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Food on the Rails

The Golden Era of Railroad Dining

Jeri Quinzio

In roughly one hundred years – from the 1870s to the 1970s – dining on trains began, soared to great heights, and then fell to earth.

The founders of the first railroad companies cared more about hauling freight than feeding passengers. The only food available on trains in the mid-nineteenth century was whatever passengers brought aboard in their lunch baskets or managed to pick up at a brief station stop. It was hardly fine dining.

Seeing the business possibilities in offering long-distance passengers comforts such as beds, toilets, and meals, George Pullman and other pioneering railroaders like Georges Nagelmackers of Orient Express fame, transformed rail travel. Fine dining and wines became the norm for elite railroad travelers by the turn of the twentieth century. The foods served on railroads – from consommé to turbot to soufflé, always accompanied by champagne - equaled that of the finest restaurants, hotels, and steamships.

After World War II, as airline travel and automobiles became the preferred modes of travel, elegance gave way to economy. Canned and frozen foods, self-service, and quick meals and snacks became the norm. By the 1970s, the golden era of railroad dining had come grinding to a halt.
Food on the Rails traces the rise and fall of food on the rails from its rocky start to its glory days to its sad demise. Looking at the foods, the service, the rail station restaurants, the menus, they dining accommodations and more, Jeri Quinzio brings to life the history of cuisine and dining in railroad cars from the early days through today.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 194Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
978-1-4422-2732-3 • Hardback • October 2014 • $38.00 • (£24.95)
978-1-4422-7238-5 • Paperback • June 2016 • $25.00 • (£15.95)
978-1-4422-2733-0 • eBook • October 2014 • $24.99 • (£15.95)
Series: Food on the Go
Jeri Quinzio is a freelance writer specializing in food history. She is the author of Pudding: A Global History and Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making, which won the 2010 International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Culinary History award. A contributor to books including The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink and Culinary Biographies, she has written for magazines ranging from The Ladies’ Home Journal to Gastronomica.
Chapter One: Dining Before the Dining Car
Chapter Two: The Dining Car Debuts
Chapter Three: Fine Dining on European Railroads
Chapter Four: Transporting Restaurants
Chapter Five: Streamlined Dining
Chapter Six: The Golden—and Not So Golden—Era
Chapter Seven: Endings and Beginnings
Afterword: Take the Train
About the Author
Food on the Rails is the first book in the 'Food on the Go' series, part of a larger Rowman and Littlefield series, 'Studies in Food and Gastronomy.' The aim of the former is to publish books exploring the history of foods eaten while traveling. The book is a good introduction to the history and development of dining on trains, beginning with early train travel and the disappointing food experiences of travelers in the 19th century and the development of the Pullman dining car (the first of its kind) to the 'golden age' of railroad dining in the early decades of the 20th century in the US and Europe. Freelance author/journalist Quinzio details the decline not only of fine dining on trains but also train travel itself with some brief discussions on the small renaissance of high-end train travel today. Readers will be intrigued to learn the details of how dining cars were constructed and staffed and the types of foods served throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Each chapter ends with a representative recipe. Summing Up: Recommended. General and undergraduate food history collections.

In her latest work, Food on the Rails, The Golden Era of Railroad Dining, Jeri Quinzio draws in both railroad buffs and those with an interest in culinary history. From the crumbly dry sandwiches people ate on trains with tobacco spit soaked floors of the 1820s, to the grand cuisine served on 'la belle epoch’s' Orient Express and the puttering post war 'automat' microwaved dishes, to the death of railway food with the invention of commercial flight and Amtrak, this is a railroad story that inspires both disgust and delight. Food on the Rails, a magnificent work that tells the tale of food served at high speeds, will keep both train hobbyists and food scholars riveted.... Food on the Rails is a great read ... It is an extremely interesting work, and I would have enjoyed learning more about an age that so few of us living today have had the ability to experience.... Food on the Rails is a quick read, packed with information and stories which will expand the train buff’s interest to include the culinary history of the rail, and will introduce the culinary historian or foodways scholar to an area which might have been previously overlooked in their research. Even for someone interested in neither food nor trains, it is magnificent entry into the world of the mid-19th to mid-20th century, as every major event happening on the world stage is mentioned and viewed through the lens of the railways passenger, both patrician and plebian.
Digest: A Journal of Foodways & Culture

Food on the Rails: The Golden Era of Railroad Dining should be in any culinary history collection and many a train buff's library. It's the first book in the 'Food on the Go' series, joining others in this publisher's 'Studies in Food and Gastronomy' series, and it serves up an enticing course combining travel and train history with discussions of the special challenges involved in serving food on a moving vehicle. The details range from descriptions of food evolution to how dining cars were created, while the era of train dining is followed from its bare-bones beginnings to its opulent era and back again. Vintage black and white photos peppered throughout accompany a satisfying blend of rail and food preparation history which lends lively insights into the issues and evolution of train fare.
Donovan's Bookshelf

Jeri Quinzio has done it again! Her latest book, Food on the Rails, tells the lively tale of the rise and fall of haute (and not-so-haute) cuisine served on the world’s railways. It traces railroad dining from its less-than-stellar beginnings through the romantic culinary luxury of the Orient Express, 20th Century Limited, and the Blue Train, ending with the mundane snack bars of today. Food on the Rails is well researched, insightful, and a delight to read. For those interested in recreating some of the former culinary splendor and delicious cocktails of bygone days, Quinzio provides recipes and menus.
Andrew F. Smith, editor, Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover’s Companion to New York City

Drawing on numerous and varied sources—from scholarly works, to news reports, to firsthand accounts—Quinzio provides a thorough, refreshing, and entertaining account of the rise and fall of the rail dining experience in North America and Europe, illustrated with occasional recipes to highlight the story.
James D. Porterfield, director of the Center for Railway Tourism, Davis & Elkins College; author of Dining by Rail: The History and Recipes of America's Golden Age of Railroad Cuisine

In this lively social and cultural history, Jeri Quinzio evokes the glory days of rail travel in Europe and the United States, when dining cars served up multicourse meals on tables elegantly set with fine china, linens, and silver. She traces the evolution of railway dining from early 'hotel cars' to the grand dining cars that eventually gave way to scaled-down buffets. Each chapter ends with period recipes that capture the thrill of dining in motion, and along the way we get locomotive lessons in history and popular culture. Food on the Rails makes me want to book my next travel by train!
Darra Goldstein, A Taste of Russia, Editor, Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, author of A Taste of Russia, founding editor, Gastronomica

In Food on the Rails, Jeri Quinzio presents a lively history of the evolution of U.S. rail travels by describing food service, illustrated with menus and recipes that reflect different eras. How wonderful to be reminded of the golden age of railroad dining when travelers were served civilized meals in dining cars. This book will make the reader long for the time when travel was leisurely and filled with pleasure.
Barbara Haber, food historian; author of From Hardtack to Home Fries: An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals