in 1914.

Benson Hotel grill, ca. 1915
Here he was hired by the entrepreneurial Simon Benson as chef of his Hotel Benson, and here he thrived. Simon Benson aimed to make his hotel the premier society flashpoint of the city, in which endeavor he had formidable competition from the Portland and Multnomah Hotels. But the genial Thiele soon had a following, and the Benson did much catering for women’s clubs and business gatherings. His European training and experience gave him a cachet, and his dishes achieved local fame. James Beard wrote two pages of praise for Thiele’s masterful cooking in his autobiographical Delights and Prejudices. “This man had a fawning manner and great ambition, but he was a great, creative chef,” said Beard.

Benson Hotel, 1916
The menus that Thiele devised for the Benson were notable for their breadth, their fish and shellfish dishes, their desserts, and the fact that the fancy menu was almost devoid of fancy French terminology: it was in plain English.

In the early and middle 1920s, Thiele left the Benson for several restaurant adventures on his own. He opened a grill in the new Sovereign, a residence hotel; he took on the management of Simon Benson’s new Columbia Gorge Hotel near Hood River; he delivered box lunches on a fleet of motorcycles; he angled to operate the restaurant at the new lodge at Multnomah Falls; he opened a large new restaurant on SW 10th Avenue north of Morrison Street, and a coffee shop on Alder. These did not all pan out, and at one point Thiele faced bankruptcy.
Benson Hotel menu, October 23, 1916

Thiele regrouped (he had many good and wealthy friends in the business community), and in 1932 he opened Henry Thiele’s at the triangle corner of West Burnside and NW Westover Road at NW 23rd Avenue. The restaurant became a Portland institution, a family eating-place for the wealthy of Portland Heights and the elderly widows in Nob Hill apartment buildings.

Noted for its German-influenced dishes (still described in plain English), for  immense German pancakes and huge platters of deep-friend smelt, Henry Thiele’s marched on even after the death of the master chef in 1952. Thiele’s young widow, Margaret, carried on for nearly four more decades, assisted by Henry Jr. (and Henry III); Margaret re-married to August Petti, an Italian-born clothing designer who took on the role of suave and genial host.

Henry Thiele's menu, July 8, 1940

According to Beard, “Thiele’s salmon dishes were his true forte and became the feature of the Columbia Gorge Hotel, which Mr. Benson … built for him. I can remember a whole baked salmon done with cream, and fillets of salmon stuffed with a salmon mousse and then poached in a court bouillon.” Although Beard says that Thiele later “became a mass producer without any of the finesse he had brought to his original kitchens,” he brought to Portland a culinary sophistication and talent that made him an early version of the celebrity chef.
One hot summer day in the early 1970s, when I was working a split shift as a busboy at Rose’s Restaurant nearby, I went over to Henry Thiele’s and I splurged: I got three Princess Charlotte puddings, to go. The three cost me $1.05. Each was a perfect dollop of creamy pudding with toasted almonds capped with a rich red syrup. I wish I could still get one.

“And Thiele’s Princess Charlotte pudding! I have tried for years and years to duplicate it, from the first days of The Benson, but have never achieved the same quality. It was rather like a fine bavaroise, but creamier, with praline in it and a supremely good cassis sauce over it.” –James Beard, Delights and Prejudices

From Dining a la Oregon by J. A. Armstrong, 1959

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hamburger George Fernand

Yes, that’s the proprietor of the Canyon City Café, proprietor and chef Hamburger George (or Big George) Fernand. This photo postcard, issued about 1950, shows a good representative of a restaurant type: the small-town café that filled all culinary needs. In the 1950s, the hamburger sandwich, in a basket with French fries, was one of those needs; especially among the young, its popularity was growing by leaps and bounds, and leading us toward a nation that is now awash in franchised ground beef emporia.

There were other needs, too, though, beyond that of the high school student hamburger aficionado. The small-town café served breakfast, lunch, and dinner; it served residents who were daily regulars for coffee or lunch, occasional travelers staying at the motel on the edge of town, and recurring day visitors such as truck drivers, ranchers in town to shop, and hunters in elk season. It was part of daily life for some, but was a special treat for many others, for “eating out” was also often both entertainment and a relief from the daily drudgery of meal preparation.

Hamburger George Fernand, also known as Big George, was born about 1905 in either California or Hawaii (accounts vary). The 1940 census shows him a resident of Canyon City along with his wife Carmen and daughter Meredith, aged 2. Canyon City had been born of a gold rush in 1862, and in 1940 it had a population of 312; the adjacent town of John Day held another 708 residents. Three hundred miles from Portland, Canyon City was no metropolis, but it was on the highway, and there were jobs in lumber mills and on cattle ranches. There were plenty of customers for the Canyon City Cafe (also called the Canyon Inn).

