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.
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.”
I had no idea what I was in for when I looked up the definition of the word “blue.”
I was particularly interested in its use as an indicator of questionable decency, such as a “blue movie” or “blue language.” I knew I would run into descriptions of the color, of course, but I never thought about how many ways the word is actually used in the English language or how many meanings it has.
You can be a blue-blood, a bluestocking, a bluenose, or be born a blue baby with a heart defect and cyanotic skin. Baby blues can be a description of someone’s enchanting eyes, or baby blues can be the feeling of sadness a woman may experience after giving birth. You can put bluing in your laundry to make the whites whiter, live in a blue state, or get caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
A blue ribbon puts you in first place, but feeling blue means you’re depressed or sad. Having or singing the blues signifies low spirits or feeling melancholy, while music known as the blues is defined as jazz or popular music using specific harmonic and phrase structures.
Doing something until you’re blue in the face means it’s hopeless and going nowhere. Something coming out of the blue is a surprise. Once in a blue moon indicates something that happens rarely, but with the current definition of a blue moon, they are actually not so rare. A blue moon was defined as the second full moon in one calendar month, which doesn’t happen all that often. However, now it’s also used to indicate the third of four full moons in a season, which makes it much more common.
Most interesting are the contradictory definitions around morality. A bluenose is a person with puritanical values. Blue language or a blue movie is defined as obscene, coarse, crude, dirty, indecent, lascivious, lewd, profane, smutty, trashy, and so on.
As should happen in any excursion into etymology, I learned a couple of new words: bluestocking and billingsgate.
A bluestocking is a woman having intellectual or literary interests. The term was an attempted put-down in mid-18th century England when learning was considered to be an inappropriate pursuit for a woman. The women in question deflated the put-down by embracing it and calling themselves the Blue Stocking Society.
And billingsgate? It’s a noun defined as “coarsely abusive language.” Billingsgate was a centuries-old fish market in London, England, known for the crude and vulgar language continuously used by the fishmongers, male and female alike. To be subjected to billingsgate is to be subjected to foul language.
Interestingly, one term that did not show up spontaneously was “blue-hair,” meaning an elderly person, often with white hair having a bluish tinge. When I specifically searched for the term, two separate sources used the same sentence as an example of its use, each referring to getting “the blue-hairs off the road.” Hmmph.
What other uses of the word “blue” have I missed?
Post Script: My husband wants to know how I could forget blue balls. And we’re not talking bocce here, folks.
The Miss Bellows Falls Diner is easy to find on Rockingham Street, off Route 5, in Bellows Falls. It is a Worcester Lunch Car Company diner built in 1944 as #771. It is basically free-standing, with vestibules added on either end, workspace and restrooms along the back, and shingles on the curved roof. Angle parking is in a lot beside it and also across the street.
The outside is enameled metal displaying the name in large red letters on a light gray background, and inside the walls and counter are also faced with enameled metal, the first time we’ve seen that in a Worcester. It was also the first Worcester we’ve seen with panes of stained glass decorating each window.
The interior is not as well preserved as some we’ve visited. Only nine seats remain at the counter, with gaps where stools are missing. The original bank of coolers is still in use and all meal cooking appears to be done behind the counter. Five oak booths line the outer wall, and the line of windows is dressed up with red and white half-curtains. No chrome makes this place shine, but it appeared to be clean. For more photos, go here.
The service definitely did not shine. While we had previously experienced diner waitresses with dynamic personalities who enjoyed interacting with customers, we now had a basically disinterested young waitress who forgot we were there, even though the entire tiny diner had five customers, including us. After dropping off two cans of Barq’s root beer (no glasses, no ice offered), she proceeded to lean on the counter with her back to us, talking to the young male cook while we watched and waited. Even though he was facing us, he didn’t seem to notice we were more than ready to order. It was obvious the owner was not on-site, and neither employee was invested in the long-term success of the business.
Once the waitress finally remembered us and took our order, we waited a reasonable amount of time for the food, but it was not quick. When delivering the food, she also dropped off the bill, and told us to pay when we were ready. The fact that we might want dessert apparently did not occur to her. This became even more evident when we sat with empty plates and waited for her to notice. By then, more customers had come in, and a full fifteen minutes passed without her even glancing our way. (Bad planning on someone’s part to have a clock on the wall, facing ignored customers.)
