Friday, December 7, 2012

Roaring Timber and Barbecued Crab

Some of the cast of Roaring Timber, Astoria, 1937

In March of 1937, Columbia Picture Corporation sent a production crew from Hollywood to Astoria, in Clatsop County, Oregon, to film scenes for their movie Big Timber. A”film of love and adventure in the logging industry,” Big Timber was to be directed by Spencer Bennett and to star several actors who are little remembered today.

March is a time of wind and rain in Clatsop County, and the on-location filming near Olney at the Tidewater Timber Company operations did not go well. “Weeks of waiting for the sun while production costs mounted by the thousands of dollars daily” were finally terminated by a drenching rainstorm, according to the Astorian newspaper. The evening train for Portland was held for 15 extra minutes at Astoria to load the cast and crew as they returned to sunny California.

However, the film was indeed completed and released that fall as Roaring Timber, directed by Phil Rosen and starring Jack Holt (he was in a lot of Westerns), Grace Bradley (she married William Boyd, aka Hopalong Cassidy), Ruth Donnelly, and Raymond Hatton. Jack Holt is the lead, playing “the toughest boss that ever ruled the northland!” The plot is negligible, but Grace ends up owing a lumber company, which is why she gets to perch on a railroad speeder car with hero Holt, as shown here.

Introducing this squib is a printed postcard that shows some of the Roaring Timber cast rather doggedly consuming barbecued crab at the Hotel Astoria Grill. And perhaps you are wondering: how does one prepare, and eat, barbecued crab? Helen Evans Brown’s West Coast Cook Book  (1952) indicates that this preparation “is a favorite in the Northwest, and rightly so, though I object to its being called ‘barbecued’”; she notes that “anything that has a spicy sauce dabbled on can now masquerade under that name,” and indeed that is what barbecued crab usually does (or did; you will rarely see it today). The crab is swathed in a sauce of catsup, fish stock, garlic, soy sauce, and curry powder, and (if not grilled) is poked into a casserole dish and hotted up, being basted with the sauce. Helen says the eaters thereof “should be well swathed in towels or wearing ribs”; our Hollywoodites have taken that advice to heart.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Last Round-Up in La Grande

A good deal more research would help this story, but there’s enough at hand to justify putting something down. I recently acquired a small cache of food-related paper ephemera of the label variety (thank you, Corinna, for both your foresight and your more recent insight!). The group includes this small but flashy item, which represents whiskey consumption in La Grande, Oregon, pre-1916.

Herman Roesch was the nephew of Julius Roesch, who was born into a Catholic family in German in 1862, came to the United States about 1876, and by 1880 built a brewery in La Grande “before he reached his 20th birthday,” according to his obituary in the La Grande Observer (April 22, 1960!). The brewery must have made some accommodation with local option and statewide prohibition (January 1, 1916), for it survived until 1921.

It seems that by 1922, Marcus (the son of Julius) operated an auto dealership in the city, and that his cousin Herman ran a lunch counter nearby. This information is synthesized from Inside the Klavern: the Secret History of a Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, edited by David A. Horowitz (Southern Illinois University Press, 1999).  Based on the minutes of the La Grande chapter of the Klan, the book demonstrates that many of the auto dealer’s mechanics were Klan members. While the Klan notably promoted the interests of white citizens, its pointed Protestantism, and its emphasis on stamping out assorted sinfulness, is less known today; in Oregon, much Klan effort was directed against Catholics, and against perceived immoral behavior. In La Grande, the Klan-member auto mechanics stopped going to Herman’s lunch counter, despite being employed by Marcus, who was quite aware of the Klan’s presence in his shop.

In some kind of ironic happenstance, Herman Roesch shows up in the North Powder News of November 20, 1926, after he was badly injured in an auto wreck in which a local farmer died and two women were injured. “Traffic officer Walter Lansing visited the scene and it is reported, secured one bottle of moonshine liquor which is believed to have figured in the cause of the accident.” Of course, this might well have happened had he still had access to decent whiskey that was “bonded under the supervision of the U. S. government in the U. S. bonded warehouse.” 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Crab Louis: 1912

Packing crab, Garibaldi, for San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, ca. 1966
The origin of the crab louis was briefly outlined here last year. Among the sources cited there were the second (1914) and third (1932) editions of The Neighborhood Cook Book, compiled by the Portland Council of Jewish Women. Notably absent was a reference to the first edition of 1912--because I didn't  have a copy of it. Now, thanks to a lucky find at a shop in Baker City, I have one.

