I’m a coffee drinker, as were many of the folks who settled the west. Pioneers, cowboys, ranchers, farmers, miners and townsfolk all loved coffee, but the process of making it wasn’t as simple as it is today. Green beans were roasted in a skillet over a fire, then put into a cloth bag and crushed with a heavy object. The grounds were dropped into a pot of water and boiled. The roasting beans had to be tended to carefully, because if one bean burnt, the flavor of it ruined the entire batch. Home roasted coffee could be quite foul if the roasting process went amiss.
Before the Civil War, real coffee was expensive, so many people drank mock coffee made of rye, okra seeds, parched corn or bran. (Parched corn is dried corn roasted over a fire.) In the mid-1860s, Jabez Burns developed a commercial coffee roaster about the same time that affordable paper bags became available. A man named John Arbuckle developed a special glazing process using egg and sugar to preserve the flavor of the beans, and then bought the rights to a patented packaging system and began selling roasted coffee beans in one-pound paper bags. By 1881, his company was operating 85 coffee roasters. His coffee was billed as the “coffee that won the west”.
Now back to cowboy coffee. While on the trail, cowboys had to stay alert during bad weather and hard times and coffee helped them do that. It also kept their insides warm and helped wash down meals. A camp cook usually kept several pots of coffee going at once, and it wasn’t uncommon to leave the old grounds in the pot and simply add new. One camp cook wrote that he used about 175 pounds of beans a month.
There are several ways to make cowboy coffee, but they all involve putting the grounds directly into the water. Some people advocate bringing the water to a boil, then throwing the grounds in (a 1 to 8 ratio — 1/8 cup coffee per cup of water). Others (including me) put the grounds in the water and bring the coffee to a full boil. Regardless of when you add the coffee, the next step in to settle the grounds. To do that, you either pour cold water through the spout, or add crushed eggshells. (I’m a water gal.) If this is done correctly, there should be very few grounds in your cup when you finish drinking.
And then there’s always this recipe from Western Words: A Dictionary of Range, Cow Camp and Trail that you might consider trying: “Take two pounds of Arbuckle’s coffee, put in enough water to wet it down, boil it for two hours, then throw in a hoss shoe. If the hoss shoe sinks, she ain’t ready.”
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think you should know that the classic candy that has been a constant since 1847, is about to go the way of phone booths. Yes, that’s right. The company that makes Necco Wafers has announced that, unless it finds a buyer, it will close its doors forever in May.
Do you know what that means? Future generations will never know what drywall tastes like.
Originally called hub wafers, the coin-shaped candies were carried by soldiers during the Civil War and World War II. Since the candy traveled well and never melted or spoiled, soldiers and yes, even cowboys, could carry them with confidence.
These candies traveled as far as the North Pole, and that’s not all. Admiral Byrd took two tons of the things with him to the Antarctica. Even more impressive; Necco Wafers was the first candy to multi-task. They served as wafers during communion and were tossed in baskets for payment at toll booths.
Sad to say, Necco isn’t the only old company at risk. In recent years, we’ve seen the demise of the Sears Wish book and five and dime stores. Who knows what will be next?
I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but I shudder to think that Baker’s chocolate—a friend to cooks since 1780—might someday be declared unfit for human consumption. Don’t laugh. It happened to wheat, eggs and red meat. Who’s to say the same thing won’t happen to chocolate?
Never mind that cowboys and civil war soldiers enjoyed morning cups of Baker’s hot chocolate with no known problems. Cast-iron stomachs of the past have no place in today’s world.
It’s not just food and drink that’s in danger. The next company that could bite the dust could very well be Remington, established in 1818. It’s hard to believe that the company that produced the “rifle that won the west” might one day close its doors. But firearms aren’t all that popular these days. Nor for that matter are typewriters. So who knows?
And what about Brooks Brothers, another formidable company founded in 1818? The company made the first ready-to-wear suits in 1849. Those flocking to California that year for the gold rush couldn’t wait for tailors to outfit them. For that reason, forty-niners depended on Brooks Brothers for their clothing needs. So did Abe Lincoln, Eisenhower and J.F. Kennedy.
