Thursday, November 24, 2011

What's With Those Crazy Railroad Historians?

I suspect there's at least some readers out there who see the recent chain of articles on the history of the apricot and prune industry, and just don't get it. "Why bother to look at a bunch of dusty old books" (or, for that matter, dusty old PDFs.) "It's not helping you run trains."

Well, maybe... but where else am I going to find that perfect period Sunsweet logo for the side of Sunsweet Plant #1? The plant on Lincoln Ave. in San Jose had one painted prominently.

Luckily, a Sunsweet promotional book from the 1920's was kindly scanned in by the Library of Congress and made available to the public. With a few minutes of capturing the image from the PDF version of the book, I've got a logo, ready for trimming and photoshopping to turn it into a suitable decal.

The book also has a nice picture of the Hyde drying yard, looking north towards downtown Campbell. The original halftone image is rough, so it's hard to make out details. There's also some nice shots of prune grading machinery if you're looking to superdetail your dryer or packer scene. There's also a sample "Inspection Certificate" showing the documentation provided to a buyer. Note that the packer is the mythical A. & C. Ham I've seen mentioned, and the boxcar bound for Chicago had 1,500 twenty-five pounds boxes of prunes for a total of 37,500 pounds of prunes. We also see that the sale was in January of 1918, reminding us that the packers stored the fruit til the sales came in.

We also see that Iron Chef didn't originate in Japan, but in 1920's San Francisco. A "Prune and Apricot Battle" was waged by Victor Hirtzler, "maitre de cuisine of the Hotel St. Francis, San Francisco", who prepared a dinner using Sunsweet's apricots and prunes:
Prunes en Supreme
Chicken Soup
Salted Almonds
Filet of Sole with Sunsweet Prunes
Stuffed Squab Chicken with Sunsweet Apricots
Peas etudes, Potato Chateau
Prune and Apricot Salad
Pudding Glace Prune et Apricot
Assorted Cakes
Demi Tasse
Prune and Apricot Punch, Prune Bread, Apricot Rolls
One wonders how Iron Chef Morimoto would have responded to challenger Hirtzler.

Sunsweet declares that recipes will be furnished on request; I'm tempted to call them up and see if they're still honoring that offer.

I found the book "A Fact and Picture Story of the Prune and Apricot Industry" when doing a search on Amazon for Sunsweet-related books; the seller mentioned their $12 book was "a scan of a period document", and the lack of any photos of the book made me very suspicious that they, like some of the eBay photo sellers, were just doing cheap prints of material already available out on the Internet. If you see interesting historic documents out on eBay or Amazon, always do a quick search to see if they're available elsewhere for free.

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