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:



Monday, August 31, 2015

Clams, clams, clams!


Facebook postings flash past one’s eyes. I didn’t catch the references, I didn’t capture the links. But one of them asked the question, Is Pacific Northwest clam chowder always made with thickeners of flour or cornstarch? Is it really supposed to have the consistency of caulking?

Some people seem to think that clam chowder is properly served only in a bread bowl, but out here on the Pacific coast, we most often use ceramic bowls, and always have. So it is really not necessary for our clam chowder to be thick and gluey. However, a quick check of recipes in popular regional cookbooks, such as A Taste of Oregon (Junior League of Eugene, 1980) and Portland’s Palette (Junior League of Portland, Oregon, 1992), does indicate that a substantial measure of flour is a common regional clam chowder ingredient in recent years.

Mo’s, a well-known Newport seafood restaurant (now with several outposts), stirs flour into their clam chowder, and it makes for a sludgy meal. On the other hand, Dooger’s, a Seaside restaurant (with two other outlets) that features clam chowder, shuns the flour.

A look backward reveals that a milkier, soupier version thickened only with potatoes was once the preferred Northwest chowder. In his autobiographical Delights and Prejudices (1964), James Beard gives a recipe from his childhood in the 1910s. The ingredients are bits of bacon, onion, potatoes (cooked until “soft and almost disintegrated”), clam broth, “light cream,” and clams, plus seasonings and a parsley garnish. This is very like what my parents prepared fifty years ago, although dad often omitted the bacon, to the dismay of the rest of the family. Beard also adds cognac, but we didn’t.

The recipe in Mary Cullen’s Cook Book (Binfords & Mort, 1938) is titled “Boston clam chowder,” and it includes salt pork or bacon, onions, potatoes, milk, water, celery, and clams; it directs one to “mash potatoes.” The same recipe is included in the successor volume, Mary Cullen’s Northwest Cook Book (1946), with an added note: “Razor clams are the favorite for this in the Northwest for they are plentiful along the Northwest beaches at low tide—if you know how to dig them.” Mary Cullen was the assumed name that the Portland Oregon Journal newspaper used for its home economics experts.
Canned clams have long been an option
Stepping back a few decades, the Monday Club Cook Book published by Astoria’s First Presbyterian Church (1899) includes a clam soup recipe with only clams, milk, butter, salt, and pepper. However, as noted in an earlier blog post, my copy of the cookbook includes an additional recipe for clam chowder. The ingredients are clams, salt pork, potatoes, onions, milk, clam juice, salt and pepper—and when serving, “add five or six soda crackers.” No flour, no cornstarch.

Postcard view of a 1960s clam digger
Beyond the issue of thick or thin consistency is the issue of the clams. There are a number of edible clams on the Oregon coast, but razor clams are a favorite and are the only clams I knew in my youth. I knew them because at various ungodly hours the whole family would rush to the shore at low tide with clam shovels and dig like fury for them. While this resulted in much general dampness (low tide seemed to occur most often during a driving rain) and sliced fingers impregnated with sea salt and sand, it also resulted in a couple of dozen clams. Sautéed clams and clam chowder were the usual results of these expeditions.

So I say, make your chowder of razor clams, and thicken that chowder with potatoes. Skip the cornstarch, omit the flour. Don’t forget the bacon (or salt pork). Celery if you like it.

It’s not the only clam chowder, just the best clam chowder.
East Coast clam fever: Helen E. Hokinson in the New Yorker, 1940s