Tag Archives: California

Hangtown Fry, a Gold Rush Recipe

After my brother wrote about our scoundrel great-great grandfather, Jesse Morgan who went to California during the Gold Rush, I asked him to suggest some food item that might have been popular with the 49ers. Here’s what he said:

The most famous of the 49ers cuisine includes of course Sourdough Bread, Jackass Steak (tough rabbit), and the famous”Hangtown Fry.” Have you ever tried it? It’s still served out here. A Hangtown Fry recipe and an amusing story about the origins of the name, can be found under the 49ers section of the Food Timeline History.

Yes, we do need to talk about sourdough one of these days, but first let’s approach “Hangtown Fry.”  What is it and why is it called that?

What is in Hangtown Fry?

Oysters for Hangtown Fry

Oysters

It is oysters. Oysters were enormously popular in the early to mid 19th century.  Every hotel had an oyster bar and all classy restaurants–as well as not-so-classy ones had special oyster dishes.

Why is it Called Hangtown Fry?

According to a 1964 article in the Los Angeles Times, The town now known as Placerville was called Hangtown back in Gold Rush Days.  A man was condemned to be hung and when he was asked what he wanted for his last meal, he said eggs and oysters. He might have been motivated by the fact that on the wild frontier it would take some time to rustle up fresh eggs and oysters.

However, the Placerville website, linked above, says the likeliest story is a miner who struck it rich wanted the most expensive food he could order.

Home of Hangtown Fry

Cary House Hotel in Placerville California. Photo from their website.

 

At any rate, people still eat Hangtown Fry–either simple scrambled eggs and oysters or a version with bacon. Here’s a recipe from the historic Cary House Hotel in Placerville.

 

 

 

Hangtown Fry

Serves 3-4
Prep time 4 minutes
Cook time 8 minutes
Total time 12 minutes
Allergy Egg, Fish, Milk
Dietary Diabetic
Meal type Main Dish
Misc Serve Hot
Region American
Website City of Placerville/Cary House Hotel Hangtown Fry

Ingredients

  • 12 oysters (shucked)
  • 3 tablespoons flour (or finely crushed crackers)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 dash Pepper
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • 2 tablespoons butter (or bacon fat)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

1. Pat oysters dry.
2. Combine flour, salt and pepper and dip oysters into the flour mixture
3. Dip oysters into the beaten egg, and back in the flour.
4. Fry in the melted butter or bacon fat until edges curl, about 2 minutes per side.
5. Beat the 6 eggs with milk and salt and pepper. Pour into skillet with oysters. As it sets on the edges, fold over.
6. Continue cooking about four minutes until done through. Remove from heat and serve.

Note

Many recipes include bacon, and I would definitely top each serving with a couple of strips of crisp bacon.

The Mysteries of ’49er Jesse Morgan: 52 Ancestors #25

Jesse Morgan ( 1805-1850)

By P. W. Kaser

This entry is a guest post by my brother, who followed Jesse to California. But my brother’s journey was more than one hundred years after the Gold Rush, and hopefully transpired without leaving a deserted wife and children behind and dead bodies in his wake.

Sutter's Fort as Jesse Morgan saw it.

Sutter’s Fort  near Sacramentofrom Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion 1840’s.

When Great-Great Grandpa Jesse Morgan was felled by a bullet through the neck during the Sacramento Squatters Riot of August 14, 1850, the family was left with many unanswered questions about his life. It hasn’t all been cleared up yet. Was Jesse a bold pioneer on the Oregon Trail? a horse-trading wanderer? a morally certified Ohio school teacher? a successful gold miner and hotel keeper in old Sacramento? a murderer and bigamist? Could he have been, to some degree, all of the above?

He enters American journalistic history as one of the crowd of squatters who shot down Mayor Bigelow. But did he just threaten the Mayor and never get a shot off? The real story of what happened and why that day at the corner of 4th and J Streets in Sacramento has yet to be fully revealed.

