An Early California Vegetarian Fritter

I’ve previously reported on two other fritter recipes from among the selection of 16 early California fritters that I included in Vintage California Cuisine: a sweet potato fritter recipe from a San Francisco cookbook published in 1885 and a carrot fritter from a 1903 Los Angeles cookbook. Here’s a third vintage California fritter, from a vegetarian cookbook published in Oakland in 1910, featuring lentils.

Lentil fritters from a 1910 cookbook

In fact, this fritter consists of lentils and not much else. And not even lentils in their entirety. In keeping with a common practice of the day, the recipe from Vegetarian Cook Book: Substitutes for Flesh Foods, calls from pressing the lentils through a colander. That step was commonly called for in early cookbooks so that the skins, presumed to be hamper digestion, could be removed.

The resulting thin lentil puree is thickened with flour and egg yolk and ostensibly fluffed up with a beaten egg white—though one egg white can’t do that much to lighten two cups of batter. No matter. The fritters, in effect squat lentil pancakes, turned out great.

I reserved half the batter for a pepped up version, with minced onion, red bell pepper and walnuts. Also, if truth be told, I did not discard the pulp left in the colander after I pushed the lentils through it. My modern appreciation of the benefits of fiber wouldn’t allow that, so I slipped it back into the mix for a second batch, yielding a denser more nutritious fritter than when I followed the recipe to a tee.

Here’s the recipe reprinted verbatim from the 1910 cookbook by Edward G. Fulton, published by Pacific Press in Oakland.

Lentil Fritters

lentils, 1 cup
rich milk, ¼ cup
egg, 1
butter, 1 tablespoon
flour, ¾ cup

Cook the lentils until tender, drain, and press through a colander.  Put with these the milk, butter, flour, salt and beaten yolk, mix thoroughly, and add the stiffly beaten white.  Drop in spoonfuls on oiled griddle, and brown on both sides, or bake in the oven.  Garnish with parsley, and serve with marmalade or apple sauce.

Source: Vegetarian Cook Book: Substitutes for Flesh Foods (1910)

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Old California Almond-Pineapple Chicken Stew

almond sauce 2I’ve made several variations of this recipe from Encarnacion Pinedo’s 1898 cookbook, El Cocinero Espanol. This time, I wanted a thicker incarnation of the dish than I ended up with in my previous attempts.

In the original Spanish, the recipe, titled “Salsa de Almendras para Gallinas,” is just 24 words long (42 in  translation). It is a bare-bones list of ingredients with no guidance at all about quantities and proportions. Here’s the translation of the original recipe that I reprinted in Vintage California Cuisine in a chapter about Pinedo and her book:

Almond Sauce for Hens

Put the stock used for cooking the hen in a saucepan. Add sliced tomatoes, garlic, slices of peeled and cored pineapple, chorizo sausage, a tablespoon of vinegar, raisins, almonds, small pickled chile peppers [chilitos], salt, pepper and the de-boned pieces of hen.

Source: El Cocinero Español (1898)

The first time I made the recipe, I started with several cups of chicken broth, the yield from poaching a small fryer. The recipe seems to suggest doing that, and hence, using a fair amount of stock. But the end result was a soup, not a “sauce,” and the almonds were lost in all that broth. I must say, it was a very delicious chicken-tomato-pineapple soup. But it wasn’t anything like an “almond sauce,” which is what I was determined to end up with this time. My benchmark this time was my favorite Iranian dish, a similar, fruity nut sauce for chicken called fesenjan, made with ground walnuts instead of almonds and pomegranate syrup instead of pineapple and tomato.

I looked up some fesenjan recipes to get an idea of an appropriate ratio of (solid) nut meal to (liquid) fruit and stock. Most fesenjan recipes have about a 1:1 ratio of walnut to liquid (a mixture of chicken stock and pomegranate syrup). Since the fruit components of Pineda’s almond sauce, particularly the pineapple, are considerably more solid than the liquid components of fesenjan, I guessed that a 2:5 ratio of nut meal to pineapple-tomato-stock might be about right for this dish.

