Thursday, May 1, 2014

Recipe of the Week: Train Food, Part II

We head out on the California Zephyr this morning and I just love the history of dinning cars on some of these historical trains.

Dining cars on the California Zephyr were historically designed to serve an average of 58,000 meals per month.  In order to do that, each diner starting out on its run to Chicago was equipped with 800 individual pieces of chinaware, 350 individual glasses, 1,200 pieces of silverware and nearly 150 miscellaneous items from thermos bottles to casserole dishes.  During the trip 2,500 separate items of linen were used.  The 275 individual grocery items stocked ranged from deluxe sirloin steaks to pickles.  All of the stock had to be stored in the kitchen and pantry area, measuring only 30 feet by 7 feet, which also included a range, boiler, deep freeze, fish well, 4 refrigerators and a dish washer.  With all this packed space, four cooks were left to work on a floor area 20 feet long by 30 inches wide, and seven waiters worked out of a pantry 10 feet by 40 inches.

Historically, it was good reason why the California Zephyr's diner was about the most popular dining car ever.  The food was a veritable gourmet's delight and those who prepared and served the food took a special interest in pleasing their guests.

Each diner was manned for an entire trip (still is) across the country eastbound and westbound between Oakland and Chicago and each dining car and every chef was furnished with a recipe book containing some 280 pages and 525 recipes.  New recipes were added as they were tested and found favorable.

Famous for superb meals, the dining car also offered gracious service, reasonable prices and an atmosphere of congeniality that put you in an ideal mood to enjoy the culinary treats expertly prepared and served.  Coupled between the vista-domed-lounge-buffet car and the 6 (5) sleeper car, dinner was (and still is) on a reservation basis so passengers did not have to stand in line for service.

Rivaling restaurants in any city meal offerings available to passengers began with a full breakfast menu. Items included a Breakfast Steak or Sugar Cured Piece of Ham, both served with Two eggs, Poached eggs on a Toasted English Muffin with Canadian Bacon, Browned Corned Beef Hash or an Omelet with Cheese and Ham.  All offerings included fruit, juice, cereal with toast, muffins and coffee.

Midday lunch included Filet of Fish with Cole Slaw, Family Style Chicken Pie and Chopped Sirloin Steak with Brown Gravy, Soup or Salad.  Dessert and beverages were included in the price.  Sandwiches were also quite popular and included a Hamburger on a toasted bun, Hot Chicken with Cole Slaw on a toasted bun and Soup and Salad choices.

Dinner was the highlight of the day and featured such delicacies as Boneless Rocky Mountain Brook Trout, Roast Loin of Pork, Southern Fried Chicken, Roast Top Sirloin of Beef, Crab Louie and Broiled Lamb Chops all served with dinner rolls, vegetables and potatoes.  Cocktails and Liquor and a wide variety of wine were available at an additional charge.

A romantic touch of old Italy was added to the dinner menu in 1955, when five full course Italian dinner meals became available.  Dinners enjoyed Veal Scaloppini a la Parmesan, Chicken Cacciatore, along with Spaghetti and Meatballs, Ravioli and Lasagna.  Dinner included garlic rolls, tossed green salad with olive oil and minestrone soup.  

Train food sure has changed over the years and I for one, would love to see some of the old elegance and menus return.