Sacramento where Jesse was shot

Sacramento Foot of J Street C. Parsons ; drawn Dec. 20th 1849 by G.V. Cooper ; lith. of Wm. Endicott & Co., N. York from worldmapsonline.com

Jesse Morgan, originally of New York State, was Grandma Vera Stout Anderson’s grandfather, thanks to his marriage in 1840 to widow Mary Morgan of Killbuck, Ohio. When he married Mary, Jesse was a widower with four children from his former mating. He and Mary had a daughter “Hattie,” still a very young child, when he began making frequent business trips throughout the Midwest.

Eventually and inevitably he succumbed to the pandemic (pun intended) of gold fever of 1849. Mary, back in Killbuck, was left, like so many “California Widows” of the time, with her husband’s optimistic letters and promises, until she received a letter from a New York Cousin of Jesse’s.  The letter enclosed a clipping from a New York newspaper with a notice of his death in Sacaramento.

The story of his earlier horse-trading and other business doings in the Midwest, along with a review of a detailed journal of adventures along the Oregon/California Trail that is attributed to him, will be the subjects of flashback features of this blog site.

When I was ten or eleven I told my Grandma Vera I intended to get to California as soon as I could. She warned, “Be careful not to get shot out there like old Jesse did.” This hardly discouraged me and I wanted to know all the gory details, but my mother and grandmother would say only that Grandpa Jesse was an innocent bystanding victim of a Gold Rush shoot out.

Jesse Morgan on plaque

Squatters Riot Plaque, Sacramento, listing Jesse Morgan, squatter. From Roadside America.com

Judging by all the western movies I had seen, I concluded that claim jumpers must have intentionally shot him to get his rich diggings. It was not until I came to California in 1970 that I began my research into details of this story. Various histories of Sacramento and sensationalizing newspapers reported that one Jesse Morgan lately in from “Millersville [Millersburg], Ohio” had tried to shoot or succeeded in (depending on the account) gunning down the Mayor in a riot perpetrated by a mob of squatters on August 14, 1850.

One of the reports even had a lithograph of the incident, showing Jesse or possibly the Squatter leader, fiery John Maloney, aiming at the hapless Mayor, who eventually died of his wounds. Also shown is Sheriff Joseph McKinney, a bold Wyatt Earp type (he ran a gambling establishment in the city), who was dedicated to the persecution of the Squatters as they tried to fight a gang of greedy local land speculators.

Jesse was one of four squatters killed in the August 14th riot. Five of the Sheriff’s posse were wounded, stats that recall those of the famous O. K. Coral bang up. Later, to an extent, the Squatters were justified in their claims if not their methods. They drew to their cause local businessmen and lawyers, newspaper editor James McClatchy (founder of today’s powerful McClatchy chain), and Dr. Charles Robinson, who, while in jail was nominated and elected to the State Assembly and eventually became Governor of Kansas.

Jesse, of course, did not live to see the outcome of the Squatters’ struggle. But there is much more to his story… Some accounts of the riot included claims that Jesse had a wife and child in Sacramento and had been proprietor of the Oak Grove House, one of several prospering inns that served the freighters to and from the gold diggings. These revelations only deepened the mysteries about Jesse Morgan, the most colorful of our 19th century ancestors.

How We are Related

  • PWK and Vera Marie Badertscher, the son and daughter of
  • Harriette Anderson Kaser, the daughter of
  • Vera Stout Anderson, the daughter of
  • Harriet (Hattie) Morgan Stout, the daughter of
  • Jesse Morgan

Research notes:

  • Research on Jesse Morgan is complicated by the common name Morgan; and more so by lack of official records In California during the chaotic Gold Rush years.  Sacramento only became a city in the fall of 1849, and even then few legal systems were in effect, so records around the time he was there are sketchy.
  • See an image of the Squatters’ Riot plaque bearing Jesse’s Name at Roadside America.
  • Jesse Morgan’s letters to Mary Morgan in author’s possession.
  • Information on birth, marriage and family from family Bibles and memoirs of Harriette Anderson Kaser.
  • An Illustrated history of Sacramento County, California: Containing a History of Sacramento County, by Win. J. Davis (1890) Available on line.