Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Portland Woman's Exchange Cook Book; Eggs a la Rector

I grew up just outside of Portland, Oregon, so it shouldn't be a big surprise that a lot of my cookbooks focus on the Pacific Northwest. This week, we'll be looking at The Portland Woman's Exchange Cook Book from 1913; it was reprinted in 1973 with an introduction and ample notation from another native Oregonian, James Beard. Let's go to the master's introduction:
The Woman's Exchange, as you probably remember, was a national movement...that provided otherwise unemployed people with a marketplace for their handicrafts and their talents. ...The Portland Woman's Exchange, which functioned up until the Second World War, maintained one or two homes. ...

The most dedicated members of the Exchange produced this book. It contains many mouthwatering recipes, but beyond that it is a record of living for a particular period of Portland's history.

Boy, is it ever! The reprint has retained all the 1913 advertisements, like this one for the Hotel Multnomah which offers guaranteed fire-proof accommodations for up to $5 a night.

In Beard's introduction, he references some of his favorite dishes in the book, and despairs of some others (there's a cherry salad that he mocks; I think it sounds tasty, if a bit over-thought -- basically, you stone a bunch of cherries, and then stuff them with whole, shelled filberts). While feeling the Beardian love, might as well use one of the recipes he admired:
Eggs a la Rector*

Cut an onion very fine and fry in butter. Add a cup of good cream and boil 5 minutes. Cut 4 hard-boiled eggs in 1/2-inch slices, season with salt and pepper; put them into cream and onion, and heat thoroughly. Serve quickly.

Mrs. Wm. H. Crane

* Classically known as Eggs a la Tripe or Oeufs a la Tripe. A very good dish. (J.B.)

Personally, it sounds tastier a la Rector than a la Tripe. Don't think this is a dish where you can substitute lower-fat dairy goods; anything other than full-fat cream won't stand up to the boiling.

Beard points out that Mrs. Wm. H. Crane was married to the William H. Crane, star of stage and, to a lesser degree, screen. Don't know how the Cranes got to Oregon, but they left their mark with this recipe, if nothing else.

It's actually a lot of fun as a transplanted Portland-ish girl to flip through and read all the contributors' names; they are the same names as concert halls and roads and schools and auditoriums all over the state.

Side note: the links to the book titles this week won't go to Amazon searches, as in the past, but to Google Books... the entire 1913 version of the book is available electronically free of charge...have fun with it.


  1. After taking a look at the cookbook, I've determined that -- even though I have no connection whatsoever to Portland or even to the Pacific Northwest -- these are my people. The second recipe under "Vegetarian Dishes" is codfish souffle. (Though there's a certain distrust of vegetarianism implied by the comment in the book's introductory note that rather amuses me.) There's a chapter called "Custardy Things." There are ten additional chapters devoted to various forms of sweets.

    My people, I tell you.

  2. Check out this website if you're jonesing for nostalgia from the City of Roses:

  3. The Beverages for Invalids and Others, followed by Invalid Dishes amuse the hll out of me.