Editor Brian Hyslop explains Pittsburgh's food lore and the Turkey Devonshire.
Like many people, food is at the root of some of my fondest memories. I recall special meals cooked by a loved one, occasions marked by a favorite dish and the first time my son, who was in pre-school at the time, made me breakfast. (His cooking has improved from slices of cheese on a bed of wilted lettuce). When I was growing up, my mother let my siblings and me pick what she would make for dinner on our birthdays. I limited my options to comfort foods: either roasted chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy and peas or chicken and dumplings.
When my mother died, my sister compiled “Grandma Hyslop’s Cookbook” with my mother’s classic recipes for my siblings and our children. Turning the pages I relive the times we spent together eating Depression Stew, Wash Day Potatoes, Mom’s Old Fashioned White Wonder Icing and 24 Hour Salad. And making any of the dishes brings Mom into the kitchen with me once again.
Even cooking disasters stay etched in my mind. A friend, who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons, once served me the most unusual lasagna — when you don’t have ricotta cheese you cannot substitute blue cheese and expect anyone to eat it without gagging. We still reminisce about that dinner and laugh — even though it was more than 30 years ago.
Food also connects us to our community. There are ethnic dishes that bring people together to share their common ancestry. And there are regional specialties that bind us to the people we grow up around. For example, in Western Pennsylvania we have the Pittsburgh Steak Salad (with french fries), Primanti sandwiches (also with french fries) and gobs (don’t call them whoopies pies and don’t fill them with frosting or Marshmallow Fluff).
That’s why Hal B. Klein’s feature about the Turkey Devonshire resonates with me both as a native who remembers the sandwich as an amazing comfort food from my youth and as editor of Pittsburgh Magazine who is dedicated to telling stories that chronicle what makes our region special.
The Turkey Devonshire is quintessentially Pittsburgh. It has all the right components, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole and it was right at home in the 1960s and ’70s. What it lacks in french fries it more than makes up for with bacon and cheesy sauce. And like many beloved items that live now in Pittsburgh’s lore, it’s ready for a revival.
Brian Hyslop can be reached at email@example.com