Saturday, December 31, 2011

Whiskey and Gin. Oh, and Vodka

An after-supper drink*
Willamette Week recently spotlighted Oregon's ten best-selling liquors of 2011:  Hood River Distilling's cheap vodka was the #1 seller, and four other vodkas were also on the list. There were also four whiskeys; item #9 was that sickly sweetish liqueur, Jagermeister.

What were Oregon's favorite liquors in 1960? How about right after the repeal of prohibition? How about 1859? Tastes do change.

Journalist and popular history writer Stewart Holbrook took up the question in an article in the Oregonian on September 15, 1935, more than a year after the repeal of nationwide prohibition. Oregonians needed a special permit to purchase liquor, and as of August 10, 113,333 of them had a permit. The headline for Holbrook's story was "Oregonians prefer corn liquor," and the figures revealed that straight bourbon (corn) whiskey and bourbon blend comprised more than 57% of the state's liquor sales. As for gin, it took another 18%+ of sales; the 1920s had boosted it to some prominence. So: whiskey and gin were the most popular liquors soaked up by Oregonians in 1935.

Vodka, which had also been something of a staple during the Volstead era, had not become a favorite here in Oregon. Holbrook noted that vodka drinkers "were never at a loss to explain the revolution in Russia." Its consumption "was enough to break up any old party and send its members out into the night howling; and howling in Russian, or something approaching Russian, to boot." However, in the first seven months of 1935, only five (5!) gallons of vodka were purchased. "I have no way of knowing whether or not they drank it, but any way you look at it, there is no vodka menace in Oregon."

Ah, but he was unable to foresee the rise of the craft distillery. Now, nearly eight decades after Holbrook's overview, is the vodka menace--the peril of Aviation, the dark menace of Rogue Spruce--about to engulf us after all?

* A glass of wine? This snapshot was found in a shop in Astoria, and its context amid other snapshots suggests that it depicts an Astorian. I like to think so, at any rate.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Taste of Oregon for the Folks in Peoria

One of my Xmas presents
Harry & David's Fruit-of-the-Month Club, delivering Oregon pears and other fruits, began in 1938, but the idea of sending a gift of local products predates that innovation. This small brochure from Portland's Seely Dresser Company, grocers, bakers, and caterers, dates from the late 1920s. Featured items include Oregon Franquette walnuts, prunes, glace cherries and other fruit, filberts (nowadays called hazelnuts) and Tillamook Gem cheese.

Note for those concerned about the recent disrespectfulness of abbreviating Christmas as Xmas: Seely Dresser, the high church grocers of 1920s Portland, blithely referred to their offerings as Xmas gift packages.

The Oregonian of November 30, 1930, included a full page advertisement pushing Oregon food products as Christmas gifts. There is a Seely Dresser display in the center of the page, advising that gift foodstuffs can be delivered "in fancy baskets or in a large novelty red apply, in a large novelty walnut shell or in a large novelty prune shell." Perhaps one day I will run across a 1930 novelty prune shell at an antique mall in Peoria.

Seely Dresser packaged its own Oregon Trail brand walnuts; the Franquette walnut variety had been heavily pushed as a commercial crop in the 1910s, and in the 1920s Oregon was the second largest producer of walnuts. (It still is; however, California now supplies more than 99% of the nation's output, so it's hard to boast about Oregon's contribution.)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sufferin' Cranberries

Ocean Spray leaflet
 The Thanksgiving Day meal pushes many  seldom-eaten foods briefly into the limelight: brussels sprouts, stuffing, pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, even the roast turkey itself. And cranberries.

I like cranberries. I hailed the development of cranberry juice and cranapple juice. I grew up on the Oregon coast, where cranberries were grown; my father, as a government weatherman, was regularly on the Astoria radio stations giving the weather report, which at appropriate times included noting the overnight forecast for  freezing temperatures "in the bogs": the warning to cranberry growers to flood the fields to protect the crop.

My mother always made a Thanksgiving Day relish of fresh cranberries, an orange, and sugar, run through the meat grinder. An excellent combination, and an easy and foolproof recipe. I like to squeeze an orange, add sugar, heat it up, and add fresh cranberries, boiling them lightly until the berries pop; when you set the mixture aside, it cools as a delicious and lumpy thick sauce. Another excellent and easy recipe.

Our Dad often cooked, and he made a most delicious meat loaf. Our family preferred the every-loaf-is-different approach, and we also belonged to the lumpy, not smooth, school of meat loaf building. So we had chunky meat loaf that might include some combination of chopped onion, celery, sweet pepper, leftover broccoli, an egg, condensed milk, Worcestershire sauce, rolled oats, cooked rice, bread crumbs, tomatoes, and/or tomato catsup, along with the usual ground beef, ground pork or sausage, and assorted herbs. It was always a treat.

