Saturday, June 23, 2018

Mable in Albany with Cranberries

My aunt Mable (not Mabel!) was born in 1913 in an Oregon logging camp. She married my dad’s older brother Gaylord, and they lived in various places in western Oregon over the years: the now-vanished town of Signal, North Albany, Goshen, Albany, Springfield. Mable was the last survivor of my dad’s generation, living long enough not only to vote for FDR in 1936, but also to vote for Hilary in 2016 (good for her!). She died last year at age 104.

Now that I live in Albany, I keep a lookout for historic Albany community cookbooks. I recently bought one, sight unseen, from a book dealer in Sisters, Oregon: Tested Recipes, compiled in 1941 by the Mother’s Club of Christian Church, Albany, Oregon. Among the contributors was Mable Engeman, who at the time would have been a 28-year-oldish housewife with two children. Six of her recipes appear in the book.

Mable was a noted family cook when I was a child, and her daughter Shirley knows her way with food as well. The six recipes in the cookbook are memorable because my Aunt Mable once vouched for them. And one of them is a longtime favorite in my family.

It’s a very simple dish, one that my mother (and after her death, my father) always made at Thanksgiving—and so did her sisters Gwen and Dorothy, my cousin Nancy, my sister Laural, and myself. The connection is that my dad, Carlet, roomed with Mable and Gaylord just before World War II and his marriage.

Of course, this recipe can be found in countless cookbooks. And that’s because it’s mighty simple and it’s simply very good with breast of turkey. As Mable well knew.

4 cups cranberries                2 large oranges                     2 cups sugar
Pick over and wash cranberries. Wash oranges, quarter and remove seeds. Put cranberries and oranges through food chopper using coarse knife. Add sugar and mix well. Chill 2 or 3 hours before serving. Makes 1 quart.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Brief Life and Fiery End of The Elk

Graphically, it's not a very impressive menu, but it caught my eye. That was because the typography suggested that the menu was printed earlier than the seller's estimate of the 1920s. Oregon restaurant menus prior to the 1930s are pretty scarce, so I looked inside: what's to eat? The variety of offerings, as well as the prices, represented that the Elk Restaurant, Lunch and Oyster House was a modest, middle-class downtown establishment. And the date? About 1902. The location was on Alder Street near 4th.

A search of the Oregonian first turned up mention of the Elk in an ad section, "Where to Dine Today," on August 25, 1901: "Take your dinner at the Elk Restaurant, 268 Alder street. Genuine French cooking." Similar ads appeared  into 1902, with Mrs. J. L. Mitchell noted as the manager or the owner and manager; dinner was served from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM. On November 28, 1901, the Elk touted a 25-cent dinner, "the best 25c meal ever set in Portland." "Eat Thanksgiving turkey, roast goose, duck, chicken and all delicacies of the season." That same day, the Imperial Hotel boasted it would serve a seven-course turkey dinner for 50 cents, and The Vegetarian restaurant offered "A Thanksgiving dinner with no taint of cruelty. Mock turtle with cranberries, mock mince pie, etc."

Like many Portland and Oregon eating houses of the period, the Elk proudly announced "No Chinese." Fear of the Yellow Peril was afoot, and many customers professed an aversion to Chinese handling the cooking. The Elk's ad on December 8 touted "None but union labor is employed"; indeed, some labor unions were at the forefront of efforts to oust Chinese from the restaurant trade. It can be refreshing to read in James Beard's autobiographical Delights and Prejudices of how his mother, who ran a hotel and dining room in Portland in the early 1900s, dismissed her fickle French staff and recruited reliable and skilled Chinese to replace them. 

How about those oysters and clams? At this time, it was still possible to get the small, native Olympia oysters, found in Puget Sound, Willapa Bay, Yaquina Bay, and other points. But the native oysters were becoming increasingly scarce, and oysters from Chesapeake Bay and other Eastern waters had been transplanted on the Pacific Coast to boost the supply. In addition, Eastern oysters could be shipped to Portland by railroad express services. At this date, the Eastern oysters were more costly. Within a few years, the small size of the Olympias resulted in a higher price for them: this was the result of the cost of labor of to shuck thrice as many shells for the same amount of food.