The following recipe is what I came up with. Since the chicken in real Iranian fesenjan is always chicken breast, I used boneless breast this time, instead of the deboned meat of a whole fryer that I used last time I experimented with Pinedo’s recipe. I had extra chicken stock and ground almond on hand to adjust the thickness as the stew cooked, if necessary. In fact, the proportions I used on my first attempt, as shown below, worked out just right. What I came up with I will call…

Old California Almond-Pineapple ‘Fesenjan’

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
2 cups diced pineapple
2 cups chopped tomato
2 cups toasted ground almond
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup chopped raisins
6 oz. chorizo sausage, crumbled
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs vinegar
Several pickled hot chili peppers (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Puree in a blender or food processor one cup each of the pineapple and tomato, with a little water or chicken stock to thin if needed.

2. Lightly toast the ground almonds in the bottom of a heavy sauce pan for several minutes, stirring and shaking constantly to prevent burning. Add chicken stock, pureed pineapple and tomato, crumbled chorizo, garlic, vinegar, chilis (optional) and chopped raisins. Stir and bring to a simmer over low heat.almond sauce 1 - Copy

2.  Stir in the remaining one cup each of diced pineapple and tomatoes, and the chicken breast, cut into pieces.

3. Continue cooking on low heat for 15 or 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding salt and pepper to taste.  If the stew gets too thick while cooking, stir in small amounts of chicken stock, as needed.

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Fish Fit for a Playboy British King

sole 1Victor Hirtzler amassed quite a collection of recipes in his globe-trotting career as a chef, which culminated in a two-decade reign at the Hotel St. Francis in San  Francisco in the early part of the 20th century. Hirtzler included more than 3,000 recipes in the 1919 edition of the Hotel St. Francis Cook Book.

Which was his best dish? Clarence Edwords, a food writer and San Francisco publicist, asked him that question on a visit to the Hotel St. Francis while gathering recipes for a book he published in 1914, Bohemian San Francisco: Its Restaurants and Their Most Famous Recipes. Hirtzler’s answer: “I shall give you Sole Edward VII.”

A number of the French-born chef’s recipes were named after European royalty. They were mementos of his stints as personal cook for King Don Carlos of Portugal and Czar Nicholas II of Russia, and as a member of the staff at restaurants frequented by aristocrats. In all likelihood, Hirtzler personally prepared his favorite sole dish for its namesake, though that probably would have happened before Edward VII became king of England.

Edward VII

King Edward VII

The eldest son of Queen Victoria, Albert Edward was consigned to the role of crown prince for decades before his mother died when he was 60, clearing the way for his ascent to the throne in 1901. By then, Hirtzler was ensconced at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. But during the previous decade, Hirtzler was a chef at the Grand Hotel in Paris, one of the swankiest hotels in the world in its day. During his seemingly interminable turn as heir apparent, Edward gained a reputation as a playboy and all-around bon vivant, who represented Great Britain on ceremonial occasions and on trips abroad. On any trip to Paris, he likely would have stayed and dined at the Grand Hotel, and he may have ordered–and must have praised and reordered–the sole dish that Hirtzler offered Clarence Edwords in San Francisco a couple of decades later.

Here’s the recipe, as recounted in Edwords’ book:

Sole Edward VII

Cut the fillets out of one sole and lay them flat on a buttered pan, and season with salt and pepper. Make the following mixture and spread over each fillet of sole: Take one-half pound of sweet butter, three ounces of chopped salted almonds, one-fourth pound of chopped fresh mushrooms, a little chopped parsley, the juice of a lemon, salt, pepper and a little grated nutmeg. Add to the pan one-half glassful of white wine and put in the oven for twenty minutes. When done serve in the pan by placing it on a platter, with a napkin under it.

Source: Bohemian San Francisco:
Its Restaurants and Their Most Famous Recipes

sole 2

mushroom-almond mixture

As is the case with most of the other old recipes that I have reprinted in Vintage California Cuisine, this one leaves room for interpretation. To begin with, the amount of fish is imprecise, to put it mildly. Judging from the fact that the recipe calls for half a pound – two full sticks – of butter, one can surmise that Hirtzler started with a mighty big fish, or else he meant for the finished fillets to be swimming in butter. The recipe implies that the mushroom component of the almond-mushroom topping should be mixed in with the other ingredients in a raw state. The second of the two times that I experimented with this recipe, I sliced the mushrooms instead of chopping them, and I sautéed them in butter before stirring them in with the other topping ingredients.