But then, sometime in the early 1970s, Dad got his hands on a recipe that called for mounding the meat loaf ingredients over a log of canned, jelly-like cranberry sauce. My sister Laural and I independently concluded that this was a terrible development, but by the mid-1970s, our Mom had died and Laural and I had gone our own ways: the result was that, for the next two decades, each of us was from time to time subjected to seeing Dad and being offered what he was sure was one of our favorite meals, featuring cranberry meat loaf. Several times we were so subjected together, along with our respective spouses. Oh, the grimaces we suppressed.
Ocean Spray, "The Grower's Brand"

Finally, having compared notes, Laural and I confronted Dad and told him the bad news: we both hated cranberry meat loaf. Yes, we loved his un-cranberry meat loaf, and we were sorry we hadn't told him sooner. He was crestfallen, dismayed, taken aback: we had eaten so many cranberry meat loaves!

But he adapted. Thank goodness. After Dad's death a few years ago, I ran across a tattered leaflet in one of his cookbooks: here is the origin of the cranberry meatloaf. Try it if you dare. Only if you dare.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"An Indictment of Intercollegiate Athletics"

The furor at Penn State adds another dimension to the discussion of the purpose of intercollegiate athletics. A few months ago I acquired an offprint of an article by the first president of Reed College, William Trufant Foster, entitled "An Indictment of Intercollegiate Athletics." I have uploaded a .pdf file of this essay to Internet Archive. It was initially published in the Atlantic Monthly of November 1915, and it reads very well today. And it makes points that are still more pressing today.

When I attended Reed, two years of physical education were required. I took tennis, sailing, volleyball, and intermediate folk dancing (I should have taken beginning).

This is the chapel in Eliot Hall of Reed College, as it was at its completion in 1912. It is quite recognizable today; the pews, bare wood through the 1960s when I sat on them, today have a semblance of padding.

This card was sent in February of 1917 by a Reed student named George to his Aunt Alice, Mrs. John Steele of Tolland, Connecticut.

 "Dear Aunt Alice, This is the best place on earth in many ways. Here is a picture of the chapel where we meet every morning. The organ has now been placed in the [chapel] since this was printed... George."

And the organ remains.

Long Distance Hauling

Last year I commented on a nearly-vanished Oregon regional food product: the turkey (“The Rise and Fall of an Oregon Fowl,” November 23, 2010 posting). Sixty years ago, Oregon tom turkeys had cachet, and the term appeared on restaurant menus as a proudly local offering.

I went to my neighborhood New Seasons Market yesterday to order a Thanksgiving turkey. Though New Seasons is a dedicated promoter and seller of local foodstuffs, their turkeys -- free range and/or organic and/or heirloom variety -- will all come to us from the Sierra foothills of California.
November 1955
California and the foods grown there have a long history of being widely sold and consumed in Oregon. (Of course, we have also long sent California apples and pears and potatoes, too.) California’s impact on Oregon has a long history. Consider Sunset, a San Francisco-area based magazine that has been widely read in the Pacific Northwest ever since it absorbed Portland’s Pacific Monthly magazine in 1911. The food advertising in Sunset, the recipes for homemakers and the recipes from men “chefs of the West,” the articles about outdoor barbecues and indoor-outdoor living spaces, have all been highly influential on many western Oregon and Washington residents.

Here’s a bit from a shorter lived, but more focused, California publication. Western Family (ca. 1940-1958) was published in Los Angeles; it appears to have been distributed through independent grocers. There is likely some connection with today’s Western Family Foods of Tigard, although I was unable to find it in an online search. In any case, copies of the  magazine are easily found, and they are stuffed with food advertising, mostly for West Coast firms. On the one hand, there are a few West Coast firms marketing West Coast products, such as Del Monte canned green beans. On the other hand, Oakland, California-based Gerber baby foods does not get the bananas for its strained baby food from California growers.

Western Family, Nov. 1955

Here’s an ad of mixed goods: PictSweet, the frozen food division of the national brand Stokely-Van Camp (which then specialized in canned goods) was situated in Mount Vernon, Washington. Or so this advertisement says. And the implication is that the frozen PictSweet vegetables were grown in the vicinity of the Skagit River Valley.

But wait: PictSweet, according to their website, was founded in Tennessee in 1945 and has been there, family owned and family operated ever since. The history of food processing operations is complex and, it appears, largely unwritten and undocumented. But the ads in publications such as Sunset and Western Family do tell us that, even fifty and sixty years ago, most of the foods used by Pacific Northwest cooks traveled hundreds, even thousands, of miles from field to kitchen.

