An English Monkey on Bean and Nut Loaf

What the heck is “an English Monkey on Bean and Nut Loaf,” you ask. The answer is more convoluted, and debatable, than you may realize. But in short, the “English Monkey” part of this dish apparently dates back to someone in Wales, some time in the 18th or 19th century, who had thin skin and a witty way with words, and who had come to the conclusion that the name of a dish loved by the English, called Welsh Rabbit, was a slur against the Welsh. Whether it is, in fact, an insult is questionable. But by at least some accounts, Welsh Rabbit, a cheese spread that contains no rabbit or any trace of any kind of meat, was indeed named to poke fun at the inhabitants of Wales, who were presumed to be either too poor to afford meat or too drunk to shoot straight, and thus were resigned to eating cheese while pretending that it was meat.

An English Monkey appears to slither onto a slice of Bean and Nut Loaf

Shooting a barb back at the English – this theory about the origin of the recipe goes – the Welsh inventor of a variation of Welsh Rabbit named his or her dish An English Monkey.

Which begs the question, what is Welsh Rabbit? It is, to begin with, definitely not supposed to be called “Welsh Rarebit.” On that point, the leading authorities on culinary history and English usage seem to agree. No less an eminence than H. W. Fowler, writing in the 1926 edition of the Dictionary of Modern English Usage, bluntly asserted, “Welsh Rabbit is amusing and right. Welsh Rarebit is stupid and wrong.” In his Devil’s Dictionary, published in 1911, Ambrose Bierce, the satirist and chronicler of California in the decades after the Gold Rush, also scoffed at the “humorless” souls who insisted on calling Welsh Rabbit “Rarebit.”

Efforts to set the record straight notwithstanding, it is usually called “rarebit” anyway by most contemporary cookbook authors, including my favorite, Mark Bittman, of the New York Times. (His recipe for “Welsh Rarebit,” which he called “one of the best late-night snacks I know,” can be found here.) Whatever it is named, rabbit or rarebit, it is a thick, melted cheese sauce made with cheddar or another English cheese, ale or dark beer, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and sometimes cayenne or paprika, thickened with flour and butter, and sometimes thinned with cream. It is, in short, a beery English take on the fondues that the Swiss make with their own Swiss cheese and wine.

An English Monkey in a Bowl

Which brings us around, at last, to the answer: An English Monkey is a variation on Welsh Rabbit, made without ale or beer. The sauce in which the cheese is melted is instead made with bread crumbs, milk and eggs. There are a number of other variations, each with an amusing name of its own: an Irish Rabbit, Scotch Rabbit, Blushing Bunny (colored with tomato soup), Scotch Woodcock, and more. But I digress.

Recipes for An English Monkey and Welsh Rabbit appeared side by side in some old American cookbooks, such as the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book of 1896, as if to show that here in the colonies, we had gotten over the petty tribal rivalries from the Old Country that may have given birth to An English Monkey in the first place. But there was no place for rarebit in the first California cookbook that included a recipe for the venerable cheese sauce from the British Isles. That book, Practical Vegetarian Cookery, was published by the Theosophical Society in San Francisco in 1896, and the Theosophists believed that you should strike alcohol, as well as meat, from your diet to ensure that your soul will ascend as quickly as possible in the afterlife.

An English Monkey and Welsh Rarebit are both traditionally served on crackers or toast. But I found, in another chapter in Vintage California Cuisine, what in my opinion is an even better vehicle for An English Monkey than bread: Bean and Nut Loaf. That recipe comes from another early California vegetarian cookbook, Vegetarian Cook Book: Substitutes for Flesh Foods, published in 1910. With such a large quotient of bread crumbs in the cheese sauce, it would be redundant, don’t you think, to serve it on bread. The Bean and Nut Loaf proved to be firm enough that it could be easily sliced, like bread (though too crumbly to pick up).

Slices of Bean and Nut Loaf

The results? Not very photogenic, to be sure. In the top photo, the English Monkey looks like a sickly yellow giant slug that has slithered up onto the plate and is attempting to devour the nut loaf. I only regret that it didn’t occur to me to stick some slices of the loaf topped with the monkey under a broiler. As for the delectability of the concoction, the English Monkey was pleasantly cheesy. But with all those bread crumbs, it was too pasty to win a place in my regular repertoire. For those not too concerned about their prospects in the afterlife, I’d recommend Bittman’s Rarebit – er, Rabbit – instead. The Bean and Nut Loaf, on the other hand, was by the account of all of those who sampled it, including my two vegetarian daughters, a keeper.

