Dining Across America in Rail’s Golden Age

Dining Across America in Rail’s Golden Age

An article from history.com written by Stephanie Butler

Long before supersonic jets made it easy to cross the country, train travel was the elegant way to get from place to place in the United States. During the golden age of American trains, their sleek, opulent interiors featured plush seats, porters for your every need and gleaming dining cars. The dining car was the heart of train life, a place for passengers to relax and enjoy a meal in the company of newfound friends. And the food was, by all accounts, delicious. Far from the reheated, packaged meals of today, train chefs prepared food from scratch, from the turtle soup to the spiced nuts.

Dining Across America in Rail’s Golden Age

The earliest days of train travel, however, were anything but posh. Even on longer hauls, in the 1840s passengers were expected to bring their own food aboard or eat at boarding house restaurants along the line. Often these restaurants were located at “water stops,” so called because, in the days of steam locomotion, trains would have to take on water at regular intervals. Isolated water stops were frequent targets of attack by bandits, so it’s no wonder that rail companies quickly adapted to create sanctuaries on the train where passengers could dine in peace.

Dining Across America in Rail’s Golden Age

By the 1870s, the Transcontinental Railroad stretched all the way to California, and with it came a new era of railway dining. The most detailed account of train foods comes from an article in Harper’s Magazine published in 1872 and written by Charles Nordhoff, a prominent journalist of the era. In his travelogue, aptly titled “California: How to Go There, And What to See by the Way,” Nordhoff spoke of train dining in glowing terms: “The cooking is admirable, the service excellent, and the food is various and abundant.” A passenger could dine on broiled muttonchops, breaded veal cutlets and freshly hunted buffalo, washing it all down with a glass of real French champagne.

On board the Nickel Plate Railroad, which stretched over the mid-central United States, diners could choose the meal and budget that fit them best, from a 55-cent special of sliced tomatoes and baked beans to finnan haddie à la Delmonico (a smoked haddock dish) for 90 cents.

Dining Across America in Rail’s Golden Age

Even though the railways led to California, dining cars were nonexistent west of Omaha until the 1890s. (The high-tech cars were too costly to chance on dangerous, isolated Western rails.) The lack of food options for travelers led to one of the most enduring images of America’s railway golden age: the Harvey Girls. These women worked as waitresses in the Harvey Houses, restaurant-inns that dotted the Western landscape for decades. Fred Harvey opened the first branch of his Harvey House in 1878, and from then until the automobile age in the 20th century, passengers could count on delicious, high-quality food served in beautiful surroundings.

Meals as varied as chicken enchiladas, roast goose with apples and apricot Charlotte were served by the Harvey Girls, clad in long black dresses with voluminous white aprons. Fred Harvey insisted that his serving staff be female, attractive, between the ages of 18 and 30, and, most importantly, unmarried. In return, the staff got free room and board, a generous salary and a one-year employment contract. Often the only young women in rough-and-tumble railroad towns, the Girls were a civilizing force in the Wild West.

Campfire Bread / Bålbrød

A recipe for a simple and primitive way to bake bread
on an open fire found on nrk.noheading

Campfire Bread / Bålbrød

000_england_recipe_marker_ny000_norway_recipe_marker_ny

The 1912 Titanic Lemon Tart / Titanic Sitronterte fra 1912

A historic tart recipe found on World Turn’d Upside Down
The 1912 Titanic Lemon Tart / Titanic Sitronterte fra 1912

Stephanie Ann Farra who runs ‘World Turn’d Upside Down‘ writes: The Challenge: “Foods served at notable events in history.

What kind of food was served at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth? What did Benjamin Franklin eat at the Constitutional Convention? Find a food item that was served at a notable event in history, research the recipe, and recreate the dish.”

Stephanie chose the lemon tart served the first class
passangers on Titatic

000_england_recipe_marker_nytraditional badge historic000_norway_recipe_marker_ny

A Short History of Airline Meals

The History of Airline Meals

Through the late 1930s, inflight dining on U.S. airlines often meant free cigarettes and box lunches of cold fried chicken, as the airplane heaved and bounced through the sky. Stewardesses were instructed to act as nurses, administering aspirin and cordials to anxious passengers. But in post-War years as planes grew larger and reached higher altitudes, more comfortable pressurized cabins became the norm and a golden age of airline dining was ushered in.

The History of Airline Meals

A promotional Pan Am video from 1958 showcases white tablecloths and hors d’ouevre trays, boasting that “the travail has been taken out of travel” with gourmet meals “prepared in simultaneously operating galleys, where dishes can be cooked in five-minute ovens.”

The History of Airline Meals

Until 1978, Congress had regulated the airline industry, mandating identical ticket prices for each given route and casting mile-high cuisine as a way for carriers to compete for passengers.

Albright College history professor Guillaume de Syon pinpoints 1973 as a watershed moment for in-flight dining, when French airline UTA recruited chef Raymond Oliver to reevaluate their menus. Acknowledging that dry cabin air dulls the palate and dehydration decreases the effectiveness of taste buds, Oliver prescribed a menu of coq au vin, beef bourguignon and veal in cream sauce—hearty, drenched in thick sauce, and well-suited to reheating.  (Although he didn’t know it then, recent studies show that loud background noise also mutes our perception of flavor.)

The History of Airline Meals

While variations of Oliver’s meat-and-sauce continue to appear on the trays of cabin-trapped passengers around the globe, last April, landlubber diners clamored to pay £50 a head at British Airways’ London pop-up restaurant Flight BA2012. The three-course meals were inspired by the airlines’ 1948 first-class menu.

In the cost-cutting years post-September 11, many airlines migrated to BYOF status. To live vicariously through the plastic trays of air travelers around the world, check out airlinemeals.net.

The History of Airline Meals

From an article by Erica Berry posted on NowhereMagazine

In context:

The world’s worst airline meals
The 10 most regrettable airline meals ever
Five myths about airline food
The best airline meals, according to an in-flight food addict
Wikipedia: Airline meal

Titanic Lunch Menu Expected To Make £100,000 At Auction

A menu for the last lunch served on board the stricken Titanic is expected to fetch up to £100,000 when it goes under the hammer.

titanics last lunch_thumb[2]

A menu, dated April 14 1912, shows the luxury food offered up to first-class passengers on the last day on board the ship.

Over several courses, and with 40 options on offer, the cream of Edwardian society were served a choice of such dishes as eggs Argenteuil, consomme fermier, chicken a la Maryland, galantine of chicken or grilled mutton chops.

The menu was on the table of first-class passenger Dr Washington Dodge, a prominent banker from San Francisco, who was travelling to America with his wife, Ruth, and son, Washington Junior. Dodge slipped the menu into her handbag before carrying on with her day – unaware of what was to come.

Dodge and her son survived the tragedy after being ushered on to a lifeboat and the menu, which had remained in her bag, has stayed with the family ever since.

The sale was held by Henry Aldridge & Son – the world’s leading auctioneers of Titanic memorabilia – to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Royal Mail Steamer Titanic on March 31.

From an article published in The Huffington Post on February 21 2012

When Eating on a Plane was Proper and Civil

Pan American World Airways under the leadership of the visionary Juan Trippe with the financial backing of the powerful Vanderbilt and Harriman families launched flying boat service in 1931 using Sikorsky aircraft to South America.  Clipper service was a new era in commercial flight.

Throughout the 1930s PanAm expanded its flying boats across the Atlantic and the Pacific using newer Sikorsky airplanes with great success.  PanAm marketed its international routes under the name Clipper Service.  Flying Clippers quickly became synonymous in the 30s with safety, speed, and superb service.

The culmination of PanAm’s Clipper services came with the Boeing B-314 flying boat, which debuted in 1939.  Here is an advertisement from that era:

clipper service_01

Airlines had not yet dispensed with civilized dining in 1939.  One could sit at a proper table for meals and converse with other travelers.  A crew of 10 catered to the every need of the pampered 74 passengers on 314 Clipper flights.

clipper service_02
Meals from the onboard galley were reputed to be
as fine as any five star hotel.

Pan Am “Clippers” were built for “one-class luxury air travel,” a virtue of necessity for those long trips across the Pacific or the Atlantic. The chairs could be converted into 36 bunks for the night flight. With a cruising speed of 300 km/h a typical trip lasted for over 12 hours.

Clipper 314 had a living room and an area where food was served. It had seperate dressing rooms for men and women and stewards in white jackets served five or six course meals on china with shiny silver tableware.

It was a luxury standard that has not been higher since. It was a way to travel just for the super-rich. With a fare of $ 675 from New York to Southampton, it can only be compared to trvelling on a Concorde in 2006. Most of the flight was over the Pacific Ocean with a one-way fare from San Francisco to Hong Kong with stopovers on Pacific islands at $ 760 (or $ 1,368 trip /return).

Dirigible Dining: Food on the Hindenburg

hindenburg_01
Lounge aboard the Hindenburg

Over the past 70 years, the name “Hindenburg” has become synonymous with disaster. Footage of the fiery end of the great hindenburg_05German airship over a field in New Jersey still fascinates modern viewers, and theories as to why the zeppelin caught fire are debated even today. But the Hindenburg completed 14 months of transatlantic service by May 1937, and carried hundreds of passengers in comfort and style.

Cooking aboard the Hindenburg presented a unique set of challenges. Of course, when dealing with an enormous balloon full of highly flammable gas, open flames were strictly forbidden. The galley of the ship was fully electric, from stoves to ovens. A head chef had a team of five assistants to help with all the duties of serving three meals a day to a hungry crew of 60 along with the 40 or so passengers.

Roughly 440 pounds of meat and poultry were brought aboard, along with 800 eggs and 40 gallons of milk, among other supplies. Even though the average Zeppelin voyage hindenburg_07only lasted three days, extra food was carried, in case of delays due to storms or other dangerous weather conditions.

No breakfast menus exist for the Hindenburg trips, as voyagers dined on the now-ubiquitous “Continental” style breakfasts—a spread of pastries, eggs, meats and fruits. As both German and American passengers flew on the ship, breakfast eggs could be prepared in two ways: soft-boiled in the shell for Germans, scrambled or fried for the Americans. Bread was baked freshly every day.

Lunch and dinner had proper menus, so we know exactly what the passengers ate. Travelers on the airship were well-heeled, well-traveled individuals, often sports hindenburg_06or film stars or leaders in the increasingly powerful Nazi government. As such, they dined on a glamorous mix of French, German and English cuisine. Lunch was always a first course of soup or salad (different types of consommé were especially popular), followed by some kind of roast meat with a couple of vegetable sides, a tart or cake and coffee. On the ill-fated last day of the final trip, lunch was English style roast beef with turnips, stuffed tomatoes and roast potatoes, with a French-style rice pudding for dessert.

hindenburg_02
The dining room

Dinner was more elaborate, with separate fish and cheese courses added to the proceedings. Halibut with mousseline sauce and roast capon were on the menu for the final dinner, along with traditional German pumpernickel and rye breads. The Hindenburg had its own wine cellar, full of bottles of German Rieslings and Mozelles.

hindenburg_03
The smoking parlor

And for after dinner drinks, the ship featured a fully stocked, elaborately decorated bar, directly next to the most popular room on the ship: the smoking parlor. How did they get away with a smoking section on a hydrogen ship, you might ask? The room had a double door airlock, and was kept pressurized at a higher level than the rest of the ship to keep flammable hydrogen from entering the room.

The bartender’s main job wasn’t just pouring cocktails – he was also the first line of defense for the ship in case any tipsy passengers wandered in with flaming cigarettes!

hindenburg_04
In the end it didn’t help much.

Text from history.com

18th Century Ship’s Bisket / 1800talls Skipskjeks

Authentic ships bisket recipe found on savouringthepast.net
18th century ships bisket_post

000_recipe_eng000_recipe_nor

Jas Townsend who runs savouringthepast.net writes: This Ship’s Bisket is known by many names. Most of the time it was called just bisket, sometimes it was called hard bisket or brown bisket, sea bisket and ship’s bread. Now many today might want to call it hard tack, but hard tack is really a 19th century term that was popularized during the American civil war.

These 18th century biskets are not like today’s buttery flaky version that we serve along with sausage gravy for breakfast. These biskets were not made to be enjoyed; they were made out of necessity.

sailors eating

Ship’s captains faced a continual challenge of having enough food on board to feed a large crew for a long journey. Food spoilage was really his greatest concern. Fresh bread rapidly became moldy on long trips and stored flour would go rancid and bug ridden, so hard bisket was really born out of necessity.

