For this month’s posting, we thought we’d feature a light recipe to get us ready for spring. Today, we are going to talk about Union Pacific’s Cole Slaw with Peppers recipe as well as Union Pacific menus and how they promoted travel.

Before we share the coleslaw recipe, let’s talk about the history of this dish. Coleslaw’s origins can be traced to Ancient Romans who served a dish consisting of cabbage, eggs, vinegar, and spices. The dish became popular in the Netherlands, and the term as we know it today is derived from the Dutch koosla meaning cabbage salad. The Dutch, who founded New York, brought this recipe and their cabbage with them to America and the dish can be traced back to the 1700s in the United States where it has remained and evolved.

Figure 1 17th century depiction of New Amsterdam, the Dutch colony, before it became New York.

Railroads prided themselves on their dining experiences, and one of the ways they were able to illustrate that pride is through their menus. Here at the Colorado Railroad Museum, one of our largest collection of menus is from the Union Pacific. These menus not only showcase the food options passengers had when they frequented the dining cars and restaurants, but also frequently illustrated the places passengers could travel to by rail.

Figure 2 Union Pacific menu featuring Los Angeles as a travel destination, 1967.

Railroads wanted to encourage passengers to travel as tourists to various locations, as this ensured money in the railroads’ pockets. They encouraged travel to cities, as seen in figure 2, as well as to spots of natural wonder such as America’s national parks, like in figure 3. Menu covers featured a beautiful destination spot and then some information about that location on the back of the menu.

Figure 3 Union Pacific menu featuring Zion National Park as a travel destination, 1967.

The Union Pacific made sure to not only include information on the places it was boosting travel to, but also on how its tracks in particular could get a traveler to a specific location. For instance, its menu featuring Yellowstone National Park—figure 4—noted “Thousands of Union Pacific travelers visit Yellowstone and nearby Grand Teton National Park annually as complete vacations, but they can also be seen on a short side-trip on your way to or from the Pacific Northwest” showing that passengers didn’t have to make a special trip to visit, but could make it part of their already scheduled trips to the Pacific Northwest.

Figure 4 Yellowstone National Park featured on Union Pacific menu, 1970.

National parks aren’t the only natural locations the Union Pacific promoted. The railroad also encouraged travelers to see mountain ranges like the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest, figure 5. It made sure to highlight that “Union Pacific passenger trains parallel the majestic Columbia River for nearly 200 miles to and from Portland offering many spectacular views of this fine scenic wonderland.”

Figure 5 1970 Union Pacific menu featuring Mt. Hood in the Cascades range.

Not only did all of these menus feature beautiful locations that the Union Pacific wanted passengers to consider traveling to, every one of them also contained coleslaw as a menu option for sides, attesting to the prevalence of the dish. To this day coleslaw can be a widely varied dish made in many ways by adding and taking away certain ingredients. The Union Pacific recipe calls for the addition of peppers, as you will see below.

Figure 6 UP menu featuring Cole Slaw.

We hope you enjoyed our brief history of coleslaw and examples of the beautiful menus in our collection from Union Pacific. If you try the recipe please let us know on any of our social media accounts, or in the comments below!

Union Pacific’s Cole Slaw with Peppers
Adapted from James D. Porterfield’s Dining By Rail
Pullman-car attendants were encouraged to add different fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, onions, apples, pineapple, or pimentos, to the cole slaw, as the season and circumstance dictated.

½ cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
½ tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 medium head cabbage
1 green pepper, ¼-inch diced
parsley or chives, finely chopped
8 head lettuce leaves

In a small bowl, make dressing by combining mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. Mix, using wire whisk, until well blended. Shred fine a cabbage that is very crisp. In bowl sufficient to hold all, toss cabbage, diced green pepper, and dressing. Cover and chill thoroughly before serving. French dressing or ½ cup mayonnaise seasoned with one tablespoon of Maggi seasoning can substitute for dressing. Serve on a crisp lettuce leaf and sprinkle with a little finely chopped parsley or chives.


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Past Dining on the Rails Posts:
Dining on the Rails February 2023: Bourbon Toddy
Dining on the Rails January 2023: Cinnamon Toast and Children’s Menus
Dining on the Rails December 2022: Harvey Girl Special Little Thin Orange Pancakes
Dining on the Rails November 2022: Old Fashioned Navy Bean Soup
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Dining on the Rails September 2022: Peach Cobbler
Dining on the Rails August 2022: Barbeque
Dining on the Rails July 2022: Mountain Trout
Dining on the Rails June 2022: Eat like a Hobo!
Dining on the Rails: May 2022 – Mother’s Day Shirred Eggs
Dining on the Rails: April 2022 – How about a nice Old Fashioned?
Dining on the Rails: March 2022 – French Toast, Anyone?
Dining on the Rails: February 2022 – A Chocolatey Valentine’s Treat!
Dining on the Rails: January 2022 – Western Pacific Pork Tenderloin
Dining on the Rails: December 2021 – Cranberry Sauce
Dining on the Rails: November 2021 – Oyster Stuffing!
Dining on the Rails: October 2021 – Chicken Pot Pie
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Dining on the Rails, June 14, 2020
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Dining on the Rails, May 31, 2020
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