The result: anyone with aristocratic pretensions in this day and age would surely expect something quite a bit more spectacular that this from a high end restaurant’s kitchen. But it’s a perfectly serviceable, simple fish dish for the rest of us.

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German Beets from 19th Century San Francisco

I was in the San Francisco Bay Area in early January, visiting my dear friend from way back, Victoria. I wanted an old recipe to try out for a dinner party at Victoria’s, featuring an ingredient that I could buy that morning at the Oakland farmers market. I knew I would find beets in the market, so I looked in Vintage California Cuisine for a beet recipe.Stewed Beets, Hanoverian Style

The one I settled upon is from an appropriate source for a Bay Area dinner party, The Physiology of Taste: Harder’s Book of Practical American Cookery, published in 1885 by Jules Arthur Harder, chef de cuisine at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel. Harder’s encyclopedic cookbook covered the culinary uses of more than 300 different herbs, fruits and vegetables, in an array of styles from places ranging from Macedonia and Palestine to Turkey and Brazil.

I have previously reported on my experiments with Harder’s Sweet Potato Fritters and Stewed Carrots, Indian Style. I cooked his Stewed Beets, Hanoverian Style for the dinner party at Victoria’s, where by general consensus it was pronounced outstanding. In a quick search of the Internet and some of the cookbooks on my shelves, I found only a smattering of recipes that combined butter and vinegar to flavor beets as this recipe does. It’s a great combination, yielding a dish of warm, tangy, buttery beets with crunchy lightly pickled onions.

Here’s the recipe:

Stewed Beets, Hanoverian Style

Boil one dozen ordinary sized Beets, and when done skin and slice them. Put into a saucepan one fine chopped onion with a piece of butter. Fry it lightly and then add a wine-glassful of vinegar. When it boils add the sliced beets and 4 ounces of butter. Season with salt and pepper. Toss them over occasionally until thoroughly warmed and before serving add some fine chopped parsley.

 Source: The Physiology of Taste: Harder’s Book
of Practical American Cookery

Stewed Beets, Hanoverian StyleI made the dish at Victoria’s (at left) with a pink variety of beets that I bought at the Sunday farmers market in Oakland’s Jack London Square. I tried the recipe again (photo at top) now that I’m back home in Philadelphia. This time, I used a darker purple variety of beets. I also had some parsley on hand so that I could properly garnish the beets as Harder instructed 128 years ago.

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19th Century Californians Learned to Love Chile Peppers

I recently gave a presentation in Los Angeles, sponsored by Culinary Historians of Southern California, titled “How Californians Turned America onto Chile Peppers.” For those of you who missed my talk, this is how they did it. By publishing — and raving about — recipes laced with chile peppers in the late 1800s, a time when most Americans back east had never seen, much less eaten, one.

three vintage California salsas

The nation’s definitive culinary reference of the day, the Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, first published in 1896, is devoid of chile peppers. The 623-page book has one so-called “Chili Sauce” recipe, but it wouldn’t break zero on the Scoville scale of chile heat. It calls for 12 tomatoes, 2 cups of vinegar, an array of spices including cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, and a single “pepper,” which in New England in that day would have meant a bell pepper.

Most early California cookbooks, in sharp contrast, included recipes for sauces with hefty helpings of peppers identified as “chiles,” using the Spanish spelling, or described as “long green” or “Spanish,” to make it clear that the recipes were calling for the pungent, Southwestern varieties of peppers that were indigenous to the region. These sauces were, as Cookery in the Golden State, published in Sacramento in 1890, noted, “anything but chilly.” The hottest of the several chile sauce recipes in that book, which called for a ratio of one large “red pepper” per tomato, has a “wonderful combination of sweet and sour and active pungency” that would “tempt the appetite of a mummy,” the book declared.

For my talk, I prepared chile sauce recipes from three of the early California cookbooks featured in Vintage California Cuisine. The three recipes illustrate how Californians in the late 19th century, most of whom were newly arrived from back east, had begun to add chiles to their diet.

