Sunday, December 02, 2012

Potluck and presentation

Each December, the El Dorado Western Railway Foundation hosts its annual meeting and Christmas potluck at a local historic venue. This is year we used the recreated Southern Pacific depot in the historic town of El Dorado. Around 45 railroad volunteers and their families packed into the station. This was the largest crowd we've had in memory.

I've often used to potluck to feature new dishes. This year my wife and I brought a Mexican casserole with black beans in a 9 by 13-inch roasting pan. I adapted the recipe from the Deer Crossing Wilderness Camp kitchen manual, where it was served every other week at dinner.

I had two jobs this year, so to speak. As the cook in the family, the task of preparing the casserole fell to me this morning. My other job, assigned by the president of the foundation, was to present a talk on rail passenger service on the Placerville Branch rail line of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

After the annual meeting (and before the meal), I presented a mix of historic photographs and newspaper reports on passenger service, which ran from March 1888 to January 1939. One of the two daily trains was provided by a McKeen motor car.

The meeting and potluck were a success. The volunteers enjoyed my presentation. And the dish was nearly cleaned.


Leave the beef-bean-corn mixture a little on the dry side. You do not want a moist or sloppy sauce. The recipe is a favorite of Deer Crossing Camp in Eldorado National Forest, California. A double recipe fits in a 12x20x4-inch hotel pan and serves 24.

2 pounds ground beef
1-1/ ounces taco seasoning
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
frozen whole kernel corn
1-1/2 cups salsa
1 (10-ounce) package corn chips
8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
8 ounces jack cheese, shredded

Saute ground beef in heavy skillet over medium heat until done. Drain excess off fat. Stir in taco seasoning, beans, corn and salsa. Simmer 10 minutes to develop flavor.

Line greased 9x13x3-inch pan with half of the corn chips. Spoon beef mixture over tortilla or corn chips. Top pan with half of each cheese. Top pan with remaining half of the corn chips.

Bake in 350-degree oven, until casserole is bubbling around edges, about 20 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle remaining cheeses over chips. Return to oven and continue baking until cheese has melted.

Cool 15 minutes, then cut 3 by 4. Serve an equal portion of the filling with cheesy chip layer. Serves 12.


  1. I wonder how it was to cook on those old rail cars? I suppose it had to be steam or wood fire stoves.

  2. We have a coal burning stove on our 1940 Southern Pacific caboose (No. 1094). One of our conductors (a man in his 70s) used to cook breakfast for the train crew on this caboose when he was assigned to it in the early 60s. I need to interview Davey. I'm looking forward to the day when I can cook in it!