Pastries, pies, doughnuts and all sorts of baked goods were a popular treat in the Grays Harbor area at the turn of the 20th century. From the banks of Joe Creek (near Pacific Beach State Park) to the cities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam, they were popular with people from all walks of life in the region. Because of this, they have become a piece of Grays Harbor history.
“If I were a poet,” wrote an anonymous journalist in the Aberdeen Herald on August 27, 1896, “I would write a sonnet in honor of the North Beach huckleberry, and I would say something like this: Hail, sweetest, juiciest, most delicious fruit of all the Pacific shore! Crimson and purple beauty of the verdant Joe Creek vale, thy praises I would sing! What are the grapes or pears or raisins of California; what are all the figs and lymes [limes] and berries of the tropics compared to thee! As long as memory lasts my mouth will water for thy rich, tart delicious flavor. Far above the hog-fat pastry of the 80-dollar a month French cook do I prize thee rich, juicy, fragrant, delicious pies the average ‘bach’ [bachelor] can make of thee with no shortinin [shortening] at all.”
Desserts were usually on the menu at local restaurants. When the Aberdeen Hotel reopened on July 4, 1895, for example, they served a celebratory dinner. Dessert included cherry, lemon and raspberry pies. The Vienna Bakery in Aberdeen also had a restaurant that served their baked goods as part of their regular menu. Their Christmas dinner in 1891 included clam chowder, stuffed turkey with cranberry marmalade, oyster patties and came with a choice of plum pudding with cherry sauce or lemon cream pie for dessert.
Although bread was their main seller, local bakeries often sold cakes, doughnuts and pastries too. Professional baking was a competitive business, and Grays Harbor had many bakeries over time. Stores included Townsend’s, which operated both the Aberdeen Bakery (414 East Heron Street) and Model Bakery (112 South G Street) in 1906. Townsend’s eventually sold out to the Coast Baking Company (113 ½ South G Street), which advertised itself as, “The store of pastry specials.” They listed some of these specials in an Aberdeen Herald advertisement on January 26, 1911, including filled wreath cakes, raisin cakes, New England mocha cakes, butter snails, French crullers, table queen bread, homemade pies – “like mother used to make” – and many types of French pastries.
Local grocers sometimes sold pastries as well in the era before supermarkets. Dean’s (211 South G Street), for example, advertised in the Herald on Halloween 1907 that they offered, “a full line of delicious pastry, cakes and bread fresh every day” besides their line of tea, coffee, groceries, crockery and “fresh fruit by every train.”
Grays Harbor History: Pies as a Marketing Tool
Sometimes businesses used desserts to bring in customers and promote new products. In March 1895, for example, the Kroenert Brothers in Aberdeen served sample doughnuts and Saratoga chips – potato chips – cooked fresh using cottolene, a type of shortening. Geo. J. Wolff store (220 Heron Street) hired Roberta Wing to demonstrate cooking with Olympic Patent Flour and Olympic Cake and Pastry Flour from Tacoma’s Puget Sound Flouring Mills for a whole week in June 1905.
Groups also held bake sales to fundraise. The Sodality of the Children of Mary of the St. Egedius Church in February 1907, for example, held a “homemade pastry sale” at Kolts’ furniture store, located in Aberdeen’s Masonic Temple.
Grays Harbor History: Cooking Columns
The Aberdeen Herald newspaper published cooking advice and recipes, offering much inspiration to both aspiring and experienced home cooks. Readers could even get a free cookbook, “Table and Kitchen,” from the Price Baking Powder Company of Chicago by sending in a postcard that mentioned the Herald. This book included over 400 recipes and was also available in German and Scandinavian editions.
One regular column of recipes in the newspaper was “The Kitchen Cupboard,” a syndicated household column by Anna Thompson. She often wrote about desserts and offered recipes. “The autumn feast,” she stated on January 23, 1913, “would not be complete without the golden pumpkin pie.” She offered recipes depending on availability of eggs, including an eggless pumpkin pie and economical pumpkin pie, as well as rich pumpkin pie and pumpkin custard pie for when eggs were readily available.
For her column titled “When Making Pies” from January 25, 1912, Thompson listed a number of pie recipes. These included apple pie — “a cheap pie” – pumpkin custard pie and coconut pie, to make when fruit was hard to come by. For good measure, she also included recipes for plain, ginger, corn and peach fritters. Her “Winter Desserts” from January 28, 1916 included chocolate cream, Connecticut apple, Marlboro and lemon pies. Pie also featured on her sample menus. Her “Wash Day Menu” from May 12, 1916 topped off a lunch of creamed eggs, grilled sweet potatoes and cheese with lemon pie.
A pie did not need to have a boring appearance. Thompson also advised on presentation. Besides offering recipes for cranberry, fruit cream, caramel and lemon meringue pies in her February 17, 1914 column she suggested that a Christmas pie could “be given a festive appearance by serving it on a lace doily and encircled by a paper ruff. If you like it may also be adorned with small sprigs of holly.”
Today, people can easily find pies, pastries and other baked goods at grocery stores and bakeries. Although many things have changed since the turn of the century, Grays Harbor’s love and appreciation of good desserts lives on.