new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Primeval Train Menus

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Primeval Train Menus

Menus From Primeval Trains

I love old menus. People back in the day ate many curious things: potted meat, lettuce-bowls, salads composed of Miracle Whip and canned fruit, things preservered in aspic, and on and on and on.

These particular old menus come from the Sacramento History website. They are from the old train lines that used to go up and down California, all the way to Chicago and New York City if you really felt like it. Since there was no such thing as first class air, the rich traveled in style in luxury dining and sleeping cars, watching the prairie roll by as they enjoyed oysters and, well, stuff in aspic.

You can still get food on California trains but it consists of microwave heated faux hamburgers and granola bars. We are falling, we are falling, we have fallen.

Click the button for the whole menu.

Mmm, cold ox tongue with potato salad. I can sort of imagine that that was a culinary delicacy back in the dark ages, the sort of thing one yearned for when feeling depressed, but I don't entirely buy it. I see parents threatening their acting up children on long train trips: "You keep on squealing like that and all you're going to eat til' we get to Chicago is COLD OX TONGUE WITH POTATO SALAD. YOU WILL GET NOTHING ELSE."

I bet they shut up immediately.

Click the button.

Guests will Please not Serve Verbal Orders? I wonder how THAT policy came about. Did a lot of men with curly mustaches and really ugly canes bark, "GET THEE OVER HERE THWAITE FOR I AM DESIRING SOME ASPARAGUS ON TOAST WITH DRAWN BUTTER?" Did these self-same waiters, in their stupid outfits with spats on them, honest to God spats - did one of them finally snap one day and shove the fine gentleman out on the prairie to consort with buffalo? I really wish I knew the whole story.


No one should be allowed to like lettuce that much, absolutely no one no way no how. I think they criminalized that kind of lettuce love in at least five or ten of the Southern states. Now I understand why.

And what were these lettuce whores eating? Looks like a pretty tasty spread to me, though I really really wonder how the heck they kept those oysters nice and fresh on a long train journey. This menu actually wouldn't be out of place at some keep-it-simple-stupid type restaurants that are out there today. Although insofar as I know no one serves grilled lamb chops on TOAST anymore, but that sound eminently palatable and it should be brought back immediately.

What is a cottage fried potato? Anyone?

And now we come to dinner time. Broiled jumbo squab with fried wild rice and guava jelly? I think I've seen that actual dish on the menu of about twelve hoity-toity San Francisco epicurean palaces. Everything Old is New Again?

Note the LETTUCE BOWL. The lettuce man would like you to order the LETTUCE BOWL. Otherwise he will creep into your sleeping car and draw aside the curtain and grin at you while you sleep, and your dreams will turn dark and dismal.

Just so you know.

Happy Meals of ye olden days? Better believe it. Those children we spy sitting at the table do not look so happy themselves, but at least they aren't eating cold beef tongue with potato salad. Perk up, whelps.

I love the super retro art on the side. I suspect this must be from the 40's and 50's, when every red blooded American child wanted to be a cowboy - fighting off Indians, battling desperadoes, contracting syphilis from the Hangtown hooker with the lazy eye, you know the score.

Nothing to snark on here, really. The food looks simple, fresh, and tasty - a real step up from the microwaved, mushy, watery junk you get on the road today. Of course, we complain about food en route constantly, but the reason it got so bad was a simple matter of numbers: more people now have the means to travel around the country, and travel isn't the luxury it used to be. The easy solution to this is for everyone to stay home but me.

The Feather River Route still runs today, connecting Oakland and Salt Lake City. Begun in 1906 and completed in 1909, the route traverses the Sierra Nevada and the deserts of Nevada and Utah. It is apparently incredibly scenic, but passenger trains don't use the FRR anymore - the only way for a mere mortal to experience it is to hop a freight train like a hobo. Can't do it in style like you used to be able to.

Budweiser, Aspirin, and imported cigars. Yeah, they got you covered if your old lady keeps on bitchin' about how irritating your twenty five dozen cousins and relations in Utah are and how she totally swears your second cousin Vinnie is carryin' on a plural marriage with those women from the canyon, and you just can't listen to another word of it, another word or you will just yak up your beef tongue. Yes, the management understood you, Sir, they really did.

I bet it was very pleasant to eat a nice breakfast like this with the sun coming up over the Sierra Nevada. A pleasure denied us today, tragically, but we can read the menu and pretend. The only objectonal things here: jelly omlet (eggs and fruit, by jove, no) and the mysterious item that is the Kaffee Hag. I would like to believe that the Kaffe Hag is actually an ancient and pustulent German woman who shuffles around the train muttering obscenities to herself while pouring the morning Joe, but I doubt that was actually the case. But would have been funny.

All for now. I think I will find more of these because they are amusing. I long for the past sometimes, and I wonder how the food tasted.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I laughed and almost yakked up my beef tongue.