Monday, October 17, 2016

Cathryn's by Kathryn: Dining on Barbur Boulevard

I confess: I bought another matchbook cover. It led me to the tale of a once-charming suburban Portland dinner house on Barbur Boulevard, in what today is the sprawling city of Tigard.

It should read Barbur Boulevard, not Barbour
Cathryn’s Dinners first came to my attention when I ran across it in a 1946 edition of Adventures in Good Cooking (Famous Recipes) and the Art of Carving in the Home, by Duncan Hines. A spinoff from Hines’ famous Adventures in Good Eating, which reviewed restaurants across the nation, this book was a compilation of recipes from many of those anointed restaurants. Two recipes from Cathryn’s were included in it, one for hot toasted cheese hors d’oeuvres and one for a chocolate fudge upside down cake.

The matchbook showed up on eBay. Now I knew what Cathryn’s looked like and approximately where it was. A search of the Portland Oregonian online revealed that the restaurant, specializing in chicken and steak, was opened in 1937 by Kathryn Pettengill. Mrs. Pettengill was born in Massachusetts in 1888, and came to Portland with her husband, William, in the early 1920s. Before opening Cathryn’s, she had worked as a hostess at Nendel’s, a noted suburban dinner house on Canyon Road. She sold Cathryn’s in 1946 and soon opened another restaurant in Oak Grove, southeast of Portland, called Kathryn’s. The next year, Kathryn Pettengill died from a fall down the stairs at the restaurant.

Cathryn’s on Barbur Boulevard, however, continued in business under other owners, finally closing in 1956. It was then refurbished and reopened as the Hi-Hat, with the “same type of food but has added Chinese dishes to the menu.” The Hi-Hat, operated by the Louie family of Fong Chong and Rickashaw Charlie’s in Portland's Chinatown, also offered dancing and drinking. The original building burned in 1968, but the Hi-Hat was built anew, perhaps down the road a piece. (It's not a clear transition. The intersection of Barbur and 62nd has vanished beneath the concrete of I-5, and the Hi-Hat was closer to 69th.) It continued to serve chop suey and to cater banquets until 2010. Today it is Lu’s Sports Bar & Lounge, “offering American & Chinese grub, games, TVs & nightly karaoke in a casual setting.”

Cathryn’s hot toasted cheese hors d’oeuvres
from Adventures in Good Cooking, by Duncan Hines (1946)

2 cups grated cheese
1 egg beaten
10 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon Lea & Perrins [Worchestershire sauce]
¼ teaspoon salt
Mix well with a fork.

2 loaves of bread
Remove crusts and cut in 1-inch squares. Place a spoonful of mixture on each piece.

1 lb. bacon
Top with thin strips of bacon.

Toast in 450 F. oven until brown.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Astoria: Sukiyaki and St. Louis

Paper ephemera—items like restaurant menus, product brochures, and recipe booklets—have been the triggers for much of my research into Oregon’s food history. Matchbooks are pretty small, with little room to suggest a story. I’ve never collected them. 

Well, until recently. Here’s a story from one little matchbook.

Astoria is one of Oregon’s most cosmopolitan small towns. It’s a seaport and a fishing and lumbering center with a large population of Scandinavian (Swedish, Norwegian, Danish) immigrants along with many others (Finnish, Greek, Croatian) added to the usual Oregonians (Missourian, German, Iowan, British, Minnesotan, etc.). There were many Chinese working in the fish canneries, and some Sikhs in the lumber mill. More variety than one expects in Oregon.

As this matchbook told me, there were Japanese in Astoria, too, and there was a Japanese restaurant called the St. Louis—I have no idea what inspired the name. The 1931 Polk city directory shows the St. Louis Café at 276 Bond Street, on the north side of the street between 6th and 7th Streets. (Astoria house numbers have since changed.), It was operated by Takio Kobayashi, who then lived on 7th Street between Bond and Astor. This is in the midst of what was Astoria’s two-block Chinatown. The 1936, 1938, and 1940 city directories list the St. Louis Café on the south side of Bond Street at 265, as it shows on the matchbook. The directories also show Takio, and his wife Chitose, as living at the same address.