The epitome of dearth-of-service came when she finally noticed that we weren’t offering to pay and came our way with a frown on her face. Four types of pie were written on a white board as being available for dessert; Don ordered banana cream. She snatched up the bill and walked away. She never asked if he’d like coffee with his pie. After several minutes, she sauntered back to say there was no banana cream pie and, by the way, no chocolate cream pie, either, just apple and coconut cream. Now, one might hope that a waitress in a tiny restaurant with a minimal menu, would know ahead of time that two of four pies did not actually exist. One might hope she would even erase them from the white board. One might hope.
BLT: My BLT provided some firsts for me. Number one, the mayo was delivered on the side, albeit in a generous portion. I’ve never been served a do-it-yourself BLT before, but I deconstructed my BLT and slathered a goodly amount of mayonnaise onto the very dry toast triangles. Even so, the sandwich continued to taste dry, and I realized it was because the tomato was paper-thin, on the verge of transparency. I have never seen a tomato sliced that thin before. I actually did not realize it was possible to slice a tomato that thin, and I wish I had witnessed the slicing. It was either done with great skill on a very sharp mandoline or else with a laser beam. I should have thought to record it for posterity with my camera, but I guess I was too enthralled by the superhuman accomplishment to take a photo.
The sandwich was supposed to come with chips and a pickle, so when no pickle was to be found, I waved down the recalcitrant waitress and notified her of the missing item. She delivered two long dill pickle wedges to our table, since Don’s pickle was missing, as well.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 5 being average, I gave my BLT a (2).
Hamburger: Don’s hamburger came with lettuce and mayo on the side and, eventually, the elusive pickle; tomato was available for a 50 cent additional charge (I have to admit, I would have loved to see the thickness of the 50 cent tomato). No onion was offered. He opted for the French fries and cole slaw that came with the hamburger “plate” for an additional $1.99. The burger came on a store-bought hamburger bun; the meat was thick and cooked as requested (medium-well). He gave the burger a (7).
French fries: The fries appeared to be handcut and were golden brown. (8)
Dessert: Non-existent. (0)
BLT: $5.95, included ripple chips and a pickle wedge that required a vocalized request to materialize
Burger: $4.00, lettuce and mayo; no tomato, no onion; chips and the elusive pickle
Fries and cole slaw: $1.99 additional; replaced the chips
Root beers: $1.00 each; served in the can with a straw; no glass, no ice, obviously no refill
Total bill before taxes and gratuity: $13.94
Service: Minimal and grudgingly provided. (2)
Restrooms: Single-person, small, gender-specific; somewhat shabby but clean. (9)
Overall experience: 4.5 (out of 10)
Miss Bellow Falls Diner
90 Rockingham Street
Bellows Falls, VT 05101
Serving breakfast and lunch only. Closes at 2 p.m. daily. Accepts credit cards as long as your bill is at least $5.00 before gratuity.
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.
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.
Birdseye Diner in Castleton, Vermont, is a real beauty both inside and out. It is a Silk City Diner, manufactured in the 1940s by the Paterson Vehicle Co. of Paterson, New Jersey, and has been lovingly restored to its original condition by the current owners. In 1996, they removed a pitched roof and barnboard siding covering the outside so that once again the entire diner, including the curved roof, is visible in all its 1940s glory.
Much of the interior chrome added in the 1960s to “modernize” the diner was also removed. Ceramic tiles in aqua, cream, and black cover the walls beneath the windows and the vertical surfaces of the counter and footrest. The terrazzo floor is intact, the vaulted ceiling gleams, and the continuous line of windows keeps everything bright inside. This diner is long and sleek, with twenty stools at the counter and several booths along the outside wall. When seated in a booth, the long line of windows makes it feel like a diner car on a train. (For more photos, go here.)
The current owners also extended the seating by adding what looks like the interior of a smaller Silk City Diner perpendicular to the original at one end. That diner is enclosed within the building next door and is only visible from inside. Outdoor seating along the sidewalk is also available. Parking is on the street.
