I, Too, Always Head to the Mutton Cooling Room On My Vacation

mutton final one

mutton back final one

My dear sister – Will leave here in about 2 hr am having a good time was to a show last night. Will get to Denver at 6 PM Fri. C.V.G. Was here Thur. saw P.Felix and Wm. F. Will send you card from Denver.

You have to wonder if her fingers were a bit frozen while writing this note to dear sister Verdie in March of 1909. The postcard is a lovely rendering in pen and ink of ‘The Mutton Cooling Room‘ at Swift and Co. in Chicago.

Mutton, of course, is sheep. And a sheep is a lamb which has grown up. The flavor of mutton is stronger and gamier (and fattier) than the lamb we are accustomed to in the US, but in times past it was enjoyed here.

From the Steamship Menu Collection

This is a lunch menu from the Steamship Haverford of the American Line. The voyage of 16 days made for an extremely long transatlantic journey for these passengers. The Gjenvick-GjΓΈnvik Archives has the Passenger List for this voyage.

* Scotch Broth

* Curried Lamb a la Madras

* Stewed Rump Steak

* Button Onions

* Spaghetti in Cream

* Roast Jacket Potatoes


* Sardines on Toast

* Roast Beef

* Roast Mutton

* Ox Tongue

* Leicester Brawn

* Bologna Sausage.

* Pickled Pigs Feet

* Tomato Salad

* Cocoanut, Custard Tart

* Small Pastry

* Cheese

* Boston Crackers

* Soda & Oaten Biscuits

* Tea

* Coffee

Having been a chef in charge of production cooking myself, I suspect that the ‘Cold Roast Mutton’ was part of the same animal which also yielded the ‘Scotch Broth’ and the more gently named and Frenchified ‘Curried Lamb a la Madras’.

Mutton can actually be made edible in ways beyond stewing it with masses of spices but it still has a name problem. It’s mutton, you see. And who wants mutton. In this recipe from New Zealand they got around that problem nicely by calling it ‘Colonial Goose’.

I’m packing now, to head out for my own vacation hoping to take a visit to the Mutton Cooling Room. But before I go, let me leave you with a clip from Seinfeld called ‘Thanks for Mutton’.


28 thoughts on “I, Too, Always Head to the Mutton Cooling Room On My Vacation

  1. It is bizarre, but I’m not so sure it was a joke! πŸ™‚

    In 1908 Chicago was the center of the country’s agricultural commodities exchange – corn, wheat, meat. The stockyards and slaughterhouses were huge income-producers in what was a much more agriculturally-based economy than the one which currently exists.

    Lots of jobs, lots of people’s lives were deeply entwined with places like the Mutton Cooling Room. It’s funny, but true.

    And of course Upton Sinclair wrote ‘The Jungle’ in 1906 Chicago about places within this system of food preparation and distribution – and what a book that was!!!

    I wrote ‘she’ but on second thought it was more likely a ‘he’ who sent the postcard, and I’d bet he had something to do with cattle/sheep farming or beef/mutton distribution in Ohio . . . particularly since the next stop on the trip was Denver (another big place for cattle-sheep-as-commodity).

    But really it is ridiculous, if you don’t bother to think about all that. I mean really. A Mutton Cooling Room πŸ˜€

    Love your blog, btw. Will be back to read it at length a bit later!

    1. mutton. I have boycotted it since I was 13, when my mother, after acquiring Elsie and Rosie, two ewes, butchered the son, Blackie, and put him in the freezer and on the table.
      She forgot to tell us he was going to be dinner and he was our pet, he was so cute and , of course, black with curly hair.
      even after a hard life, I still can cry about the matter. No one told me, a child of the suburbs, that I would be eating my pet. I think it’s what you call a transitional generation, when children who grew up on farms and were used to killing animals, forget to tell their children, that animals are food,not loved ones.

      1. Yes, about the transitional generation . . . and now the tide has shifted again and people want to grow their own livestock personally for personal use – chickens being the most popular, it seems.

  2. Ah! The Prince is doing almost as much as Jamie to shift eating habits, isn’t he! πŸ˜€

    Suzy, do come back. I think you’ll like next Tuesdays’ post in particular. πŸ˜‰

    Maria, I meant to ask if you knew that NZ recipe when you lived there . . .

  3. I once took a two-hundred mile detour on a cross-country drive just so that I could try the barbecued mutton in Owensboro, KY. I ended up at a Sunday afternoon post-church buffet, and it was one of the most amazing meals of my life. I still dream about the taste of that mutton.

  4. Hilarious, interesting postcard.

    Being from the once-called “hog-butcher for the world” (Sandburg) I can imagine it was a popular place for such (mutton) back in the day.

    I wonder if my postcard from Ben & Jerry’s will receive any attention in 2109!

    Love how you weave the thread up to contemporary mutton, ala Seinfeld. Great writing!


    1. Wow – bwlight I think I actually may have an old postcard from Sandburg – must check!

      I would bet that Ben & Jerry’s card would get attention – particularly since the graphics are so great.

      Thanks for visiting – hope you’ll be back. πŸ™‚

    1. It is a name with some irony, isn’t it theasley – ‘Colonial Goose’. πŸ˜‰

      You’ve got me curious now about Navaho recipes for mutton . . . must do some research. Thanks! πŸ™‚

  5. just started this blog? you left me smiling and wanting more of those edible postcards. love it. what a fun idea…

    it’d be great if you shared how you have your hands on such amusing things. keep it up!

    1. I’ll be posting twice a week, Haley. I’ve been collecting postcards (mostly about food) for some time . . . you can find them in some antique stores.

      It’s great to have a collection which takes such a small amount of storage space. πŸ˜‰

  6. I am a long-time fan, Karen, but I admire your latest blog very much–entertaining, colorful, well-written and well-organized. I’m making a bookmark.

  7. Oh how fun this is going to be Karen. You know I will now be looking out for vintage food related postcards when I’m at auction. Cookbooks for me, postcards for you.

    I think it was Hannah Glasse who said, when speaking of mutton, “mind the eyes…if they be sunk or wrinkled, it is stale.” No stale mutton in that cooler. Perhaps, that “view” was being shared in the postcard, not.

    GREAT post, Karen. Are you really going on vaca???

    1. Ah Louise my companion in all that is mutton-minded and lovely . . . no, I’m not going on vacation to the Mutton Cooling Room. I just got carried away while writing the post . . .

  8. This is one of those cards that you buy in haste with a bunch of others and then it gets left, and left, until you end up having to use it. You feel vaguely embarrassed at sending it to anyone, and just hope they don’t realise they were at the bottom of the list.

    1. What’s funny, Sheila – is that what you say is in general true. It would likely be true if I had bought the card while on vacation . . . there aren’t a whole lot of people-in-general who would really adore getting a card of the inside of an animal-food-processing plant (though as most of my friends are in the ‘foodie’ category there are definitely a few who would totally adore it).

      But it feels to me as if the sender simply really thought it was just right! I still have a very strong feeling that livestock production is his (was his) business and that this card was his ‘best card’ of choice.

      I honestly love these somewhat awkward cards more than the more finessed ones, though. What they lay open about our culture is more direct. πŸ™‚

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