My first introduction to the Harvey Girls was the famous Judy Garland musical called…The Harvey Girls. (I think my grandfather mentioned that he worked on that film, but I’m not sure). The most famous song from that film is On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe. Until five or six years ago, I just thought it was fun movie.
I love reading about women’s experiences being part of the westward movement. While on one of our road trips, we visited the Petrified Forest in Arizona. I came across a terrific book about the Harvey Girls, entitled…wait for it…The Harvey Girls. It turns out that before the Sante Fe Railroad had dining cars, Fred Harvey ran the Harvey Houses at the train depots. He hired young women to be the waitresses and they signed very strict contracts that prohibited them from getting married, living anywhere but in the dorm, etc. For young women who wanted to see the west, it was an ideal arrangement. They were paid much more than they would have been paid in the east, their parents felt confident that their daughters would be looked after, and after the contracted six months was up, many of them married railroad men and settled down in the town. When we’d take our road trips, I often wondered how some of these desert towns in the middle of NOWHERE got started. Well, it turns out that the Santa Fe Railroad and the Harvey Houses were the foundation for these towns and cities.
We try to have themes when we take our road trips and three years ago we went on a Harvey House tour when my husband had to deliver some sculptures to the gallery in Santa Fe. Most of the Harvey Houses are gone but many of them have been designated historic landmarks. One place, La Fonda in Santa Fe is still there but we visited in mid-afternoon so we had to settle for a snack and some iced tea instead of dinner (we didn’t stay overnight there…it was out of our artist and professor budget).
If you want to get a sense of a more genteel time in train travel, I encourage you to visit some Harvey Houses. Even though the temperature outside was hovering around 100 degrees F., the stations were cool, serene, and elegant. I could see how a weary passenger was often enticed to layover a couple of days in the hotel before continuing on the journey.
On our Harvey House Road Trip, I discovered the Harvey House Cookbook. In addition to the recipes from the Harvey House chefs, it is filled with stories and the history of the Fred Harvey Company. Since I roasted a chicken on Sunday, I used the leftover meat in a recipe I adapted from the cookbook: Chicken Maciel by Joseph Amherd, Chef, Kansas City Union Station, MO. I didn’t sing while serving it nor was there a shootout with the saloon across the street (you have to see the movie), but my adaptation turned out really yummy. No photos. The battery in the camera was dead.
WARNING: Even though I cut this recipe in half (and the original serves 3), it was still very filling and I could have reduced it even more.
ADVICE: Learn to make a really good white sauce or cream sauce. You can use it in so many ways when you’re not sure what to do with the leftover meat or vegetables. Many comfort food dishes have white sauce as their foundation. Easy, inexpensive, filling.
1/2 pound cooked chicken
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/8 cup sherry
2 cups boiled rice
1/8 cup butter
4 slices swiss cheese
Preheat oven to 500* F. Cut chicken into one-inch squares. Melt butter in cast iron skillet, stir curry powder in. Add the chicken and the sherry. Saute’ chicken for about 5 minutes, until some edges of the chicken are crispy (similar to hash browns).
Make white sauce. Combine the chicken and the rice in the skillet. Mix well. Stir in the hot white sauce.
Ladle the mixture into individual casseroles (or one large one, but I used individual Pyrex bowls). Top each casserole with two slices of the cheese. Place on a cookie sheet lines with parchment paper.
Bake in oven until cheese has melted and turned slightly brown, about 5 minutes.
Makes 2 servings.
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups 1/2 and 1/2
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter in a deep saucepan, being careful not to burn it. Create a roux by slowly adding the flour to the butter while stirring/whisking. Slowly add the 1/2 and 1/2. Cook the sauce, stirring constantly, over low-medium heat (to avoid scalding) until the sauce is hot.
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