When I wrote recently about the demise of Vogelsang’s tavern and restaurant in Fort Loramie, fans of its sometime lunch special, shipwreck stew, bemoaned what they feared would be the loss of a local delicacy.
Dave Ross, in particular, was quoted in the story as saying he hoped another eatery would acquire the recipe and add the dish to its menu.
Well, another eatery did just that. Martha Holscher, owner of Morrie’s Landing, 11003 Ohio 362, right across from the Lake Loramie campground, sent me an email last week. She had seen the Sidney Daily News story and she was offering a lunch special of shipwreck stew. Would I like to try it?
Of course, I would!!! I asked if Dave would be there, too. I’d never tried shipwreck stew, so Dave would have to judge whether Martha’s version measured up to what he loved at Vogelsang’s.
Dave was there, and so was another Dave: Dave Voisard, whose mother, Ruth, had made the stew first at Seger’s restaurant and then at Vogelsang’s. If anyone could judge shipwreck stew, it would be those two Daves.
So there we were, the three of us, chatting away at Morrie’s Landing about Ruth and favorite foods and childhood memories while we waited for our lunchtime special to be served. According to what I’d learned doing the Vogelsang’s story, it would be a bowl of hamburger, potatoes, onions, green beans and cream of mushroom soup.
Now that kind of worried me. I don’t like cream soups. I knew that I would at least taste some stew even if it turned out to be really creamy. If I could get through Russian fish, I could get through shipwreck stew.
There were some summers when I worked with a team of dancers from Moscow, U.S.S.R. They brought most of their food with them in cans and tins and boxes. They’d load their suitcases with food at home and then empty them in the U.S. by eating it all summer long. They’d fill their suitcases with American jeans, T-shirts, candy, socks and shoes to take back to what was then still Soviet Russia.
They invited me to dinner. They served odd little canned fish — sort of like sardines — that still had their scales and heads on them. They were downright awful, but the dancers were so happy that I had accepted their invitation, I couldn’t hurt their feelings by not eating what they served. I figured out pretty quickly that I could manage to get a fish down if I ate a whole slice of bread with it. Let me just say that I consumed an entire loaf of bread that night.
Dave V. said his mother used to have a home bakery and that he’d get up at 4 a.m. on Thursdays to help bake bread and on Fridays to help bake cinnamon rolls. Then, he’d take 250 of them to school with him to sell for a nickel a piece. His family had a huge garden and Dave V. thought that when his mother made the stew at home, she probably tossed in whatever vegetables were available.
Martha had looked it up on the Internet and found lots of recipes. She had called Dave R. to ask him about variations. One included noodles; another, kidney beans.
What she served, though, was the classic that both Daves knew. It was way better scaly fish. The only bread I ate was the dinner roll that came with the meal. The stew had lots of hamburger and potatoes, plenty of green beans and onions, and enough tomato sauce that I didn’t taste the cream of mushroom soup at all. It’s comfort food and I would eat it again.
“I like to see traditions continue like this,” Dave R. said as he scooped his fork into his bowl. “That’s why I like local history in Sidney. I like to see things perpetuated.” Would the restaurant still have stew available that evening, he asked. If so, he’d be back to get another helping for supper.
Both Daves proclaimed Martha’s version a success. Martha shared credit with her head cook, Loren Pence.
“We doctored it up a lot,” she said. Later, she told me the recipe had been very popular. Morrie’s Landing sold out of it and she’ll offer it as a special again.
The Daves and I got to talking about how this one-pot meal got its name. I had thought that Ruth invented the dish, that it was a Fort Loramie specialty. But with so many versions available on the web, that couldn’t be the case.
No, Dave V. said. He thought that perhaps his dad, who had been a cook in the Army, had brought the recipe home from the military. Ruth made it at home and then took it along to the restaurant when she started working there. Online, I found a recipe for it in a church cookbook from 1940. But it goes back much farther than that.
In my research, I discovered a reference to shipwreck stew in a book written and published in London by the Right Honourable Joseph Addison in 1721!
So, despite the fact that many folks online think it’s named that way because it looks like a shipwreck, my guess is that in a century long, long ago, on a shore far, far away, the survivors of a real shipwreck created a meal from whatever food they could find in the wreckage. If it’s true that something good comes from every disaster, then perhaps the legacy of that storm-tossed ancient crew is the yummy lunch I had last week.
The writer is the Localife editor of Sidney Daily News. Reach her at 937-538-4824 or [email protected]