One of the recipes is from a cookbook published by Charles Fletcher Lummis, a New England native who walked across the country to Los Angeles in 1884 to take a job with the three-year-old Los Angeles Times. In a book he later wrote about his “tramp across the continent,” Lummis claimed he was convinced he had been poisoned the first time he was served a dish laced with chiles shortly after he arrived in the Rio Grande valley. He soon became one of the leading Anglo aficionados of chile peppers, and all things Southwestern, as I reported in a biography I wrote about Lummis.

Bernalillo chile sauce

Bernalillo Chile Sauce (1903)

He included an array of chile recipes in the Landmarks Club Cook Book, which he published in 1903 to raise funds to restore California’s crumbling Spanish missions. Some of them were ones he had personally gathered in his wide-ranging travels. There was the Peruvian stuffed pepper recipe I wrote about earlier this year. The one I took to the talk is from the New Mexico town of Bernalillo, where Lummis had friends in the four years from 1888 to 1892 when he was living 30 miles down the Rio Grande River in the Pueblo Indian village of Isleta. “Most Americans do not at first flush like dishes in which [chiles] predominate; but it is an easily acquired taste,” Lummis observed in an introductory chapter. “It is one of the most healthful condiments in the world, and almost a hygienic necessity in California and other non-humid lands.”

Chili (Spanish) Zalza

Chili (Spanish) Zalza (1881)

Another of the recipes I prepared is from the first cookbook published in Southern California, Los Angeles Cookery, compiled by “the ladies of the Fort Street Methodist Episcopal Church” in 1881. Published just 33 years after California passed from Mexican to U.S. rule, the book shows that the Episcopal ladies of L.A. certainly knew how to handle real chile peppers. A recipe for Spanish hash, for instance, calls for roasting five red ones in an oven and pounding them into a pulp to add to the other ingredients. The recipe from that book that I prepared for my talk, titled Chili (Spanish) Zalza, Sauce Piquant, is an uncooked pico de gallo-style salsa, which specifies that “green chili peppers” should be used, in a 1:1 ratio with tomatoes.

Ancho Chile-Almond Sauce

Sauce with Almonds (1898)

The third recipe I chose is from El Cocinero Español, California’s first Spanish language cookbook, published in San Francisco in 1898 by Encarnción Pinedo. She was a descendant of one of the oldest, and at one time wealthiest, families of the Californio ruling elite, with roots in California that date back to the Spanish colonial era. Her chile recipes are, not surprisingly, much more sophisticated than those published by her Anglo contemporaries. She used chile peppers in intriguing combinations with other ingredients ranging from almonds and walnuts to olives and cocoa. The one I prepared is a simple but delicious ancho chile-almond sauce.

Here are the recipes:

Bernalillo Chile Sauce

Twelve large tomatoes, twelve green chiles, twelve medium onions, chop well; three cups sugar, three cups vinegar, two teaspoons allspice, one teaspoon cayenne pepper, two heaping teaspoons salt. Boil all together till thick.

Source: Landmarks Club Cook Book (1903)

Chili (Spanish) Zalza, Sauce Piquant

Take four large tomatoes, removing the tops and ends, one large silver-skin onion, and four large-sized green Chili peppers, removing the seed; chop fine and drain five minutes through a colander; place in a deep dish; season to taste, with salt, black pepper, vinegar, and best Lucca oil. To be served with either hot or cold meats. Olives may be added before serving, if acceptable.

Source: Los Angeles Cookery (1881)

Sauce with Almonds

Place ancho chiles in salt water until they swell, devein them, grind them with fried bread, cleaned almonds, a clove, cinnamon, a teaspoon of salt and with or without a little vinegar.

Source: El Cocinero Espanol (1898)

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An Apple-Watercress Salad with a San Francisco-French Twist

I’ve previously written about Victor Hirtzler’s prune soufflé and his strawberry omelette. The flamboyant celebrity chef, who presided over the elegant Hotel St. Francis dining room in San Francisco for two decades early in the 20th century, was also acclaimed for his salads. He named several of them after famous guests who frequented his restaurant, including a Salad Lillian Russell, featuring grapefruit, which honored one of the most popular singers and actresses of that era.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I included that and three other of Hirtzler’s salad recipes in Vintage California Cuisine, along with 22 other recipes from his 1910 cookbook. Since I have access to an unlimited supply of wild watercress, from a spring next to a friend’s New Jersey farmhouse, I recently served his Watercress and Apple Salad at a dinner party. Everyone loved it. The sweet apples are a perfect counterpoint to the peppery watercress, and the French-born Hirtzler’s French Dressing, a vinaigrette spiked with mustard and paprika, infused the salad with another layer of flavors. It is exotic yet easy to throw together. And given its provenance, it’s an interesting conversation piece.

