Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Wooden Bill of Fare

 Here are a couple of Oregon foodways oddments: banquet menus printed on wood. Both menus make a nod to regional foods, and both make it clear that eating locally wasn’t easy, even in the 1920s.

The “Road, Rail and Sail Banquet” was held in Marshfield (renamed Coos Bay in 1940) in the spring of 1925. Apparently in celebration of transportation, the chamber of commerce offered locally-produced cottage cheese, cheddar cheese (Melowest brand), butter, and ice cream—and indeed Coos County was prime dairy country in the 1920s. The crab was no doubt local, possibly some of the vegetables, but the pineapple, olives, cigars, and coffee had to come a long ways to Coos Bay: by road, by rail, by sail.

The “Oregon Products Banquet” held in Bend in 1929 was clearly an earnest endeavor by the Woman’s Civic League to promote local products. While Bend was, like Marshfield, very much a lumber town, irrigation had brought some crops to the area, notably potatoes. The dairy products and the turkey may be local and the cabbage salad and fresh vegetables are attributed to the farmers of nearby Tumalo (in February!),  it would appear that many items were imported from a far piece of the state: Del Monte peas, cranberries, celery, apples. And coffee, of course: that had to come from beyond Oregon’s borders. Ah, but the retailers were local!

Notice, however, the presence in Bend in 1929 of chain stores: Piggly Wiggly, Safeway, Woolworth. The chains-vs.-the-little-guys would become a major issue, especially in groceries, in the next couple of years in Oregon.

Small Town Good Eats

 Menus from small town eateries are usually predictable in their offerings, as much so today as they were seventy-odd years ago. The good eats at the White Restaurant in The Dalles, Oregon, as presented in this menu from about 1940, feature breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausage, hotcakes, some omelettes (plain, cheese, ham, bacon, jelly, or Spanish). The menu also lists a modest assortment of steaks and chops, sandwiches, salads, soups, beverages, five potato preparations and a scattering of vegetables, plus raw, stewed, or fried oysters, and “Chinese noodles”: pork or chicken.

Tipped into the menu when I acquired it was a loose sheet of daily specials, a typed listing on carbon paper. In comparison with the White Restaurant menu, it is quite ambitious. At the top, it says BIG MEADOW CAFÉ, crossed out and replaced with Camel; also, the notation Lovelock, Nevada, 1,263 pop. At the bottom is the suggestion, “’STAR DUST’ AT THE THEATRE.” So what’s that all about?

Google made it surprisingly easy to find out—sort of. On January 27, 1940, Andy Milich of Lovelock, Nevada, was killed in an automobile accident. According to the Nevada State Journal, Milich was “the proprietor of a chain of business establishments throughout the state, including the Big Meadow Café, Nevada Bakery and Camel Café in Lovelock, Montana Club in Tonopah, and the commissaries at Silver Peak, Getchell, Copper Canyon, Stardust mine and other mining districts.” And the movie Star Dust, starring the teenaged Linda Darnell, came out in 1940.

But what was that daily special sheet from Lovelock doing tucked into a menu from The Dalles? And why were the offerings from Mr. Milich’s restaurants in a Nevada desert town of 1,263 residents seeminglyso much broader and varied than what was found in The Dalles with its 6,266 residents? Ah, and where will you find an abalone steak with tartar sauce today?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Henry Theophilus Finck, Epicure of Aurora

New York Public Library
Though he was born in Missouri and died in Maine, he was an Oregonian. Though he achieved fame as a music critic and a popular writer about the likes of Wagner and Chopin, he also wrote about food (Food and Flavor, 1913) and love (Primitive Love and Love Stories, 1899) and gardening (Gardening With Brains: Fifty Years' Experience of a Horticultural Epicure, 1922) and travel (The Pacific Coast Scenic Tour, 1891). An unusual man was Henry Theophilus Finck (1854-1926).