Anything made of paper is about to become obsolete, including maps, shopping bags and checks. Here in California, the war on drinking straws is heating up. If that’s not enough, many of the nation’s newspapers have vanished in recent years. That means that old standbys like The New York Times (founded in 1851 as the New York Daily Times) could one day shut down their presses forever.
I also worry about Merriam-Webster, founded in 1831. If it goes the way of encyclopedia salesmen, I will have to share the blame. I can’t remember the last time I actually looked something up in an honest-to-goodness, print dictionary, can you?
Nothing is safe in today’s fast-paced world as proven by Kodak. Who would have thought that a company that we all knew and loved would close its dark-room doors forever and stop making cameras?
Founded in 1889, Kodak was the absolute leader in photography. It’s still in business making mobile devices, but its past glory is gone. Phone cameras have taken its place, but it’s not the same. An iPhone second just doesn’t have the same ring as a Kodak moment.
So, what old-time product do you or would you miss? What were you glad to see go?
It’s a scary world and about to become a lot scarier.
Not only are we faced with the prospect of driverless cars and mirrors designed to voice unabashed opinions of our wardrobes, I recently realized that my “smart” doorbell has a higher IQ than I do.
Cowboys and cowgirls of the future?
Now scientists are closing in on giving us animal-free meat. What that means is that our steaks will soon be grown in labs, not on cattle ranches. Cowboys of the future will wear white coats instead of denims and Stetsons—and they sure won’t be riding horses.
It’s not hard to understand what’s driving this new technology. Some believe that cattle and the methane gas they produce is the number one cause of global warming. There are also financial considerations; It’s estimated that the cells from a single live cow will produce 175 million quarter pounders! That’s about what McDonald’s sells in nine months.
I’m currently working on a book set on a Texas cattle ranch in 1800s and I can’t help but wonder what my hero would think about all of this. No doubt he would be appalled and regard the so-called “clean meat” as a threat to his very existence. But he also knows what it’s like to fight a losing battle. In the book, his ever-ready Colt stops rustlers, horse thieves and “belled snakes,” but is useless in the face of progress.
Only time will tell if the National Cattleman’s Association will be successful in convincing consumers to demand the “real thing” in their hamburgers. Or if it, too, will go the way of cattle drives.
Of course, not everyone agrees on what the “real thing” is. Some aficionados insist that none other than grass-fed cattle fit the bill, but that can be a hard sell.
Grass-fed cattle taste different than cattle fed on corn and soy. It has less fat, which means it’s healthier, but the taste doesn’t always suit modern palates and can take some getting used to.
Then there’s the difference in texture. Grass-fed cattle move around more than cattle in feedlots and therefore have more muscle. This makes the meat “chewier.” Those rugged cowboys of yesteryear might have relished a chewy steak while sitting around a campfire, but today most people prefer the tender, melt-in-your mouth taste of prime grain-fed beef.
Feed, muscle and fat aren’t the only things that affect taste. The way meat is handled during shipping, aging and preparation makes a difference, too. Barbecued steak doesn’t have the same flavor as meat cooked on an open campfire. So even if you purchase grass-fed beef today, it still won’t taste the same as it did during those old chuck-wagon days.
Who knows? Maybe future generations will prefer the taste of lab-grown meat, which some describe as “crunchy.” There’s no stopping progress, but neither can we stop changing tastes.
So what changes or new tech do you like or dislike?
I’m so pleased to be the first Filly to kick off 2018! I hope each of you had a great holiday and the coming year will be even better.
Yesterday, as I wrote my blog for today, I began to think…”What in heck am I going to do with the leftovers from the holiday? Be it candy and goodies, that I sure don’t need, to great food like ham and turkey with all the fixin’s.” It made me wonder what and how the holiday season was celebrated during the 1800’s. So, I pitched what I had planned to write and began checking
out the idea. I’m thrilled to share with you some thought provoking ideas.
What kind of beverage who the pioneers drink to welcome in the New Year?