Watercress and Apple Salad

Clean the cress, wash and let it cool in the ice box. When ready to serve, mix the cress with thin slices of apple, or else mince the apple very coarsely. Add French dressing and serve at once. If allowed to stand, the oil will quickly wilt the cress, making it look very unpalatable.

French Dressing

One-half a tablespoonful of salt, a pinch of pepper, two tablespoonsful of olive oil and one of white wine vinegar. Mix all together and stir several minutes. To this may be added, if taste requires, a pinch of paprika, and the mixing bowl may be rubbed with a clove of garlic. A little mustard may be used, also, and some use a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

Source: L’Arte Culinaire: Hotel St. Francis  Book
of Recipes and Model Menus (1910)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince Hirtlzer wasn’t picky about how the apples should be cut, and since I was pinched for time, I grated them with the grater blade of my food processor. I thought that was close enough to his suggestion to “coarsely mince” the apples to meet my goal of trying to reproduce these old recipes with as much historical accuracy as possible in a modern kitchen, at least the first time around. Alas, my slight divergence from a strict reading of the recipe took a toll on the finished product. The grated apples tended to clump up, as the photos show. I don’t think that would have happened if I had minced or sliced them, as Hirtzler instructed. It didn’t affect the taste, but for a more aesthetic presentation, next time, I’ll try the “thin slices” option for cutting the apples.

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Curry Comes to California, Circa 1885

When I set out to find 300 recipes from early California cookbooks that showed how a distinctive culinary sensibility began to emerge in the Golden State in the first decades after statehood, I was especially interested in finding evidence of early arrivals of a diversity of foreign influences. Jules Arthur Harder’s 1885 cookbook is a treasure trove of recipes that fit that bill. I included 24 of them in Vintage California Cuisine.

Chef de cuisine at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco’s swankiest hotel of its day, Harder filled his 481-page book with recipes from around the world. Titled The Physiology of Taste: Harder’s Book of Practical American Cookery, it was intended to be the first of a six-volume set. None of the other volumes ever materialized. Luckily, the first covered vegetables. It thus, encompassed two key elements of the culinary style that would come to be known, a century later, as California cuisine.

Stewed Carrots, Indian Style

Stewed Carrots, Indian Style

The book gave readers a globe-spanning array of ways to use the bounty of vegetables produced year round on the fertile farms that were sprouting up everywhere in California in those days. More than 300 different herbs, fruits and vegetables are covered in the book. Provencal, Macedonia, Palestine, Germany, England, Turkey and Brazil are among the many farflung place names mentioned in recipe titles.

One of the Indian-influenced recipes in Harder’s book was a big hit at a vintage California dinner party that I recently hosted. It is simple and as reproducible today as it was nearly 130 years ago when Harder included it in his cookbook. Here’s the recipe:

 Stewed Carrots, Indian Style

Cut and trim two dozen young Carrots, all of even size. Put them in water to cover them. Then season with salt, pepper and sugar, and add a piece of butter. Cook them until tender. Then slice an onion and put it in a saucepan with a piece of butter. Fry it lightly, adding a soup-spoonful of flour and a teaspoonful of curry powder. Let it cook for a minute, while stirring it well, and mix with it a glass full of cream and some of the Carrot broth to make a clear sauce. Add the Carrots then, and season with salt and pepper, and let them simmer for 15 minutes.

Source: The Physiology of Taste: Harder’s Book
of Practical American Cookery (1885)

Harder’s measurements aren’t easy to replicate with precision, given his penchant for nonstandard units, including “soup-spoon” and “glass.” But all you need to do is gradually stir in cream and carrot broth until you get a sauce of whatever consistency suits your fancy. The result is delicious, proclaimed my dinner guests, who made quick work of the dish, leaving me wishing that I had made twice as much.