Henry T. Finck was born in Bethel, Missouri in 1854, into a family that was part of a German religious farming commune headed by Dr. William Keil. The nucleus of that group soon moved west, and founded the community of Aurora, south of Portland. Finck grew up in that environment, and through diligent study he managed to go to Harvard, graduating in 1876. After a European jaunt, he began writing for the New York Evening Post; for four decades, he was a regular contributor to the magazine The Nation, and he authored more than a dozen books.

Among his writings are reminiscences of his childhood in Aurora, and about the delicious bounty of the Willamette Valley. Here are some tidbits.

 From The Pacific Coast Scenic Tour
“Concerning Oregon fruit I can speak from personal experience, as I was brought up near an orchard numbering two thousand apples, pear, and plum trees. For peaches and grapes the climate of Northern Oregon is hardly warm enough, and the apples and pears, too, are perhaps a little smaller than they are in California, but in flavor they are vastly superior. Indeed, neither in the East nor in any part of Europe have I ever tasted apples to compare with those in Oregon. … In most parts of the East an apple is an apple, and few people know or care about the names of the different kinds; but an Oregonian would no more eat certain kinds of apples than he would eat a raw pumpkin. An epicure is no more particular in regard to his brands of wine than an Oregonian is in the choice of his favorite variety of apples; and there are half-a-dozen kinds which I have never seen at the East, and the systematic introduction of which in the New York market would make any dealer’s fortune.”

“… I must acknowledge that I have never tasted any French chateau wine with a more agreeable bouquet than that of Oregon cider made exclusively of the finest apple that grows—white winter pearmain—and kept in bottles, unfermented.”

“In the matter of berries, Oregon is greatly ahead of California. The delicious wild strawberries on long stems are so abundant in May and June that they perfume the air along country roads like clover-fields. Blackberries are even more numerous, and a single county of Oregon would supply enough for all our Eastern cities.”
Sketch from Food and Flavor, by Charles S. Chapman

From Food and Flavor
“The Aurora hotel soon became far-famed; and when the first railway was built from San Francisco to Portland, the astute makers of the time-table somehow managed it so that most of the trains stopped at Aurora, though it is but twenty-eight miles from the terminal, Portland.
“It was plain German bourgeois cooking; but the sausages were made of honest pork and the hams had the appetizing flavor which the old-fashioned smokehouse gives them; the bread was soft yet baked thoroughly, the butter was fresh and fragrant and the pancakes melted in the mouth. As for the supreme effort of Aurora cookery—noodle soup made with the boiled chicken (not cold-storage chicken) served in the plate—the mere memory of it makes my mouth water, four decades after eating it.
“In justice to Portland, which in those days was in a benighted condition fully warranting the action of the railway men in making Aurora their culinary terminus, let me hasten to add that at present, with its Chinook salmon and Columbia River smelt, its hardshell crabs and razor clams, its delicious Willamette crawfish—rivaling the best French écrivisses—its fragrant mammoth strawberries, its juicy cherries, and its world-famed Hood River apples, it is hardly second to San Francisco as a gastronomic center. In Oregon, as in Washington and California, the epicure fares particularly well because the luxuries of life as are cheap as the staples and quite as abundant, if not more so.”

Henry Finck perceived the manifest culinary advantages of the Pacific Slope a century ago.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Mess of Piddocks, or, Rock Oysters on Parade

“No banquet is considered complete without oysters in our modern life, and here is a delicacy that surpasses the oyster, but that cannot be shipped.”
Postcard view, Nye Beach, Newport, Yaquina Head in background
An exemplary bibliographer and city planner of my acquaintance, Nicholas Starin, recently asked me an unexpected question. Namely, “What do you know about the culinary use of piddock clams in the PNW?

Piddocks, rough piddocks, rock oysters, Zirfaea pilsbryi or a variant thereof, boring clams: they are clever creatures that can bore into mud, or clay, or sandstone, or soft rock. They are eminently edible, and varieties are found all along the North Pacific coast. But it appears that the soft rocky reefs near Yaquina Bay were popular places to gather and eat ‘em in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Because after they are removed from their rocky burrows, they die, they are the kind of thing you eat right away: they don’t travel. They’ve never appeared on restaurant menus.