Champagne: used throughout the 1800’s
Ale cocktail: a mixed drink comprised of ale, ginger, and pepper beginning in 1838;
Apple brandy a/k/a Apple Jack: a liquor distilled from apple cider;
Brandy sour: brandy, lime or lemon juice and carbonated water, from the 1860’s;
Brandy toddy: brandy mixed with hot water and sugar;
Cocktail: got its name by 1806 for any mixed alcoholic drink;
Martini: comprised of gin and vermouth also briefly known as a Martinez; and
Syllabub: a drink I’d never heard of. It’s similar to eggnog, but made with white wine, brandy, sugar, and whipped cream. It was traditionally served at Christmas early in the century, especially in Charleston.
Tea: The first Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, or A&P, opened in 1859 on Vesey Street in NYC. Its rows of tea bins contained teas from around the world. By 1880, there were 95 A&P stores from Boston to Milwaukee.
Coffee: Although tea was the preferred beverage until the Civil War, coffee was lightened with Borden condensed milk as early as the 1860’s. Yes, you read that correct, the condensed milk we use today. Chase and Sanborn coffee was sold in sealed cans around 1878. Maxwell canned coffee followed the following year.
Now, what would the kids enjoy, in the way of candy?
Pretty much the same as today…peanut brittle, fudge, pralines and popcorn balls. After the mind 1800’s, gumdrops and jujube paste became available. Penny candy came in later. Chocolate was available throughout the century; with milk chocolate being invented later.
Christmas dinner was just about the same as today, depending on the part of the country you came from and your wealth. Turkey, chestnut dressing, roasted pig, celery, hot rolls, cranberry sauce and potatoes. Desserts ran today’s gamut…mincemeat pie, pumpkin pie, and one of my favorites being a Texas girl with a Southern mother, sweet potato pie. We enjoyed mincemeat because of my Ohio born and raised Daddy.
One of my favorite items, which I’ve never tried, is beaten biscuits. Eaten in the South for breakfast prior to the Civil War, the name was derived from the dough, which had to be repeatedly pounded with a hammer or mallet to knead it.
In my story No Time for Love in the anthology Give Me a Cowboy, which was my first published work with Kensington, with fellow Filly Linda Broday, Jodi Thomas, and the late DeWanna Pace, I used this for a scene. Here is the back blurb: “Newspaperman Quinten Corbett wasn’t expecting his new apprentice to be female. Boston-born Kaire Renaulde is far too refined for a rough-and-tumble frontier town—and far too pretty for his peace of mind….’ It was fun to write and I hope you enjoyed if you’ve read the story.
I could write the rest of the day on interesting foods for the holiday in the 1800’s, but I think I’ll leave you to ponder over what I’ve tossed your way. After all, I have eggnog left over and is waiting for me before an open fire, while my darlin’ hubby watches football.
In my neck of the woods, the Texas Panhandle, we celebrate New Year’s Day with a larrupin’ serving of black-eyed peas and cornbread. When I was growing up, we also had corned beef and cabbage. Now, I confess that Mama won out. Daddy, being from the North, said black-eyed peas were thrown to the hogs, but I guess to keep peace she added mincemeat pie to the holiday menu. Such wonderful memories.
Is there any special meal you serve for New Year’s Eve or Day?
To two readers who leave a comment, I will be giving away their an autographed copy of Give Me a Texan or if you already have read it, I’ll offer an eBook of your choice.
Have you ever noticed that some of those old family recipes never taste as good as you remember from your childhood? Those early cooks didn’t waste a thing, as anyone who inherited a recipe for giblet pie will attest. I also have a recipe that calls for one quart of nice buttermilk. As soon as I find buttermilk that meets that criteria, I’ll try it.
I especially like the old-time recipes for sourdough biscuits. Here’s a recipe from The Oregon Trail Cookbook:
“Mix one-half cup sourdough starter with one cup milk. Cover and set it in the wagon near the baby to keep warm … pinch off pieces of dough the size of the baby’s hand.”
Early cooks didn’t have the accurate measuring devices we have today and had to make do with what was handy—even if it was the baby.