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From S.F.’s Top Chef a Century Ago: a Strawberry Omelette

Visitors to San Francisco in the early 1900s might have asked locals to name the mayor or governor, or how to get to Chinatown. “But they never ask who is the chef at Hotel St. Francis. They know,” to hear the introduction to the hotel’s cookbook tell it. Victor Hirtzler was a household name, one of the most famous men in town, and one of the best chef’s on earth. There are “many eminent exponents of culinary art” in San Francisco, “but Chef Victor is the ruler of them all,” the book proclaimed.

Born in Strasbourg, France, around 1875, Hirtzler earned his stripes as a chef at some of Europe’s preeminent restaurants, and cooked for kings and czars before coming to the United States. After a stint at two of the best restaurants in New York, he moved to San Francisco in 1904 to become master chef at the lavish, new Hotel St. Francis on Union Square. Undeterred by the earthquake and firestorm that devastated the city and gutted the hotel just two years later, Hirtzler remained in San Francisco for 22 years.

A dashing figure with his trademark red fez, jaunty goatee and waxed moustache, Hirtzler drew a steady stream of the rich and famous to the Hotel St. Francis dining room, and turned heads wherever he went. His best recipes were published in 1910 in L’Arte Culinaire: Hotel St. Francis Book of Recipes and Model Menus, 26 of which I have included in Vintage California Cuisine. I previously wrote about his prune soufflé, which the book said “everyone likes.”  The cookbook offers no comment on the unusual dish I decided to test today: strawberry omelette.

I was especially interested in it because I recently wrote about unconventional uses of strawberries for my Seasonal Chef web site. For years, I have regularly made delicious strawberry mustard, and I was curious about other savory uses of the fruit. According to the California Strawberry Commission, many trendy chefs these days “are using strawberries in innovative ways that extend beyond dessert” – as a pizza ingredient, for instance, or in salsas, chutneys and gazpachos. Hirtzler, it seems, was a century ahead of the curve with this recipe.

Strawberry Omelette

Hull a basket of berries and put them in a double boiler with a half cup of granulated sugar. Do not add any water, as the juice of the berries and the steam will form plenty of liquid. Do not stir, as the berries should be entire. To make the omelette, beat the eggs light as usual, adding a little salt but no pepper. When about done, heap the berries on the eggs, and roll up and pile nicely on the platter. Pour the juice about the omelette.

Source: L’Arte Culinaire: Hotel St. Francis
Book of Recipes and Model Menus (1910)

I had never tried cooking strawberries in a double boiler. After about an hour of cooking, the result was, as promised in the recipe. The berries were softened to the consistency of jam yet were fully intact. And though I used no water at all, they had exuded an abundance of beautiful, pure strawberry syrup.

I split the omelette between myself and my intrepid taste tester and housemate, Sherry. We were prepared for the possibility that this would be a waste of good strawberries and eggs. But what do you know! “It’s better than I was expecting,” said Sherry after a few bites. After a few more bites, she said, with a hint of amazement, “It’s good!” We both happily finished our servings. It would be better, in my opinion, if the savory component was kicked up a notch with, for instance, some onions, and if just a pinch of sugar were used. But Hirtzler had the basic idea right: strawberries are more versatile than you might think, if you’ve only had them in pies, jams and the like.

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How Peruvian Stuffed Peppers Made it into California Cuisine

For a vintage California dinner party at my home in Philadelphia the other night, I made a recipe from the 1903 Landmarks Club Cook Book called Peruvian Albondigas. The word means meatballs – in this case, meatballs of lamb, olives and hardboiled eggs stuffed into peppers. 

What is Californian about a Peruvian recipe? California cuisine is based on a mélange of ingredients and cooking styles brought to the state by immigrants from around the world. During the first decades after statehood, before the transcontinental railroad was completed, the ports strung out along the Pacific rim of the Americas, were a lot more accessible to California than most of the rest of the United States, served as they were by regularly scheduled coastal steamship lines. Contingents of fortune seekers from Chile and Peru were among the first to reach California in the Gold Rush, and they brought their foodways with them. Which is why it is fitting that a Peruvian recipe has a place in Vintage California Cuisine.