Here, then, are the recipes:

An English Monkey

Soak one cupful of bread crumbs in one cupful of milk about 10 or 15 minutes. Melt one tablespoon of butter, add one cupful of cheese broken into small pieces; Stir until melted, add the crumbs and one beaten egg, one half teaspoon of salt, a few grains of bicarbonate of soda as large as a pea. Cook for five minutes. Serve on wafers.

Source: Practical Vegetarian Cookery (1897)

Bean and Nut Loaf

white beans, 1 cup
onion, ¼ cup
bread crumbs, toasted, or granola
walnuts, chopped, 1 cup
egg, 1

Thoroughly wash the beans and soak overnight. Boil thoroughly and when done rub through a colander. Add the chopped walnuts, eggs, onion braised in olive oil, sage and salt to taste. Thicken with granola or toasted bread crumbs. Put into an oiled pan and bake. Serve with gravy.

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

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Two Variations on Vintage Vegetable Fritters

The love of battered and fried foods has deep roots, judging from the recipes in some of the first cookbooks published in California. Among the 300 recipes from 13 early cookbooks that I reprinted in Vintage California Cuisine, there are 16 recipes for fritters and croquettes—starring ingredients ranging from corn, artichokes, rice, lentils and carrots to chicken, oysters, fish, clams and crab. Exactly what was meant by “fritter” and “croquette” varied from one recipe to the next. In some cases, the recipes called for dipping the principle ingredients in a batter or rolling them in bread or cracker crumbs before frying. In other cases, the recipes called for frying bare balls of batter. Some of the fritter mixtures included flour or bread crumbs as a binder, while others didn’t. There was, however, near unanimity on one point: the fat in which any self-respecting 19th century California fritter or croquette must be fried was lard. The only exceptions were the recipes from vegetarian cookbooks, which called for using butter, “coconut butter” or fat of unspecified origin.

The two vintage fritter recipes that I recently tested had different ideas about

Sweet potato fritters from an 1885 San Francisco cookbook

what, exactly, a fritter was supposed to be. One was more akin to what I call tempura, consisting of sweet potato slices dipped in batter and fried. That recipe is from the encyclopedic 481-page collection of vegetable recipes issued in 1885 by Jules Arthur Harder, head chef at the sumptious Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The other was, for all intents and purposes, a carrot pancake, with neither a binder inside nor a breading on the outside. It is from a cookbook published in 1903 as a fundraiser for an organization dedicated to restoring California’s crumbling Spanish missions. Here are the recipes:

Sweet Potato Fritters

Peel half a dozen boiled Sweet Potatoes, cut off both ends, and then slice them in pieces half an inch thick and one inch wide. Put them in an earthen bowl, moisten them with a wine glass full of a brandy, add the peeling of one lemon, and allow them to macerate for half an hour. Then drain them, dip them in batter, fry them in hot lard until nicely browned. Then drain them. Serve them on a napkin and sprinkle powdered sugar over them.

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

Carrot Fritters

Beat into a pulp a cup of boiled carrots and pass through a sieve. Add two tablespoons cream and two well beaten eggs. Put a piece of lard in a frying pan. When hot shape the mixture into fritters, fry and place on a hot dish. Serve with a brown sauce.

Source: The Landmarks Club Cook Book (1903)

I tried the sweet potato recipe twice, boiling the potatoes al dente the first time around and marinating them for the prescribed half an hour. They ended up slightly undercooked and not as infused with brandy flavor as my friend and taste tester Sherry and I would have liked. So on the next try, I boiled them until they were soft and left them in brandy for a couple of hours. The recipe doesn’t specify what type of batter to use, so I decided to go with a tempura batter, made by lightly mixing two eggs with a cup of very cold water, and lightly stirring a cup of sifted flour into that. The result, on the second attempt: in a word, delicious. The flavor of caramelized, citrusy brandy melded beautifully with the rich sweetness of the potatoes, and with the dusting of powdered sugar on the crust of fried batter, they were

Carrot fritters from a 1903 Los Angeles cookbook

reminiscent of the beignets that were a favorite late-night indulgence at Café de Monde when I live in New Orleans many years ago.

