Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A New Year's Feast: the Soo Spokane-Portland

Menu, Dec. 1913. RHE
Let’s say it’s 97 years ago, Wednesday, December 31, 1913. I am catching the 11:00 PM train from Union Station in Portland, bound for Minneapolis via the Oregon-Washington Railroad and Navigation Company’s express, grandly named the Soo Spokane-Portland Train de Luxe.

This train, for a few brief years (1909-1914), sped to the Twin Cities via Cranbrook (British Columbia), Moose Jaw (Saskatchewan), and Portal (North Dakota), mostly over the Canadian Pacific Railway lines and those of its subsidiary, the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railway, better known as the Soo Line. 

January 1, 1914 menus. RHE

Dec. 1910 schedule. RHE
So if I left tonight, then on Thursday, January 1, 1914, New Yea’s Day, I would have been offered these menus in the dining car of the Soo Spokane-Portland. Breakfast (lamb chops with bacon) would have been served while heading up the Snake River, lunch as we were approaching Spokane (chicken pot pie), and dinner north of Bonners Ferry, Idaho (oysters on the half shell, then broiled filet of salmon). Friday we would cross Alberta and Saskatchewan and enter North Dakota; I would be in Minneapolis in time for dinner Saturday evening.
From a 1909 brochure.  CMRT
The heady days of the Soo Spokane-Portland came to an end early in 1914, when the train was cancelled due to the European war, a fiscal crisis, and the competition from three American railroads serving the same region. Terry and I toured a few of its once-elegant cars this fall at the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel in Cranbrook. This is a desperate sort of museum, endeavoring to preserve and display dozens of aged, travel-weary railroad cars, and hard pressed to be able to afford to do anything really well. Two cars which were once part of the Soo Spokane-Portland were reclaimed (salvaged?) by the museum, after many decades of use as vacation cabins in the North Woods. 
In our present day world of industrialized travel, it was surprising to see conveyances that were framed in steel, but were also crafted in wood and glass. Inlaid marquetry work graced the walls of the sleeping car Omemee (it had a name, not a number, to identify it), and the aisle ends were capped by decorative half-dome ceil with more than 1,200 pieces of stained glass. 
Aboard the Omemee. Canadian Museum of Rail Travel
The schedules and the menus, the brochures and the photographs, don't convey all of the salient aspects of train travel in the Pacific Northwest a century ago: they can't demonstrate the erratic heating, piped back from the engine as steam; the not-always-savory smells of cooking in close quarters in the dining car; the aromas from the washroom, where men smoked and chewed, and the hopper deposited its contents onto the track; the coal smoke; the sounds of creaking wood and straining steel; the snores and whuffles in the sleeping cars, where draperies served as room dividers.

On the other hand, the Soo Spokane-Portland Train de Luxe will be more likely to arrive in Minneapolis on time in the winter of 1914, than will Amtrak's Empire Builder between Portland and Minneapolis in the winter of 2011. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pan-Euro-American food, Seattle, 1925

C. R. Cook came to Seattle about 1919, and with his wife Genevieve he soon opened Cook’s Tamale Grotto. Mr. Cook was born in Missiouri, and learned to cook in a chili parlor; later he traveled to Mexico. In the 1920s and 1930s his Seattle enterprise was a popular downtown lunch and dinner spot, with a menu that cheerfully ascribed Spanish, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, and even French, Texan, and Aztec attributes to its dishes. Fusion dining has deep roots.
A bit of study establishes that a version of Mexican cuisine is the dominant note, with a menu that is characterized by tamales, enchiladas, frijoles, and tortillas. The Chinese menu appears to be an added bit of exotica, as perhaps the Italian menu is also; on the other hand, Italian and Spanish are similar, you know, Latinate. The term Spanish is used interchangeably with Mexican in most cases, but it is not clear just what to make of such terms as “boiled chicken Spanish" and "Aztec albondigas."  
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer published a small cookbook, “Cosmopolitan Seattle,” featuring the recipes of noted local chefs, in 1925 and again in 1935. It was authored by the newspaper’s corporate food maven, Prudence Penny (a part played by a number of staffers over many decades), and Prudence not only coaxed recipes from Seattle chefs and cooks, but also interviewed them about their training and hobbies. C. R. Cook, for example, liked to spend his days off at his chicken ranch near Black Diamond, where he could watch the chickens “grow up for tamales.”
(Spanish meat Balls)
1 pound lean hamburger
2 tablespoons raw rice
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped green pepper
1 raw egg
1 teaspoon chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix well, form into balls the size of an egg, using ground cracker crumbs to prevent mixture from sticking to hands. Boil slowly one hour in Spanish sauce made as follows:
SAUCE: 1 can tomatoes with puree, 1 pint water or broth, 1 chopped green pepper, 2 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 4 whole cloves, 1 bay leaf, salt and pepper to taste.
Serve meat balls on large platter with spaghetti or noodles in center and sprinkle with grated Italian cheese.
-- From the 1935 edition of “Cosmopolitan Seattle”
Spokane, too, had its tamales. This menu is from the 1930s; the proprietors of the A. B. C. Chili and Tamale Parlors were H. R. Atkinson and Clay Bennett. 
Ephemera from author’s collection. Original of 1935 “Cosmopolitan Seattle” at Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sunnymead in Ashes

Richard "Dick" Engeman at his printing press
On the night of November 24, 2010, Sunnymead burned to the ground. My most memorable childhood home, it was also the historic farmhouse of Dr. Bethenia Owens-Adair (1840-1926), Oregon's first woman medical doctor. Longtime owner and resident Dick Mattson and one of his two dogs escaped; the house is gone. The Daily Astorian published a story on December 8, by Deeda Schroeder, “A Historic Chapter Rises from the Ashes.”
Dr. Owens-Adair
I have a long and strange connection with that noted Oregonian of the past, Dr. Owens-Adair, who is featured on page 290 of The Oregon Companion. As a child, I lived on what had been her house on her Clatsop County farm, Sunnymead. Some forty years after her death, I attended a ceremony at Ocean View Cemetery when a tombstone was finally placed on her grave. My mother, Jerre Engeman, on the reference desk at the Astoria public library, helped novelist Janet Stevenson research the doctor’s life. Janet wrote a historical novel based on episodes of the doctor’s struggles while she lived at Sunnymead; three decades after the writing, I shepherded The Slope into print in 2009. It was Janet Stevenson’s last publication.
We -- my father and mother, Bud and Jerre Engeman, myself, and my younger sister Laural -- lived in Bethenia’s house from 1956 until 1963. I was 9 years old when we moved there from Portland. We rented the house from Hi Collins, who grazed black Angus on the land. It was convenient for my dad, who worked at the U. S. Weather Bureau office at the airport, about a mile away.
We moved again when Hi sold my parents another part of the Sunnymead property, 120 acres of forest and pasture including an old house that stood on a promontory facing Bethenia’s house. My sister recalls that Bethenia had built this house for her son George. Hi Collins sold Bethenia’s house and some land to Dick Mattson in 1969; a few years later Dick bought some additional acreage later from my father.
Laural and Fitzgerald the cat, Sunnymead, about 1962
Here are some photos from our years at the house. The photo of me shows me with my printing press and trays of rubber type; the Warrenton Lighthouse was issued from this Sunnymead office! The article in the Daily Astorian includes an account of the Columbus Day storm of 1962 and some photos of the fire damage. Other reminiscences of this wonderful place may yet appear!
Jerre and Bud, Sunnymead, 1957
Laural and Dick's Christmas tree, about 1962