Looking north toward Nye Beach and Yaquina Head
I've been poking into the history of their consumption in Oregon off and on for a long time, without much to show for it. My mother grew up in Toledo in the 1920s and early 1930s, and she talked of occasionally finding some around Agate Beach and Newport, but she said they had pretty much disappeared. I remember finding a few as a kid (which occasioned my mother’s remarks), but we didn't dig them out and I've never eaten one. Nor have I seen a recipe that specifically calls for them, but then "clams" encompasses a lot. 

In the booklet Edible? Incredible! (by Marjorie Furlong and Virginia Pill; published 1973 in Tacoma), the authors say of the piddock, "It bores into shale and clay; therefore in order to extract these clams, much beach rock must be destroyed by digging a large hole. Since the piddock is no more flavorful than any other clam, avoid taking these species when it is possible to gather other kinds." Of course, if no others are around, hack away.

And people did. According to an article in the Oregonian on November 7, 1920, “it is necessary to have special equipment. Many of the devotees... carry sledges and regular rock drills with them on their vacation trips... .” Needless to say, the rock oysters “are getting scarcer every year.”

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

At the Sign of the Rose

The tea room craze came to Portland just as prohibition appeared on the horizon. A tea room was a place for women—not exclusively, but most especially—to socialize over a hot beverage and a light meal. Tea rooms were a fixture of downtown city life through the 1920s and into the 1930s. They were fond of the term “dainty,” and the use of that term helped keep the riffraff (males) away.

One of the early and notable Portland establishments was the Sign on the Rose, run by Mrs. Maude Reeves Bushnell, which opened March 15, 1915. It was soon a favorite of the smart social set. Tea rooms characteristically were located in downtown department store districts, where they were respites for footsore shoppers. The Sign of the Rose was located on the fifth floor of the Broadway-Yamhill Building at the northwest corner of those downtown streets, and within four short blocks of Meier & Frank, Olds, Wortman, and King, and Lipman, Wolfe & Company, the city’s leading department stores. In 1922, it began serving an early evening dinner; Bushnell said that the shop “is noted among those who appreciate unusually delicious foods served in an atmosphere of quiet and harmony.”

By the late 1920s the Sign of the Rose had relocated to the eighth floor of the still-extant Woodlark Building on SW Alder at Ninth. It moved again in October 1929, to the fourth floor of the (also still extant) Alderway Building, on Broadway at Alder. This put it absolutely dead center of the retail core, and just as the leading store, Meier & Frank, was about to complete construction of the final portion of its block-square, thirteen-floor emporium.

Menu from November 1, 1935

The redoubtable Maude Reeves had married Herbert W. Bushnell, a salesman for Portland Flouring Mills, in 1902. They were socially active, and Maude was elected vice president of the new Irvington Park Club in 1914. By the early 1920s, the Bushnells lived in Laurelhurst, but something happened in the next decade. In February 1934, Mrs. Bushnell married Charles Arnold Baer in San Francisco. Herbert W. Bushnell died in July 1934, and his obituary notes four children, but no wife; Mrs. Bushnell continued the tea shop under her well-known (first) married name.

Dec. 15, 1930
But the Depression was about to fall, prohibition was about to be repealed, and the tea room concept was fading. The Sign of the Rose seems to have been healthy through much of the decade, but things were changing. On March 10, 1935, the Sunday Oregonian noted the twentieth anniversary of the shop. “The Sign of the Rose is believed to have been one of the first tea shops in the country and is one of the oldest eating places in Portland operating under the same ownership and management.” When it opened, Maude cooked, baked, and served; by 1935, she supervised fifty employees. While it was long an immensely popular place for clubs and clubwomen to meet and eat, by the end of 1937, it was gone.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Century of Oregon Eating, 1880 - 1980

This post is an edited version of a talk given June 24, 2014, at McMenamin's Edgefield, Troutdale, for the Oregon Encyclopedia, titled Your Grandmother’s Cook Book: A Century of Oregon Eating, 1880 - 1980. A number of images and recipes have been omitted.