On the other hand, locally raised wheat once did get locally milled into flour throughout our region. Today, it's tough to find (and don't let the brand name Pendleton fool you, either).

Recipe book issued ca. 1932

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Evaporated Vegetables

An unused (though slightly stained) canning label
Wow! Canned, evaporated, granulated soup vegetables! There are said to be seven varieties of vegetables in each 8-ounce can, although they are not specified. And what's the story of the Gold Nugget brand, and the Dayton Evaporating and Packing Company? 

Fortuitously, a splendidly clarifying article appeared on July 27 of this year in the McMinnville News-Register, by Elaine Rohse, "Death of a Dayton Business." The DE&PC was begun in 1890 by Douglas A. Snyder and his father, Reuben. In the 1890s, the firm's dehydrated potatoes were popular with miners (clearly it was a splendid product for those trekking over Chilkoot Pass into the Klondike, where each man was required to carry a year's supply of food with him). Thus the Gold Nugget brand.

Gold Nugget soup mix helped feed the troops in the Spanish-American War and World War I. The mix included not only potatoes, but also cabbage, turnips, squash, onions, parsnips, and carrots. During and after war times, it was apparently popular in restaurants and hotels as well as military mess halls.

The company was feeding both American and Russian troops when it was inadvertently, fatally wounded by the Office of Price Administration's price ceilings after 1944. Writer Rohse casts this history in a "government giveth/government taketh away" matrix; perhaps it is collateral damage instead. In any case, she tells a vivid tale that weaves a bit of now-vanished local agriculture together with worldwide markets, a gold rush or two,  and three wars. And our suspicions that soup mixes have been around for quite a long while now, are quite confirmed.

Proof they made this soup in the Klondike: the Dawson City Museum in the Yukon Territory has a can with the DE&PC label.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunset to the Davis Mountains

Sunset Limited ad in Sunset, 1899

For several years we have contemplated a trip to the remote town of Fort Davis, Texas, enticed by the presence of friends who have convincingly extolled the natural and historical sights to be found there.

In my historico-romantic mind’s eye, we would go there by train, stepping down at Alpine, the nearest railroad station to Fort Davis, along what was once the main line of the Southern Pacific Company between California and New Orleans. During the first half of the twentieth century, this line was advertised as the “Sunset Route,” and its premier passenger train was the Sunset Limited.
Tourist brochure, 1914

The sunset motif gave rise as well to the Southern Pacific Company’s magazine for public consumption: the first issue of Sunset came out in 1898. Although the company sold it in 1914, it remained a key advertiser into the 1960s.

At its inception in the winter season of 1894 (back then, California was notably a winter resort), the Sunset Limited was a fancy-pants train that carried only first-class, Pullman sleeping car passengers on a once-a-week, winter-time schedule to San Francisco. By 1913, it operated every day, year-round; in 1950, it emerged as a snappy new streamlined train from Los Angeles to New Orleans, with both coaches and sleeping cars, a dining car decorated with Audubon prints (well, they were reproductions, of course), and a leathery lounge called “The Pride of Texas,” emblazoned with cattle brands.
The cover of the 1950 inauguration brochure

The Southern Pacific tried to kill the Sunset in the late 1960s: it ran 3 times a week, lost its sleeping cars, had its lounge removed, and its dining car was replaced by snack vending machines. When Amtrak came along in 1971, it sort of rescued the train, but it is one of but two Amtrak trains today that still operate only thrice weekly.

It would be keen to step off the Sunset at Alpine, and to have a battered 1952 Ford station wagon waiting chauffeur us to Fort Davis. We are going there, but I’m afraid we’ll drive our own Prius. Sigh.
Dinner menu, 1964
A side note: the Sunset's menu in 1964 was still rather ambitious, offering five table d'hote dinners that started off with sweet gherkins and rosebud radishes and ended with a dessert course of a strawberry sundae, domestic cheese with crackers, or diplomat pudding with brandy sauce. The "automatic buffet car" of the late 1960s proffered "assorted hot canned foods" such as beef stew, and "hot tray meals"--"example: salisbury steak with gravy, potatoes and vegetable." "Dessert suggestions" were pie, fruit jello, candy, and "frozen bars." Umf.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Roughhouse Times at Tad’s

After a pleasant Sunday afternoon of historical excursioning, two colleagues and I recently came to a dinner stop at Tad’s Chicken 'n Dumplins [sic], scenically situated on a bank of the Sandy River near Troutdale. With a history going back to the 1920s, Tad’s is a living reminder of the Sunday-drive-and-a-chicken-dinner outings that once characterized the Columbia River Highway; the highway had, after all, been built for pleasure driving.