If you’re in the mood to drag out an old family recipe this Thanksgiving, here are some weights and measures used by pioneer cooks that might help:
Pound of eggs=8 to 9 large eggs, 10-12 smaller ones
Butter the size of an egg=1/4 cup
Butter the size of a walnut=2 Tablespoons
Scruple= (an apothecary weight=1/4 teaspoon
Old-time tablespoon=4 modern teaspoons
Old-time teaspoons=1/4 modern teaspoon
2 Coffee Cups=1 pint
As for the size of the baby, you’re on your own.
Weights from Christmas in the Old West by Sam Travers
Chuck wagon or trail recipes call for a different type of measurement
Li’l bitty-1/4 tsp
A Wave at It-1/16 tsp
Whole Heap-2 Rounded cupfuls
However you measure it,
here’s hoping that your Thanksgiving is a “whole heap” of fun!
Yesterday, I spent a good eight hours editing some chapters in my upcoming Kasota Spring Romance contemporary series Out of a Texas Night. A part I’d written a while back brought back memories of my Granny’s cooking. Here’s a little excerpt: Since Avery had been staying out at Mesa’s family’s ranch, the Jacks Bluff, she’d had the opportunity to enjoy more than her share of Lola Ruth’s larrupin’ good handmade goodies. Somewhere deep inside, she figured Lola Ruth had lied for years about not using lard for her famous fried pies. Somehow, Avery couldn’t see the loveable woman turning to shortening or vegetable oil, much less coconut or avocado oil, after all of this time….
I kept thinking about how wonderful my Granny’s fried pies were and that she fried them in plain ol’ lard. What changes we’ve had in cooking over the last century. With Easter dinner nearing and my grandkids coming for the week, I started my grocery list. While doing so, of course I was thinking about what I planned to blog on today. Suddenly, I remembered a section in a wonderful research book about life in the 1800’s, so I pulled it from the shelf and began getting some ideas. I thought I’d share a few with you. Coffee: drunk throughout the century, although tea was more popular until after the Civil War. Early in the 1860’s folks began using Borden condensed milk. Chase and Sanborn coffee was sold in sealed cans as early as 1878, while Maxwell House canned coffee came around a few years later. As I recall from previous research, Arbuckles added a peppermint stick as a treat in each package.
The more I read the more interested I got about things we have today that makes cooking so much easier that were new products in the 1800’s and earlier.
The general store or mercantile were the main source of foods in the 1800’s. The typical items we use today were available, salt, sugar, spices and the like. Beer, whiskey, molasses and vinegar were dispensed through spigots from barrels. Pickles and crackers were also sold from barrels, while dried legumes/beans were on the floor in bushel baskets.
Canned goods weren’t widely available until the Civil War and after; however beans in tomato sauce were first successfully canned and sold commercially by Van Camp in 1861. Yes, our familiar Pork and Beans were favorites a century and a half ago.
Baking powder was sold commercially from the late 1860’s. Previously, housewives leavened their cakes and biscuits with sour milk and molasses or pearl ash or saleratus (closely related to potassium bicarbonate, which is similar to soda). Granny’s chocolate cake recipe that is in back of The Troubled Texan uses soda and buttermilk. This is what I’ve used for years.
One of America’s favorite foods and one that are especially good at baseball games is the hot dog. To me there isn’t anything better than a good ol’ hot dog. They haven’t been around as long as some of the other cooking items, I’ve talked about. They were introduced in the 1880’s in St. Louis.
Which of course brings to mind one of the favorite condiments for a dog, ketchup. Heinz ketchup was bottled for the first time in 1876. Until then, the housewives made their own by squeezing very ripe tomatoes with their hands until they were reduced to pump, then they put a half a pound of salt to one hundred tomatoes, and boiled them for two hours, stirring frequently. While hot they’d press them through a fine sieve then add a little mace, nutmeg, all-spice, cloves, cinnamon, ginger and pepper to taste. Then they’d boil over a slow fire until thick and bottle when cold. One hundred tomatoes made four or five bottles and could be kept for two or three years.
The original potato chip was invented in 1853 in Saratoga Springs, New York, and applicably named the Saratoga chip.
The Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) opened in 1859 on Vesey Street in New York. Its rows of tea bins contained teas from around the world. By 1880, there were ninety-five A&P stores from Boston to Milwaukee. And, yes, if you are asking yourself, they are the same A&P Grocery stores that were basically on the East Coast for nearly a century before they filed bankruptcy.
What grocery product would you have trouble doing without? I’m going to give you my two answers. Pork & Beans because since my grandkids were little I cut up wieners and put in a can of Pork & Beans, warmed them and they were served with Kraft Mac and Cheese. My oldest granddaughter will be graduating from college in a few weeks and to this day they all say I’m the only one that can fix P&B’s and Mac & Cheese the way they like it. Proves that Granny’s (yes, I’m Granny named after my maternal granny) cooking is always the best.The produce I couldn’t do without is soda. I used it for everything from cookin’ to cleanin’!
So, now tell me your cain’t-do-without product!
I’ll be drawing two winners who leave a comment and
The final three decades of the 19th Century — 1870 to 1900 — compose the period most people think of when they hear the term “Wild West.” Prior to the Civil War, westward expansion in the U.S. was a pioneering movement, and the period around the turn of the 20th Century was dominated by the Industrial Revolution. But in a scant thirty years, the American cowboy raised enough hell to leave a permanent mark on history.
Round Up on the Musselshell, Charles M. Russell, 1919
Cowboys also left a permanent mark on American English. A whole lexicon of new words and phrases entered the language. Some were borrowed from other cultures. Others embodied inventive new uses for words that once meant something else. Still others slid into the vernacular sideways from Lord only knows where.
One of the best ways to imbue a western with a sense of authenticity is to toss in a few bits of period-appropriate jargon or dialect. That’s more difficult than one might imagine. I’m constantly surprised to discover words and phrases are either much younger or much older than I expected. Sometimes the stories behind the terms are even better than the terms themselves.
In case you ever find yourself in the midst of a herd of hunky 19th Century cowboys, here are some terms with which they be familiar. All arose in the U.S. during the 1800s.
Ball: a shot of liquor. Originated in the American West c. 1821; most commonly heard in the phrase “a beer and a ball,” used in saloons to order a beer and a shot of whiskey. “Ball of fire” meant a glass of brandy.
Barrelhouse: cheap saloon, often attached to a brothel. American English; arose c. 1875 as a reference to the barrels of beer or booze typically stacked along the walls.
Bear sign: donuts. Origin obscure, but the word was common on trail drives. Any chuckwagon cook who could — and would — make bear sign was a keeper.
Laugh Kills Lonesome, Charles M. Russell
Bend an elbow: have a drink.
Benzene: cheap liquor, so called because it set a man’s innards on fire from his gullet to his gut.
Booze: liquor. Prior to 1821, the word was used as a verb meaning “to drink heavily.” The change in usage may have had something to do with clever marketing on the part of Philadelphia distiller E.G. Booz.
Bottom of the barrel: of very low quality. Cicero is credited with coining the phrase, which he used as a metaphor comparing the basest elements of Roman society to the sediment left by wine.
Budge: liquor. Origin unknown, but in common use by the latter half of the 1800s. A related term, budgy, meant drunk.
Cantina: barroom or saloon. Texas and southwestern U.S. dialect from 1892; borrowed from Spanish canteen.
Chuck: food. Arose 1840-50 in the American West; antecedents uncertain.
Dead soldier: empty liquor bottle. Although the term first appeared in print in 1913, common usage is much older. Both “dead man” and “dead marine” were recorded in the context before 1892. All of the phrases most likely arose as a pun: “the spirits have departed.”
Dive: disreputable bar. American English c. 1871, probably as a figurative and literal reference to the location of the worst: beneath more reputable, mainstream establishments.
Goobers or goober peas: peanuts. American English c. 1833, likely of African origin.
Camp Cook’s Troubles, Charles M. Russell
Grub up: eat. The word “grub” became slang for food in the 1650s, possibly as a reference to birds eating grubs or perhaps as a rhyme for “bub,” which was slang for drink during the period. 19th Century American cowboys added “up” to any number of slang nouns and verbs to create corresponding vernacular terms (i.e., “heeled up” meant armed, c. 1866 from the 1560s usage of “heel” to mean attaching spurs to a gamecock’s feet).
