ELKINS - Diners at Graceland Inn on the campus of Davis & Elkins College Wednesday evening were transported to an earlier era as they experienced the Dining by Rail event, featuring menu items served on trains during the 1930s and 1940s.
Jim Porterfield, director of the D&E Center for Railway Tourism, compiled favorite railroad recipes from the heyday of travel in a book he released in 1992.
"I reduced the recipes from institutional size down to family size, and tested each recipe," Porterfield said. "I credit Carol Carter for coming up with the themed dinner at Graceland."
The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Christian Broschart
Elkins residents Jim and Judy Van Gundy are awarded a prize for being the most authentically period-dressed couple during Wednesday’s Dining by Rail theme night dinner at Graceland Inn on the campus of Davis & Elkins College.
Carter, chair of the Division of Business & Entrepreneurship at D&E, said she felt the dinner was fitting since Graceland and the local railroad were built by the Henry Gassaway Davis family.
"Also, we thought the Dining by Rail theme dinner was a great way to kick off the spring," Carter said.
Porterfield said he has always liked trains, but enjoys studying the railroad industry for its contributions to culinary practices in the United States.
During Wednesday's event, Porterfield talked about the history of each dish served, providing many details about railroad cuisine.
"Some of the best chefs started on the railroad," Porterfield said. "There were reasons for the foods the chefs served. Tonight we are having a sweet potato cream soup. Soups on trains tended to be cream so they would not wiggle. Dinner was served on china and tables were dressed with linens - this kept the plates from sliding."
Porterfield said serving meals on trains in the past was difficult because of the amount of people to serve.
"On one train, staff put seven tablecloths on each table," Porterfield said. "That made it easier to just remove the top one with a clean one underneath."
Porterfield said trains had a varied group of riders, so waiters would help those who were uncomfortable in the new setting by handing them the proper fork or spoon to use with their choices. He said most men on the trains liked to eat steak.
Railroad cuisine gave America the first taste of uniform quality and consistency in its food, Porterfield said.
Graceland Chef Derrick Lantz said he enjoyed preparing the dishes for Wednesday's event.
"My favorite items were the soup and the bread pudding for dessert," Lantz said. "Most diners selected the crab cakes and the beef. All the items featured in tonight's dinner were easy to prepare."
The menu featured Illinois Central salad wedge, Cream Virginia sweet potato soup, and a choice of B&O Maryland crab cake, deviled slice of roast beef with mustard sauce or scallopines of pork loin with Riesling wine sauce. Dinner was served with potatoes Romanoff, fresh string beans saute and brown betty with fruit sauce.
All recipes for the dinner came from Porterfield's "Dining by Rail." His book is available at Main Line Books in Elkins or online at Amazon.com.