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Dining By Rail: The History and Recipes of America's Golden Age of Railroad Cuisine Paperback – May 15, 1998

4.8 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Readers who sigh at the names "Super Chief" and "Zephyr," and who remember the meal Cary Grant ate on the train in North by Northwest , may find this book fulfilling their wildest dreams. In an attempt to "preserve a record of one of the ways we used to eat," rail fan and Penn State professor Porterfield presents a detailed history of train dining. Beginning as an alternative to railroad station eateries, train dining reached its peak in 1930, when 1732 railroad dining cars were registered with the Interstate Commerce Commission, and all but ended in 1971 with telegrams like the May 1 order to Union Pacific to shut its passenger lines and make way for Amtrak. Model railroaders and social historians will find the 150 photographs and illustrations invaluable: a photo spread with dimensions of the pantry of the New York Central's Twentieth Century Limited, a sample 1920s dinner menu from the Milwaukee Railroad's Pioneer Limited, descriptions of staff sleeping quarters. The second half of the book offers 250 recipes from 48 railroad lines, featuring early-20th-century fare like Lobster Newburg New York Central, Poinsettia Salad-Merchant's Limited and Baked Potato Pennsylvania. For authentic American versions of lamb fricassee, deviled eggs and blanc mange presented without campiness or apology, this is the source.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“...mouthwatering...A sumptuous social history, complete with recipes.” ―Entertainment Weekly

“A wonderful book of interesting information and great food.” ―Merle Ellis, Host of "Cookin' USA," The Nashville Network

“Readers...may find this book fulfilling their wildest dreams...invaluable...For authentic American [cuisine] presented without campiness or apology, this is the source.” ―Publishers Weekly

“[A] loving look at dining cars, first-class meals, and the vanished romance of rail travel.” ―Beverly Bundy, Staff Writer, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“...unique, practical and highly informative...Besides 150 priceless photographs, the book contains...simple and easy-to-follow recipes.” ―The Virginia Quarterly Review

“...an entertaining and scholarly book...eloquent.” ―John P. Hankey, Chief Curator, B&O Railroad Museum

“...fascinating...If you're a rail enthusiast who loves to cook, you'll be delighted.” ―The Milwaukee Journal

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (May 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312187114
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312187118
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #519,552 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lisa Clayton on July 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
Although my best friend called me a "weirdo" for reading this book, I'm glad I did.
"Railroad dining" may sound like arcane history, but there is a lot of information about general railroad history, design and maintenance in addition to the fascinating history of passenger service. George Pullman is now one of my heroes.
The recipes themselves are a fascinating look at what was "fancy" back in the early 1900's. Lots of game meat, fish, no vegetable or ethnic entrees. I'm not sure if I'll ever make anything out of this book, but some of them do look good.
If you're a railfan or a foodie (or both, like me), get this book. Very well researched and written.
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Format: Paperback
To those who travel by plane today "food service" is the stuff of jokes. If you love food and travel pick up this book. The railroad dining car was the best place to eat in town - whatever town it happened to be in at that moment!
You will find the recipes easy to use and interesting to explore. There are multiple recipes for French Toast - our family has come to use the Santa Fe recipe often.
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Format: Paperback
The book "Dining by Rail" was purchased at the urging of a ten-year old son who is a rabid railfan. The book not only has a treasure trove of the most famous recipes from all the different rail lines, but it features a marvelous history of railroads from the point of view of the customer, the cooks, and others whose job it was to provide customer service. One also learns how the menus on the trains reflected the relations with the most important commercial customers of the railroad, an aspect nostalgic railfans don't always think about.

The book is well written and carefully researched. The pictures are evocative, and the recipes very easy to follow and recreate.

Altogether, this book is providing my son and me with a interesting and tasty railroad education!
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Format: Paperback
Here's what I said having bought the book from Amazon UK and had it sent to me in Australia....

Firstly, this ignores as do many American books the rest of the world and makes of course no claim to do otherwise. This is its only flaw really; otherwise it covers the subject in unbelievable detail.

Second, it's two books in one, with history more or less chronologically presented in the first half and with recipes and some information boxes in the second.

Third, Porterfield trawled 7500 recipes to select 350 (I think it is) and lists them by Railroad and indexes them by type & Railroad. He has also selected recipes that are more akin to current food trends (i.e. leaving out those running in rivers of fat and oil or excessively heavy, I also suspect he has tried to keep the complexity down).
He claims to have tried everything included and the 1 or 2, I have tried or modified and tried have been workable - i.e. they work like Delia Smith's do! I have made Strawberry & Rhubarb Pie, though with bought pastry or as a turnover/crumble and followed some of the recipe for Roast Turkey (substituting a corn fed chicken as its only September) but omitted the rice stuffing as we tend to eat rice with our mains for convenience. The Railroads potato recipes are interesting though we seldom eat potatoes so haven't tried them yet but the idea of 2 different types, one used to stuff another is indicative of the care even baked potatoes got from the Railroad. There are several French Toast recipes as it seems it was a breakfast favourite on most lines.

Fourth, as you read the first half you'll wonder into the second half and want to cook something or at least get a snack so this is a warning to you!
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"Dining by Rail" should appeal to at least two types of curious readers; 1) railroad buffs, and 2) foodies. I'm not a real railfan, per se, although I do have a moderate interest in the history and technology of railroads. Even though my wife and I have taken several chartered steam train trips in Argentina, Ecuador and Peru, no one could ever accuse us of being "foamers." Food is another matter entirely--we ARE bona fide, enthusiastic foodies. Our cookbook library contains more than 400 volumes of recipes from all over the world. We spend many hours in the kitchen every weekend making exotic ethnic meals from these books. We've chosen many of our foreign trips at least partially on the basis of the cuisines of the places we planned to visit. And we NEVER eat fast food, but always opt for small, charming, local restaurants if at all possible.

With all that said, I found James D. Porterfield's "Dining by Rail" to be a fascinating book. The 150-or-so-page Section I, "From Soot to Soufflé: Eating on the Train," relates, in great detail and in a highly readable style, the history of dining on trains. The tale starts with trackside food shacks and entrepreneurial purveyors of comestibles who roamed the aisles of passenger cars with fruits, sandwiches, snacks and drinks, all of questionable provenance, in the 1830s. The tale pretty much ends with the glory days of railroad culinary excellence over 100 years later, in the "Golden Age" of the 1930s, when specially equipped and staffed dining cars catered to every appetite of rail travelers, offering fine foods and superb service rivaling that of the finest hotels. Mr. Porterfield tells the whole story of how railroad dining concepts, cuisines, equipment and crews evolved in the years between.
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