Dora Engeman
Half a century ago, when she was in her 90th year with a few more yet to go, my grandmother still cooked on a wood-fired range in the house her husband had built in 1904 near Silverton, Oregon. Grandma chopped her own kindling; she baked bread, made firm doughnuts and heavy spice cakes, whipped up apple pies and sugar cookies. She canned beans and tomatoes and corn and pears. Hot cereal—mush, or oatmeal—was the breakfast staple at grandma’s. Her fried beefsteak and boiled potatoes, green beans and stewed tomatoes were the cornerstones of both dinner (midday) and supper (in the evening). Eating at grandma’s was very different from eating at home.

I thought grandma’s cooking was repetitive and boring and staid. How had she learned to cook, as a young woman on a Minnesota farm? Had her cooking changed over the years, after she moved to Oregon? I never saw a cookbook, never saw her use a recipe, and I thought she was somehow very set in her old-fashioned ways. But I never talked to her about that. I wish I had.

Today, regional foodways is a rising area of study. It goes along with our new-found interest in locally-sourced foods, in farmers’ markets, in made-from-scratch meals, in farm-to-table restaurants, in unprocessed and minimally-processed foods, in the rediscovery of forgotten and neglected grains and vegetables, in living the life of a locavore and shunning hothouse tomatoes, in collecting heirloom seeds and heirloom chickens, in home canning and preserving—all these concerns take their cues from past practices. As we explore these paths, it can be rewarding to know more about what we really did do with our food in the past, and how that differs from what we are doing today. It can be useful to consider why ingredients and methods changed. Were these changes for the better, in the long term? or were they mere novelties, or side roads that came to a dead end? Or were they the consequence of other changes?

My own search in this field of regional food history—of Oregon foodways—has been aimed at examining questions about what ate, how we prepared it, what has changed, why it has changed, and what have been the consequences of change. In this post I’m looking at some of what I have found from studying local, regional, “community” cookbooks.

A brief setting of the stage: this post deals an Oregon where the native Indian populace has been effectively overrun and pushed aside; few of their foods or culinary practices were adopted or adapted by the new wave of immigrants, salmon being the one exception. This was an Oregon with a population, in the 1880 census, of 174,768 people; fewer than one in ten of them lived in the Portland area. The residents were overwhelmingly newcomers, from the American upper South or New England or the Atlantic states, or from northern Europe. This is a society that is newly laid out, one that has erased earlier societies and their foods and their practices, and that has brought with them not only an assortment of imported food cultures, but also the edible plants, fruits, and animals themselves to support their habits. By 1980, Oregon’s population was more than 2,633,000, and half lived in the Portland area. Still, a very large proportion were immigrants to Oregon, not native to the area.

Between 1880 and 1980, American food consumption was impacted by the development of such processes as canning, refrigeration, and freezing, by railroad transportation and express services, by highway transport. I won’t be saying much about any of this, nor of changes in processing and distribution, meat packing and flour milling, grocery stores and supermarket chains, farm consolidation and monster agribusiness.

Studying foodways requires using sources that are often unfamiliar to historians. Paper ephemera, for example: the kind of printed material that has often escaped the attention of libraries and historical societies. Menus, programs, posters, advertising leaflets, and mail-order catalogs were intended to be used for a brief time and then thrown away. Those local community cookbooks, too, were often viewed as unimportant items of daily life, and few went into libraries.

Cookbooks are one of the basic tools used by cooks, and they can give us many insights into what was being eaten and how it was being prepared. The earliest American cookbook was The Compleat Housewife by Eliza Smith, published in 1742; it’s a copy of a London publication of 1727. The first American-born cookbook was American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons, issued in 1796. By the mid-19th century, a number of cookbooks were being published in the United States, and titles such as Catherine Beecher’s Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book (1846) were nationally distributed and widely available.

The late 19th century saw a bloom of commercially-published cookbooks, running parallel with a rising interest in cooking schools, domestic science, and women’s rights. Among these were the White House Cook Book (1888; this is the 1938 edition); Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1896); and Lowney’s Cook Book, issued by a Boston chocolate company (1907).