Roadhouses – rural roadside establishments that served up food, drink, and often music and dancing – were soon strewn along the highway after its inauguration in 1916, and the chicken dinner was a favorite. Witness Chanticleer Inn (1912-1930), with a name that evoked triple-chicken references: to the legendary rooster of fable, to chicken dinners, and to Rooster Rock, just below the inn. After prohibition – beginning on January 1, 1916, along the highway – Sunday drives and chicken dinners lost one of their appeals, although roadhouses were notoriously a place where liquor might yet be procured.

Here we have a menu and a beverage coaster from Tad’s that date from not long after the repeal of prohibition on April 7, 1933. There are still a few restrictions, such as that wine, and ale that is 6% alcohol, will only be served with food. Mixed drinks? Well, if you bring the liquor, Tad’s would serve you up a martini or an old fashioned; the charge was for the service, the glassware used, and any soda, olives, or other additives.

Oregonian, Sept. 8, 1936
Of course, bringing back alcohol had its drawbacks, and the account of a roughhousing suggests why this menu is summed up in the immortal phrase, WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE SERVICE TO ANYONE.

And how about the food on the menu? What’s changed, what’s new? Chicken and dumplings is still a feature today (I cannot bring myself to use Tad’s spelling unless I’m quoting), but notice that fried chicken is a new addition. The other dinner items are very limited: two egg dishes and three beef items; the pork chops have just been axed. Otherwise, this is a place for sandwiches, chili, and fries. A quick Google search for more history about Tad’s is not too helpful, but there are references to its early incarnation as a hot dog stand, and in 1936 it’s referred to as a barbecue joint. Today’s menu offers a lot of beef and seafood dishes and a half-dozen chicken concoctions – still no pork chops, though. The wine list is vastly more varied now, but there’s no loganberry or currant wine; thankfully, Tad’s menu still offers unnamed house wines “by the glass or bottle”: chablis, blush, and burgundy. That listing is very much reminiscent of roadhouse days.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Crab Louis Crab á la Louis Crab Louie

University of California Libraries

Not until the early twentieth century did crab become a popular food along the West Coast. The particular crab that rose to fame was the Dungeness variety; the name comes from Dungeness, England, and has been applied to a bay, a spit, and a small town on the Olympic Peninsula. Dungeness crabs proved to inhabit the waters of Puget Sound and all along the Pacific coast well into California, where San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf was developed in great measure to house the fleet of crab-fishing boats.

A still-fabled dish is crab Louis, a hefty entree-sized salad featuring large chunks of meat from the crab legs arrayed on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce, garnished with sliced boiled egg, a lemon wedge, tomato wedges, and sometimes an olive, and doused with a spicy Thousand Island-type dressing that usually includes chili sauce. The origin of the crab Louis is debated, but credit is usually given to San Francisco; Clarence E. Edwords' Bohemian San Francisco (1914) includes a recipe from Solari’s restaurant; it appears on the menu of the Old Poodle Dog restaurant there in 1916 (as, surprisingly, “canned crab legs á la Louis”), and a recipe is to be found in the magisterial Hotel St. Francis Cook Book (1919) of Victor Hirtzler (albeit with French rather than Thousand Island-based dressing).

L. L. McLaren's Pan-Pacific Cook Book of 1915 had these exceedingly brief instructions for Crab Louis: Mix a cup of shredded crab meat with a generous amount of mayonnaise colored with tomato catsup and seasoned highly. Serve in cocktail glasses, surrounded with crushed ice.

The original crab Louis has also been attributed to the celebrated Louis Davenport restaurant in Spokane, Washington, but the evidence so far is anecdotal and seems to be tied to Mr. Davenport’s name. For that matter, however, the name is, otherwise, unattributed, so the matter needs some investigation!

In Portland, The Neighborhood Cook Book (2nd edition, 1914) boasted a dozen recipes for crab entrées, in addition to several crab appetizers. There are two crab cocktail recipes that call for a dressing that features mayonnaise and chili sauce, chopped pimentos, and paprika, which approaches the San Francisco model for a crab Louis. When the third edition of the cook book appeared in 1932, it had a crab Louis recipe that was simply shredded lettuce topped with large pieces of crab and dressed with a vinaigrette that was amplified with chili sauce, Worcester sauce, and dashes of paprika and cayenne.

James Beard recounts in his New Fish Cookery (1954) that the Bohemian Restaurant in Portland “served the finest Louis I have ever eaten” in the 1910s; Beard’s own recipe specifies a dressing compounded of mayonnaise, chili sauce, and heavy cream with grated onion, chopped parsley, and cayenne, garnished with quartered hard-cooked eggs and tomatoes. The menu for Portland’s Benson Hotel in 1916 offered "crab legs, Louis," while the ritzy Hazelwood restaurant menu touted “Crab Louis Hazelwood” in 1919.

