Sunday, April 22, 2012

Choice Recipes: Lewis & Clark Fair Cake

Portland's world's fair, the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition and Oriental Trade Fair, was a landmark event in the city's history. It prompted many kinds of civic activity, such as this cookbook, compiled by the Ladies Aid Society of the Piedmont Presbyterian Church.

Piedmont had been platted by Edward Quackenbush as a residential subdivision in 1889, located north of Rosa Parks Way and east of Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard. That same year a narrow-gauge railroad opened along its eastern edge, which soon became a suburban electric line that provided frequent service south to Albina and Portland and north to the Vancouver ferry along MLK.

Land developers in those times sold lots; the buyers were usually responsible for building the house, and subdivisions such as Piedmont did not always build out rapidly. At the time the Ladies Aid Society issued their cookbook, Mr. Quackenbush still had lots for sale in Piedmont "The Emerald," each lot covenanted with a minimum cost for the house (to prevent the building of cheap and shabby structures) and with a provision that guaranteed that no spiritous liquors would be made or sold in the neighborhood. It was a good place for a Presbyterian Church, obviously.

The small cookbook includes not only recipes contributed by parishioners, but also a few obtained from "well known Portland cooks." Lilian Tingle, the head of the new Portland School of Domestic Science (look for more about her in future postings), is credited with an immensely detailed set of instructions for preparing good coffee, and with a recipe for quick cinnamon rolls ("to serve with coffee").

Here's a recipe from Mrs. Swinton:

LEWIS AND CLARK FAIR CAKE. One cup white sugar, one-half cup of butter, one-half cup of milk, one and one-half cups of sifted Olympic flour (before), three eggs, beaten separately, three teaspoons baking powder.
ICING FOR CAKE. Six tablespoons grated chocolate, one-half cup of sugar, four tablespoons of milk; put this on the stove until it dissolves, cool, pour on the cake, flavor with Woodlark's vanilla; use boiled frosting.

The unnamed "Chef of the Portland Hotel" offered the two following recipes:

CHICKEN A LA PORTLAND (for three or four people). One two-pound spring chicken, skin and bone same; cut in small dice, cook with a pint and a half of cream; then Toke Point oysters, parboil; cut in two, then mix the oysters and chicken with a little green pepper. Ingredients should be thickened with a little butter and Olympic flour. Season to taste with pepper, salt and nutmeg.

OYSTERS A LA PORTLAND Fresh opened Toke Point oysters in deep shell. Lay in a pan of salt and put in a little tomato catsup and a dash of Worcestershire sauce; grated cheese and cracker dust. Bake until done; serve piping hot.

And in case you are wondering: Toke Point oysters were grown in northern Willapa Bay near the town of Tokeland; at this date, the reference was not to the small Olympia oysters (which were also native to Willapa Bay, but which had been harvested to near-extinction), but to introduced, farmed "Eastern" oysters. The pointed reference to Olympic flour is because that firm made a contribution to the Ladies Aid Society; so too did Woodard, Clarke & Company, bottlers of Woodlark's vanilla.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Theda Bara Sandwich

The Theda Bara sandwich was mentioned in my blog post on October 13, 2010: it was listed on the menu of the State Cafe in Huntington, Oregon, about 1918. The State Cafe had a most extensive carte, but a modern reader (me) was unable to precisely identify a few items on it, such as the beverage called Pearl of Cream, and the Theda Bara sandwich. Theda I knew: she was the erstwhile Theodosia Goodman, the wily vamp of Hollywood via Cincinnati, the seductive star of a heap of silent films between 1916 and 1919. Huntington had a movie house in 1918, and Theda would have been familiar to most of the residents, but what was in that sandwich? Surely it was not a purely local creation.

The answer appears to be that the sandwich was once well known, according to an article in the Manchester (England) Guardian by Kira Cochrane. It was of "minced ham, mayonnaise, sliced pimento and sweet pickles on toast--served warm." I have not, however, found any confirmation beyond a few other online squiggles which, like Ms. Cochrane's piece, have no citations. Still, the article suggests that the Theda Bara sandwich was probably also munched on in cafes far from the banks of the Snake River, as well as that the ingredients were easily procurable, even in places as wild and wooly as Huntington. I remain curious about the Pearl of Cream; bubble tea, perhaps?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Coalca's Pillar and Other Geological Oddments

Coalca's Pillar, about 1915
We don't seem to take much delight or interest any more in geological oddments. There was a time when they had a strong appeal: our earliest national parks usually centered on geological marvels: the geysers of Yellowstone, the sheer face of El Capitan in Yosemite, the deep blue pool of Crater Lake.

Lesser creations too had their partisans. One of those was the basalt oddity called Coalca Pillar, or Coalca's Pillar, about three miles south of Oregon City. As a child, when we drove along Highway 99E toward grandma's house, I always watched for this "balancing rock," perched on a bluff overlooking the Willamette River. (It is not, of course, a balancing rock, but an eroded basalt plug.) Over the years, trees and shrubs have grown up to gradually hide it from easy view, but if you look sharply upward just south of the chainsaw art shop, you can still get a glimpse of it.

Actually, looking downstream
toward Oregon City
Photographer Benjamin Gifford took a marvellous shot of the pillar about 1910, which is reproduced in Oregon, Then & Now (Westcliffe, c2000) alongside a contemporary image by Steve Terrill; Terrill too had childhood memories of traveling 99E and watching for the pillar. Photography historian and collector Tom Robinson has told me of the mad scramble he made several years ago to reach the pillar (Tom also contributed the biography of Gifford to Oregon, Then & Now), and Steve notes in the book that getting to the rock entailed fighting through both poison oak and stinging nettles.

And of course a century ago, you could see it easily from the Southern Pacific passenger trains, just opposite the railroad station sign that read, COALCA, 751 miles north of San Francisco. The Southern Pacific's widely-read magazine, Sunset, published a short piece about Coalca's Pillar in its issue of March 1900. It says nothing about the geological formation itself, but instead relates a tale of romance and war revolving about a Chief Coalca of the Molalla Indians and his desire for Nawalla, the daughter of Chief Chelko of the Clackamas Indians. I have been unable to locate any information about the genesis of this legend, and no other references to Coalca or Nawalla or Chelko. If you know anything of them, please do get in touch with me!

The Needles, ca. 1885
Oregon Historical Society
And there were, and are, many other geological oddments that once attracted at least as much notice as Coalca's Pillar. Consider only basalt, and consider only the Columbia River: there is Rooster [Cock] Rock, the Pillars of Hercules (also known as The Needles; still standing beside I-5 but little known), massive Beacon Rock (almost turned to rubble for building jetties), lofty Coffin Rock (near Longview; a sepulchre that was demolished to build jetties), and Pillar Rock (near Altoona, Washington; now somewhat smashed up for a navigation light). Why have they faded from our view?

For more on Coalca, and the original article from Sunset Magazine, see the blog entry for Coalca Redux.