The carrot fritters? They looked pretty. And they, too, were sweet. But I would have preferred a carrot fritter with more texture. The batter called for in this recipe, after being pulped and sieved, and with no other solid ingredients added to the mix, had little in the way of texture left.

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San Francisco Restaurant in 1914 Served ‘Best Chicken Ever’

A restaurant named Coppa’s in San Francisco in the early part of the 20th century invented “the most delicious way chicken was ever cooked,” according to Clarence Edwords in his 1914 book, Bohemian San Francisco: Its Restaurants and Their Most Famous Recipes. In light of his ringing endorsement, I included the recipe in Vintage California Cuisine, and it was one of the first that I decided to test and photograph for this blog.

Most Delicious Chicken Recipe Ever?

To be sure, I took Edwords’ hyperbolic description with a grain of salt. A former newspaper reporter, he was a booster by profession at that point in his career, as an employee of the California Promotion Committee, an organization formed by railroads, developers and other business groups in Northern California to promote growth in the region.

San Francisco’s many unusual and exotic restaurants, then as well as now, were one of the city’s major draws. “Here have congregated the world’s greatest chefs,” Edwords exclaimed, making San Francisco a “Mecca for lovers of gustatory delights.” A generous expense account reportedly came with his job, enabling Edwords to graze at leisure through the menus of the city’s most notable restaurants. In his estimation, they included the Viticultural, famed for its marrow on toast and broiled mushrooms, Hoffman Saloon, where in a lavishly appointed back room, “guests were served with the best the market afforded, by discreet darkeys,” Bonini’s Barn, where Italian fare was served in “a room that has all the appearance of the interior of a barn, with chickens and pigeons strutting around,” the Poodle Dog, a top choice for diners who “do not care to count the cost,” and Coppa’s, home to that supposedly unsurpassed chicken dish. Here’s the recipe he collected for his book:

Chicken Portola a la Coppa

Take a fresh cocoanut and cut off the top, removing nearly all of the meat. Put together three tablespoonfuls of chopped cocoanut meat and two ears of fresh, green corn, taken from the cob. Slice two onions into four tablespoonfuls of olive oil, together with a tablespoonful of diced bacon fried in olive oil, add one chopped green pepper, half a dozen tomatoes stewed with salt and pepper, one clove of garlic, and cook all together until it thickens. Strain this into the corn and cocoanut and add one spring chicken cut in four pieces. Put the mixture into the shell of the cocoanut, using the cut-off top as a cover, and close tightly with a covering of paste around the jointure to keep in the flavors. Put the cocoanut into a pan with water in it and set in the oven, well heated, for one hour, basting frequently to prevent the cocoanut’s burning.

Source: Bohemian San Francisco (1914)

The first challenge facing anyone following this recipe verbatim is apparent at first glance. Edwords refers to “cocoanut” in the singular, as if all of the ingredients he proceeds to list — including six tomatoes, the kernels from two ears of corn and one entire spring chicken, bones and all – could be tucked into the shell of one coconut. That is patently impossible. So in my first departure from the original recipe, I used boneless chicken — two breast halves and four thighs — cut into pieces. Secondly, three tablespoons didn’t seem to be nearly enough coconut in proportion to the other ingredients, so I used a heaping half cup instead. That amount of chicken and coconut, added with the rest of the ingredients in the amounts called for in Edwords’ book, yielded enough of the mixture to fill three of the largest coconuts I could find in a local market, with enough left over to fill a small casserole dish. Although Edwords’ recipe suggests that raw chicken should be stuffed into the coconuts along with the other cooked ingredients, I stirred the chicken pieces into the pan of stewing vegetables for a few minutes to give the meat a head start on cooking.

For guidance on how to open a coconut, I turned to YouTube, where I learned a nifty trick. Five or six sharp whacks with the dull side of a heavy knife around the circumference towards the top end of the coconut will produce a hairline fracture that encircles the nut. Holding the coconut over a bowl to catch the coconut water, wedge the tip of the knife into the crack, twist the knife, and the cap will neatly pop right off. The recipe calls for sealing the crack with paste. For that purpose, I made a paste with flour and water and slathered it onto the crack, which formed a nice seal.