It was a means of food preservation. If it was prepared and stored properly it would last for a year or more. In addition to preservation, the bisket form also helped in portability and in dividing the rations when it came time. Soldiers and sailors typically got one pound of bread a day and biskets were usually about four ounces so when it came time to distribute them, each sailor or soldier would get four biskets.

Biskets from London were considered to be the highest quality. They were the most resistant to mold and insects. They were really the standard by which all the other bisket maker’s aspired to, but not all biskets were the same quality.

Food History – Titanic’s Passengers’ Last Supper

Titanic Sinking

RMS Titanic sank on the 14th April 1912 only four days into her maiden voyage. 1517 lives were lost. 100 + years on and we are still curious, not to just how such an appalling accident could have happened but also what was life aboard the ship like, and particularly, what did they eat?

Titanic Sinking 2

There were three classes of travel aboard, First, Second and Third class, also known as Steerage. The cost of travelling varied hugely with a 1st Class ticket around £800, 2nd, just over £100 and 3rd, a lowly £30.

It is no wonder therefore that standards were so varied. Each class had their accommodation and style of food and service with first and second class food prepared in the same galley situated on D deck.

With 2229 passengers and crew on board when the ship set sail and with menus of such varying styles of food, the provisions needed for the voyage was enormous; thousands of pounds of meat, vegetables, fruit and flour; thousands of bottles of alcohol and 14,000 gallons of freshwater were drunk each day.

Despite the Titanic being a British ship foods served in first class had more of a continental flavour as was the fashion for food at the time. In second and steerage foods would have been less pretentious and more like the simple British and Irish food.

Titanic galley
1st Class Pantry & Galley

First Class Menus on the Titanic

Passengers in First Class were by far the best fed. They had paid handsomely for this privilege with their ticket costing eight times more than Second and over 25 times more than Third. As was the fashion in upper-class circles in Victorian times, the food was predominantly French in style, but some of the great British stalwarts like Roast Sirloin Beef still held their own on the menu.

Second Class Menus on the Titanic

Food was closer to home in second class. French rarely appeared with the preference for traditional British food. Curried Chicken, Baked Fish, Spring Lamb, Mutton and Roast Turkey.

Pudding was also more homely and on the night the Titanic sank, the doomed second class passengers actually tucked into Plum Pudding, what we now know as Christmas Pudding.

Third Class Menus on the Titanic

It should be noted that food served to passengers in third class was simply scaled down versions of second class, passengers in steerage had little to complain about as for many this food was better than they had been used to.

titanic diningroom 1
The first class dining room

RMS Titanic – First Class Dinner Menu April 14, 1912

Hors D’oeuvre
Oysters – Consomme Olga – Cream of Barley
Salmon, Mousseline Sauce, Cucumber

Main Courses and Vegetables
Filet Mignons Lili
Saute of Chicken, Lyonnaise
Vegetable Marrow Farcie
Lamb, Mint Sauce
Roast Duckling, Apple Sauce
Sirloin of Beef, Chateau Potatoes
Green Peas – Creamed Carrots – Boiled Rice
Parmentier or Boiled New Potatoes
Punch Romaine
Roast Squab and Cress
Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette
Pate De Foie Gras
Celery

Pudding
Waldorf Pudding
Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly
Chocolate Vanilla Eclairs
French Ice Cream

titanic diningroom 2
The second class dining room

RMS Titanic – Second Class Dinner Menu April 14, 1912

First course
Consommé with tapioca

Second course
Baked haddock with sharp sauce
curried chicken and rice
spring lamb with mint sauce
roast turkey with savory cranberry sauce
green peas – puree turnips
boiled rice – boiled and roast potatoes

Third course (desserts)
Plum pudding
wine jelly
coconut sandwich
American Ice Cream
nuts
assorted fresh fruit
cheese – biscuits

3rdclassTitanic3
The third class dining room

RMS Titanic – Third Class Dinner Menu April 14, 1912

Dinner
Rabbit pie – baked potatoes
bread and butter – rhubarb and ginger jam
Swedish bread
tea

text from: britishfood.about.com