Friday, October 22, 2010

Dining on the Redwood Highway

Grants Pass was optimistic in the 1920s. The creation of the Oregon Caves National Monument in 1909 gave an early boost to tourism, as did the completion of the Pacific Highway in the mid-1910s. In 1922 Grants Pass businessmen constituted themselves as the Cavemen to promote the city. 
The six-story Redwoods Hotel was opened in July 1926 by hotel operator Al J. Martineau. Designed by Frank K. Hummel of the Portland architectural firm of Tourtellotte and Hummel, it was joined to the three-story Josephine Hotel, built in 1893; the new complex was renamed the Redwoods Hotel. The name reflected the recent completion of the new Redwood Highway to Crescent City and San Francisco.

Its location on the major West Coast railroad line and these new highways made Grants Pass a cosmopolitan place, no matter that the census, in 1930, showed only 4,666 residents in the city. Take a look at the dining room, pictured shortly after the hotel’s opening: the Oregon Caves “caveman” theme is rendered as a swank nightclub.
The hotel provided “sample rooms” for the traveling salesmen. These fellows traveled from town to town, stopping to display samples of the wares they represented: ready-to-wear clothing, hardware, dry goods. They came by train, and by the 1920s they were coming by automobile and bus -- motor stage -- as well. 
A salesman traveling through Grants Pass in the spring of1937 can eat very well at the Redwoods. While the beef comes from the Swift’s packing plant people, fresh seafood is offered, and both Eastern and Olympia oysters are listed (yes, more about those oysters later!). There is a grand effort to cast some Frenchified terms onto the menu, which proves difficult to do with a manual typewriter.
The old Josephine portion of the hotel burned in 1975, but the 1926 structure remains, now used as an office building. Nothing in Grants Pass today (population: 31,740) quite matches up to the Caves Grotto Dining Room, and you’re unlikely to find a menu offering boiled salmon steak Norweigen or Olympia oyster stew. But the Cavemen are still there, and I’m sure they can direct you to the restaurant that offers a Sasquatch sampler plate and a lumberjack steak.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Peerless Maritime Metropolis

This 34-page booklet was published about 1892, written by a prolific publicist of the West, one Patrick Donan. "The Peerless Maritime Metropolis of the Golden Northwest" was to be Astoria -- once Astoria got  a railroad. A brief and somewhat lurid account of the place of Astoria in western American history leads to a description of the place "as it is to-day," a "cosmopolitan" city where one will find every kind of person from "Piccadilly swells and Fifth Avenue dudes, to Norwegian loggers, Finlander boatmen, Chinese mandarins, Chinook princesses and Clatsop clam-diggers."

"A Venice of the Pacific"
The nineteen fish canneries, the "miles of wharves, docks and warehouses," the sawmills and ironworks, the electric lights and the electric streetcars, are portents of greater development. For Astoria "will be, it must be, where river, rail and ocean meet; on the ocean, and not inland. God and Nature have done everything to make Astoria the mighty commercial emporium that [John Jacob] Astor planned." Ah, there are the immense forests, "as yet untouched by axe or saw," and the "exhaustless quantities" of coal, all at Astoria's door. When the railroad comes, all this and more will be turned to industry, to commerce, to money.

The railroad finally came, in 1898. In the ensuing years, the forests were cut, the fish were canned. But Astoria never became the New York of the Pacific, never became the premier Pacific port, as Donan insisted was inevitable. And after all his insistence may have been paid for, by some of those who stood to gain if the city usurped San Francisco. The power of positive thinking has its limits.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Oysters on the Snake

Ostensibly in pursuit of material to support my research on the foodways* of the Pacific Northwest, I collect old restaurant menus. One of my most treasured acquisitions is a tattered carte from the State Cafe of Huntington, Oregon. Huntington is located at the confluence of the Snake and Powder Rivers. It began its career as a city by being the joining point in 1884 of the Oregon Short Line Railroad and the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, creating what became the transcontinental route of the Union Pacific. Until the 1960s, Huntington was a railroad shop town, where workers were working 24/7. They were eating 24/7, too.

