Showing posts with label Immigrant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Immigrant. Show all posts

Friday, December 12, 2014

Food ~ The First Fuel of Industry

Uptown Butte in the 1940s
Uptown Butte in the 1940s
Built on a steep mountain grade in the late 1800's, "The Richest Hill on Earth" was intended to be a powerful place from the very beginning. With wide streets, tall buildings, and sweeping mountain views, Butte is a city that once mattered very much; and the hope of re-capturing that stature continues to nourish its dreams.

Fueling the Melting Pot

Rocky Mountain Cafe Private Dining Room
Rocky Mountain Cafe Private Dining Room
The city's notorious mining history, though, often overshadows recognition for the broad cultural diversity of its immigrant residents, and at the heart of those cultures was food. Indeed, Butte's reputation for fine dining and authentic ethnic cuisine endured long after the mining operations were in decline.

Now in its tenth printing, The Butte Heritage Cookbook is a cherished record of culinary life in the Mining City; and it underscores the value of promoting, maintaining and enriching Butte's legacy of artisan food production and fusion.

Foreword to The Butte Heritage Cookbook, written by Jean McGrath, Editor.
Butte Heritage CookbookIn 1885, Butte was booming with a population of 22,000, largely foreign-born, the majority of whom were Cornish and Irish immigrants (miners) who had found their way into the camp. Around the turn of the century, when vast migrations of people from Europe seeking freedom and a better life arrived in this country, Butte received its share of newcomers. The population swelled to 47,635, with an estimated 50% listed as foreign-born. Also, by then a number of settlers had come west to rebuild their lives and fortunes after the Civil War.

In 1918, when the town reached its peak population, some authorities (unofficially) estimated the number of people in Butte and the surrounding area to be 100,000. At one time there were as many as 50 nationalities represented in Butte's population. No matter what the differences in racial origin, religion and custom, there has always existed a bond of hospitality among Butte cooks; and no matter from whence they came, they brought something from which we have borrowed to enrich our present-day tables. 
Brillat-Savarin, an 18th century gourmet observed, "The pleasures of the table are of all times and all ages, of every country and of every day." This is a town where the Cornish pasty and Serbian povetica share equal billing; where on St. Patrick's Day corned beef, washed down with green beer, is devoured with as much gusto by the Finns, the Cornish, and the Serbs, as by the Irish; where out-of-town visitors dining at Butte's famous Italian restaurants marvel at a side dish called sweet potato salad inherited from an early-day French restaurant proprietor; where an Italian immigrant family made famous a Spanish tamale; and an Italian miner willingly swapped as share of his bucket of "dago red" for a generous portion of Cousin Jack's oversized pasty. 
Collectors of Butte nostalgia discover how closely the story of food is woven into the fabric of the community. In the single man's era of Butte, hundreds of boarding houses dotted the hillside. Restaurants and saloons, breweries and bakeries were an important facet of the town's colorful business community. The Cornish pasty was adopted by all as the miner's main lunch-bucket meal. Teddy Taparish, from Dalmatia, received world-wide acclaim with his famous Italian Rocky Mountain Cafe. In the days of the Copper Kings, the Silver Bow Club wined and dined the most prominent of the nation's financial world.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Spending Time ~ The Life of Butte Montana Restaurateur

“Sit down, sit down,” she’d say in her insistent Italian way that sounded more like discipline than intended affection. Lydia lived like she talked, clearly focused, to the point, no time to waste. She worked hard because it wasn’t worth doing it any other way.

Lydia owned a restaurant that supported a large extended family in a manner that none of them would likely have achieved on their own. The youngest daughter in a family that emigrated from Italy in 1922, she was ten when her father brought them to Butte with visions of golden lodes just inches beneath their feet. Within a few months, creditors hammered those visions into a hard reality. They were poor in Italy, but never so poor as they became in America. Disabled by a wounded pride, Lydia’s father refused to take up any other kind of work. His family were left to make their own way in the new world.

As was common for children of that era, Lydia had little time for play. From the age of five, she spent most of her time helping in the kitchen. At thirteen, she got her first job as a cook’s helper in a local boarding house. Her older sisters got married, her parents had two more children and her father was incapable of holding a job. At fifteen, Lydia became the family’s sole financial support.

At first, she enjoyed cooking. She was good at it and was recognized for it. A mixture of duty, enthusiasm and raw talent fueled her sixteen hour days as she climbed from kitchen help in the boarding house to chief cook at the Rocky Mountain Cafe to owner of her own nationally-known restaurant.

In the 1930’s, the Rocky Mountain was a good place to build a reputation. It was said that people around the world had heard of the restaurant, even if they’d never been to the United States. Once during World War II someone mailed a letter from Europe addressed with only the words, Rocky Mountain CafĂ©, USA, and the letter arrived. The restaurant was famous, but was only as good as the cook. When Lydia left the Rocky Mountain to open a place under her own name, customers didn’t hesitate to follow.

With the opening of her own restaurant, Lydia had the added responsibility of running a business. Sixteen-hour days now filled all seven days of the week. Duty completely consumed enthusiasm as she was also left to care for an aging mother and disabled brother. Her work-day started at two in the afternoon and ended at five the next morning.

One evening during the early1950’s, the accumulated pressures were feeling heavier than usual. She stopped to spend a few minutes with a customer who never failed to have dinner there each time he came through Butte. Desperate for a sympathetic ear, Lydia told him she was afraid she couldn’t get through the next few days. There was just too much work for one person. Being a traveling salesman, the customer understood the challenge of packing long hours into short days. He reached briefly into his coat pocket, then took Lydia’s hands into his. Leaning toward her from across the table, he said in a whisper, “These might help with the work. One should last about twelve hours. Take another one before the last one wears off.” He then transferred a small bag of black capsules from his hand into hers.

Even though she had spent nearly all of her life surrounded by gambling, drinking, and hired companions, Lydia herself never had time for personal experience with any of it. So, when she looked at the stash of amphetamines in her hand, she had no reason to think of them as anything but black pills that could help her cope. The first one was on its way to work before she left the table.

For the next three days, Lydia stayed awake on Black Beauties, completing an improbable number of tasks. Impressed by what she’d accomplished, she wanted more when the stash ran dry. Maybe these pills would finally be the business partner she could trust. She’d supply the will, they’d supply the way. But the salesman never returned.

Thirty years later, still innocent about what those pills really contained, Lydia would tell this story completely without shame, like she was hoping to find another supplier. “Just think what I could do, if I never had to sleep,” she’d say.

But Italians aren’t good at hiding their feelings. The regret in her heart could easily be read on her face as she would continue, “To tell you the truth, though, I think I really kind of burnt myself out.” Then she’d cast her eyes to the ceiling and clear her throat as it tightened. “And if I had to do it again, I’d take more time for myself. It went so fast I just never stopped to think about it. I spent my life before I knew what it was worth.”