Dinner at the Lighthouse

Captain Lorin V. Thorndyke served as head keeper of Piedras Blancas Light Station from 1879 to 1906, longer than anyone else. Shortly after arriving, he married Elizabeth Jarmon, a 27 year old lady from Wisconsin. Lizzie, as she was commonly known, had come to California to visit her sister, Mary, who was married to Tom Evans, owner of a ranch in close proximity to the light station. While she was at the station, Lizzie collected recipes recording them in a handwritten notebook. After seven years of marriage and two sons, Lizzie died at the age of 34.

Captain Thorndyke had a brief second marriage to a lady named Frank E. Clark but she soon took her baby and left the station. Then, in 1897, The Captain married Margaret Jarmon, younger sister of his first wife, Lizzie. Margaret had also come to California to visit her sister on the Evans Ranch. Margaret turned Lizzie’s handwritten recipe book upside down and backwards and began adding recipes of her own.

In 2002, Bev Praver acquired this recipe book from Donna Jean Schneider, great-granddaughter of The Captain and Lizzie, long enough to copy it into her computer. Using this book as a basis, she began to put together a lighthouse cookbook called, Dinner at the Lighthouse. She added recipes gleaned from the children of Captain Thorndyke and their descendants as well as those from individuals employed at the station during the Coast Guard years (1939-1979). She added modern recipes from Bureau of Land Management personnel, BLM volunteers, wildlife researchers and others associated with the lighthouse including Lois Capps, congresswoman from California’s 23rd district which includes the light station.

In order to put all of the contributors into context, much of the history of Piedras Blancas Light Station is included in this book. Of special interest are the genealogical charts which document the relationship between individuals whose last names are Thorndyke, Jarmon, Evans, Rogers and others.

Many of the recipes are more than 100 years old and are designed to be prepared using a wood burning stove so cooking instructions are significantly different than modern recipes. Terms like, “bake in a quick oven” or “bake in a hot oven” are often used instead of, “bake at 350 degrees”. Alternate ingredients are sometimes indicated which reflects the isolation of living at the light station and some ingredients are no longer commercially available. The book is replete with historical notes about kitchen tools and ingredients which are mentioned or are related to many of the recipes.

Dinner at the Lighthouse is available at the Piedras Blancas Light Station gift shop during public tours on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings.

One Response to “Dinner at the Lighthouse”

  1. Joan Lisi says:

    I read with great interest the lighthouse article. Mary Evans, Lizzie and Margaret Jarmon were all sisters of another woman, Martha, who also came to visit Mary and stayed to marry my great grandfather, B. F. Muma. They had a ranch near the Evans, and sold out to Hearst around 1915. I have been trying to track stories of the Jarmon family, some of which, like the lighthouse story, was given to me by the San Luis Obispo Historical Society. I donated a book called “Alice”, in 1995 which includes some of this history. Would love to know more, and to purchase the cookbook.

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