Gun wadding: white bread. Origin unknown, although visual similarity to the cloth or paper wrapped around the ball in muzzle-loaded weapons is likely.
Hooch: cheap whiskey, c. 1897. From Hoochinoo, the name of an Alaskan native tribe whose distilled liquor was a favorite with miners during the Klondike gold rush.
Jigger: 1.5-ounce shot glass; also, the volume of liquor itself. American English, 1836, from the earlier (1824) use of jigger to mean an illicit distillery. Origin unknown, but may be an alteration of “chigger” (c. 1756), a tiny mite or flea.
Kerosene: cheap liquor. (See benzene.)
Mescal: a member of the agave family found in the deserts of Mexico and the southwestern U.S., as well as an intoxicating liquor fermented from its juice. The word migrated to English from Aztec via Mexican Spanish before 1828. From 1885, mescal also referred to the peyote cactus found in northern Mexico and southern Texas. Dried disks containing psychoactive ingredients, often used in Native American spiritual rituals, were called “mescal buttons.”
Mexican strawberries: dried beans.
The Herd Quitter, Charles M. Russell
Red-eye: inferior whiskey. American slang; arose c. 1819, most likely as a reference to the physical appearance of people who drank the stuff. The meaning “overnight commercial airline flight that arrives early in the morning” arose 1965-70.
Roostered: drunk, apparently from an over-imbiber’s tendency to get his tail feathers in an uproar over little to nothing, much like a male chicken guarding a henhouse. The word “rooster” is an Americanism from 1772, derived from “roost cock.” Colonial Puritans took offense when “cock” became vulgar slang for a part of the human male anatomy, so they shortened the phrase.
Sop: gravy. Another trail-drive word, probably carried over from Old English “sopp,” or bread soaked in liquid. Among cowboys, using the word “gravy” marked the speaker as a tenderfoot.
Stodgy: of a thick, semi-solid consistency; primarily applied to food. Arose c. 1823-1825 from stodge (“to stuff,” 1670s). The noun form, meaning “dull or heavy,” arose c. 1874.
Tiswin (also tizwin): a fermented beverage made by the Apache. The original term probably was Aztecan for “pounding heart,” filtered through Spanish before entering American English c. 1875-80.
Save the Earth; it’s the only planet with chocolate
I’ve got candy on my mind this month and it’s not even Valentine’s. There are two reasons why I’m thinking of all things sweet and it has nothing to do with the empty box of chocolates on my desk; January is national candy month and the heroine of my current work in progress owns a candy shop.
While doing the research for my book, I turned up some fun and interesting facts. For example, we can blame our sweet tooth on our cavemen ancestors and their fondness for honey. But the most surprising thing I discovered was that marshmallows grow on trees—or at least used to. That was before the French came up with a way to replace the sweet sap from the mallow tree with gelatin.
I also learned that during the middle ages, the price of sugar was so high that only the rich could afford a sweet treat. In fact, candy was such a rarity that the most children could expect was an occasional sugar plum at Christmas. (BTW: there are no plums in sugar plums. Plum is another word for good).
This changed during the early nineteenth century with the discovery of sugar-beet juice and mechanical candy-making machines.
Soon jars of colorful penny candy could be found in every trading post and general store in the country. It took almost four hundred candy manufacturing companies to keep up with the demand.
This changed the market considerably. Children as young as four or five were now able to make purchases independent of their parents. (Had youngsters known that vegetables including spinach was used to color candy, they might not have wasted their money.)
Children weren’t the only ones enjoying the availability of cheap candy. Civil War soldiers favored gumdrops, jelly beans, hard candy and, hub wafers (now known as Necco wafers).
Never one to miss a trend, John Arbuckle, noted the sugar craze that had swept the country and decided to use it as marketing tool. He included a peppermint stick in each pound bag of Arbuckle’s coffee to encourage sales.