The end of the 19th century also saw a new blossoming of cookbooks compiled by local organizations, usually only locally distributed. Most of these small cookbooks were created and sold in support of a good cause of some kind, such as disaster relief efforts, a church mission program, or to support a special school. These are often called “community” cookbooks.


The first of these community efforts in Oregon was the Web-Foot Cook Book, compiled and published by the San Grael Society of Portland’s First Presbyterian Church in 1885. In his 1964 book of reminiscences, Delights & Prejudices, James Beard describes the Portland of the 1880s as a “food-conscious city,” and he cites the Web-Foot Cook Book as evidence, reprinting from it the recipe for Trinity Church Salad. (While it was the Presbyterians who issued the cookbook, they rather ecumenically deigned to include at least one Episcopalian recipe.) The Web-Foot was a comprehensive cookbook, with sections on beverages, bread and biscuits, cake, candies, desserts, fish, jellies and ice creams, meat and game, pickles and sauces, pies, preserves and canned fruit, salads, soups, and vegetables. There were also sections on foods for invalids, and—an Oregon touch, for sure—foods suitable for when out camping.

Here’s a recipe from the Web-Foot, a sweet one from among the many cakes, pies, and desserts found there. Perhaps because they were often pièces de résistance in community cookbooks—show-off recipes for the contributors—desserts were often over-represented. This recipe was provided by Mrs. Martin Winch, whose husband was a temperance man; Martin Winch was also the man who later made sure that the fortune created by his uncle, Simeon Reed, was used to create Reed College rather than being distributed to wastrel family members.

Given by Particular Request of Many Friends.
Take sufficient lady fingers to fill your glass dish, one pound of almonds, blanched and split, fill a bowl about two-thirds full of sherry wine—add one-third water, sweeten to taste, split the lady fingers lengthwise and dip them into the wine; arrange a layer in bottom of your dish, then a layer of almonds, and so on until your dish is nearly full. Make a custard of five eggs to a quart of milk, flavor with almond; when cold pour over your lady fingers, let stand one hour. If you can procure it whip one pint of triple cream to a stiff froth, and put on top of dish, daubing it here and there with minute triangles of currant jelly.
Tipped-in recipe, Monday Club

Another early Oregon community cookbook is the Monday Club Cook Book, issued in Astoria in 1899 by the Ladies of the Every Monday Club of Astoria’s First Presbyterian Church. This too is a cookbook that covers a range of edibles: its 138 pages include recipes for soups, fish, game and poultry, vegetables, salads, meats, breads, cakes, puddings, pies, pickles and jellies and jams, chafing dish dishes, candies and ices, plus recipes in categories labeled miscellaneous, “from the men,” and “things worth knowing.”  Notable in this book are the fish recipes—also noteworthy is the fact that so many of them specify canned, not fresh, salmon, reflecting the city’s standing as the salmon canning capital of North America.
In the first two decades of the 20th century, a spate of community cookbooks were published in Oregon, most them by church groups. My own pre-1920 collection includes cookbooks from St. Matthew’s Episcopal Mission in South Portland, the Piedmont and Forbes Presbyterian Churches of Portland, Presbyterian groups in Clatskanie, North Bend, Grants Pass, and Burns, Methodists in Portland, Klamath Falls, Talent, Roseburg and Corvallis, Episcopalians in Astoria, and the Christian Church in Richland—among others. For good measure, there are cookbooks from the Alpha Club of Baker City and the Women of Woodcraft in La Grande, but Protestant women’s groups were the most prolific producers of them.
 * * *

Those first decades of the 20th century also saw the birth of three more widely-significant Oregon cookbooks. Two were fund-raising community cookbooks, while one was a community-based effort to “make the world safe for democracy.”

The Neighborhood Cook Book was published in 1912 by the Portland section of the National Council of Jewish Women. It was a fund-raising effort for Neighborhood House, a settlement house established in 1905 to aid immigrants find a place in their new community. It was exceedingly popular; a second edition was issued in 1914, and a third in 1932. The Neighborhood Cook Book is distinguished by its ecumenical range. There is an entire section on shellfish, and two of the recipes in the 1912 edition represent the earliest cookbook versions I have found of a once-famous West Coast dish, crab Louis.

