Dining on the B&O
Recipes and Sidelights
From a Bygone Age
Thomas J. Greco
(Johns Hopkins)Dining on the B&O appears to be a hundred or so recipes from the Baltimore & Ohio Railway's dining cars --- along with "Chef's Comments" --- but it is more, far more. It is an excellent window into the dining habits of Americans before they wised up.
There are dishes that you and I wouldn't be caught eating today, much less preparing. "Oysters with Macaroni." "Fig Fritters with Almond Sauce." "Creamed Ham and Turkey on Toast." "Corn Bread Pie." "French Peach Pie" (with Meringue.) "Turkey Divan" ("4 tablespoons butter, 4 tablespoons flour, 2 cups turkey stock ... add one cup of milk, one cup of cream and three tablespoons sherry wine ... sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.") Oh my tum.
But oh does it look good. And the prices: On the Royal Blue Line, you could get blue point oyster cocktails, roast beef or broiled black bass, lobster salad, ice-cream, and Roquefort or Edam cheese with crackers ... all for a dollar.
The B&O "was noted for its dining car cuisine and service," Greco tells us. The railroad "believed that if it provided superior dining and impeccable courtesy, it would attract passengers, shippers, and investors." The author reveals that freshly cooked meals were served on all the B&O lines from 1842 until 1971. Then, like all other railroads in the United States, they finally figured it was cheaper to ship pigs rather than serving them fried to the paying customers in the dining-cars.
Since I was very young during the last days of real railroads, I can barely recall the glory days of the club car and dining facilities. I do recall traveling north with my father once or twice on the Seaboard Air Line or the Atlantic Coast Line with the wonderful scenery --- rusty factories, people's back yards filled with junk, rattly bridges over the rivers, clanging railroad crossings, and the telephone lines going up up up ... then bang! battered by the passing pole, swooping down again to pause and pause and rise again.
I recall eating breakfast on that run ... a giant platter of giant hotcakes served in the morning, on the old Silver Meteor. No concerns about sugar in the blood in those days: six or eight hotcakes smothered in melted butter, along with warm maple syrup, six hunks of grease rich bacon and a big cold glass of milk.
Meanwhile --- my father --- to die of congestive heart-failure five years down the line --- was shoveling down four eggs fried in butter with white Merita Bread toast, a plate-full of half-fried bacon strips, along with three cups of coffee laced with heavy cream. Let us mourn his passing ... and the passing of those luxurious trains, and the many guilt-free meals passing through our innocent duodenums.
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Dining on the B&O is not only heavily loaded with bad cholesterol, gilt and guilt, it has dozens of pictures and drawings and sample menus, along with nightmare photographs of those heavy fat meals, shot in vulgar color: a plate, for example, crammed with southern fried chicken (four pieces), boiled new potatoes, beets with butter, bacon, and corn fritters. Oh yum. Has anybody seen my heart medicine?
--- C. A. Amantea