Early in 1920, a correspondent from Astoria wrote to the Morning Oregonian to request a recipe for crab Louis, an indication that the dish was moving from restaurant menus into the home kitchen. By 1924,  the St. Peter’s Guild Cook Book of La Grande, Oregon, had adapted matters to eastern Oregon home tastes with added celery stalks, sweet pickles, green pepper rings, and canned asparagus tips; the dressing was toned down to a “tablespoon [of] Thousand Island dressing or mayonnaise.”

Crab Louis was a favorite luncheon and dinner salad through the 1960s; for my mother, finding crab Louis on a menu was an assurance that the restaurant had aspirations to gourmet status. The menu from Hillaire's Encore in Portland from the late 1950s grandly offers a "crab louis magnifique" for $1.35. Mother would have ordered it, for sure.

Update: A Portland recipe for crab louis from 1912 has surfaced! See more about it at Crab Louis: 1912.

The Victorian Society in Oregon

New Market Theater, Portland

It was certainly one of the more unusual and intriguing projects that Oregon Rediviva LLC has undertaken. Various aspects of it were complicated, changeable, daunting, appealing, frustrating, exciting, and gratifying. I now know what “logistics” are, and how unlogical they can be; now, I can engage in logistics with the best of them.

What was the project? It was to plan, arrange, and conduct five solid days of historic tours, tours to sites with a particular appeal to a group with specialized interests, who wanted preferred treatment, good food, and intelligent commentary. The client was the Victorian Society in America. The VSA held its 45th annual meeting in Portland from May 26 to 30, and about 80 members attended. Unlike most scholarly associations, VSA does not hold a conference with formal papers and presentations: there is a banquet and awards ceremony, there is a business meeting, but the rest of the time, these people want to see things. Specifically, they want to see things from the Victorian era: examples of architecture, the decorative arts, technology, artwork, landscapes.
A Queen Anne in Sunnyside, Portlande. B. Davies photo

So that’s what I had to plan for them. Fortunately, the VSA defines the Victorian era in the United States as extending from the 1840s to 1917 (Queen Victoria died in 1901; esthetic fashions, however, are often considered to be rather laggardly in the colonies).

So I arranged tours of churches, house museums, a woolen mill, an army post, a poor farm, a farmhouse, private residences, a historic residential area and a historic commercial district, and even a historic scenic highway. We walked a lot. We took buses to Fort Vancouver, French Prairie, Salem, and Astoria. They were a great group of people, most of them from the Atlantic states and the upper Midwest, full of good questions, tolerant of the grey skies and the frequent dampness.
Wm. Case house, French Prairie, 1850s. B. Davies photo

They never did get to see Mount Hood or Mount St. Helens. I did want them to experience the Pacific Ocean; it’s not especially Victorian, but it is splendid. They finally got a glimpse of it from the top of Coxcomb Hill in Astoria on the last day of events, but the view was distant. So on the way home we made a short detour to Cannon Beach, and as we rounded a curve near Tolovana Park, suddenly Haystack Rock and crashing surf and a setting sun popped into view. The bus erupted in clapping and huzzahs!

It was a grand end to a grand Victorian ride.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dorothy Jo’s Western Recipes: a Minor Reed College Mystery

Dr. Dorothy Johansen (1904-1999), longtime professor of history and humanities at Reed College, in 1952 penned a pamphlet for the Standard Insurance Company of Portland, titled “Western Foods and Recipes 100 Years Ago.” It is described in this Sunset Magazine (November 1952) advertisement, but I have been unable to locate a copy of it. It’s not listed in WorldCat; there is neither a copy of it nor a reference to it in Johansen’s meager archives at Reed; and my mole at Standard Insurance found nothing in the company records.

I’ve been looking for this not only because of my interest in regional foodways, but also because Dorothy Jo had a profound impact on my education and career. The author of Empire of the Columbia (1957, with Charles M. Gates; however, the second edition of 1967 was almost entirely recrafted by Johansen), Dorothy Jo taught a seminar on Pacific Northwest history, and she was my advisor for several years; a falling-out over my thesis topic sent me to David Allmendinger, but in the end Dorothy Jo served on my thesis committee. Dorothy Jo smoked Roi-Tan little cigars almost continuously, ate peppermint ice cream, and upon my graduation admonished me to eat lots and lots of steamed broccoli, topped with oleomargarine. Naturally, I want to know if her pamphlet on Western foods makes mention of broccoli.