Were there other Japanese in Astoria in the 1930s? Did they also live in its Chinatown? Did any return after World War II? Oregon had Japanese American communities in Portland, eastern Multnomah County, Treasure Valley, and the Hood River Valley, but Takio and Chitose were outliers in Astoria. As evidenced by the matchbook, their restaurant probably catered to a non-Japanese clientele, but presumably one that knew what sukiyaki was, and that it was worth seeking out. Here’s an unexplored Astoria history niche.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Eat at the Lumbermen's Cafe

Shevlin-Hixon, 1930; Brubaker photo, OHS, OrHi 63365

In the roaring 1920s, the city of Bend was a hub of industry, supported by two immense lumber mills, Shevlin-Hixon and Brooks-Scanlon. Loggers and mill workers needed fuel, and Vern Singleton (1886-1932) was one of their suppliers. Shown here is a business card from his day-and-night Lumbermen’s Café in downtown Bend. The note at lower left suggests that Vern had at least one Chinese cook on his staff; chop suey, noodles, and chow mein were Cantonese-style Chinese-American foods that were widely popular across the nation. Even meat-and-potatoes lumberjacks were known to down chop suey when struck by a yen for something different.

The reverse side of the card is taken up with this wonderful boisterous yelp of a wild man logger, who has survived a rough-and-tumble life only because he eats at the Lumbermen’s Café in Bend. Very likely, the chop suey helped.

A similar version of this yelp, attributed to a similar business card from a café in Modesto, California, appears in William Least Heat-Moon’s 1983 road odyssey, Blue Highways. A bit of online searching traces the basic text at least as far back as 1921, when it shows up in The Shears, “the journal of information for [the] set-up paper box, folding carton, corrugated and fibre container and paper tube industries,” as well as in The Railway Maintenance of Way Employes [sic] Journal. Most versions end with, “The only reason I’m sticking around now is to see WHAT THE HELL IS NEXT.”

Friday, September 9, 2016

An Unanticipated Hiatus

There has been An Hiatus at the Oregon Rediviva blog. It was occasioned by our lengthy search for another residence that would offer greater gardening space for Terry, and that would shake up our daily routine a bit. At first we were looking in the Portland metro area: Milwaukie, Oak Grove, Lents, Oregon City. The affordable places with land tended to have a house that needed A Lot of Work. The places with a nice, move-in-ready house? They tended to sit on small lots. If house and land were both agreeable, the price was breathtaking. So we looked even farther afield in Forest Grove and Aurora.

Then we saw that the charming, affordable, whimsical John Ralston  house was for sale in Albany, thanks to a Facebook poke from Val Ballestrem of the Architectural Heritage Center. We went to look, but, alas, it had no yard to speak of, its foundation was melting, and there had been a disastrous kitchen remodel. But it got us to looking around at Albany, which has a reviving, historical downtown, and two historic residential districts, and so we looked at a bunch more real estate. We found a well-maintained 1889 residence, at a reasonable price, on almost half an acre of land bordering undeveloped wetlands along the Calapooia River. So: we bought it.

We moved in May. Blog posts have resumed--plenty of material was collected during our looking-at-places phase! I'm currently developing a book proposal from the core of past blog posts.

The Nomad of Boardman

Or, Exotic Images, Mundane Realities

Sometimes we are attracted to the exotic, the different, the colorful. At other times, we seek the familiar and the comfortable.

Along the stretch of I-84 between The Dalles and Pendleton lies the small town of Boardman. For many, it is a service stop, a place to get gas, a meal, a motel for the night. For those purposes, many looked for and found the Best Western Nugget Motel and its adjacent restaurant, The Nomad.

The motel and restaurant at Boardman represented a small cluster of the familiar cloaked in a thin veil of the superficially exotic. Similar combinations were (and are) found throughout the state and the nation along the Interstates; this one at Boardman is now gone, but it served travelers for about four decades.

First, the exotic. The motel name, the Nugget, suggested GOLD, that lure of the golden West. Boardman is a good hundred miles from any significant gold-bearing area. The restaurant name, The Nomad, brought to mind North African deserts and camels. Well, there is sand near Boardman. The Acacia Room, the restaurant’s lounge, was named for plants associated with Australia. There are no native acacias in Boardman. The restaurant described Boardman as the place “Where the Sun Meets the Sand.” Indeed they do meet there—as they do in so many other places—and the phrase suggests that Boardman has resort-like qualities. The menu’s cover photo of a beach on the Mediterranean isle of Capri emphasizes those qualities, perhaps suggesting that Boardman was the Capri of the Columbia. This is doubtful.

