Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dining by rail

The shelf labeled “Dining on the Train” is always a big draw for browsers at the Northwest Railway Museum's Depot Bookstore in Snoqualmie, WA. With a couple of recent additions, the selection has broadened, ranging from serious biography to cookbooks, and from the East Coast to the West.

The biography is the newly published Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West by Stephen Fried. Fred Harvey created the best-known food service operation in America, encompassing restaurants, hotels and dining cars on the Santa Fe Railway from Chicago to the West Coast. Fried details Harvey’s creation of “the first national chain” – a chain that, unlike modern-day chain stores and restaurants, was known for raising, rather than lowering, quality standards when it arrived in a new town.

The Fred Harvey phenomenon has inspired more than one book (not to mention a Judy Garland musical). The Depot Bookstore also offers the popular Harvey House Cookbook: Memories of Dining Along the Santa Fe Railroad by George H. Foster and Peter C. Weiglin, which combines history with recipes from various Harvey venues. Then there’s When Molly Was a Harvey Girl by Frances M. Wood, a novel about the adventures of a teenage (13 pretending to be 18) Harvey House waitress in New Mexico, written by the great-granddaughter of a Harvey girl.

Moving on from the Santa Fe, the latest addition to the dining shelf is Dining on the B&O by Thomas J. Greco and Karl D. Spence, a handsome volume of recipes and menu reproductions from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad published in association with the famed B&O Railroad Museum. And from the other side of the continent, the bookstore has Dinner Is Served: Fine Dining Aboard the Southern Pacific by Jim A. Loveland, a former public relations manager for the SP.

Two items in the store offer looks at a variety of railroad dining experiences: Dining Cars and Depots: Train Food in America by Patricia B. Mitchell, with recipes from regional carriers such as the Georgia Southern and the Missouri Pacific; and the Great Recipes From Great Trains notepad, with two dozen recipes from the likes of the Twentieth Century Limited and the Super Chief.

Finally, Dining Car to the Pacific: The “Famously Good” Food of the Northern Pacific Railway by William A. McKenzie, tells the story of dining service on the Snoqualmie depot’s own railway, and concludes with more than 150 recipes. Written by a former public relations manager for the NP, it includes photos of the line’s dairy and poultry farms in Kent, and its Seattle commissary. The latter, when constructed in 1914, featured a 40-foot representation of the NP’s famous “Great Big Baked Potato” on the roof, complete with a glowing cube of butter and a spoon.

The recipe for those famous potatoes is included, but if you’re going to try one, bring your appetite – and your patience. They took two hours to cook, and ran up to two pounds each!

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