Cooking from vintage cookbooks brings the past right into the kitchen, and I do so often. Seattle has produced many cookbooks over the past century or so, beginning with the wonderful 1896 Clever Cooking. Until the 1920s, most recipe books could be a bit vague on details — contemporary cooks understood how much dry wood it took to produce a medium-hot oven, or how much sugar ½ a teacup would be. Once the influence of work flow engineer Lillian Gilbreth and cookbook author Fannie Farmer (who advocated standardized recipe measurements) spread, home cooks had an easier time following cookbook recipes.
In May 1907, newlyweds Ella Allen Scott and Quincy Scott embarked upon what was even then considered an eccentric honeymoon: they took the train from New York (where they’d met as art school students) to Minneapolis/St. Paul, purchased a pair of horses, and began the 2000 mile ride to Seattle. Traveling across mostly open country, Ella and Quincy paralleled the Northern Pacific Railway tracks. They slept under the sky, occasionally in barns, and once or twice — memorably — in the comfortably bedrooms of kind obliging farm families. Both were 25 years old.
The Space Needle, of course, is a global icon, communicating SEATTLE both as a concept and a location. The Needle tips past, present, and future together: built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair/Century 21 Exposition (now in our recent past), whose theme was fairgoers’ 21st Century future, which is now our present.
I am always on the lookout for places where I can still feel the past, so it is not surprising that I lost my heart to Butte, Montana. I found the past completely present and accessible in Butte. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the town was the world’s most important source of copper ore, then mined underground by men who came here from around the globe to blast, extract, and backfill the tunnels that honeycomb beneath Butte. I spent a week in Butte last summer doing research for my next book, Looking For Betty MacDonald: The Egg, The Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle And I, due out fall 2016 from University of Washington Press.
Betty Bard MacDonald spent much of her childhood in Butte before moving to Seattle in 1916. All of the houses where her family lived still stand. Butte’s underground mining industry has now been inactive for more than half a century. The Berkeley Pit, a massive strip-mining operation, consumed Butte’s Italian Meaderville and McQueen neighborhoods and about half of the surface ground where many of Butte’s mining headframes once gave access to underground mines. The Pit is now Montana’s deepest aquatic body, a 900 foot deep lake of highly mineralized water. Butte is the nation’s largest Superfund project, and one of the largest designated National Historic Districts in the United States. Although far less populated than it was in Betty’s day, Butte is no less complex.
Seven Market & Café, 2007 Ravenna Boulevard, Seattle
The past is present in Seven Market and Café primarily in three ways: the gorgeous hulking vintage glass-front refrigerator, now filled with artisianal soda pop; the simple building’s cozy physical presence nestled on the gentle slope of Ravenna Boulevard near Ravenna Park; and its century-plus function as a neighborhood grocery. This place feels simultaneously hip and old-school, and the large bank of windows facing the street lets in natural light.
Welcome to Seattle Portmanteau: Journeys to the intersection of Now and Then. This blog explores my Seattle discoveries: places we can visit Now where Then is still palpable. I plan to explore Seattle’s present places through the lens of their past use. I hope Seattle Portmanteau can function as a sort of concierge service to Seattle’s past. I welcome comments and suggestions. Where do you find traces of past use in Seattle’s present?