Second, the familiar and the comfortable. The postcard view makes it clear that nothing about The Nomad’s décor references camels, nomads, sand, or acacias. A look at the menu confirms that the food is mainstream 1975 fare: steaks, sandwiches, seafood. Seafood is wide-ranging, with fresh Columbia River salmon, halibut, oysters, Atlantic scallops, lobster tail, and jumbo frog logs. The frog legs might seem to be exotic, but in 1975 we were at the tail end of a minor national fad for farmed frog. A surprising omission from the carte is chicken: the mis-nomered chicken fried steak appears, but not one piece of chicken was to be found.

An aside: the menu was printed by Victor Cornelius Menus of Eastland, Texas, a firm that is still very much in business. One of their popular products was a monthly menu cover with “a colorful seasonal scene.” This cover seems appropriate for July, but the geography is out of sync with the season.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Mid-Valley Potatoes

With meat-and-potatoes being the default basic American meal, it’s not surprising that potatoes are a major crop across the nation. Maine, Washington, and Idaho are famous for them. Notable production areas in Oregon are the northeastern and far eastern parts of the state, the Klamath Basin, and the Deschutes country. And while many crops are raised in the Willamette Valley, no renown is attached to the potatoes grown there.

Not that some people didn’t try to change that. Two notable efforts are exhibited by these two bits of ephemera from an area with the mundane moniker Mid-Valley.

Courtesy Mike Maslan
 First is this remarkable photograph of a potato cross, made of a dozen very large and very lumpy tubers and exhibited with a farming couple and their dog (half-hidden by the base of the cross). The sign says, HEIGHT 7 FT, WIDTH 4 FT, 12 POTATOES, WEIGHT 56 LB, E.E. WILLIAMS, CLOVERDAL [sic], BENTON CO.

The photograph was part of a collection of photos taken by William F. Peacock (1845-1909), a prominent farmer and amateur photographer of North Albany, Benton County, Oregon. An initial search failed to pinpoint a place in Benton County called Cloverdale, but it did locate a Cloverdale in Benton County, Missouri—so I reluctantly concluded that this was not an Oregon photo.

I was wrong, as later research revealed. Lo and behold, the same photograph appeared in the Portland Oregon Journal newspaper on December 25, 1911, under the caption BENTON COUNTY SPUDS SHOW UNUSUAL GROWTH. The story contains no more information than is shown in the sign in the photograph, save for the line that E. E. Williams “has been engaged in potato culture in the Cloverdale area for a number of years.” Also, “One of the spuds measured 14 inches in length.” Keep in mind that in 1909, the Northern Pacific Railroad had introduced the “Great Big Baked Potato” on its dining cars: these were not freaky potatoes, they were just supersized. And now Christianized! Irish Catholic?

Which brings us to second piece of potato ephemera, a small cookbook published in 1912 by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Harrisburg Improvement Club. In 1911, the Harrisburg Potato Carnival was inaugurated in this small town about 30 miles south of the Williams farm. For the second year of the carnival (it lasted through at least 1914), the ladies compiled a reputed 180 recipes for “King Murphy” (clearly an Irish Catholic potato), including one written in verse form. There are recipes for baked potato fritters (a fried dessert with brandy, sugar and lemon), potato soup with oysters, potato doughnuts, and Saratoga chips, now known as potato chips.

An online newspaper search for Mid-Valley potato news in the 1900-1920 period makes it clear that while potatoes were not a regional feature crop—this is a period when Salem boasted of its cherries, Dallas about its plums, and Lebanon of its strawberries—they were widely and profitably grown. Railroad boxcars full of Linn County potatoes were shipped to northern California markets; in 1901 W. H. Hogan sent 14 carloads south from Albany. 

There were other potato novelty reports as well, such as this one in the Morning Oregonian on March 27, 1914:

Potatoes in Parcel Post.
            ALBANY, Or., March 26.—(Special.)—Sixteen hundred pounds of potatoes went through Albany by parcel post yesterday. They had been shipped from Lyons, on the Corvallis & Eastern [Railroad], 28 miles east of Albany, to Fort Rock, in Southern Oregon. The potatoes were in 48-pound sacks.

Parcel post was a new service of the postal system, beginning January 1, 1913. Parcels could weigh no more than fifty pounds, but the low rates and the nationwide service immediately pushed the growth of mail order business (notably Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward), sometimes—as in this example—to extremes. Those potatoes went by train in the US mail from Lyons to Albany to Portland to Wishram (Washington) to Bend, and then via horse or auto stage to Fort Rock, a journey of almost 350 miles—34 sacks of potatoes!

And here's your poetic recipe for potatoes prepared in a hobo jungle along the railroad tracks: