Dining Cars and Cantaloupe Pie
Back in the day when travel was an adventure and most people got from here to there by rail, one of the highlights of any trip was taking a meal in the dining car. For many, the amazing food and impeccable service was made even better by the pleasure of meeting new people and making new friends while sharing a delicious meal together in the rolling diner. We can share something of this same experience today when we gather for Neighbor Lunch at the Friendship House. (The next one in North Park will be August 13, at 11:30 AM.)
The railroads would often specialize in serving regional favorites that represented the part of the country through which you were traveling. Thus, if you were on board the Union Pacific, you might have one of their famous Midwestern "Prime Steaks." If you were riding on the Northern Pacific, you could enjoy a "Great Big Baked Potato" from Idaho. Riders going through the Rockies on Missouri Pacific's "Colorado Eagle" were served delicious rainbow trout.
And the Texas & Pacific? Well, it seems that the railroad that founded Abilene and crossed West Texas was nationally famous for a dessert:
Back in 1916, Mr. M.L. Todd and his business partner, Mr. D.T. McKee, began growing cantaloupes in Pecos, Texas. They contracted with the T&P, and agreed to supply them with cantaloupes for their dining cars. By the 1920s, they were shipping cases of melons via Railway Express all over the country.
But of course, as with any perishable commodity, some of the fruit would become overripe on its way to market. That's where Mr. Edward Pierce enters the picture. Mr. Pierce was a College Station native and a 42-year veteran of the T&P, and he couldn't stand seeing the melons go to waste, overripe or not. He went to work and came up with a dessert that became a favorite on the T&P dining cars.
Happily, in 1992, a writer for the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Anita Baker, tracked down Mr. Pierce, who shared his recipe, which we now pass along to you.
Serve it to your guests to enjoy a taste of elegant travel from days gone by.
- 1 very ripe cantaloupe (over ripe yields the most juice)
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cups sugar
- 3 tablespoons flour (more or less depending on how juicy your cantaloupe is)
- 3 egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 9-inch prebaked pie crust
- 3 egg whites
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- Slice cantaloupe in half, deseed and remove rind, reserving all juices. Cut into small pieces.
- Place melon with juice and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often. Mash the cantaloupe as it heats.
- Mix sugar and flour and slowly add to hot mixture, stirring constantly.
- In a large bowl, beat egg yolks; add a little water to yolks. Add a little of the cantaloupe mixture to egg yolks in order to heat yolks gradually. Stir egg yolks mixture into cantaloupe mixture.
- Add butter and nutmeg, stir until butter melts. Continue cooking, stirring, until thick and creamy.
- Cool and pour into prebaked pie crust.
- To make meringue, beat egg whites until frothy. Gradually add sugar, continuing to beat until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla or other flavoring. Spoon onto pie, spreading to crust edge to seal filling in. Bake at 325° for 15 to 18 minutes, until nicely browned.
- Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours before serving.
Friendships are formed through experiences shared together, whether it's a meal, a piece of pie, or something else. Because of their proximity, neighbors have opportunities to share experiences and work with each other to build a stronger, safer community. Like passengers on a train, we will find that our journey is more interesting and pleasant as we make friends along the way.