Monday, March 26, 2012

Fantasy Foods

Oregon tomatoes, you say? Oregon tomatoes? Big as a Sherman tank?

Unlikely. The Edward H. Mitchell Company of San Francisco issued a wide variety of postcards in the 1910s that portrayed fabulous oversized strawberries, lemons, oranges, melons, etc., perched on railroad flatcars or nestled in a gondola car. Often they specified that these were California products; sometimes the labels took the form, "A car load of tomatoes from .... [fill in the blank] ..."

And sometimes they aimed for the Oregon postcard market. Oregon pears or apples or loganberries, sure, that would have made sense. But Oregon was in no position to boast of its magnificent tomatoes in, say, 1914. One wonders where the cards were sold, who bought them, who sent them (with ironic comments, of course)? My copy was never mailed.

And then there are the famous real photo postcards produced by photographer William H. Martin of Ottawa, Kansas. Mr. Martin predates PhotoShop, but he produced composite images that rival those of modern technology. This is purportedly "the way we welcomed [presidential candidate William Howard] Taft in Washington" in 1908: with huge heaps of onions, ears of corn, potatoes, and cabbages. What a grand way to say Hello, vote for me!

And sometimes the fantasy foods were, um, well... real. Here's a fantasy run amok. It happened at Century 21, the Seattle world's fair that opened fifty years ago, in 1962. The occasion was ostensibly to mark the 128th birthday of a fictional character, legendary logger Paul Bunyan. This cake consisted of more than 2 tons of sugar, 3.5 tons of raisins, 18,000 eggs, and 10,500 pounds of flour. And it was assuredly inedible, despite the fact that you could buy "souvenir mailaway boxed portions" of it to send to your favorite aunt in Biloxi.
So just where was "Paul Bunyan" born, back about 1834? And why would this event be marked in Seattle in 1962? Good question. Possible answer: noted Washington author James Stevens was one of the purveyors of Paul Bunyan tales, and one of his tales put Bunyan's birth during the 1837 Papineau Revolt in Quebec. A quick look at the Wikipedia entry for Paul Bunyan will easily muddle this story, and will cause the reader to infer that this 1962 Seattle cake has nothing more to do with Paul Bunyan than the fact that Seattle once had a lot of trees and loggers nearby, and once had James Stevens living there. Otherwise, it's all about Walter Clark's restaurants, Van de Kamp's bakeries, and C&H pure cane sugar from Hawaii.

But what a wonderfully sugary food fantasy!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Whither Yeatum?

You might undertake a vegetarian diet for any of a number of reasons. One might be that you were a Seventh-Day Adventist. I recently picked up this cookbook, which dates from about 1935, "published in answer to many requests from friends and guests at the Oregon Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists Camp-meeting cafeteria." The author is Mrs. Ross Dustin; a little research suggests that the Rev. Ross Dustin served as a pastor at a Seventh-Day Adventist church in the Eugene area in the mid-1930s.

So what is Yeatum? This 23-page booklet begins with a recipe for Yeatum, which then becomes a recurring ingredient in many of the following recipes. Here's the formula for Yeatum:

1 pound Fleischmann's yeast
4 tablespoons Instant Postum
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon Kitchen Bouquet
1 clove garlic (grated)

Put ingredients in double boiler and boil for 7 hours or until thick enough to spread when cold. Put in half pint jars while boiling hot and seal.

That yeast would be perishable compressed or cake yeast; a pound of it was about equivalent to 24 packets of today's dry yeast. You can't get Instant Postum anymore (it was discontinued in 2007), though you can find recipes online to make an equivalent product. Postum was developed by C. W. Post in 1895 as a healthful, grain-based caffeine-free beverage; an instant version came out in 1911. And Kitchen Bouquet (it's still on the market) is, says Wikipedia, "a browning and seasoning sauce primarily composed of caramel with vegetable flavorings." Add a bit of salt and garlic, and this recipe would give you a supply of yeasty flavor booster.

In the cookbook, a spoonful of Yeatum appears in recipes for gluten nut meat, mock chicken pie, nut-cottage cheese loaf, mock salmon patties, carrot loaf, egg gravy, and other savory dishes. Today, a variety of ready-to-use vegetarian products has sent Yeatum to the compost bin of culinary history: a Google search turns up nothing, nothing whatever.