Beach Books

Love the Shore, Love to Eat

The Beachcomber
By MARGARET THOMAS BUCHHOLZ | Sep 07, 2013
Source: barnesandnoble.com

Full disclosure: I wrote the Foreword to Jersey Shore Food History: Victorian Feasts to Boardwalk Treats (historypress.com or online sellers, 2012) so I can’t write a critical review. But I can tell you what the book is about and then – if you love the shore and love to eat – you’ll decide for yourself.

As I read Karen Schnitzspahn’s book about the history of food on the Jersey Shore, I thought about my childhood at the edge of the sea, redolent of crabs and clams from the bay outside my window, and fresh striped bass and bluefish from the ocean two blocks away. Until I was an adult, however, this succulent seafood never passed my lips. Clams were for digging and crabs were for netting, to be sold to the local clam bar – every town along the shore had one. We sometimes had fish when my father wasn’t home, but his brief, unsuccessful foray as a fisherman made him refuse anything with scales on his dinner plate.

Tourists were a different kettle of fish; they came to the shore especially to eat the bounty from the sea. Jersey Shore Food History takes us back to a time when vacationers came by stagecoach and then train, and in the 20th century by car. Anticipating the mouthwatering seafood and local produce was an important part of their summer holiday. They came first to boarding houses, and then to rambling, wooden oceanfront hotels, where their dinner plates were loaded, truly loaded, with seafood and everything else. The author reproduces an 1873 dinner menu from Long Branch’s posh West End Hotel and a wine list from Leland’s Ocean Hotel. It’s hard to imagine getting up from the table after eating and drinking all that was offered. (For an LBI menu from 1901, check out the Oceanic Hotel’s menus on display at the Barnegat Light Museum. Dieters warned to stay away.)

This excursion throughout the Jersey Shore’s culinary and restaurant history takes us from the 1850s, when visitors were introduced to the produce that made New Jersey the Garden State – squash, tomatoes and sweet, succulent corn – to mid-20th century’s fast food. The author’s insightful research brings us stories of what people ate and where they did it, from white tablecloth restaurants to boardwalk food stands.

Jersey Shore Food History is loaded with photographs, illustrations and some tempting recipes stirred in, too. And you’ll discover that the locavore movement isn’t new – Atlantic City’s Hotel Dennis grew its produce on the mainland and had a “farm to table” dining room in the 1920s and ’30s.

A chapter titled “Casual Eats and Boardwalk Treats” walks us through the history of tomato pies and pizza (in the 1940s and ’50s, the Gateway in Ship Bottom sold tomato pies, not pizza); hoagies and subs (there’s a 1964 photo of the Beatles about to devour a White House Sub); and saltwater taffy, hot dogs and Taylor’s pork roll.

Schnitzspahn’s previous book, The Roaring ’20s at the Jersey Shore, is a sumptuous feast of text and images, bringing that wild period to life. In Jersey Shore Food History she takes us on a real feast – a scrumptious, meandering, tasty journey of shore eating.

As I said, if you love to eat and you love the shore…

Margaret Buchholz is the former owner of this newspaper and author of Josephine: From Washington Working Girl to Fisherman's Wife, Shore Chronicles, New Jersey Shipwrecks, Island Album and co-author of Great Storms of the Jersey Shore, available at local stores. Send comments to lbipooch@comcast.net.

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