Hang Town Fry-Famous Placerville, California Celebrates Food History In January
Historic Placerville, California, Placerville known as the birthplace of Hangtown Fry among its other credits, celebrates its annual, month-long January tradition, the El Dorado Epicurean Collection of Culinary Adventures, with a variety of culinary and wine events.
For more information on this quaint town and for schedule details, please see: (https://www.cityofplacerville.org).
As with many other events during California’s early history, many versions exist of the origin of Hangtown Fry dish, the now world famous mixture of eggs, oysters, and bacon. The one thing people agree upon it that originated in Placerville — known by the name of “Hangtown” its early days. So the town name is changed but the dish still carries it.
Among the tales have been several of “last meals” before hanging and one of a mistake made by a tired miner trying to cook dinner in the dark. However, the version most widely accepted and credited is as follows:
In 1849, just a short time after Old Dry Diggins had been renamed Hangtown in honor of the recent hanging of three desperadoes from the large oak tree on Main Street, a prospector rushed into the saloon of the El Dorado Hotel announcing that right there in town, along the banks of Hangtown Creek, he had struck it “rich” and had every reason to celebrate. Untying his leather poke from his belt, he tossed it on the bar where it landed heavily, spilling its shining contents of gold dust and nuggets. Turning to the bartender he loudly demanded, “I want you to cook me up the finest and most expensive meal in the house. I’m a rich man and I’m going to celebrate my good luck.”
The Bartender called out the prospector’s order to the kitchen. The cook stopped what he was doing and came out of the kitchen. Looking the prospector in the eye he said, “The most expensive things on the menu are eggs, bacon and oysters. The eggs have to be carefully packed to travel the rough road from over the coast; the bacon comes by ship round the horn from back east; and the fresh oysters we have to bring up each day on ice from the cold waters of San Francisco Bay. Take your choice. I can cook you anything you want, but it will cost you more than just a pinch of that gold dust you have there.”
“Scramble me up a whole mess of eggs and oysters, throw in some bacon and serve ’em up,” said the prospector. “I’m starving. I’ve lived on nothing much more than canned beans since I got to California, and at last I can afford a real meal.”
The cook did just that, cooking up a whole mess of eggs, bacon and oysters for the hungry prospector. Out of that prospector’s wish, and the cook’s talents, the original Hangtown Fry was created.
Over the years since, Hangtown Fry earned a place on the menu of many Placerville restaurants. One of the more famous places was the Blue Bell Cafe, just a few doors east of the Cary House, which proudly advertised and served the basic recipe from the late 1930s into the 1970s when the restaurant was sold.
Hangtown Fry, although sometimes amended with onions, bell peppers and a minor assortment of various spices, has remained the same basic dish that was born in Gold Rush nearly a century and a half ago. It subsequently appeared on hundreds of menus in restaurants along the Pacific Coast from Southern California to Canada. It is also listed prominently on the menu of the exclusive membership-only Breakfast Club at Club 21 in downtown New York City and was for a time featured on the first-class menu of at least one major American airline.
No dish epitomizes California and its Gold Rush more than Hangtown Fry, created at a location central to the Gold Rush at the same time the great state was being born. And, like the miners who worked the river banks and hillsides, and the population that followed, it is a unique blend of many things, both those produced locally and elsewhere.
Hangtown Fry Recipes
We loved making this recipe when we lived in San Francisco, where it was popular on restaurant menus as well – our favorite being the legendary Tadisch Grill (http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/2014/09/03/recipe-traditional-hangtown-fry-from-tadich-grill/. We found that oysters in a glass bottle are the easiest to work with in the kitchen. The variations on the dish have mostly to do with how the “crunch” is created.
Blue Bell Cafe Hangtown Fry
1 egg, beaten with 1 tbls. milk
breading mixture of cracker crumbs and bread crumbs
3 oysters (or any other medium sized oysters)
2 slices bacon
Dip the oysters in egg-wash and then breading. Pan-fry until three-fourths cooked. While doing this, fry the bacon in another skillet until just before it becomes crisp. Beat the eggs lightly. Place the bacon like railroad tracks off-center in a frying pan, pour a bit of the egg over the bacon. Place the oysters on bacon and pour the remaining eggs over. Cook and then fold the omelets over the oysters. Place a lid over it and cook until the steam blends together all the flavors. Makes 1 serving.
Cary House Hotel Hangtown Fry
12 medium-sized shucked oysters
3 T all-purpose flour
1/2 t salt
1 beaten egg
2 T butter or margarine
1/3 c milk
Pat oysters dry with paper towel. Combine flour, salt and the pepper, dip oysters into the flour mixture.
Melt the butter or margarine in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Cook oysters in butter till edges curl, about 2 minutes on each side.
Beat the 6 eggs with the milk and salt. Pour into skillet with oysters. As egg mixture begins to set on bottom and sides, lift and fold over. Continue cooking and folding for 4 to 5 minutes or till eggs are cooked throughout. Remove from heat. Makes 3 or 4 servings.