* foodways: "The eating habits and culinary practices of a people, region, or historical period." Merriam-Webster Dictionary
At the State Cafe, they had a tremendously varied menu. Doubtless not everything listed was always instantly at hand, and canned and packaged goods no doubt were staples. Still, the array is remarkable for a cafe in a town with a population of no more than 1,500 people (there are about 560 residents today). A dozen or more salads, eleven potato preparations, seventeen omelette varieties, 27 beef dishes, and, “in season” (that is, fresh), twenty-two different ways of preparing oysters. These were virile, manly meals.
So when was the State Cafe dishing up these choice viands? The menu provides some good clues, and more of them than most menus will do. The first clue is the listing for a “liberty pancake.” During World War I, our recoil from things German turned sauerkraut into “liberty cabbage” in popular parlance; similarly, here the German pancake, an eggy breakfast treat often called a Dutch baby, was renamed a liberty pancake. The second clue is found under “sandwiches”: the Theda Bara. It’s unusual for a small-town cafe to put a fancy name on a sandwich, and this is the only  example in this menu. Theda was a silent screen actress, a vamp with soulful eyes, and she must have been popular in Huntington. But Theda’s popularity was short-lived: she burst forth in 1914 with The Stain, and aside from three brief film appearances in 1925 and 1926, her career ended in 1919. So we can be very comfortable with saying that the menu is from about 1918, when the Germans were anathema and Theda was starring in Salome and The Siren’s Song.
There is still the matter of all those oysters. Why are there both “Puget Sound oysters” and “Eastern oysters”? What’s with those “Olympia oysters”? How did oysters get to Huntington alive?
We’ll take up with the oysters later. Right now, think about sitting down at the State Cafe counter for a brace of English mutton chops, shoestring potatoes, some stewed tomatoes, and maybe a side of apple celery salad, and with big cup of coffee. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Story of Carnation Milk

"The Story of Carnation Milk" was published in Seattle in 1915, a 32-page illustrated booklet of recipes prefaced by a paean to milk in general and to "condensed" milk in particular. The publisher was the Pacific Coast Condensed Milk Company, operator of fifteen Carnation condensaries, all located "far from city soot and manufacturing impurities, all located in the hearts of splendid milk producing sections, ...literally 'among the hills.'” Well, perhaps some of them were.
The first plant of the Pacific Coast Condensed Milk was opened in Kent, Washington, in 1899 by Elbridge Stuart. However, the marketing heart of the company was the Carnation Stock Farm, "Home of Contented Cows." To the east of Lake Washington near the town of Tolt, Stuart established the farm in 1910 with a bull and 86 Holstein cows; in 1917, Tolt was renamed Carnation.
Pacific Coast also had a condensary near Forest Grove, Oregon; the railroad stop and post office there were also named Carnation. A photograph of the plant appears in The Oregon Companion on page 140.
A century ago, condensed milk had two major assets going for it. It did not need refrigeration, an important consideration in an era when even ice boxes were far from universal in homes. (This quality was handy, too, on the Chilkoot Trail while searching for Yukon gold; it weighed less than fresh milk, too!). And, in an era when tuberculosis and other diseases were too often transmitted through raw milk, condensed milk was pasteurized and “pure.” Recipe booklets like this promoted the use of a new form of an age-old ingredient, selling it with imagery of neatness and cleanliness, and of Pacific Northwest scenery in green, blue and white.
Carnation became a brand of Nestlé in 1985.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Oregon Rediviva: Renewed, rebuilt, recycled, revivified

Photo by Laural Engeman
Oregon Rediviva is a new blog by Richard H. Engeman, author of The Oregon Companion and Eating It Up in Eden. It replaces two moribund blogs with those titles, with one sprightly blog that will be updated weekly. Oregon Rediviva will present short items of interest from my recent research in Pacific Northwest history, and will feature archival artifacts such as photographs and printed ephemera.