“Who wants the peppermint?” was a familiar cry around chuck wagons.
This call to grind the coffee beans got a rash of volunteers. No rough and tumble cowboy worth his salt would turn down a stick of peppermint candy, especially when out on the trail.
Arbuckle wasn’t the only one to see gold in candy. Outlaw Doc Scurlock, friend of Billy the Kid and a Bloody Lincoln County War participant, retired from crime in 1880. Though he was still a wanted man, he moved to Texas and opened up a candy store.
Cadbury, Mars and Hershey rode herd on the chocolate boom of the late 1800s, early 1900s. Penny candy still made up eighteen percent of candy sales but, by this time, some merchants had refused to sell it. Profits were thin and selling such small amounts to children was time-consuming. Chocolate was more profitable. The penny candy market vanished altogether during World War II when sugar was rationed. Fortunately, no war could do away with chocolate.
Okay, so what’s your favorite candy? Anyone have a candy memory to share?
When 20-year-old Harvey D. Parker arrived in Boston on a packet from Maine, the young man had only $1 in his pocket. Even in 1825, $1 wasn’t enough to sustain him for more than a day, so Parker took the first job he could find: caring for a horse and a cow at a salary of $8 per month. A series of other subsistence jobs followed, until he found one that set him on a career path from which he’d earn a fortune.
While working as a coachman for a wealthy socialite, Parker frequently ate his noon meal in a dingy basement tavern. In 1832, he bought the tavern for $432 and renamed it Parker’s Restaurant. Excellent food served by an attentive staff soon made the place a popular dining spot for the city’s newspapermen, lawyers, and businessmen. By 1847, the restaurant was one of the busiest and most well-regarded in the city.
In 1854, Parker and a partner bought a boarding house that once had been a grand mansion. They razed the structure and built an ornate, five-story brick-and-stone hotel on the site. The elegant hotel, named simply Parker’s, opened with great fanfare on April 22, 1854, and quickly became the establishment for upper-crust travelers. Notable guests included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., and Charles Dickens. John Wilkes Booth stayed at Parker’s only days before he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.
Parker’s (19th century photo by Leander Baker)
At the time, the few existing hotels (most travelers took lodging in taverns or boarding houses) operated on “the European plan,” which included meals in the cost of a room. Meals were served family-style at given hours; if a lodger missed the hour, he went without food.
Parker’s hotel introduced a new concept: Rooms and meals were priced separately. Guests were offered menus appropriate to the time of day and ate virtually anytime they pleased. The upscale food was prepared by a kitchen staff and served in a grand dining room, where members of the public were invited to dine at their convenience, too.
The restaurant introduced dishes that remain popular today, including Parker House rolls and Massachusetts’s state dessert, Boston cream pie. According to legend, the rolls resulted when an angry chef tossed unfinished dough into the oven, accidentally creating a bread diners demanded ever after.
Parker’s dining room, ca. 1910
Today, the Parker House is part of the Omni Hotels chain of high-end lodging establishments. Omni chose to maintain the original property’s lux décor, for the most part. The walls remain burnished American oak; lobbies, bars, and the restaurant resonate with the deep colors of yesteryear; massive crystal chandeliers sparkle in the public areas, and elevator doors are overlaid with a patina of burnished bronze.
Recipes for the hotel’s signature dishes reportedly remain unchanged, as well. Understandably, Omni Parker House doesn’t reveal its culinary secrets, but intrepid cooks and bakers take that as a challenge. Recipes for Parker House rolls began appearing in cookbooks in the 1880s. Fanny Farmer revealed what she claimed to be the original in her 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.
Here it is, with baking instructions for modern kitchens.
1 cup butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 large egg
6 cups all-purpose flour
1. Dissolve yeast in water.
2. In large bowl, combine 1/2 cup butter, sugar, and salt.
3. Stir in water/yeast mixture, milk, and egg.
4. Add 3 cups flour and beat thoroughly. The mixture should resemble a thick batter. Cover and let rise until at least double.
5. Stir down sponge, then stir in enough flour to make a soft dough (about another 2½ cups).
6. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, working in more flour (about ½ cup) while kneading.