The resulting dish, by all accounts, was very good, unusual and exceptionally presentable. But the “most delicious ever?” With all due respect to Edwords, each of the half dozen friends and family members of mine who tasted it had no trouble recalling other chicken dishes that they liked better. Me, too. In fact, the recipe in Vintage California Cuisine for chicken in a sauce of almonds, pineapple and chorizo sauce handily beats Chicken Portola a la Coppa for the top spot in the chicken category in my book.  I think it would be better if the sauce were made thicker, perhaps by pureeing the stewed tomatoes, mincing instead of slicing the onions and stirring some flour into the olive oil in which the onions are sautéed. Some of the corn could also be pureed. And to infuse the sauce with more coconut flavor, I might try adding some canned coconut milk. I’ll experiment with some of those approaches next time I try this recipe, and I just might be able to push this dish back towards the very top of the chicken recipe rankings.

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Keep Your Husband with Grape Pickles

I tested four recipes from Vintage California Cuisine on a couple of friends who dropped by for dinner last night. One dish bombed, another was okay and a third was quite good. The fourth item earned a round of “wows!” I’ll report on the first three later but for now, I’ll tell you about the hit of the night: grape pickles.

Grape Pickles

The recipe comes from what is probably the first cookbook published in California, quaintly titled How to Keep a Husband or Culinary Tactics. Dedicated to “the fair ones of thePacific Coast,” it was published by an Anglican church group in San Francisco in 1872. Here’s the recipe:

Grape Pickles

One cup of sugar, two cups of vinegar; as much of this proportion as will cover the amount of grapes you wish to prepare. Whole cloves, allspice and cinnamon to the taste. Boil the mixture an hour, or long enough to extract the strength of the spices. Warm glass jars on the stove-front, to prevent bursting; pick the grapes from the stem and fill the bottles. Strain the liquid and cover the grapes. Seal them up while hot. Fill the bottles with grapes, before warming.

Source: How to Keep a Husband (1872)

As usual in these old recipes, details such as quantities of spices were left out. And the syntax was, typically, a bit confusing. To wit: the step mentioned in the last sentence obviously must be taken earlier in the process, before the jars are placed on the front of the stove to warm. And a modern stove, I would guess, doesn’t exude as much heat as a stove that would have been used in 1872. Doing my best to follow the recipe verbatim anyway, I placed the jars, filled with grapes, close to the burner I was using, and rotated them occasionally during the hour that I simmered the syrup. They managed to get slightly warmer than room temperature on all sides by the time I filled the jars with the hot liquid.

As for quantities, I increased the amounts of vinegar and sugar by 50 percent so that I’d have enough syrup to fill two pint jars. I added two cinnamon sticks and two tablespoons of whole cloves. I did not add any allspice because I had no whole allspice berries, only powdered allspice, and I assumed that whole spices were meant to be used so that they could be strained out before filling the jars. I didn’t want powdered allspice to cloud the broth – though, in retrospect, that might not have hurt.

Though I had made them just a day earlier, I opened a jar last night to extract a sample for my guests, assuming the grapes would be only slightly pickled by that time. But no! As my friend Al exclaimed, with a genuinely startled expression as he first bit into one, “They’ve got a kick!” “You can really taste the cloves!” added Julie. By all accounts, they were a zippy, novel treat. I bet they’d be good with cheese.

I’m going to take a jar with me to a Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. They should be packing a real pickle kick by then.

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A Fruity L.A. Catsup From 1881 Made With Plums

There are eight catsup recipes in Vintage California Cuisine. Three of them are tomato-based. The starring ingredients in the other five range from walnuts to grapes. I’m looking forward to trying them all, eventually. But during my most recent visit to Los Angeles in September, when meaty prune plums were piled high at the Santa Monica farmers market, deciding which of the eight to start with was a no-brainer: plum catsup. 

The recipe is from Los Angeles Cookery, published in 1881 by the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Fort Street Methodist Episcopal Church. Those ladies evidently really liked catsup, in an array of variations. The cookbook includes recipes for tomato, grape and currant catsup, in addition to this recipe that I tested, for catsup made with plums:

Plum Catsup 

Boil together for two hours nine pounds of seeded plums, six pounds of sugar, and three pints of the best cider vinegar. Just before removing from the fire add one tablespoonful each of cloves and allspice.