The Portland Woman’s Exchange Cook Book came out in 1913, a fund-raiser for the Portland branch of a group that endeavored to help women find a remunerative outlet for such “womanly” skills as baking and cooking, candy-making and sewing, textile crafts and china painting. In Portland, the group ran a tea shop for many years. The cookbook, with its recipes contributed by supporters of the Exchange, became legendary. It was republished in 1973 and again in 1987 by the Oregon Historical Society, with an introduction and notes by James A. Beard, who by that time was himself a Portland legend, and Portland was a city of rising culinary fame.

Label for canned shad
Beard makes note of “a perfectly delicious recipe for baked shad and another for broiled shad with an herbed sauce”; in all, there are seven recipes that feature shad, and but four that feature salmon (one specifying canned salmon). That points out the oft-changing fortunes of our fisheries: shad are not native to the Pacific coast, having been planted in the Sacramento River in 1871 and appearing in the Columbia by the 1880s. Today, shad are “the signature fish of the modern Columbia River,” according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, vastly outnumbering salmon. But our use of shad as a food fish has declined near to the vanishing point, despite their abundance and edibility.

An All-Western Conservation Cook Book; Containing all the Tables, Recipes and Important Items Discussed in Aunt Prudence's Kitchen Department of the Evening Telegram, also titled the Telegram Conservation Cook Book, was a product of World War I. Published by the Portland Evening Telegram in 1917, it was compiled by Inie Gage Chapel—Aunt Prudence—from recipes sent in by readers responding to the newspaper’s efforts to conserve food during wartime.

One of the notable features of the book is the effort to account for all the costs of putting a dish on the table, down to the 1/100th of a cent, and including fuel costs (manufactured gas, electric, or wood). The emphasis that Aunt Prudence puts on home-grown fruits and vegetables in the Telegram cookbook was later apparent in the column that she wrote for the Oregonian from 1919 to 1921, “Chats With Home Gardeners.” Herbert Hoover, who headed wartime food conservation efforts, strongly promoted fish as an alternative to meat—Aunt Prudence also pushed this, but she cautioned that despite its availability, fish was often expensive. While salmon is exalted in this cookbook, shad is neglected.

But crappie has a small place in a notable “war holiday dinner menu” from Mrs. W. W. Williams “in which each and every item of each and every recipe in the whole menu meets Mr. Hoover’s requests of us.” Mrs. Williams’ dinner for six costed out at $2.5545, or less than 43 cents per person.

The post-World War I era brought a proliferation of community cookbooks in Oregon. While the Protestants still led the cookbook parade, now there came offerings from the likes of Catholics and Seventh-Day Adventists as well. Oregon’s vegetarian Adventists apparently created Yeatum, a versatile meat substitute that has disappeared without a trace—the only entry I could find on Google was my own blogsite.
Mrs. Williams' war holiday dinner

In the 1920s and 1930s there are cookbooks compiled by Masonic lodges, the ever-supportive University of Oregon mothers, the Oregon State Grange, and improvement groups like the Reedsport Community Club and the Dallas Woman’s Club (Prune City Cook Book, 1926). The Dallas effort has a number of prune recipes that deserve a revival.

The inter-war decades also saw several commercial cookbook publication efforts. Most notable of these was Mary Cullen’s Cook Book (1938). This was a different kind of “community” cookbook, not one created to fund a charitable cause. Mary Cullen was the fictional figurehead of the “household arts” (read: women’s) department of the Oregon Journal newspaper of Portland. Most of the community cookbooks I’ve described were compiled from recipes sent in by members of the community, and their names were usually attached to them. Newspapers had long published individual contributed recipes, and they, too, frequently named the contributors.

