Construction Day Cookery
Contributed by Skeeter Hirons

I just read an article about Construction-day Cookery in the August, 1979 issue of Panama Canal Spillway. According to Fannie P. Hernandez and Ann Suescum, Johnny Mazzetti has been a much loved dish dating back to the Construction Days Era!!

A witty menu for a special party at the Tivoli in 1907, which featured courses name after landmarks along the Canal route, shows how closely that hotel was involved in the lives of the Canal builders. There was Ancon Turtle Soup, Tabernilla Pickles, Mount Hope Olives, Corozal Potatoes, Culebra Filet of Beef, Brazos Brook Asparagus, La Boca Turkey, Pedro Miguel Jelly, Potted Gatun Birds, Bas Obispo Punch, Cristobal Ball, Matachin Ice Cream, Gorgona Cake, Colon Cheese, Empire Coffee, Cemetery Road Cigarettes and Las Cascadas Cigars.

A gastronomic highlight of the construction-day era was "Johnny Mazzetti," a dish so popular for so long that it is considered by some to be a Canal Zone invention. Included here is an old family recipe for the hearty dish -- compliments of Ann Suescum, past president and present adviser of the Canal Zone Medical Wives, who earlier this summer was instrumental in recreating a social event in a construction-day atmosphere at the Governor's house, complete with dinner and fashions of those historic days.

Johnny Mazzetti:

Fry beef and pork in oil in a large skillet. When it has cooked awhile, add garlic cloves, thinly sliced onions, and peppers. Fry a little and then add remaining ingredients, except noodles and cheese and simmer a while.

Cook noodles in boiling water and drain. Grease a large pan. Add the meat mixture to the noodles and place in pan in layers, sprinkling the grated cheese on the layers and on top. Bake in slow oven, 275 degrees for two hours.

Another very interesting thing from the article was this:

An old story about construction days still in circulation tells how the Canal diggers used to walk about at work carrying yellow tins of "Grapenuts" cereal. It seems that the cereal, because of its baking process and special packaging, was one snack that could withstand the effects of a tropical climate. The men ate it dry and enjoyed the sweet crunchy flavor.

Here are the other two recipes, that accompanied the Construction Days Cookery article.

Grandmother Preston's Sticky Buns
(from Ann Suescum)

Scald milk. cool to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water. Add to cooled milk and make a sponge by adding 2 cups flour, slat and 1 tbs. sugar. Beat until smooth. Set aside in warm place. Beat shortening until light, whip in 3/4 cup sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating in thoroughly. When sponge is bubbly, gradually beat in the shortening mixture. Then stir in the remaining 3 cups of flour. Cover and let rise until double in bulk.

Roll a portion of the dough to a 1/4" thickness, spread with softenend butter, sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Scatter with nuts and raisins and dribble on syrup. Roll as for a jelly roll and cut into 1 1/2" lengths. Stand buns in a 2" deep by 9" buttered pan. Bake at 350 degrees.

Mrs. William L. Sibert, whose husband was in charge of the lock and dam construction on the Canal, enjoyed experimenting with local produce. Here is her recipe for "Chayote a la Eggplant" as it appeared in the C.Z. Federation of Women's Clubs cookbook of 1909-1910. Peel chayotes, slice them lengthwise in thin slices, lay them in cold water for at least 1/2 hour. Then dip each slice in rolled bread crumbs, then in beaten egg and again in bread crumbs. Let them stand an hour or so to stiffen, then drop in hot deep fat and fry to a golden brown.

Presented by CZBrats
October 7, 1998
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