Sunday, October 26, 2008

Menu for railroad event

The crew of the El Dorado Western Railway gathered at the engine house yesterday to pull the Diamond and Caldor No. 4 locomotive out onto the tail track. The occasion was the third annual Home and Garden Show at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds.

As with last year, I used the occasion as an opportunity to cook for the volunteers. Since the engine house and machine shop (located at the El Dorado County Historical Museum) doesn't have a kitchen, I hauled my outdoor cooking gear to the site and set up a kitchen on the tailgate of my truck.

I used the two-burner Outdoor Cooker stove (manufactured by Camp Chef's former owner) and three Dutch ovens to cook the following menu:
C&O recipe collection

Inspiration for this menu came from a dining car recipe collection that I picked up two years ago at the California State Railroad Museum. Chesapeake and Ohio Dining Car Recipes (compiled by E. Stirling "Tod" Hanger, Jr., Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Society, 1995) re-prints all 170 post-World War II recipes for the railroad. (The recipes are called formulas in the book.)

The East Coast line used these recipes for a brief period in the years following the war. Commissary department managers enlisted noted chef Michael L. DeZutter to help the railroad upgrade culinary service from wartime service. During the war, the cooks set the "finest 'hotel style' foods and service" aside to convert their dining cars into a "mess hall on wheels," according to Hanger.

Prior to development of DeZutter's recipe collection, the railroad didn't specify how to cook each item on the menu. It instead relied on the senior cooks to mentor trainees. On-the-job training took the place of organized classroom training.

These cooks, many with more than 25 years of service to the railroad, handed "down the traditions, recipes and methods to the 'youngsters' as they joined the team," said Hanger.

DeZutter's task was to "ensure consistent food preparation, style and service" to the post-war passenger. In addition to a training program, he developed the recipe collection, which was given to each chef in a three-ring binder. This is the only recipe book published by the railroad.

Last year's menu also came the C&O book, as well as two other railroad dining car books. The menu featured old fashion navy bean soup (Denver and Rio Grand Western Railroad and Chesapeake and Ohio Railway), cole slaw (Missouri Pacific Lines) and toasted hot Mexican sandwich (Santa Fe Lines).

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