Grant County Museum
ca. 1940
Eastern Oregon author and agriculturist E. R. Jackman wrote about Hamburger George in an article for the Oregonian’s Northwest Magazine (March 20, 1966), “A Food Lover’s Adventure in Oregon.” George was stern in his dicta about cooking: meat should always be cooked in its own fat, and eggs must always be cooked in butter; during World War II, with butter rationed, George would not take an order for eggs if he didn’t have the butter. Jackman recounts a case of George’s “imperiousness” in the 1940s, when Oregon governor Earl Snell arrived in town with the state treasurer and the secretary of state, expecting to be able to eat dinner at the Canyon Café. It was closed. Quotes Jackman of Snell:

“But George! You can’t do that to us. I’ve been telling these men clear from Prineville [120 miles west] what a treat they had coming.” Big George told them, “I’ve sent the help home, every dish in the house is dirty, and I can’t serve you unless you want to get back there and wash up every dish.”

And wash they did. “Then Big George served them. I think that is democracy at work,” said Jackman.

In small towns around the Northwest, there were cafes run by men and women who wielded a spatula in similar fashion, serving up similar fare, and often of similar local stature. In the 1950s, when our family took one of its rare let’s-eat-out excursions, it was often just down the road to Pop’s Chicken Dinner at Newton’s Corner, where we usually had the burger baskets. Pop Wells manned the deep fryer and the grill, his wife was a waitress; their daughter Diane was one of my school classmates. Pop Wells of Warrenton was a lot skinnier than George Fernand of Canyon City, but each did a mean burger, and each cut a pretty big figure in town.

"Pop" Wells
Special thanks to Jayne Primrose, Grant County Museum, Canyon City. N.B.: the phrase "'62 shown above refers to 1862, not 1962. The initial year of the gold rush in Canyon City was in 1862.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Bob’s [Mexican] Chili Parlor

There is something disconcerting about two Chinese restaurants I frequently pass by. I’ve never eaten at Norm’s Garden in Hillsdale, nor at Wally’s Chinese Kitchen in Canby. Why? It’s because of Norm and Wally: I can’t get past the names. (Well, the reviews aren’t exactly stellar, either.)*

Postcard, circa 1915
A century ago, Bob’s Chili Parlor in Spokane might have faced similar hesitation from potential customers who thought a fellow named Bob was unlikely to be an expert at concocting chili and tamales. But perhaps not; while there were few Mexicans in the Pacific Northwest at the time, an appetite for certain Mexican-inflected foods is evident from the 1890s. (See earlier blog postings on tamales and on Portland’s Castillian Grille, for example.)

Bob’s advertising postcard boasts that “Bob’s Chili-Con-Carne, has the world stopped for quality, taste and flavor.” The unusual dining space is only 4½ feet wide, but 100 feet in length; it has “a seating capacity of 50, and has 6 private boxes for ladies and gentlemen.”

Another unusual aspect of Bob’s business is noted on his postcard: “Anyone wishing the raw material such as Mexican Chili Peppers, Beans or Seasonings, can secure the same in any quantity from us.” That offer is detailed in this advertisement of December 30, 1916, from the Examiner in Colville, Washington, some 70 miles north of Spokane.
* Update: Wally's appeared to be shuttered when we went past it on May 5; and Norm's last day of operation was May 9. When legends die... .

Friday, January 23, 2015

Beaver Falls on Beaver Creek

I recently bought two old albums of postcards, one of which includes a real photo postcard of Lower Beaver Falls on Beaver Creek. There must be a lot of Beaver Falls on a Beaver Creek, but this one is identifiable. How many times have we been down Highway 30 toward Astoria, and passed the townlets of Alston and Delena, and the turnoff to Beaver Falls Road? Many times. This time we took the turnoff.

Here’s that postcard view of Lower Beaver Falls, taken about 1920. Just above it is a primitive plank road crossing, and a splash dam, built to impound the creek. Why? To collect logs, then to pull the dam and send the logs roaring down the creek to a mill somewhere below—probably where Beaver Creek enters the Columbia at the townlet of Inglis.

Here’s Lower Beaver Falls today, reached by a muddy but easy trail from the road—which road, once upon a time, was the main Columbia River Highway to Astoria. Things looked different today.