Railroad Dining

Picture your dinner on-board the 20th Century Limited in 1955

·       Shrimp cocktail
·       Tomato slices on romaine lettuce
·       Roast prime rib, broccoli, roasted potatoes
·       Strawberry shortcake
·       Choice of beverage

Unfortunately, most of us never experienced train travel during the Golden Age of railroading as our parents did.  Decades before Amtrak, trains named Empire Builder, Super Chief, and City of Los Angeles crisscrossed the country transporting travelers to countless destinations.

Unlike the airlines of today where destinations are reached within hours of departure, traveling by train took time.  Still does.  Time to enjoy the book tucked into your suitcase or the local newspaper.  Time to enjoy the ever-changing scenery outside your window.  

Unhurried, passengers could savor sumptuous cuisine on china proudly sporting the railroad’s herald.  In 1955 for example, Union Pacific passengers received breakfast (fruit or juice or cereal - ham or bacon & eggs, toast, preserves or jelly. beverage), lunch (soup, entree, potatoes and vegetable, salad, bread and butter, beverage and dessert), and dinner (same choices as lunch) all for $5.25.

Prepared with the utmost care and served with complete passenger satisfaction in mind, Class 1 railroads took great pride in their culinary offerings as shown in the following passage taken from Union Pacific’s Manual of Recipes and Service Instructions.

“Food preparation is indeed an art.  While we generally refer to the preparation of food as "cooking", there is a distinct difference.  Most anyone can "cook", i.e., transform raw foods into an edible state by the application of heat and moisture.  However, to properly prepare foods to the highest degree of perfection, requires knowledge of the many phases of preparation, such as the right ingredients in the desired dish, mixing of ingredients, seasoning, temperatures at which the foods should be cooked, length of time to cook, garnishing and many others.  In fact, food preparation not only requires knowledge, but patience as well.”

Given the slightest opportunity, we’ll ride anything on rails or drive hours out of our way to visit an obscure museum.  We’ll build exquisitely detailed model railroads or spend hours assembling jigsaw puzzles of favorite trains.  However, one area we typically don’t replicate is the food once served on Class 1 railroads during the Golden Age.  This post (and more like it in coming months) aims to rectify that oversight with simple recipes taken directly from railroad dining car archives.   

Included in “Our Dining Car Recipes” Southern Pacific published the following three recipes in 1955.

Macaroni Meat Loaf
Serves 6
1 package macaroni                             1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoonful chopped parsley       ½ chopped green pepper
1 cup bread crumbs                             1 cup milk
1 tablespoon grated onions                1 cup ground meat
3 eggs

Cook macaroni until tender and drain.  Combine with remaining ingredients.  Pour into a buttered loaf pan.  Bake at 325º for 30 to 45 minutes.  Serve with tomato sauce.

Clam Chowder
Serves 4
½ cup minced onions                          4 tablespoons butter
½ cup white part of leek                      1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ cup green peppers                           2 cups little neck clams
½ cup shredded celery                        2 cups water
½ cup canned tomatoes                      1 cup uncooked cubed potatoes
Salt, white pepper, nutmeg                  Chopped parsley for garnish

In medium sauce pan, braise onions, leaks, peppers and celery in butter.  Gradually add flour.  Stir carefully until absorbed.  Add tomatoes, clam broth, and water.  When about two-thirds done add potatoes.  Finish over low heat.  Put clams in last.  Heat thoroughly, and season to taste.  Garnish with chopped parsley when serving.

Halibut, Baked in Parchment
Serves 4
2 lbs. halibut                                        2 branches celery, cut fine
4 slices bacon                                     1 small finely chopped onion
4 mushrooms, sliced                          2 ounces butler
1 cup blanched shrimp, peeled,        1 cup fresh bread crumbs
cleaned, de-veined                   1 sprig chopped parsley
1 beaten egg                                        Salad oil
Pinch thyme, white pepper, salt        Juice of 1 lemon
Parchment paper

Remove bones and skin from halibut, cut into portion pieces, salt and season, and sprinkle with lemon juice.  Cut round pieces of parchment paper, dimensions of a soup plate, and moisten with salad oil.  Sauté onion and celery in one ounce of butter.  Add bread crumbs, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper.  Bind with egg.  Put spoonful of dressing on paper, place piece of fish on same and garnish with shrimps, mushrooms, bacon and a piece of butter.  Fold paper over fish to make edges meet and tum with finger inward, lapping over a small portion at the time, crimping it to tightly closed.  Bake 25 minutes at 350ºF.  Make incision in paper when serving.

Have some fun in the kitchen !!