Source: Los Angeles Cookery (1881)

I did not need anywhere near the quantity that I would have ended up with if I had followed the recipe to a t, using nine pounds of seeded plums. So I started with a pound of fruit, using a mixture of Italian

French and Italian prune plums

and French prune plums from the farmers market. To keep faith with the original recipe, using about one-ninth of the quantities for the other ingredients, I should have used two-thirds of a pound of sugar. But my health-conscious daughter, with whom I was staying in Los Angeles at the time, had only a one-pound box of white sugar neglected in the back of her pantry that was a little less than half full. So that’s the amount of sugar I used, about two-fifths of a pound, departing from the original recipe somewhat, without harming the finished product in the least. I stuck with the recipe on the amount of vinegar, using three-quarters of a cup, which is one-ninth of three pints. I cooked the plums, skins and all, in the vinegar for two hours on a very low boil, added at the last minute one-third of a teaspoon each (ie. one-ninth of a tablespoon) of cloves and allspice, and spun the mixture briefly in a blender (yes, admittedly departing once again from the 1881 recipe). I was left with about a pint of thick, fruity, pungent – and by the account of all of my taste-testers delicious – plum catsup. It would be good, I think, with Thanksgiving turkey and even better on a post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich.

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Selling Vegetarianism in 1910 With Lentils Posing as Duck

Was vegetarianism a harder sell in Northern California than in Southern California a century ago? The San Francisco Chronicle certainly thought so, judging from an article in that paper in 1897 about a British immigrant named M.S. Manning, who had come to California to “spread propaganda for the conversion of mankind to the use of an exclusive diet of raw fruits and nuts.” He had quickly discerned that the denizens of San Francisco were much too sensible for such nonsense, the paper was pleased to report, but other parts of the state were more receptive to his kooky teachings.  “The field chosen by Mr. Manning for the scene of his personal labors is Southern California, where supplies of ‘natural food’ are always abundant and disciples are easy to gather from the perennial influx of cadaverous strangers, whose main occupation is the contemplation of the workings of their interior works,” the Chronicle joshed.

‘Roast Duck’ With Walnut Gravy

Two of the first vegetarian cookbooks published in California, both of which are represented in Vintage California Cuisine, lend further credence to the notion that at least some Southern Californians around the turn of the 20th century were more open to the possibility of going without meat than their fellow Californians to the north. Practical Vegetarian Cookery, published in 1897 by the Theosophical Society, was written for true believers who didn’t need any encouragement to wean themselves from an animal diet. Members of the society, which at the time had its international headquarters at Point Loma, near San Diego, were steeped in a philosophy which held that eating meat would hamper their ascent in the afterlife. On the other hand, Substitutes for Flesh Foods, published in Oakland in 1910, targeted folks who, as the title of the book and many of its recipes implied, were willing to consider giving up meat but wished they didn’t have to.

Consider, for instance, one of the recipes from Substitutes for Flesh Foods that I tested during my recent visit with my mostly vegetarian daughter, Sara, and her boyfriend Michael in Los Angeles. It is a lentil casserole curiously called “roast duck.” The recipe suggests serving it with gravy, so we whipped up some walnut gravy, using a recipe from the same book. Here are the recipes.

Roast Duck (Vegetarian Style)

lentil pulp, 1¾ cups
minced onion, ¼ cup
chopped parsley, 1/3 cup
stale bread crumbs, ground fine, 1 cup
eggs (one hard-boiled), 3
butter, 1 teaspoonful
chopped walnuts, ½ cup

Take lentil pulp, one hard-boiled egg chopped fine, one beaten egg, minced onion, and chopped parsley browned in a little oil, one teaspoonful of butter, and salt to taste. Mix well and put one-half of this mixture in an oiled baking pan, then a layer of the following mixture: Stale bread crumbs soaked in hot water, chopped walnuts, a little grated onion, one egg, and salt and sage to taste. Finish with a layer of the lentil mixture. Bake, and serve with gravy.

Walnut Gravy

walnuts, ground, 1 cup
milk, 1 cup
flour, 1 tablespoon
flour, browned, 2 tablespoons
water, 2 cups
salt to taste

Put the water and milk in a saucepan, and when boiling add the walnuts.  Thicken with the flour, and salt to taste.

Source: Substitutes for Flesh Foods (1910)

On paper, the lentil concoction did not look promising. My instincts told me that a layer of bread crumbs in a lentil casserole might be a good idea, but that it should go on top, where it could form a nice, crunchy crust, not in the middle where it would, I assumed, turn into a gummy mess. With that unpleasant thought in mind, I was prepared, in advance, to pronounce this recipe a disaster.