This particular recipe, to be sure, was most likely not brought to the state by a gold seeker during the Gold Rush. It is from the Landmarks Club Cook Book, published in Los Angeles in 1903 as a fund raiser for an organization that had recently been revived by Charles Fletcher Lummis to restore California’s neglected Spanish-era missions. Lummis himself probably collected it during 10 miserable months that he spent in Peru in 1892-93. A flamboyant journalist, Indian rights activist and aficionado of Southwestern cuisine (among many other things), Lummis accompanied his dour friend, the famous archeologist Adolph Bandelier, on an archeological expedition to Peru that winter. They had agreed that Lummis, a past master at getting attention, would publicize the discoveries from the ancient ruins that Bandelier intended to excavate, by writing articles for the leading magazines of the day.

Charles Lummis, photo courtesy of the Southwest Museum, Los Angeles, N.21821.

In reality, as I reported in the biography I wrote about Lummis, Bandelier, who was beset with a succession of agonizing ailments, and worst of all, endured the drawn out death of his wife in Lima, became paranoid that Lummis would steal all the credit for his findings. So Bandelier basically abandoned Lummis in gloomy Lima and headed out to the ruins on his own. Lummis’s loneliness dripped from the letters he wrote to his wife, averaging 1,500 words a day for every one of the 279 days that he was in Peru. In my research for the biography, I had time to barely dip into that particular 416,000-word batch of correspondence. But knowing of Lummis’s fascination with food, and his tendency to obsessively record such details as what he ate every day, I suspect that this particular recipe was included in one of those letters.

lamb, olives and hard-boiled egg stuffing

All of which is to say, there was enough of historical interest for me in these  stuffed peppers that I was going to enjoy them, whether they were tasty or not. They were bound to be interesting, I figured, owing to the intriguing use of raisins in both the stuffing mixed with olives and in the tomato sauce.

Raisins, as it happens, turn up in a number of the recipes I’ve reprinted in Vintage California Cuisine – in the enchilada, stuffed pepper and stuffed onion recipes in a cookbook published in Santa Barbara in 1888, for instance, and in a green bean recipe published in 1910 by San Francisco’s leading celebrity chef of that era, Victor Hirtzler. Have raisins have fallen out of favor in contemporary Southwestern cuisine?  I couldn’t find a single reference to them in my copy of the authoritative, 500-page Border Cookbook: Authentic Home Cooking of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. That’s our loss, judging from this recipe, which, to finally get to the point of this post, was outstanding, according to all of my dinner guests.

So, here’s the recipe, followed by a few comments on how I interpreted, and experimented, with it.

Peruvian Albondigas

Boil mutton till tender. Scald large green chile peppers and remove their thin outer skin. Hash the meat and make it into a stuffing with raisins, stoned ripe olives and hard-boiled eggs minced fine. Fill the peppers with this stuffing and put them in a pot in which has already been prepared a sauce of tomatoes, whole red chile peppers, raisins, onion and a little broth, and heat slowly, twenty minutes, without stirring. Garlic can be added.

Source: The Landmarks Club Cook Book:
 a California Collection of the Choicest
 from Everywhere (1903)

First of all, I probably could have found real mutton at an ethnic market somewhere in town. But I used lamb instead. And I could have braised some lamb shanks or stew meat and shredded that to more closely approximate the original recipe. But since I was cooking for a dinner party, and wanted to streamline things, I saved lots of time and labor by starting with ground lamb, which cooked up in a few minutes, and was already “hashed.”

So that the raisins would more readily incorporate with the other ingredients, I chopped them up and used a heaping cup full of packed raisins bits, evenly divided between the stuffing for 14 peppers and enough tomato sauce for two casserole dishes. Even more raisins wouldn’t have hurt. I used a scant cup of chopped kalamata olives and eight chopped up hard boiled eggs for the stuffing.

Peruvian Albondigas Casserole

As for the stuffing, I stuffed half the peppers with a lamb mixture, in line with the recipe. For the vegetarian guests I expected, I stuffed the remaining peppers with a stuffing mix in which I replaced the lamb with ricotta cheese.

