Who Put the “Miss” in the “Miss Somebody Diner”?

Miss Portland Diner

Have you ever noticed that some diners have the word “Miss” as part of their name? Ever wonder why?

American diners began in the mid-nineteenth century as horse-drawn lunch wagons. They were mobile and traveled from place to place, but instead of offering only walk-up service, they included room for patrons to sit inside at a counter, out of the elements. The lunch wagons primarily traveled to workplaces, providing their services to the men who were employed there. They also remained open at night, after restaurants had closed, thereby offering a place to grab a quick, inexpensive meal for the nighttime crowd.

Eventually, the lunch wagon business became so popular, towns began to enact ordinances to restrict their numbers and hours of operation. Wagon owners responded by finding semi-permanent locations for their wagons, and soon the idea of the prefabricated dining unit as an inexpensive way to start a business took off. Many of them ran on a shoestring budget that did not include funds for maintenance or landscaping, giving them the reputation of “greasy spoons” that appealed only to the working man.

By the 1920s, with women’s suffrage in the forefront, many of the diners recognized the need to attract women if they were to stay in business. In addition to cleaning up their act, adding booths or tables, and improving the esthetics with paint and flowers, many added the word “Miss” to their name in an effort to soften their image and appeal to women.

Over the years, the names of diners may change with new owners, and many of the old “Miss Somebody” diners have been renamed. Today we still have the “Miss Lyndonville Diner” and “Miss Bellows Falls Diner” here in Vermont, “Miss Worcester Diner” and “Miss Mendon Diner” in Massachusetts, and the “Miss Albany Diner” in New York. Hopefully, there are others. The “Miss” has also been commandeered by eating places that are not true diner-car diners, including one of our old favorites for blueberry pie, “The Miss Wiscasset Diner” in Wiscasset, Maine.

Personally, we find the whole “Miss” thing charming — just another reason to appreciate the history of the American Diner.

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An Ugly Word for a Beautiful Phenomenon

guttation

My garden plants—especially cucumbers and certain types of weeds—often exhibit a row of water beads in neat, uniform rows on the surface or edges of their leaves early in the morning. This phenomenon, lovely as it is, goes by the unfortunate name of guttation.

Guttation is not the same as dew. Dew forms on the surface of leaves and grasses when moisture in the air condenses into little pools of water. Guttation occurs when water pressure inside the plant pushes water out through water glands called hydathodes. This is most likely to occur on cool nights or when high humidity inhibits natural evaporation of moisture from the leaves. Roots continue to draw water from the soil, and when internal water pressure becomes too high, it forces excess moisture out through the glands.

Guttation is not an indication of over-watering. Rather, it’s the reaction of a healthy plant. Over-fertilizing, however, can have a negative effect via guttation, because of minerals that may be carried out onto the leaf tips and left there to accumulate when the water dries.

The origin of the word is from the Latin “gutta” meaning “drop.”

Peaches in a Pie

The very best peaches available here in Vermont start with Pennsylvania peaches that show up in mid-July at local farmstands and  co-ops. Eventually our next-door neighbor, New Hampshire, produces some great peaches, as well, a fairly recent addition with sufficient abundance to supply the marketplace.Peaches (2)

While I’m a big fan of peaches au naturel, simply cut up into cereal, or at most, combined with plain Greek yogurt, my husband is a fan of peach pie. So, today we will make pie! I like to keep it as simple as possible, so I go for the frozen pie crust, when possible. After all, it’s summer, and the livin’ is supposed to be easy!

 

Pastry for a two-crust pie
4 to 6 cups ripe peaches, peeled* and sliced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 to 1 ¼ cups sugar
¼ cup flour
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

Roll out the bottom crust and place in a 9-inch pie plate.
Sprinkle peaches with lemon juice.
Mix sugar and flour together. Add to peaches and mix well.
Place filling in crust. Grate nutmeg on top.

Wet edges of bottom crust with cold water. Roll out top crust and place on top of filling. Trim edges and pinch bottom and top together. Cut vents into top, fancy or plain, your choice.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, turn down to 375 degrees and cook until peaches bubble and pastry is golden, about 45 minutes.

Delicious served warm with ice cream.

*Note: The best way to peel peaches is to submerge in boiling water for 30 seconds. Skins will slip off. Do not overcook or they will be mushy and hard to handle.

On the Road in Vermont

Miss Lyndonville menuMy husband and I love old-fashioned diners — as in places to eat, not those who do the eating — and this summer, we have set out to visit one per week here in Vermont.

An old-fashioned American diner is not just another restaurant. A true diner has very specific characteristics, including a distinct structure, a wide range of “American” foods, a casual atmosphere, and low to moderate prices. Servers are usually friendly and equally at home with the lone coffee-drinker, the boisterous family, or a group of leather-clad bikers. These independently owned establishments are most common in the Northeast, Pennsylvania and Delaware, and parts of the Midwest. Vermont has several scattered across the state.

Although that cute little diner may look like a retired railroad car, it most likely never rode the rails. Authentic diners are pre-fabricated buildings, often resembling railroad cars, built specifically to be stationary eating places. Sterling Streamliner diners, manufactured from 1939 to 1942, were inspired by the sleekness of streamlined trains of that era and even include stainless steel panels on the exterior. Others, such as the classic Worcester diners out of Worcester, Massachusetts, sport porcelain enamel exteriors, often with the diner’s name written across the front.

The traditional diner floorplan was a service counter with floor-mounted stools facing a food prep area along the back wall. Larger models added booths or tables against the front wall and at the ends. Many had tile floors and a curved “barrel vault” roofline both inside and out. Over time, some expanded through the addition of framed construction or more pre-fab modules, and sometimes the original little diner disappeared within a larger building but is still identifiable once you’re inside.

For comparison purposes, my husband, Don, and I have taken to ordering the same thing in each diner. I get a BLT on toasted whole wheat bread, and he gets a burger. We usually drink root beer, and if his burger doesn’t come with fries, we either order them or we order onion rings. He’s a dessert person; I’m not. We rate our meals, and we check out each place for quality of service and cleanliness, including the restrooms. We’ll let you know what our meals cost before taxes and tip.

And so, we invite you to check in now and then if you’re interested. We’ll give you the low-down as we see it. Our goal is to roam the whole state eventually, but who knows what else might come up to change it all? Anyway, that’s our plan and, for now, we’re sticking to it.

The Miss Lyndonville Diner, Lyndonville, VT

Bob’s Diner, Manchester Center, VT

Chelsea Royal Diner, West Brattleboro, VT

Windsor Diner, Windsor, VT

Birdseye Diner, Castleton, VT

Miss Bellows Falls, Bellows Falls, VT

CJ’s Diner, Quechee, VT

Springfield Royal Diner, Springfield, VT

Blue Benn, Bennington, VT

Country Girl, Chester, VT

PHOTOS

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