Well, what do you know! The lentil layers on the bottom and top formed the sort of pleasing crust I wanted in a casserole. And the bread and egg mixture, thanks in large part to the inclusion of walnuts in that layer, had the texture of a nutty bread pudding that worked with the overall dish. As a matter of fact, it was reminiscent – at least remotely – of a slice of roasted fowl with well-browned skin.

The verdict of my taste-testers: “Oh my god,” exclaimed Sara. “It tastes like duck … I think.” She admitted that she couldn’t remember ever have had real duck, but Michael, who has “had lots of duck in my day” declared with greater certainty, “It does taste like duck!” Had the recipe’s title not planted that notion in our minds, would we have detected a resemblance? Probably not. But the title clearly served its purpose. And whatever it was called, we all agreed that it was quite good, and very hearty.

It would be better, I believe, if I had planned ahead a day or two and made my own bread crumbs, preferably with some good, whole-grain bread. Instead, I used store-bought panko bread crumbs. And instead of mashing the lentils with Sara’s potato masher, next time I will try running them through a food mill. In any event, the result this time was pleasing enough that, much to my surprise, I will certainly consider trying this again.

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An 1898 Gem: Chicken in Pineapple-Chorizo-Almond Sauce

Most of the 13 cookbooks represented in Vintage California Cuisine  are rudimentary, to put it politely. El Cocinero Español (The Spanish Cook), California’s first Spanish language cookbook, published in San Francisco in 1898 by Encarnación Pinedo, is a notable exception.

Pinedo was a descendant of one of the leading Spanish-Mexican families that had settled in California long before the American era. By the time she published her book a half century after statehood, California’s pre-American past was nearly forgotten, and many of the Anglo newcomers were dismissing and denigrating her people’s rich culinary heritage. Pinedo returned their condescension in kind. As she declared in the introduction to her cookbook, “There is not a single English chef who is a master, and their foods and seasonings are the most insipid and tasteless to be found anywhere.” She gave Anglo-Americans backhanded credit for at least trying to upgrade their skills in the kitchen. Culinary schools had recently been established in England and in the United States, Pinedo noted, but to date “not with a very flattering result.”

With recipes such as the one I tested today, Almond Sauce for Hen, Pinedo backed up her trash talking with a masterpiece. Out of the 1,000-plus recipes in her book, I chose this one for inclusion in the representative sample of 30 that I reprinted in Vintage California Cuisine, on the advice of my Spanish friend, Susan Branyas, of Barcelona, who helped with some of the translations. I sent her photocopies of dozens of recipes from the Spanish language original, and this was “the most incredible” of them all, in her estimation. Here it is:

Hen with Almond Sauce

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)

Typically light on detailed guidance, the recipe left me to guess about quantities, and about how to prepare some of the ingredients. This is how I chose to make the dish: I simmered the pieces of one small chicken in water to make the stock, of which I used about three cups. (I’ll start with less stock next time, since I ended up with a perfectly delicious soup but not a sauce.) I added half a pineapple, sliced, and roughly matched that in quantity with five sliced Roma tomatoes. I used a six-ounce piece of chorizo. As for the raisins, knowing that they would swell up and just sit there unattractively at the bottom of the stew, I opted for relatively few: about two tablespoons.

In retrospect, I was much too light with the almonds. I went with a quarter cup of almond slices and — just to see how differently-prepped nuts would behave — another quarter cup of sliced almonds that I pounded into crumbs. In a recipe with almonds in the title, I should have used at least twice as much, and I should have ground the entire one cup-plus of almonds so that they would be better incorporated in the sauce. I’ll do that next time, when I try this again upon my return to my home in Philadelphia, and I will report here on Almond Sauce for Hen, Take 2.

To finish the stew this time, I let all the sauce ingredients simmer for half an hour or so. As expected, neither the pineapple slices, nor the raisins, nor the sliced almonds were breaking down, and since I wanted a smooth blend of all of those flavors, I decided to run about half of the sauce through a blender before returning it to the pot. Finally, I added the deboned chicken and simmered it all for another 15 minutes or so.

The unanimous verdict here at Sara and Michael’s place in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles: this dish is off-the-charts fabulous! Even my mostly-vegetarian daughter Sara couldn’t disagree, though she says she would like to see a version without the strong infusion of chorizo flavors and the accompanying velvety sheen of grease.