But when a big-city newspaper like the Journal went to the effort to put together a general, comprehensive cookbook for the Oregon homemaker, the only name shown was that of the imaginary Mary Cullen, and the proceeds from the book benefitted the publisher. One feature of the book was a section called “Oregon Favorites,” with recipes that featured local foods such as smoked sturgeon, loganberries, elderberries, huckleberries, razor clams (clamburgers!), apples, venison, salmon, and prunes.

A post-World War II version was published in 1946 as Mary Cullen’s Northwest Cook Book, edited by the very real Catherine C. Laughton, “director, Mary Cullen’s Cottage, Household Arts Service of the Oregon Journal.” While there was no longer a section called “Oregon Favorites,” most of the recipes, including clamburgers, survived the war. Two new sections appeared: foreign foods, and outdoor cookery, campfire and backyard barbecue menus.

While many community cookbooks included recipes that made a nod toward “foreign” foods—chop suey, tamale pies, and spaghetti with tomato sauce, baked, being common contributions—the 1946 Mary Cullen cookbook did spread its wings a bit further, with sukiyaki (despite the war) and sarma, Syrian stuffed cabbage among the entries. The chicken curry recipe is headed by the note, “Curries in the Pacific Northwest were mainly confined to a simple lamb stew or leftover lamb roast flavored with curry gravy until World War II veterans returned. Now chicken curry is a demanded dish.” And this recipe involves a lot more than just curry gravy.

Seattle, but they were everywhere!

World War II again brought food rationing and food conservation efforts, on a wider scale, and for a much longer time, than did the first war. In the aftermath of the war there was not only a wider spread of interest in foods from foreign lands, but also a recommitment to some old standards. Supplying beef to the armed forces, for example, had led to the near-disappearance of beef from home and restaurant tables, and the years of shortage raised beef to new heights afterward.

Outdoor cooking—barbecuing—was well suited to post-war suburban life, and beef steaks and hamburger sandwiches celebrated the return of cow meat. Commercial cookbooks, produced for a national market by meat packers and other producers as well as mainstream publishers, fed this interest. So did cookbooks produced by regional publishers such as Sunset Magazine, and booklets from Pacific Northwest providers of beef, buns, and condiments.

The postwar years also saw other expressions of regionalism beyond the Mary Cullen cookbook. From national publisher Alfred A. Knopf came the very influential West Coast Cook Book (1952) by Helen Evans Brown, a close friend and colleague of James Beard. Brown noted that “the recipes are the regional ones of the three Pacific states—California, Oregon, and Washington. . .”  She used recipes from three different traditions: those of the early settlers, those requiring foods typical of the Pacific slope, and those developed by West Coast cooks who discovered “some new way to serve some old familiar food.”

James Beard helped bring attention to Oregon foodways in two books, his autobiography-with-recipes Delights and Prejudices (1964), which included many recipes as well as tales of his culinary youth in Portland and Gearhart-by-the-Sea, and his magisterial cookbook, American Cookery (1972), with its dozens of references to Oregon crabs and Oregon berries.

Local, community cookbooks continued to be very popular in Oregon. However, their impact appeared to decrease as the population expanded and diversified, as church-going declined, and as a market developed for more substantial cookbooks that still had a regional focus. Community fund-raising raised its bar, so to speak.

In 1954, the Portland chapter of the national Junior League service organization issued Cooked to Taste. The Junior League had begun publishing regional cookbooks to raise funds in 1929. Both the Portland and Eugene chapters have issued regionally popular cookbooks since that first one in 1954.

Beyond the boost that World War II gave to ethnic foods in community cookbooks, but the descendants of immigrants to Oregon began to look at their family background. That interest resulted in community cookbooks representing Scandinavian, German, Irish, Greek, Welsh, Japanese, and Native American traditions. There is also a proliferation of cookbooks for particular Oregon products, from beef and seafood to filberts and potatoes—some of these were community fund-raising books, some were commercial endeavors, while others were put out by commodity producers.

I’ll end this look at community cookbooks with A Taste of Oregon, published by the Eugene Junior League in 1980. It’s become a classic. The title suggests a regional approach to the recipes that are gathered in the book, and a focus on foodstuffs grown in Oregon. Today, those two impulses are driving forces in the story of Oregon foodways—but they are not yet strong in A Taste of Oregon. But the impulses grow, and grow, in the years since 1980—another story.