N.B.: Another Dorothy Jo mystery is her unpublished mystery novel. Set in undefined academia, it is written through the eyes of one Aristotelia Bennedict. The draft is in her papers at Reed, along with the extended comments of literary advisor and agent A. L. Fierst, who recommended many changes but was very supportive in his remarks. Someone should tidy it up and get it published!
Dorothy Jo, 1963. Reed College Archives

If you find a copy of “Western Foods and Recipes 100 Years Ago,” do, please, tell me about it! And get me a copy!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sunnymead Redux: a Half Century Ago

After fire destroyed Sunnymead last fall, my sister Laural sent me copies of a number of family photographs that were taken there. Here is one of them, shot almost exactly a half century ago. I am standing in front of the living room fireplace in my first and only suit: graduation, 8th grade, Warrenton Elementary School, 1961.
The recent past.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Winnemucca on the Humboldt

We're back now from the 330-mile drive to Lava Beds Road near Diamond, Harney County, Oregon, for  Mother’s Day with Terry’s folks. The waters are rising again in the Harney Basin, and water laps at the edges of the roads. One day we visited Terry’s sister Andrea about 30 miles away; she loaded us up with jars of her amazingly good pickles, pickled asparagus, pickled peppers, jellies, pickled beans, and elk pepperoni. And two live roosters.

The roosters joined the Jess flock of chickens and pullets; the next day, however, one of them again took a long ride, as we set off for one of the region's major social events, the annual meeting and barbecue of the Harney Electric Cooperative. HEC provides electric service to some 20,000 square miles of southeastern Oregon and northwestern Nevada. The annual meeting this year was held in the community hall at Denio, Nevada, just over a hundred miles from Diamond. There's lots of food, a business meeting and voting, and a pile of door prizes.

Terry's aunt and her husband live in Denio, and they wanted a rooster, hence his 2-day,130 mile luxury auto ride. Rooster delivered. We then left Terry's folks at  the community hall and drove ourselves 103 miles to Winnemucca, Nevada. Why, you ask? Because it's there! It has a fabulously evocative name. I wrote about Paiute activist Sarah Winnemucca in The Oregon Companion. Mother Mucca was a memorable character in Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City

And then there is the Winnemucca-to-the-Sea Highway. I wrote it up in The Oregon Companion, too. It must be one of the oddest highway conceits in the West: a spur from Interstate 80 to the Pacific shore. The W-to-the-S is cobbled together from 7 different federal and Nevada, Oregon, and California state routes, mostly a two-lane highway with some very perilous passes. It terminates in Crescent City, an abysmally mundane town with a population of about 7,307, of whom 3,301 are inmates of the Pelican Bay State Prison. The highway was formally dedicated in 1962 when the 117 miles from Lakeview, Oregon, to Denio Junction, Nevada were finally paved. So I always wanted to see the origin of this highway. Here it is, marked and adorned with a bit of California redwood that drifted ashore at Crescent City after the 1964 Eel River floods.

We had lunch in Winnemucca at a Basque restaurant, but they only served Basque food at dinner. After lunch Terry bought a Wrangler shirt. The 1921 Humboldt County courthouse is a modest but fine structure in the Classic Revival mode, and there are a few 1910s boarding houses and residences of interest. Soon we headed back to Denio and picked up Terry's folks, who were by then socializing on the front porch of the Diamond Inn Bar, conveniently adjacent to the community hall. Back home, past the Peublo Mountains, a stop at Fields, past Home Creek Ranch and Roaring Springs, through Frenchglen, over the Diamond-Hay Camp Road to Lava Beds Road. About ten hours, all told: a great day.
Heading north from Denio for home

"Every description ... are yours ...." ca. 1962

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Pullman Breakfast in the Gilded Age

The Pullman Company operated most of sleeping cars on American railroads from the 1870s until its final dissolution in 1968. Founder George M. Pullman also brought fine dining to the rails, and the Pullman Company contracted to operate food service at various times on various railroads. This menu appears to date from between 1888 and 1893, a time when the Union Pacific Railroad system extended its lines into the Pacific Northwest through subsidiary companies such as the Oregon Short Line and the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company. Through service from Portland to Omaha and points east over the UP system began in 1884.

One side of the menu card depicts an unusual view of Mount Saint Helens from the mouth of the Willamette River. The breakfast offering, at 75 cents for the entire meal, is not as cheap as it looks (that price is roughly $18.50 in today's dollars), but it certainly could be seen as a good value. The protein level is extraordinary by today's standards; very few of us now give even a passing thought to starting the day with broiled fish and mutton chops and liver .... Notably absent? Anything sweet. If fresh fruit does not do it for you, your only option is a chocolate beverage or adding some sugar to your tea or coffee.

