Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A California Whine about Mid-West Cookbooks

Happy Cookbook Wednesday! I'm glad Louise resumed hosting it. If you love old cookbooks but you're not terribly familiar with my blog, nearly every Wednesday back to December 2014 could count as a Cookbook Wednesday, so check them out if you're so inclined. Or don't. I won't be offended.

I picked today's book because I love the cover (even though my copy of the book is slightly warped, so it is really hard to scan):

West Coast Cook Book (Helen Evans Brown, original 1952, but mine is a reprint from the Cookbook Collectors Library) has just as much personality as the busomy, bonnetted, button-shoed lady on the cover suggests. I'm not sure why this woman is so surprised--perhaps because her left hand is mutating into some kind of sea creature with a glowing white eye?-- but I think she is hilarious.

Helen Evans Brown appears to have a bit of a sense of humor too, especially in her haste to differentiate her tome from the piles of mid-western-style cookbooks that I typically discuss.

She clearly does not approve of "the molded 'salads' made with sweetened and fruit-flavored gelatin mixes" (even going so far as to put scare quotes around "salads"!) that pop up so regularly on this blog. Since there is a chapter on aspics, though, this book obviously does have gelatinous dishes. They're just not the typical mid-western variety:

Wine Aspic would not be a well-accepted component of too many church potlucks. (Think of all the gossip at the following week's ladies' prayer circle lunches! Wine Aspic could bring in some drama...) I can see why this is a west coast dish.

Brown likes the diversity of coastal cooking, too, but does not often appreciate the bastardized versions of what people at the time considered "ethnic" offerings. Here is her take on Tamale Pie:

She's right, of course. I have no trouble in finding Tamale Pie recipes in my mid-western cookbooks.

West Coast Cook Book  may set itself a bit apart from the food trends of its time, but it is not completely unmoved. While mid-western cooks might be making noodle rings, rice rings, or ring-shaped Jell-O "salads," California cooks have their own take on the trend:

Artichoke Ring, just like rice or noodle rings, was to be filled with a creamed meat mixture, but instead of creamed chicken or creamed chipped beef, this one got creamed sweetbreads or shrimps. (Variety meats and seafood are very popular on the coast!)

The seafood had to be set apart from the fish sticks of the mid-west. Obviously, seafood varieties and cooking techniques were much more diverse, but even the condiments had to be more sophisticated on the coast:

Again, this lemon-mayo-parsley-tarragon, and green onion or green olive "Tartare Sauce" sets itself apart from the "chopped-sweet-pickle-and-mayonnaise abomination" one would find in dozens of my other cookbooks.

A meal in California might be as likely as a meal in Minnesota to end in fruit cocktail, but again, the name is about the only commonality in what is actually being served:

California Fruit Cocktail is not canned diced peaches, pears, white grapes, and maraschino cherries. It is fresh citrus, pears, pineapple, and strawberries with some real Maraschino or wine.

This West Coast Cook Book is a fun corrective to all the mid-western church and charity cookbooks lining my shelves, and it is packed with information about life on the coast and historical cookery. I haven't even had the space to show any of the recipes from famous coastal restaurants or historical cookbooks. (I always have to remind myself Brown is referring to the 1870s when she writes '70s!) This book is sure to pop up again, but it's a great feature for the first official Cookbook Wednesday in a long time. Thanks again to Louise of Months of Edible Celebrations for hosting! Now figure out how to work wine and/or artichokes into one of your recipes.


  1. Hi Poppy!!!
    Oh it's wonderful to be sharing in Cookbook Wednesdays again!

    You've certainly picked a winner to kick off the event. I don't have this book by Helen Evans Brown. I've been meaning to get it but alas, not yet. I like that she often includes a bite of historical background in some of her recipes.

    You know, while reading this post, I had to keep reminding myself that she authored a book with James Beard back in the 50s. (that's 1950s, lol) I think it was The Complete Book of Outdoor Cookery. If memory serves me, it was because Beard enjoyed her West Coast Cookbook so much that he invited her to co-author the book with him. Evan Jones wrote about their first encounter in Epicurean Delight: The Life and Times of James Beard.

    I think you have chosen some of her, should I say, questionable selections. Although, for the time, I'm pretty sure they were as popular as her restaurant, or almost, lol...

    Thank you so much for once again joining us for Cookbook Wednesdays Poppy. It's going to be FUN!!!

    1. This is definitely a fun book-- pick it up if you have the chance. I'll have to watch for her collaboration with James Beard because I don't have that. I just love books that let a bit of personality come through.

      I'm so glad for the return of Cookbook Wednesday. I've been making just about every Wednesday a Cookbook Wednesday anyway. They're kind of addictive because they give me a good excuse to go through my stacks and stacks of books...

    2. I will be watching for it Poppy. I haven't been buying many books lately. Heck, I rarely get a chance to read either, lol...

      Cookbook Wednesday is a fun way to discover wish list books and like you say, go through the many books we already have. It should be interesting:)

  2. Heh, heh. "Group" luncheon, love it! Would you really have a luncheon by yourself?

    1. I have everything by myself, but then again, I am a bit odd...