James D. Porterfield

Something Simple

Railroad chefs have always created simple, elegant, eye-appealing menu items out of everyday common ingredients. One outstanding example of this phenomenon, from the dining cars of the Western Pacific Railroad, is:

Gingerbread Supreme

1 pkg. gingerbread mix
1/​2 pint whipping cream
1/​3 cup apple butter
8 Maraschino cherries, halved

Make gingerbread according to package instructions. Beat whipping cream until stiff. Fold in apple butter. Cut hot gingerbread in 2-inch squares and place on serving plate. Top with dollop of chilled apple butter whipped cream and crown with Maraschino cherry half. Serves 16.

For the President

In the days before Air Force One, the President of the United States traveled by private rail car. On one such occasion in 1901, when President William McKinley and his party was en route to the Pacific Coast, the Pullman Company Dining Car Service prepared this menu for lunch on May 28:

Puree of Green peas
Sliced Tomatoes
India Relish

Roast Loin of Veal
Lamb Stew with Vegetables
Baked Potato
Browned Potatoes
Buttered Beets
Spring Beans

Roast Beef
Pickled Lamb's Tongue
Boston Baked Beans
Chicken Salad

Ice Cream
Preserved Fruits
Golden Gate Fruits
English and Graham Wafers
Fresh Fruit
Canadian and Edam Cheese
Bent's Water Crackers


L. C. Armfield, Pullman's Commissary manager, perhaps understated it to the press when he said, "The presidential party was well fed."

Dining by Rail

The History and The Recipes of America's Golden Age of Railroad Cuisine

As those fortunate enough to have taken a ride on board the great passenger trains of North America at their peak will attest, no part of the experience survives so vividly in the memory as that of a sumptuous meal in the dining car: crisp linen, polished silver, fresh flowers, attentive service, the passing panorama of American life - all accompanied by great food. Dining by Rail tells how that experience was created, recapturing the lively history of eating on the train and presenting more than 300 wonderful recipes that entertained and fortified the hungry traveler from coast to coast.

Among the award-winning dishes found in Dining by Rail:
• Avocado Cocktail from the Southern Pacific
• New Corn Chowder, Southern Style, from the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe
• Roquefort Salad Dressing from the Great Northern
• Deviled Roast Beef with Mustard Sauce from the Pennsylvania
• Potatoes Romanoff from the Illinois Central
• Peas in Butter from the Pullman Company
• Hot Strawberry Sundae from the Fred Harvey Company

Railroad menus featured consistently unique items made of fresh, natural ingredients native to America and Canada, and available today in stores everywhere. The recipes require only ordinary kitchen tools, and because they are designed to be cooked quickly in a small kitchen, they allow today's cook to turn out a gourmet meal in record time - truly "high speed cuisine."

Dining by Rail also serves up the rich and colorful history of dining in the "Golden Age" of American railroading. It offers over 150 illustrations to help give a complete picture of this most important aspect of travel: finding something good to eat wherever you go. It describes how railroads went from tolerating vendors hawking soot-covered hotcakes, eggs soaked in lime water, and gritty black coffee, to providing meals that won awards in international competition. Learn how chefs on forty-eight railroads prepared such unique and tasty dishes as cantaloupe pie, cream of sweet potato soup, and five varieties of French toast. Enjoy more than two-dozen distinctive salads and dressings, and other specialty dishes by which the railroads sought to identify themselves. Share the secrets behind quickly preparing rich and flavorful sauces for meat dishes.

Dining by Rail will take you to the kitchen, or back in time. Either way, enjoy the trip.

What Railroad Writers and Historians
Have Said About Dining by Rail

"All-in-all, the book is very well researched, and the information contained was all new to me."
Mike Del Vecchio, Associate Editor
Railfan & Railroad Magazine

"…enjoyable reading, and it is easy to work from, as cookbooks go."
George H. Drury, Author, Reviewer
Trains: The Leading Magazine of Railroading

"...an entertaining and scholarly book…eloquent"
John P. Hankey, Chief Curator
B&O Railroad Museum

"Mr. Porterfield has not only carried out a scholarly piece of research but has written the story of the railway dining car in an entertaining and absorbing fashion."
Paul F. Klens, Book Reviewer
State College: The Magazine

"…unique, practical and highly informative.…Besides its 150 priceless photographs, the book contains…simple and easy-to-follow recipes."
The Virginia Quarterly Review

"…a wonderful…highly readable work of history…"
Kathy O'Connell, Book Reviewer
Middleton (Connecticut) Press

"…the history is very readable, truly enjoyable and enlightening.…It is accompanied by quality pictures and illustrations which add a lot to our enjoyment and understanding.…My tip: try the California peach and rice fritters."
Ted David, Book Reviewer
National Railway Bulletin of the
National Railway Historical Society

"Dining by Rail is the best single-volume treatment of the subject available.…The treatment is comprehensive.…I found (the recipes) to be all that (Porterfield) claims: interesting, practical, and tasty."
John Austen, Book Reviewer
Railroad History: Journal of the
Railway & Locomotive Historical Society

1994 Nominee for the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society Hilton Book Award as the "outstanding work of lasting significance to the interpretation of North America's railroading history" published between 1992 and 1994.

What Food Writers
Have Said About Dining by Rail

"…the luxury of eating on trains has been captured in all its romantic glory.…entertaining"
Florence Fabricant
The New York Times

"A wonderful book, full of interesting information and great food"
Merle Ellis, Host
"Cookin' USA," The Nashville Network

"I have been fascinated by this book ever since I first saw it."
Doris Weissberg, Producer
TV Food Network's "Cookbook Corner"

"The recipes, which emphasize fresh regional foods and use minimal cookware, are…fast and easy to make."
Karol V. Menzie, "Tidbits" Columnist
The Baltimore Sun

"…fascinating…If you're a rail enthusiast who loves to cook, you'll be delighted."
Mary Fran Cahill, Reviewer
The Milwaukee Journal

"…you'd best get aboard Mr. Porterfield's 325-recipe Limited." Recommended as one of the year's best gifts for cooks.
Elliott Mackle, "Cook's Library" Reviewer
The Atlanta Constitution

"Readers…may find this book fulfilling their wildest dreams.…invaluable….For authentic American (cuisine) presented without campiness or apology, this is the source."
Publishers Weekly

"…mouthwatering.…A sumptuous social history, complete with recipes."
Entertainment Weekly

"This book's a great ride all the way…"
Anniston (Alabama) Star

"…a real treat.…substantial."
Ann Lloyd Merriman, Book Editor
Richmond (Virginia) Times Dispatch

"(a) loving look at dining cars, first-class meals and the vanished romance of rail travel."
Beverly Bundy, Staff Writer
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Selected Works

Web Site
A State-by-State Guide to Locations with a Connection to Railroad History, Travel and Preservation
The History and the Recipes of America's Golden Age of Railroad Cuisine
The Recipes and Stories Behind Today's Greatest Rail Dining Experiences
A Story of the Rails
The Life of a Pennsylvania Railroad Engineman: 1904-1949
A monthly magazine