Cooking is done in a kitchen added onto the back, and does not occur behind the counter. The diner was busy, and the servers were as friendly as time would allow. Food delivery was very fast. When I expressed interest in the diner itself, they graciously gave me a postcard of the diner and a quick synopsis of its history. Hanging behind the counter is a framed copy of early advertising for purchase of a Silk City Diner, promising potential owners “financial independence” and “big profits” for a “modest investment.” All in all, the place was fun and the food was good.
BLT: My BLT was excellent with plenty of flavorful bacon (bordering on almost too much), tasty tomato slices, lots of deep green lettuce, and plenty of mayo on store-bought whole wheat bread toasted just right. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being excellent and 5 being average, I gave it (9). Homemade bread would have pushed it all the way to a 10.
Burger: Don’s burger was very good, cooked just right and not too chewy (a problem in some previous diners). It came with a choice of handcut French fries, cole slaw, or chips, and he chose the fries. It was accompanied by deep green lettuce, a tomato slice, and pickle slices, the whole thing on a golden bun with more character than average. (9.5)
French Fries: The fries were unremarkable but get extra points for being handcut. (7)
Dessert: Don chose the lemon meringue pie which he rated an (8).
BLT: $4.95, included chips and dill pickle slices
Burger: $8.75, included lettuce and tomato, pickle slices, and a choice of chips, French fries, or cole slaw
Root beers: $2.00 each (large), refilled
Total bill before taxes and gratuity: $20.95
Restrooms: The restrooms were very small, single-use, designated by gender, and clean. Photos of other diners were featured in the restroom and the little hallway. (10)
Service: Pleasant and fast. (10)
Overall experience: 9.5
590 Main Street
Castleton, VT 05735
The Windsor Diner is easy to find on Route 5, Main Street, in Windsor, Vermont. Parking is on the street, but we had no problem finding a spot. The original curved roof of this Worcester Lunch Car Company diner is hidden beneath a conventional roof, and an extension to one side holds additional seating. The extension continues behind the diner, providing space for restrooms and a dishwashing area. At the end of June in 2016, when we visited, the road had just been repaved and the sidewalks were still under construction.
Inside, this diner is a gleaming pleasure to behold. The original configuration has been retained, with the long counter and stools facing the cooking area and the original coolers and work area at the far end still in use. (More photos here.) Booths stand along the outside wall. Signs identify the diner as #835, built in 1952. The two women working out front that day (I believe one was the owner) kept up a jovial, teasing banter between themselves and with patrons, giving the place a welcoming, fun atmosphere. Service was quick and friendly, and their motto, “Good Food Fast,” was accurate.
BLT: My BLT was very good, with a generous amount of flavorful bacon, a relatively tasty tomato, lots of lettuce, and plenty of mayo on whole wheat bread toasted just right. A long slice of a dill pickle and a mound of ripple chips came with it. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being excellent and 5 being average, I gave it (9). Homemade bread would have pushed it all the way to a 10.
Burger: Don’s burger was also very good, made with 1/3 pound of real ground beef, instead of a chewy commercial patty. He opted for the hamburger plate in order to have French fries instead of chips, and the plate included a portion of very tasty cole slaw. Tomato, onion, pickle, and lettuce were also included, and the burger was cooked medium-well, as he requested. He gave it a (9) because he’s saving a 10 for a burger that knocks his socks off, but this one came close.
French Fries: The handcut fries were very brown and somewhat soggy. (7)
Dessert: Don chose the cherry crumble, made in-house as are all their desserts, and it was so excellent, he gave it a (10). I tried a little, and I agreed.
BLT: $5.50, included chips and a large pickle spear
Burger: $8.95, included French fries, cole slaw, lettuce, tomato, raw onions, and a large pickle spear
Root beers: $2.00 each (large), no refills offered
Total bill before taxes and gratuity: $22.40
The Windsor Diner does not accept credit cards.
Restrooms: The restrooms were single-use, designated by gender, small and unremarkable, and very clean. (10)
Service: Friendly, fast, and welcoming. Nice people who seemed to sincerely enjoy what they were doing. (10)
Overall experience: 9
The Windsor Diner
135 Main St