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A First in 1884: Salad Dressing Recipe Labeled “Californian”

Labeling culinary items and concepts “Californian” is such a cliché these days that it’s hard to imagine there was a time when the state’s name had no such cachet. Yet such was the case in the first decades after statehood, when California was widely regarded as a far-away, uncouth frontier.

The two celebrity chefs whose cookbooks are covered in Vintage California Cuisine, Jules Arthur Harder in the 1880s and Victor Hirtzler in the first two decades of the 20th century, rarely deigned to mention California in their recipes. In their high-brow San Francisco hotel restaurants, they served dishes with European place names, such as Parisian, Viennese and Valencienne, instead. It was left to a San Francisco caterer named H.J. Clayton to first make the case that California was worthy of a culinary identity of its own. He wasn’t ashamed to credit the state in the names of the recipes he included in his 1884 volume, Clayton’s Quaker Cookbook.

One such recipe apparently was one of his most popular creations, judging from the name he bestowed on it: Clayton’s Celebrated California Salad Dressing. Aside from the name, the recipe’s mix of ingredients wasn’t particularly ground-breaking. The first cookbook published in California, How to Keep a Husband or Culinary Tactics, issued 12 years earlier, had a salad dressing that called for mustard, olive oil, vinegar and an egg yolk. But that earlier recipe used a pulverized, mealy potato as the thickening agent instead of the emulsification technique used by Clayton. Here’s his recipe:

 Clayton’s Celebrated California Salad Dressing

 Take a bowl with a wooden spoon fitted to its bottom. Mix 2-3 tablespoons mustard until quite stiff. Pour on slowly 1/4 pint best olive oil, stirring rapidly until thick. Add 2-3 fresh eggs, mixed slightly. Pour on remaining 3/4 pint oil and stir rapidly until it forms a thick batter. Add a teacup full of best wine vinegar and juice of one lemon, a small tablespoon salt, one tablespoon white sugar. Stir well until all is incorporated. For those not fond of oil, sweet cream of about 60 to 70 degrees in temperature is a good substitute though it doesn’t keep very well.

Source: Clayton’s Quaker Cookbook (1884)

I assume Clayton meant that a prepared mustard mixture should be used. To be sure, the Dijon mustard I started with got thinner, not stiffer, the more I worked it over with a wooden spoon. Had I started with dried mustard and a little water, I would have had a stiffer base to work with. But the end result would have been a mighty spicy concoction, so I think I made the right guess.

I halved the recipe, and used one egg, instead of the one-and-a-half eggs that I would have used had I gone with the upper end of the egg-content range suggested by Clayton. That may be one reason I never did get any semblance of  the “thick batter” that he said I should aim to achieve before adding the vinegar and lemon juice. It stayed on the thin side even though I set aside the wooden spoon in favor of a whisk, and eventually whipped the mixture up in a blender, in an unavailing effort to get it to really thicken up. The result, nevertheless, had a nice consistency for a salad dressing, even at room temperature.

So, what is it that San Francisco gourmets allegedly were celebrating in 1884? A basic, mustardy vinaigrette. On this test run with the recipe, I had no sweet cream on hand. Before I try this again, I’ll get some so I can try out Clayton’s suggestion to use cream in lieu of olive oil.

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S.F. Celebrity Chef a Century Ago Swore by Prune Souffle

French born and trained Victor Hirtzler drew culinary tourists from around the world to the lavish Hotel St. Francis dining room in San Francisco during his more than two decades as head chef at the landmark restaurant beginning in 1904. His prune souffle is “a nice pudding that everyone likes,” he declared in the recipe published in his 1910 cookbook, L’Arte Culinaire: Hotel St. Francisco Book of Recipes and Model Menus.

Here’s the recipe, which concluded with a note saying the “same process may be followed using other fruit”:

Prune Souffle

Soak a cup of prunes overnight, having first washed them thoroughly. Boil them in the water in which they have been soaked, flavoring with a half stick of vanilla bean and sweetened with a cup of sugar. When done, drain them and save the juice. Strain the pulp through a colander or wire sieve, making a puree of considerable density. It should make a cup of pulp. Now whip up the whites of six eggs until dry. When light, whip in the prune pulp and bake the same as an omelette souffle. It may be baked on a platter, piling it up into a symmetrical mound, or it may be baked in a buttered pudding mold. It may be served hot or cold, with a sauce made of the flavored juice in which the prunes have been soaked. If this is not enough, boil additional prunes. Or it may be served with whipped cream, the latter being preferred by many.

