Thursday, September 20, 2018

Oregon Prunes: for Health!

Recipe booklet, 1909
I rather like prunes. However, I rarely eat them. As a child, I occasionally encountered pitted prunes stuffed with a nut and rolled in powdered sugar, and those were pretty appealing. Oh, wait a minute—those were dates, not prunes.

A century ago, prunes were a great big crop in the Santa Clara Valley south of San Francisco. And also in the hills of Clark County, northeast of Vancouver in Washington State. And in the Willamette Valley, especially around McMinnville and Salem and Dallas. The early twentieth century was a boom period for fruit and nut growing on the Pacific Coast: apples, pears, walnuts, filberts (hazelnuts), berries of many kinds, prunes (nee plums). Beautiful to behold, delicious, healthful fruit!
Can label, ca. 1890
Can label with Mount Hood, ca. 1910
Ah, but prunes. Although recently the marketers have hit upon calling the poor things “dried plums,” they still seem to have an image problem. It is a problem of long standing. Read this 1902 pronouncement from our land-grant college:

Experiments have been made with prunes to a limited degree. It is quite interesting to note by inquiry how few really eat prunes with a liking for them. A large per cent of those who were questioned on the subject, admitted a distaste for the fruit in any form as a sauce. If they ate them at all it was with medicinal inclination. When sugar coated with the whites of eggs and whipped cream they found them very palatable; as fruit added in the place of raisins in puddings they were agreeable. It has set us to wondering where all the Oregon prunes are to find a market. Certainly they are not for home consumption for a small per cent of Oregon palates crave this mumified [sic] fruit. We regret having to make this statement when prune growing is one of the industries of our state.

            Fourteenth Annual Report of the Oregon Agricultural College and Experiment Station for the Year Ending June 30, 1902, p. 20
Can label, ca. 1940. The conflation of prune and plum

Can label


Friday, September 14, 2018

Cruisin' to Astoria

Over Labor Day weekend, I once again I found myself in Astoria aboard a cruise vessel, the American Spirit, once again as a guest speaker. This was a special themed cruise, a fact I discovered two days before I boarded the ship, and the theme was "Food and Wine." For that reason, we had a celebrity sommelier aboard, too, Reggie Daigneault from Seattle, and she was a whirlwind dispenser of excellent wines and wine lore for the entire week. As it happened, I had available a newly-prepared presentation on Pacific Northwest food history in my repertoire, so that complemented the "theme." I gave five presentations in all.

"What the heck is this?" I asked myself
Astoria was our first port after leaving Portland, and I took the opportunity to have a fine lunch-time visit with Warrenton high school friend Terry (Enke) Arnall and her husband Doug and son George. I also had time for a little shopping in Astoria, and I spent it all at a small antique and collectibles shop that was having a sale on account of a planned closure soon. All kinds of wonderful oddments were there, at splendid prices! Among the finds were some peculiar postcards, a history of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church in Astoria (1923, in Finnish, which of course I cannot read), and two first-day-of-issue mailings of the 4-cent postage stamp commemorating the Oregon statehood centennial in 1959. The postcard of the Jersey Lilley turned out to be an advertisement for a Western-themed bar and grill that opened in 1960. I also discovered that the Jersey Lilley is still in business in the same location, and is locally noted for its "frog burger." It seems that the bacon strips on this burger stick out in a way that suggests a frog's legs. To someone.

But my favorite find was a menu, circa 1935, from Cook's Tamale Grotto in Seattle, "the home of delicious Spanish cooking." It joins a miniature menu I have from Cook's, circa 1925, and which I wrote about in an earlier blog posting. Cook's opened in downtown Seattle in 1921, and seems to have endured until the late 1950s. While this later menu has pared down its Chinese offerings, there remains an uncertainty about whether or not Spanish and Mexican are interchangeable descriptors. Ah, well, the artwork, though basically the same, is of improved delineation!

En route, got a splendid view of the crater of Mount St. Helens, and visited wineries at Woodward Canyon and L'ecole No. 41 near Walla Walla. Lots of good food and wine, of course, and some pretty ebullient and friendly passengers to share it with.


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.

CRANBERRY-ORANGE RELISH
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!