 * * *

From grandma's arithmetical cookbook
Going back to the beginning of this post …. Grandma died in 1968. Not until after the stay-at-home son died in 1994 did I find Grandma’s cook book. It’s a single volume: The Progressive Commercial Arithmetic for Commercial Schools, High Schools and Academies, by Wallace Hugh Whigam and Samuel Horatio Goodyear and published in many editions between the 1890s and at least 1909. Grandma’s book is stuffed with newspaper and magazine clippings and advertising fliers and leaflets and handwritten recipes from neighbors and kin, pasted on the pages, crammed between the pages.

So it became apparent that for many decades Grandma had been keenly interested in different ways to prepare food, in knowing about unfamiliar foods, in trying new products and preparations. For seven decades she had collected and winnowed a blizzard of paper information about foodways. She built her own community cookbook. Like those of the community cookbooks—and the commercial ones as well—grandma’s recipes probably reflect desires and hopes and plans as much as—more than!—what was really put on the table.

What have I learned from this? Here are some observations.

We loved oysters. Supper, dinner, lunch, breakfast. Not so much now. Not at all. And oysters have changed: another story, one I keep promising to tell.

Chicken was most often found in recipes for stews and stock, thus using up an old hen, or roasted as a special Sunday dinner event. Chicken was not an everyday meal base. Chickens were expensive. Need cheap? Have some canned salmon, make a salmon loaf.

Pies were the famous American dessert, and fruit and berry pies were and are Oregon staples. However, for fancy one-upswomanship, cakes provide a better medium for elaboration and fancy twists, at least until cake mixes took the stage. By 1980, showing off in community cookbooks was more commonly found in main dishes than in desserts.

Oregon recipes are rather sparing in the use of spices and, especially, herbs. Garlic is sometimes seen, but is used gingerly. While pickling and preserving and sausage-making are practices that use a lot of herbs and spices, recipes for them decline considerably over the century. Perhaps surprisingly, paprika and chili powder are fairly common condiments from the 19th century into the 1920s.

Vegetables are to be boiled. While the use of raw vegetables in salads increases over the years, the variety of vegetables is fairly small. And while potatoes might be thrown in with a beef roast, there is nothing seen about roasting cauliflower or beets; steaming is also rarely called for; ditto sautéing. White sauce is good.

While the variety of fruits and vegetables is considerably wider today, it is sometimes surprising what was available in Oregon in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even then we were importing oranges and lemons, pineapple from Hawaii, bananas, olives and olive oil from Greece and Italy.

With refrigerated railcars, Oregon reaped much of the rapidly-increasing California food bounty. Oregon also took a lot of cooking tips from California, thanks to the wide circulation there of the Bay-area-based Sunset Magazine, from the 1920s onward.

Gelatine is a handy culinary ingredient. It becomes handier as home refrigeration becomes common, and as Jello introduces flavored gelatin. As has been often reported, this gelatinizing got out of hand in the 1920s and 1930s, but retreated to sanity by the 1960s.

Canned soup: cream of mushroom, cream of celery. With the casserole concept that emerged in the 1910s and 1920s, cream condensed soups became new ingredients. They are still prominent in the 1980 Junior League cookbook A Taste of Oregon.

Is there an Oregon cuisine, or a Pacific Northwest cuisine? It would appear not. What does appear, and it’s a small thread that does grow constantly thicker over the century, is that there are ingredients that are characteristic of the state and the region: salmon and crab, razor clams, venison and elk, prunes and apples and pears, huckleberries, raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, berry-berries, etc.
Oregon Berry-Berries
Little bits of paper—pages from books, clippings in scrapbooks, scrawled cards in a box—help build a larger picture of Oregon foodways. They don’t give us the whole picture, of course; there are many other areas of research for a comprehensive look at Oregon foodways. But they do provide a fascinating, wide-ranging, eye-opening viewpoint.