On page 181 is indeed a recipe for Crab Louis. While the dressing is not mayonnaise-y, it is piquant:

Crab Louis

Three tablespoons oil, one of vinegar, one-half [tablespoon] of catsup, two teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, paprika, salt, little English mustard, two hard boiled eggs, one shredded crab and shredded lettuce; mix together. Serve on lettuce leaves.

This recipe pre-dates that published (1914) in Bohemian San Francisco by Clarence E. Edwords and attributed to Solari's restaurant, and is the earliest published crab louis recipe I have found so far, under that name.

However, on page 84 of The Neighborhood Cook Book is another recipe that comes a lot closer to describing a crab louis, with respect to the sauce, as well as to the crab being in "large pieces."

Crab a la San Francisco

Take out the meat of a large cooked crab in as large pieces as possible--put in cocktail glasses and, just before serving, pour over it the following sauce: One cup cream, half cup tomato catsup, one tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, salt and paprika. Let stand on ice for at least two hours. This will serve six people.

So perhaps we have to point back once more to San Francisco... .

Revised October 11, 2013

How the Devine has Fallen

Lava Bed Road. Jess house, center (white)

Earlier this month Terry and I did the road trip to see his parents. They live on Lava Bed Road near Diamond, Oregon; Google Maps figured this was 319 miles from us, and would take 6 hours and 47 minutes. Of course, we took a different route, one that included stops at a Latino grocery near Woodburn, an ice cream shop and a used book store in Sisters, and at Costco in Bend. It took us more than ten hours.

During our stay we celebrated a birthday (Dovie Jess, Terry’s mom). We visited Martin and Andrea (she’s Terry’s sister), and I photographed nearby Hatt Butte, which is pictured (in 1940) on the cover of The Oregon Companion. We made a most-of-the-day drive up Steens Mountain past Whorehouse Flat (primly, and briefly, rechristened Naughty Girl Meadow by a federal agency several years ago) to the summit, and then back along Big Indian Gorge (the view still dimmed by smoke from the range fires). We had a bountiful steak dinner at the Diamond Hotel just before it closed for the winter.

R. W. Heck photo, Historic Photo Archive
Our return route was 412 miles, plus a few side trips. We poked through the wizened town of Crane, where Terry went to boarding high school. We found the nearly-lost monument to John Devine (1839-1901). Poor John: Harney County's first cattle rancher (1869), founder of the famous Whitehorse Ranch and namesake of Devine Canyon, was memorialized in 1928 at this cairn along the road through the canyon, connecting Burns and John Day. Pictured is fellow latter-day cattleman Bill Hanley (1861-1935; at right) and Hanley's good friend, the poet/soldier/lawyer/artist/rake C. E. S. Wood (1852-1944).

And see what it looks like today. We almost missed it.  

The truncated John Devine marker

We stopped to see the solitary wigwam burner in Seneca, and in John Day to consume an immense lunch at the Snaffle Bit. We went through the new Thomas Condon Paleontology Center at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Then we went to Mitchell (population 175, about 35 less than it was in 1910) where we found a plain but very cozy room at the Hotel Oregon and a plain but very cozy spot for dinner next door at the Little Pine Café.

The next day we took a peek at the ghost town of Richmond, walked about in the fossil-filled palisades at Clarno, and then had a superior homemade meatloaf sandwich while chatting with an odd cast of characters at the Antelope Café in downtown Antelope (this was for a short time the Zorba the Buddha Restaurant, in downtown Rajneesh). We loped home via Shaniko, Bakeoven Road, Maupin, and Pine Grove.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Best Meal in Oregon: the Grand Central Hotel, Clatskanie

The dining room looks pleasant enough, and the napkins are displayed in a spectacular fashion, but the caption is probably a bit of hyperbole. At the right, there is a sign on the wall:
Traveling salesmen were the bread and butter, so to speak, of small-town hotels such as this one. This photo postcard was mailed to Clatskanie from Tacoma, Washington, on August 11, 1913.