Source: L’Arte Culinaire (1910)

The result of our interpretation of those instructions is getting mixed reviews here at Sara and Michael’s in mid-Wishire, where I am staying for a few days. I’m open to advice, dear readers, about how I might improve on it next time — perhaps, for instance, by baking it at a different temperature in a different pan for a different length of time. Also, I pulped the stewed prunes in a blender, but wished I’d had my food mill with me to hew closer to what seems to be an instruction to press the prunes through a colander or wire sieve.

At 350 degrees for 25 minutes (a guess, since this recipe, as with many of the others in Vintage California Cuisine, gives no guidance on such details), it browned up beautifully, but it hadn’t fully firmed up in the middle. Sara and I thought it was great fresh out of the oven, with a drizzle of the syrup I made by cooking down, with a couple of tablespoons of leftover pulp, the sugary juice in which I stewed the prunes. After the souffle had cooled to room temperature, and had sunk a bit, Sara began to have second thoughts about whether it was so good after all. I was the souffle’s sole defender this morning when I had a slice for breakfast with a thick smear of congealed prune syrup. Michael was dismissive from the get go, declaring that it “tastes like jelly fish.”

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Courtesy of the Theosophists of 1897, Poor Man’s Cake

The first recipe I’ve chosen to report on here is Poor Man’s Cake. I’m in Los Angeles for a couple of weeks, back on a visit to my old stomping grounds from my new home base in Philadelphia. I’m staying at my daughter Sara and her boyfriend Michael’s place in the mid-Wilshire area, and we’re having a family get-together this weekend. So I was thinking that we could use a dessert and also that it would fun to offer something unusual. There are several conversation pieces among the 12 cake recipes in Vintage California Cuisine, including a Railroad, a Delicate Cheap and a Famous Yankee Election Cake, but I think this is perhaps the oddest of the lot.

Poor Man’s Cake stands out for several reasons, starting with the unusual combination of flavorings, including a trio of ingredients that don’t seem to have made it into modern times together: molasses, apples and coffee. There are plenty of apple-molasses cakes out there these days, but none that I could find in a quick Google search  that included coffee. Modern recipes also have only about a third as much molasses to apple as this vintage recipe.

Another notable thing about Poor Man’s Cake is that it “will keep all winter,” according to Practical Vegetarian Cookery, the book in which it appeared, which was published by the Theosophical Society in 1897. Since Theosophists believed that what you eat will determine how quickly you will ascend to the highest astral planes in your afterlife, this cake also, presumably, will help you in that regard.

So here’s the recipe:

Poor Man’s Cake

Take three good-sized apples, pare, chop them fine, put them into a saucepan with two cupfuls of molasses, and boil until the apples are soft – say for three minutes – remove, and add one cupful of sugar, one egg, and one half teaspoonful of ginger, cinnamon, allspice, clove and nutmeg, one cupful of strong coffee in which one and one half teaspoonfuls of soda are dissolved; two and one half cupfuls of flour. This cake will keep all winter. These proportions make three large cakes.

Source: Practical Vegetarian Cookery (1897)

As I said, that’s a whole lot of molasses by modern standards. I probably should have intrepreted the call for “strong coffee” to mean really strong coffee, and perhaps dregs of grounds would have been included in the late 19th century. That would have toned down the cloying sweetness of the molasses a further notch, which wouldn’t have hurt. I also perhaps didn’t heed the direction to “chop the apples fine,” cutting them instead into medium dice. Maybe that’s why I felt I had to let them simmer in the molasses for six or eight minutes instead of three to get them “soft.”

When I stirred in the flour, the batter seemed too thin to me. For the record, I do a lot of cooking but rarely bake desserts, and it was my improvisationalist cook’s approach that prompted me to toss in a hefty handful more flour than called for. Next time, I won’t do that, and should get a lighter result. This time, we ended up with a dense slab of spicy apple cake with a hint of coffee flavor.

Practical Vegetarian Cookery gives no guidance as to time or temperature. We cooked it at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

The result, in Michael’s opinion: “rubbery but delicious” and “unique.” It would be good, I think, with vanilla ice cream.

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