This menu is a recent acquisition; indeed buying it was a shameless indulgence. I feel somewhat abashed, as if I had blithely eaten such a breakfast as is laid out here. I casually drop a silver dollar on the cloth; "keep the change."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Supersized Spuds

Potato postcard
"Look at your computer mouse. That's how big a baked potato should be," proclaims a syndicated story in today's Seattle Times. "The supersizing of American portions has been going on for years."

... the Old Oaken Bucket. Sheet music
Just how many years? Well, it's easy to go back more than a century: in 1909, the dining car service of the Northern Pacific Railroad introduced its "Great Big Baked Potato," weighing in at two pounds! According to William A. McKenzie, author of Dining Car Line to the Pacific, this promotional gambit was instituted by dining car superintendent Hazen J. Titus after he saw some huge Yakima Valley netted gem potatoes that ranged up to five pounds in weight. The lumpy aberrants were difficult to market as foodstuffs, but Titus found they baked up very nicely, and that a 2-pounder slathered in butter caught his customers' attention.

1933 menu, special tour group
This Washington State product (later Montana supplied them, too) was only the first in a succession of regional food promotions by Northern Pacific. The advertising boosted agricultural shipments for the company's freight and express services as well as its passenger business. In 1909, NP began its own 52-acre farm near Kent, Washington, and in 1914 their new Seattle commissary boasted a rooftop delight: an electric-lighted, 40-foot-long faux potato whose eyes, "through the electric mechanism, are made to wink constantly." Inedible, but the ultimate in supersizing.

Menu, about 1925
A supersized potato might be a nutritional and dietetic paragon. Unless, of course, it should be slathered in butter (the Northern Pacific churned its own butter each day aboard the dining car). In the 1920s, Northern Pacific heavily promoted big Washington State apples, in particular big apples baked in heavy cream, oh, yes. It's not just the size, it's the condiments.

So is this a new story, or an extension of a story that's been playing out, in variations, for many an eon? In Portland, Sayler's restaurant, opened in 1946, has been pushing its 72-ounce slab of top sirloin beef since 1948. At least it has not gotten any larger.

And of course you do know Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley (1844-1930), don't you? We're talking about the right kind of food
Ad in Better Fruit magazine, 1913

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Grape Nip in Davenport

Last fall we whizzed through the northern edge of Davenport, Washington, the county seat of Lincoln County since 1896 (though only after more than a decade of squabbling about it). I need to go back for a better look at this isolated wheat country town. And I need to find out more about grape nip.

The 1950 edition of the WPA guide The New Washington: a Guide to the Evergreen State says of Davenport that it “is now a trade and shopping center for the Cedar Canyon mining district and has several huge grain elevators, mills, and a soda water factory.” Paula Becker’s HistoryLink article on Davenport tells the story of the Pioneer Soda Bottling Works, which was founded in 1904 and continued as a family enterprise until 1982. The company produced more than two dozen flavors of beverages, including raspberry and loganberry and pineapple soda, lemon sour, creme beer, chocolate fiz and lemon fiz and kola fiz, ginger ale, and cherry nip and grape nip. Oh, and Howdy's orange soda.

I’d especially like to know more about those nips. The grape nip ingredient list fails to specify grape juice, but says only that it contains “harmless color and flavor.” In that there is a suggestion that grape nip may not be a suitable base for home wine making. Rats. I'll have to have a bottle of creme beer instead.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Streetcars Rediviva

In 1969, I turned in my BA thesis at Reed College: "' ... and so made town and country one': the Streetcar and the Building of Portland, Oregon, 1872-1920." A few years later (1973?), Steve Dotterer and I did a streetcar photo exhibit, "Along the Car Lines,"  for the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. In 1986, I did a photo essay on Seattle streetcars in Pacific Northwest Quarterly. And in the summer of 2010 I was interviewed about Portland streetcars by Kami Horton for an Oregon Public Broadcasting episode of The Oregon Experience.

That production, "Streetcar City," first aired February 28, and it is now available both online and as a CD. Steve Dotterrer and I are among the talking heads, as is Richard Thompson, author of several regional pictorial histories of streetcar and railroad lines. There are lots of good film clips and historic photos in the show.

I have to say that in 1969 I hadn't the faintest hope that Portland would ever see a streetcar again. The main point of my thesis was that streetcars had once made an impact on the city's physical layout and its workings. The OPB production's chief point is that today the streetcar is back again. And it once again is having an impact on the city's physiography and its workings. Whaddya know; "What is old is new again."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A St. Paul Sandwich at the Green Hut

The Green Hut was a landmark cafe, souvenir stand, and vista point at the base of Grand Coulee Dam. The cafe was opened in 1938 by Clarence D. Newland, who had previously operated Green Huts at two earlier federal dam projects, at Fort Peck on the Missouri, and at Boulder on the Colorado. The prime location below the Grand Coulee spillway made the  Green Hut a tourist destination from the beginning of construction until it burned on September 11, 1964.