At the left is another wall sign:

What would that be about? A Google search led to the annual report of the Oregon Dairy and Food Commissioner for the period from October 1, 1910, to September 30, 1912. In that report, the Grand Central Hotel in Clatskanie was cited for illegally serving milk that had been skimmed and had an unacceptable butterfat content of a mere 0.25% (at least 3% butterfat was required, and if skimmed it had to be noted).

So the sign is very likely a response to having been caught whisking the good stuff off the milk and not owning up to it. The hotel that boasted of serving the best meal in Oregon was a cheapskate house. The floor looks neat and tidy, though.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Meal Station Legend: Grandma Munra

“At Meacham, in the midst of the Blue mountains is nestled an attraction that appeals to every traveler. It is a unique mountain station, known the land over for its excellent meals and home-like conditions. It is a large elegantly built log structure and is presided over by a dear old lady known as ‘Grandma Munra.’” Salem Daily Capital Journal, September 10, 1896

“Grandma Munra” was Katherine Sara Sterrett, who was born in Erie City, Pennsylvania, in 1830. She married John R. McCarter in 1850, and over the next three decades she ran boarding houses in Pennsylvania and in southern California. At some point she re-married, to Knight S. Munra, and the couple came to Oregon where she did catering and operated dining rooms at the St. Charles and another hotel in Eugene in the 1880s.

About 1886, Henry S. Rowe, general superintendent of the Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company, brought Katherine and her husband to Bonneville, Oregon, to run the company’s new eating house. The Bonneville dining room, less than forty miles east of Portland, served mostly railroad workers when it opened, but its popular proprietor soon made it known throughout the Columbia River Gorge.

In the early 1890s Mrs. Munra operated a hotel in Junction City and was then in charge of the boarding halls at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Her fame grew again when the Union Pacific Railroad put her in charge of a new dining station called the Log Cabin about 1894. This rustic structure was located in the remote and chilly Blue Mountain town of Meacham (elevation 3,670 feet; record low temperature, -52 degrees), where Grandma Munra served railroad passengers as well as railroad workers, offering a “wonderful bill of fare of home-made bread, preserves and pastry” accompanied by “dainty linen and gleaming silver.”

Salem Daily Journal, Nov. 21,1902
The Meacham eating house continued even after the introduction of a dining car on the railroad’s premier passenger trains. Katherine Munra's name was legend along the Union Pacific rails; “Every summer the company gave me a vacation. They furnished me an annual pass and treated me perfectly lovely.” But the Log Cabin burned to the ground in November of 1902 and was not replaced; dining cars were becoming standard railroad equipment. Grandma Munra returned to the Gorge, where in 1903 she took charge of the dining room of the new Hood River Country Club Inn. Despite her age, Mrs. Munra was managing the tea room of the Portland YWCA in 1904.

Perhaps more hostess and mother figure than cook, Mrs. Munra was nevertheless particularly noted for her pies and cakes. In an article in the Portland Oregon Journal in 1911, she provided the recipe for a cake that she attributed to Martha Washington; in a 1923 interview with Fred Lockley of the Journal, she says, “Some day when I have time I will give some of my recipes for cakes. My friends tell me they like my cakes pretty well.”

Munra Point and Munra Falls in the Columbia River Gorge were named for Grandma Munra in 1915. Katherine Sara Sterrett Munra died in Portland June 29, 1923, and is buried in Lone Fir Cemetery.

Martha Washington’s Cake

Grandma Munra said she obtained this recipe in St. Louis in 1869 from a Mrs. Stephen Gardener, who got it from her mother, who was a neighbor of the Washingtons at Mount Vernon and who had “been instructed in the making of the cake by Martha Washington herself.”