7. Shape dough into a ball and place in large, lightly greased bowl, turning so that top of dough is greased. Cover with towel; let rise in warm place (80 to 85 degrees F.) until doubled, about 1½ hours. (Dough is doubled when 2 fingers pressed into dough leave a dent.)
8. Punch down dough by pushing the center of dough with fist, then pushing edges of dough into center. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead lightly to make smooth ball, cover with bowl for 15 minutes to let dough rest.
9. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
10. In 17¼-inch by 11½-inch roasting pan, melt remaining ½ cup butter over low heat; tilt pan so melted butter coats entire bottom.
11. On lightly floured surface with floured rolling pin, roll dough ½ inch thick.
12. Cut dough into circles with floured 2¾-inch round cutter. (Note: The dough may be cut into rectangles instead of circles.) Holding dough circle by the edge, dip both sides into melted butter pan; fold in half.
13. Arrange folded dough in rows in pan used to melt the butter. Each roll should nearly touch its neighbors. Cover pan with towel; let dough rise in warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.
14. Bake rolls for 15 to 18 minutes until browned.
Hi, Winnie Griggs here. In one of my upcoming books my characters will be travelling ‘back east’ to visit some folks in New York. One of the things I wanted them to do was stop in at an ice cream parlor but I had to do some research to see what they would find in such an establishment. I thought that I would share a few fun facts from my research with you today.
In the late 19th century the establishments were called various names, depending on locale and period. They were called Ice cream saloons (this surprised me but then I learned that during that period a saloon merely indicated a generously-sized room) They were also called ice cream parlors and Ladies’ Cafes.
Ice cream parlors were in existence here in America much longer than I’d thought. According to one source I read, they were around as early as the 1770s. In fact, there’s record of advertisements in 1774 sponsored by an establishment owned by a Philip Lenzi announcing the sale of iced creams and other popular sweets. As for elsewhere in the world, they date even earlier. There is record of an establishment in France that sold gelatos in 1686!
Ice cream soda, otherwise known as an ice cream float, was invented by Robert Green, almost by accident, in the late 19th century. Green operated a parlor in Philadelphia and used syrups, carbonated water, and cream to make his sodas. Legend has it, one day Green ran out of cream and decided to substitute ice cream. It proved quite popular, so much so that soon his earnings grew from $6 to $600 a day.
The ice cream sundae was also invented in the late 19th century. There are a number of different claims as to its origins however. One story has it invented in Evanston, IL around 1890. The story goes that the city passed an ordinance prohibiting the sale of soda water on Sundays. In response the ice cream parlors removed the soda water from their ice cream sodas sold on that day, leaving only the ice cream and syrup. A second claim has it originating in Two Rivers, WI in 1881 when a customer requested a dish of ice cream with soda syrup poured on top. Yet a third claim places its origins in Ithaca, NY in 1893. It is said the proprietor of Platt & Colt’s drugstore, presented a local reverend with a bowl of ice cream that had been elevated with both cherry syrup and a candied cherry on top. Regardless of its true origins, for the purpose of my story set in 1895 it would definitely have been around!
As for myself, I have wonderful memories from my childhood of sitting at the soda fountain counter in the Woolworth store and enjoying an ice cream float. I know, I’m dating myself.
So what about you? Did anything in today’s post surprise or intrigue you? And what is your favorite frozen treat?
And in honor of my new book, Texas Cinderella, which hits the shelves next month, I’d like to give away an advanced copy to one person who leaves a comment before noon CST tomorrow.
In Search of a Groom
After a life of drudgery on her family’s farm, Cassie Lynn Vickers relishes her new-found freedom working in town as a paid companion and planning to open a bakery of her very own. When her father suddenly demands she come home, however, she decides her only way out is to find a husband.
Riley is on the run. He’s desperate to keep his niece and nephew safe from his crooked half brother. But a stopover and unexpected delay in Turnabout, Texas, shows him everything he didn’t know he was missing: home, family—and Cassie Lynn. Can he find a way to become her Prince Charming…and build a real family with the children and Cassie Lynn?