But the Elk was not long for this world. Late in the evening of February 25, 1902, fire broke out in the two-story frame building housing the Elk, with a lodging house above. The Elk was destroyed, as was an adjacent structure housing a cigar manufacturer and a dealer in teas and spices. A few weeks after the fire, the Portland Oregonian carried an article detailing the history of the buildings at 4th and Alder, which were being demolished for a new 5-story brick structure (Oregonian, April 17, 1902).
Hotel Flavel, about 1915
Mrs. Mitchell and her husband apparently rebounded when she assumed the management of the Hotel Flavel near Astoria in the summer of 1902. This now-vanished property had been erected as a resort in 1893 north of Warrenton at Tansy Point, a site that today seems to be quite dismal and un-resort-like. Equipped with billiard rooms, a bowling alley, and electric lighting, the Hotel Flavel had a dining room that would seat 156 people. "This delightful resort is under the able management of  Mrs. J. L. Mitchell, a guarantee in itself that the Hotel Flavel will this year become even more popular with discriminating people than it ever has been in the past." (Oregonian, June 22, 1902)

A Short Saga of the Sagamore

Baker City, population 9,828 in the 2010 census, has never been awfully populous, but it has long been a stopover city for travelers, salesmen, and fortune seekers. There are and have been some noteworthy hotels, such as the Geiser Grand (1889), the Antlers (1900), and the Art Deco Hotel Baker (1929). All three are still standing, although only one is currently a hotel.  The Sagamore Hotel (1897) was a bit more modest, and it has vanished, torn down in 1959; the site has been a parking lot ever since.

Baker City was the thriving trade center of a gold mining region in the early 1900s, and the 44 rooms of the Sagamore Hotel were occupied not only by traveling salesmen, but by long-term residents who boarded there. In 1902, the Sagamore and another Baker City hostelry, the St. Lawrence, were affected by the demands of a labor union, the local Cooks’ and Waiters’ Union. The CWU wanted all Chinese cooks in Baker City ousted and white cooks installed, and it appears that this happened with these two exceptions. The Sagamore was not a union hotel, but the “proprietor of the Sagamore complied, but the cooking was so vile that after two days the guests of the hotel notified the proprietor that he could change cooks or they would leave the hotel. He at once re-employed the Chinese cooks. Mr. Enest, of the St. Lawrence, said he would employ white cooks if [the CWU] would give him a bond to cover loss if they got drunk. This the union refused to do.” (Portland Morning Oregonian, May 23, also 26 and 31, 1902)

The resolution of this impasse I have yet to discover, but some kind of peace must have evolved, for here we have a 1905 Christmas dinner menu from the Sagamore. It’s an ambitious but straightforward offering, one that was likely partaken of by Sagamore guests and residents as well as other Baker City citizens. Who cooked it? I don’t know.


Monday, October 23, 2017

A Sly Sty Stealer?

 This is a rather unnerving postcard. It was mailed from Marshfield (now Coos Bay), Oregon, on December 24, 1905, to Miss Annie Edie in Tillamook, Oregon. There is no message, and it is unsigned. Annie Edie may be the sister of Charlotte, who married B. C. Lamb, a prominent Tillamook businessman; there is a collection of family papers at the Oregon Historical Society research library.

The postcard publisher, D. M. Averill, according to research by Tom Robinson of Historic Photo Archive, was a dealer in cameras and photographic supplies and a photofinisher who broadened into postcard publication. He disappeared from Portland view in 1909.

One hopes that Annie had reason to be faintly amused, rather than repulsed, at receiving a card depicting a maniacal swineherd towing his pig while toting its sty. And despite the pledge to write, the sender did not write a thing! 

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Russians Are Coming

Back in the 1930s, the Russians were coming! At the time, Portland and Oregon had rather few immigrants beyond those from China, Scandinavia and Germany, and the food and restaurant scene was a bit short on ethnic variety. But there were some examples, such as the Samovar Russian Cafe that Paul E. Bulkin ran on NE Sandy Boulevard from about 1930 to 1940. The menu posted here shows the daily specials, which include not only Russian dishes but also a number of pretty generic Portlandia-ish items (fried chicken, grilled salmon). The pricey Samovar de luxe Russian dinner is, surprisingly, not detailed, but the full menu suggests some of the possiblities, including chicken a la Russe, lamb sashlik, and blini with caviar.