Take 1 and ¼ pounds of white sugar, 1 and pounds of butter, 2 pounds of flour and 1 pint of sour milk, 6 eggs, a teaspoon of soda in the sour milk, the grated rind of 2 lemons and the juice of one, one nutmeg, a pinch of mace, 1 pound of stoned raisins, 1 pound of currants and 1 and ½ pounds of citron.

Whip the butter and sugar to a cream. To which add the yolks of the eggs well beaten, then stir in the milk and the flour alternately, followed by the whites of the eggs beaten to a froth. Have the fruit well floured and stir in last. Cover with a buttered paper to keep from browning too rapidly and bake for 2 and ½ hours.

Passengers on the train between Portland and the Cascade Mountains are often interested in the sight of a sweet-faced old lady with soft white hair and bright brown eyes, to whom every official on the road pays court, from the boy who sells "apples ‘n bananas" to the superintendent. And the inquiring tourist is always given the ready information, “Why, that’s Grandma Munra, who used to have the place at Meacham, she’s about the most popular woman in Oregon, I guess.”
Sunday Oregonian, October 18, 1903, p. 31

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Welsh Rarebit a la Rajneesh: Dining with Zorba the Buddha

The United States in the 1970s and 1980s witnessed a rapid broadening of interest in the cuisines of Asia, as China re-opened a few doors to the West, and Indian restaurants popped up even in such remote outposts as Eugene and Seattle. Living in Portland in the early 1970s, I trekked to Seattle to visit friends, friends who insisted that not only did I need to see Wagner’s Siegfried, but that I must also go with them to India House and there sprinkle raisins and peanuts and cucumber snips over my meal, all of which was terribly exotic. A few years later in Jacksonville, Oregon, after reading in the San Francisco Chronicle about the fiery hot dishes to be had at the Hunan Café on Kearny Street, I made my way there on a Greyhound bus and almost fainted (happily) as sweat dripped onto my plate. New foods were exciting, hot in more ways than one.

That era also brought to the Pacific Northwest the men and women in red, the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. I’m inclined to characterize the Rajneeshi in Oregon as reasonably well-educated, well-to-do young men and women attracted to a quasi-religious sect that encouraged material well-being and sensual romping; I won’t get into their dark side, which included paranoia and bioterrorism. Among the group’s many communal enterprises were a number of restaurants, all of them vegetarian and all of them named Zorba the Buddha. There were Zorba the Buddha eateries in Denmark, England, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, India—and in Oregon.

I recently acquired a menu from the early 1980s, which showed five Oregon locations: three in Portland, one in Rajneeshpuram (their compound/city on what had been the Big Muddy Ranch in Central Oregon), and one in Antelope, the small town that briefly, and almost forcibly, was renamed Rajneesh. And a few days ago, at an estate sale I found a copy of Zorba The Buddha Rajneesh Cookbook, published in Rajneeshpuram in 1984.

For an international quasi-religious movement that spanned the globe, the Rajneeshi appeared to promote a rather mundane diet. Mundane, yet with some faintly odd items, at least as shown in the Oregon menu. Consider, for example, Welsh rarebit. Popular very early in the 20th century, rarebit here is a distinct throwback, but with some quirks. The substitution of wine for the usual beer and the addition of mushrooms set this item apart.

The Zorba the Buddha cookbook gives a recipe for Welsh rarebit as served in Rajneeshpuram; it reverts to beer for the alcohol. Here it is:

¼ pound butter
6 tablespoons white flour
¾ cup stout beer
¾ cup light beer
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon A-1 Sauce
½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 cups cheddar cheese
¼ teaspoon paprika
½ tablespoon parsley
6 thick slices white toast (1” thick)
1 onion, sliced
18 mushrooms, sliced
3 tomatoes, sliced

Melt the butter. Stir in white flour and cook several minutes. Whisk in the beer slowly and add the remaining ingredients.

Toast the bread.

If onions are desired, sauté them in butter until they are brown and sweet.

Saute mushrooms and tomatoes for several minutes in butter until mushrooms are soft. Put vegetables on top of toast. Ladle sauce on generously and sprinkle with parsley.

A meal in itself.