The cafe included a souvenir shop, and Grand Coulee souvenirs -- postcard views especially -- often feature the Green Hut. After the cafe's demise, the Grand Coulee interpretive center was built on the former site of the Green Hut. This menu, which dates from about 1950, includes two carbon paper sheets of daily special items, one of which is shown here.  Beef makes a strong showing, and the cafe had apparently recently purchased one of the county fair's 4-H grand champion steers; this was once a common gesture by restaurants in agricultural areas. The menu's wide-ranging variety of dishes suggests the wide-ranging employment draw of the Grand Coulee project: there's ham and hominy, ham and pineapple, calf brains and liver, salmon and spaghetti, and gooseberry cobbler.

The sandwich menu (not shown) includes not only hamburgers and tuna fish sandwiches, but also salami, bologna, Denver, and St. Paul sandwiches. A Denver sandwich is related to a Denver omelette: onion, green pepper, ham, and scrambled egg between bread slices. But a St. Paul? Wikipedia expounds on an egg foo yung sandwich that is popular in St. Louis (yes, St. Louis), and also rather vaguely asserts that the term "has meant multiple things over the past sixty years";  "Originally, the St. Paul sandwich was known to contain four pieces of white bread with chicken and egg stuffed inside." I shall have to peruse some old cookbooks, I can see.

The Green Hut had one later incarnation, at another federal dam project. The Portland Oregonian on August 14, 1949 did a story on McNary City, which grew up around the construction of McNary Dam on the Columbia River. "The Green Hut Cafe, one of a string put up on damsites the Pacific Northwest by C. D. Newland, is McNary City's only restaurant. Its three chefs put out meals from 5 a.m. till after midnight for practically everyone employed at the dam."

I'm still looking for some kind of biography of Clarence D. Newland.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Astoria 1899: The Monday Club Cook Book

A recent acquisition: one of the oldest regional cookbooks in my collection. It’s The Monday Club Cook Book, “compiled by the Ladies of the Every Monday Club, First Presbyterian Church, Astoria, Oregon.” The Astorian Job Printing Company did the work in 1899, and my copy is inscribed, “Mrs. F. P. Kendall, December 12th 1899.”

Like most regional cookbooks of the period, rather few of the recipes make any mention of distinctively local ingredients or preparation methods, but there most certainly are some. A splendid feature of this copy is the fact that the contributors’ names are included: as published, most recipes are noted as a contribution by “Mrs. K. H.”; however, Mrs. F. P. Kendall went through the book and carefully spelled out the surnames. Now I know that the contributor was Mrs. K. Hobson. Thank you, Mrs. Kendall!

Here we have two recipes for Welsh rarebit, one peppery, the other slightly beery. The notable feature here is the specification of “Clatsop cream cheese” in both recipes. Such references in local cookbooks often indicate that the product is advertised in the book, but I did not find reference to it in any of the advertisements. "Cream cheese" here is not the Philadelphia kind, but a reference to a full-cream cheese, probably akin to a cheddar.

Pioneer clams, 1913
Warrenton clams, ca. 1925
Another local product is canned clams; these are indeed specified in at least one recipe. And the cookbook includes an ad for Pioneer Brand minced sea clams, packed at Warrenton by the Sea Beach Pickling Works. Pictured here is a leaflet from the successor Sea Beach Packing Works, and another from the Warrenton Clam Company.

On the other hand, the carbon copy, typed, and tipped-in recipe by Mr. F. P. Kendall for clam chowder calls for fresh clams. Note that Mrs. Kendall adroitly inserted her husband’s recipe in the special section “From the men”; the heading shows through the thin copy paper of the insert.

And who were Mr. and Mrs. F. P. Kendall? Mr. Kendall directed the construction of a fish cannery in Kasilof, Alaska, in 1882, and soon after directed the building of a factory for the California Can Conmpany in Astoria. He was a longtime executive of the American Can Company, and headed the Oregon Fish Commission in the 1920s. John N. Cobb, founder of the University of Washington’s College of Fisheries, called Mr. Kendall “one of the deans of the industry.” In the Cobb photographs collection at the UW  (which I once oversaw) is an image of F. P. Kendall with another “dean of the industry,” Astoria cannery operator Marshall J. Kinney. Mrs. Kendall? More research is needed!

This entry is respectfully dedicated to Dedie Uunila Taylor, a native Astorian, and her husband, Lonn Taylor, who is an oyster and seafood aficionado.