Paul E. Bulkin was the proprietor of the Samovar, as noted  by David B. Cole in his Portland State University dissertation, "Russian Oregon: A History of the Russian Orthodox Church and Settlement in Oregon, 1882-1976." A 1972 article about the quaint building by John Wendeborn in the Oregonian prompted a reminiscence about the Samovar by Joel C. Hertsche, Jr. (September 29). He extolled Bulkin, "who prepared the best Russian-type food I have ever laid tongue to. Blinis with sour cream, beef stroganoff, spiced wine and a varied and very tasty menu." Bulkin entertained as well as cooked: "The only music that was played there then was Paul himself beating out a tune on a bread board with a carving knife." Cole's dissertation mentions two other Russian restaurants in Portland during the 1930s and 1940s.

Before apparently leaving Portland for the Los Angeles area about 1940, Bulkin and his wife were noted as the owners of a pair of St. Bernard dogs, Mike and Sergey, who were frequently to be seen at the new Timberline Lodge. The Bulkins helped to promote the Mt. Hood winter sports carnival in 1937. "Paul Bulkin, the mad Russian" also opened another themed restaurant in1939, when the Russian Village, in something of an oxymoronic state, advertised its hosting of "Dan Warren's Africa Congo Revue, with the music of Toby Williams' Congo rhythm swing."

Oregonian, 10-25-1939
The building that housed the Samovar was still standing in Portland until early this year. I drove by a week ago: it's gone, and some 200 apartments soon will rise on the site. It was a rather unusual structure, a storybook sort of building vaguely resembling a squashed castle. Although one website tags it as a former Russian Orthodox church, it never was. According to Val Ballestrem of  theArchitectural Heritage Center, it as erected as a restaurant and bar called Jack and Jill's in the late 1920s. J&J did not last long, and was succeeded by an East Side branch of Jake's Crawfish. Jake's also failed, and the Samovar moved in. Since 1958, it was known as Club 21.

John Margolies photo, 1976. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Oregonian, June 11, 1930
Russian restaurant food reappeared in Portland about 1971 with the Russian Renaissance, located on SE Clinton Street near 26th. It was operated by Scotty and Walt Hasty and offered an extensive menu of pelmeni, holubtsi, tukhum dolma, beef stroganoff, and borscht. It moved downtown to NW 5th Avenue near Burnside in 1975, and lasted until at least 1978. The present-day Russian Renaissance restaurant on SE Foster Road near 65th does not appear to be a direct descendant. Or is it?
2525 SE Clinton Street, Portland

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Salmon in Klamath Falls

Pelican Cafe, Klamath Falls
No, you won’t be reading about the dams on the Klamath River and their impact on the salmon runs. This is a post about the Pelican Café, a long-running landmark in Klamath Falls, where pelicans are more noteworthy than salmon.  As Mark Joneschiet wrote of pelicans—and the café—in his reminiscence of KFalls, The Pelican’s Briefs: “It is called the Pelican Café because just about everything in this area is called Pelican SOMEthing. There is an area of town called Pelican City. There is a Pelican Motel, a Pelican Hotel and a Pelican Tavern. In fact, there are even real, bona-fide PELICANS… by the MULTITUDE!”

Michael Shellenbarger photo, 1985. UO C:19 95-10645
The Pelican Café opened in 1933 in the Williams Building, a handsome two-story structure with a rather fancy Italian Renaissance façade, ornamented with polychrome terra cotta, including a frieze of Hereford steer skulls along with pine cones (no pelicans! Mr. D. O. Williams had business interests in cattle and lumber). The building, designed by Portland architect Jamieson Parker, was completed in 1927. The Pelican Café positioned itself as a culinary oasis between Portland and the Bay Area, serving salmon and shrimp as well as roast beef. It was featured in the Duncan Hines guides to American restaurants, and its recipe for beef tongue with tomato sauce appeared in his Adventures in Good Cooking.

The Oriental rug on the wall
A postcard view of two dining rooms at the Pelican was sent by my Aunt Dorothy to her husband, Bill, postmarked July 28, 1954. Dorothy was driving from their home in Trona, California, in the Mojave Desert, to Portland. “Had a salmon dinner in the booth here pictured with Oriental rug on wall.”

As it happens, I recently acquired a menu from the Pelican, with a mimeographed daily lunch listing for July 30, 1954—two days after Dorothy had her salmon dinner there. The most expensive item on the menu—$1.50—was the crab or shrimp a la Louie. Locally-tailored offerings included youngberry and huckleberry pie, and “Oregon’s famous Langlois Roquefort type cheese.”

As Klamath Lake was an oasis for the white pelicans, the Pelican Café was an oasis for the long-distance autoist. (Trona to Portland in 1954 was about 950 miles via US 395, Reno, Klamath Falls, and Bend—no I-5 in those days!)