For the tomato sauce, I chopped up some fresh Roma tomatoes that I had on hand, and sauted them with the onions, and I added to that a large, 32-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, cooking it all for awhile with the raisins until it thickened up a bit. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have cooked the sauce down quite as much, since the dishes I ended up with were a bit on the dry side. Although the recipe calls for cooking the stuffed peppers in a pot, presumably on the stove top, I ladled the sauce into two casserole dishes, nestled the stuffed peppers down into the sauce, and baked them for an hour in a 350 degree oven, covered with tin foil for all but the last 15 minutes.

The ricotta cheese version

Here in chile pepper-challenged Philadelphia in the dead of winter, I rounded up a grand total of four usable Anaheim peppers. The other peppers I used were yellow wax peppers and Italian frying peppers, all of which were sweet. I followed the instruction to scald and peel the peppers. But the peeling didn’t slip off, so I gave up on that. Scalding them for perhaps six or eight minutes was essential anyway, to make the peppers pliable enough to easily and quickly stem, devein, slit lengthwise and stuff. The unnamed dried, round red chiles that I found in a local market and used were also, as it turned out, sweet. So the stuffed peppers I served up had nary a hint of chile pepper heat. None of my guests complained about that. But next time, I might stuff a few poblanos, and make one casserole dish with a sauce spiked with hot red chilis, for those who want stuffed peppers with more of a kick.

That said, the stuffed peppers I ended up with this time – both the ricotta and the lamb versions — were, by all accounts, outstanding. The combination of sweet raisins and acidic tomatoes and onions in the sauce was downright awesome. The combination of sweet raisins and briny olives in the stuffing: equally awesome. Thanks to my man Charles Lummis for finding this dish as he was miserably cooling his heels in Lima, Peru, 120 years ago this winter.

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How an 1883 Pudding Recipe Turned Me on to Baked Oatmeal

Who knew? You can bake oatmeal! Okay, lots of people know that, as a Google search for “baked oatmeal” reveals. But it somehow escaped me all those years when my daughters were growing up and I was making oatmeal the old-fashioned way, by stirring it in a pot.

My serendipitously failed experiment with a vintage recipe for baked apple pudding

Leave it to H.J. Clayton, an acclaimed caterer who lived and worked in San Francisco in the late 19th century, to bring me up to speed. As I noted in a previous post, he was the first cookbook author to label recipes “Californian,” as in, for instance, Clayton’s Celebrated California Salad Dressing. Another of the recipes from his 1883 book, Clayton’s Quaker Cook Book, that I reprinted in Vintage California Cuisine is called Baked Apple Pudding.

In retrospect, in my test of Clayton’s pudding recipe, I probably erred when I used rolled oats instead of a more finely ground flour where he called for “oat meal.” Which is how I ended up with a baked breakfast dish instead of something that more closely resembled what we call pudding. It was perfectly good, for what it turned out to be, but next time, I might try it with rolled oats that have been pulverized in a food processor or I will look for oat flour in the supermarket.

Clayton did not specify how much sugar to use, so I went with just half a cup, and ended up with a dish that was plenty sweet enough. I used the grater blade on my food processor to “reduce the apples to small pieces.” I did not have any suet on hand, so I left that out, and it wasn’t missed. I used one teaspoon of cinnamon in the dish and sprinkled more on top for decorative effect. In the absence of a specified cooking temperature, I went with the catch-all 350 degrees. After about an hour in my oven, the “pudding” was “well set.” The sauce I served it with is strawberry puree blended with yoghurt and maple syrup.

It was great straight out of the oven piping hot, and great the next day straight out of the refrigerator. Next time, I might toss in some cranberries, blueberries, raisins, walnuts, almonds or a combination thereof.

Here’s Clayton’s basic recipe:

 Baked Apple Pudding

 Two cups oatmeal or cracked wheat; 2 eggs; 1 tablespoonful butter; 1 pint milk; three medium sized apples; a little suet; cinnamon to flavor; sweeten to taste. Beat sugar, eggs, and milk together; stir in the meal, and then add the other ingredients, the apples last, after reducing to small pieces. Bake until well set. To be eaten with or without sauce.

Source: Clayton’s Quaker Cook Book,
Being a Practical Treatise on the
Culinary Art Adapted to the Tastes
and Wants of All Classes

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