Friday, April 5, 2013

California Cocina - The Great Ranchos & Their Kitchens by L.J. Martin

Here's a look at the great California ranchos and their cocinas (kitchens) from both my research and from the observation of lots of wonderful writers of the time.  This is NOT a Mexican cookbook, however it has lots of recipes included, both historical and a few contemporary.  Here's the introduction to California Cocina so you can get a "taste" of it:


This cookbook is, like my Cooking Wild & Wonderful, a narrative as well as a "recipe" book.  It's full of historical references as it's a look at the past, a look at old California, and the wonderful lifestyle that proceeded the Gold Rush and the influx of 350,000 argonaughts from the world over.  The California Gold Rush was the largest migration in the history of the world, as California, in four years, grew from fifteen or twenty thousand paisanos (Californios, of Mexican and Spanish heritage) and native American's.  California had over 30 tribes who mostly lived in peace and harmony in the plentitude of the state with it's mild weather and abundance.
     In the middle of the eighteen hundreds, before the interlopers began to control the water for irrigation, the great central San Joaquin Valley and the Sacramento Valley to the north, enjoyed over 4,000 miles of salmon stream.  Now it's the most productive agricultural valley in the world, but the salmon, and much else, is lost.
     But that's another story for another time.
     This is a tale of, and an opportunity to enjoy a taste of, life as the Californios lived it.
     You'll see lots of quotes out of journals and novels of the time, some from my own writing but all based on much of my reading of those old texts, and lot's of recipes purloined from cookbooks and recollections long out of print.
     I hope you get a feeling for the fun, and education, I got out of compiling this "cookbook."  And I hope you enjoy it at least half as much as I enjoyed writing (and copying) the content.
     Buen provecho, amigos!
     You'll note that some type is in brown which indicates it's either from the past, or from one of my novels.  Either way, it's good history.
     Read on….

Old California is gone, but in her wake is left an exciting new land rich in agricultural diversity, and richer in cultural variety.  Her people now stem from all walks of life and all parts of the world.  So does her cuisine.  Here is just a dollop of it.
     This is not a Mexican cookbook!
     This is a celebration of early California cooking, with its oodles of influences.
     Like the Longfellow poem so aptly portrays, the lethargic lifestyle of Old California is no more, the Dons and Doñas and haciendas a thing of the past--but we can savor the best of it.
     Then foods were partly Indian, partly Mexican, and a great deal what the outdoors had to offer.  Tiny horse­beans flanked creek beds, wild mus­tard, mostaza, grew with abandon (its yellow flowers still grace California's hillsides in profusion), even the fearful stinging nettle was steamed, minced, and mixed with cream fresh from the goat or family cow.  Beef grazed so abundantly that carcasses were left to rot in the fields—after the taking of hide, horns, and tallow—and feed the wolf, grizzly, and lesser predators and scavengers.  Hides, horns, and tallow were taken to supply the trader's ships, vessels crewed with men like Richard Henry Dana.
     The noonday meal was the biggest, with frejoles de olla, frijoles refritos, carne con chile, flour and masa tortillas, fruit, and if a ship had arrived since the last supply was spent, coffee and maybe something sweet with valuable sugar added. More likely, dessert was a tortilla filled with chocolate.
     The haci­endados were generous to a fault, and the general feeling was, "it is better to be on time than be invited."  And even if you weren't on time, the table was set with whatever was handy.  Even money was available to the traveler, with a bowl of coins always near by for whoever felt the need to dip a handful.
     But times were to change.
     After braving an icy trip around Tierra Del Fuego, across the burning jungles of the Isthmus of Panama, or across the blazing deserts of Utah and Nevada then the numbing cold of the Sierra mountains, hardy Anglo argo­nauts and pioneers found Alta California with an almost embarrassing cornucopia of game and seafood, fruits, grains, and vegetables.  And they added to her bounty bringing seeds and recipes from all over the world. 
     The gold rush took California from a lazy agrarian society of Creole Spanish, Mexicans, Mestizos, and Indians of only thirty five thousand population to three hundred and fifty thousand from all over the world--and this happened in a period of four tur­bulent years from 1848 to 1852.  The French, Russians, Australians, Chi-leans, Chinese and Sandwich Islanders--and a hundred or more other countries--played a part in the development of California, and contributed to its varied cuisine.  Much of the same dramatic change occurred in Oregon and Washington and soon afterward in Nevada and Arizona.
     French, Italian, and Chinese chefs (and get-by cooks) found them­selves in the homeland of the Californio, who had his own: Spanish/Mexican/ Basque/European heritage of fine food, all of which he combined with the plentiful bounty of California.  From the most simple fare of pozole, tortillas and frijoles, or Chile, to the most intricate combination of subtle flavors in a fabulous paella, the Alta California cocinas produced sumptuous fare.  But even the great­est can be improved by variety, and the gold rush brought that.
     This cookbook brings you both the most simple fare of the Mexican and Indian, some of the finer aspects of Rancho and native cooking, and many of the wonderful influences of those who poured into the golden state in the mid 1800's.
     Here is a cornucopia of California's finest from her most excit­ing historical period. 
     But more importantly, I won't get bogged down with the limitations of the past.  Where an old recipe might call for chokecherries, you will have the option of adding succulent bing cherries.  And a wild duck can be replaced with a fat pen raised, corn-fed duckling.  You won't have to stomp the fields to find native ingredients, although I will show you how. Masochism has no place in my kitchen.
     Adaptability and creativity are the hallmarks of a great cook.  In every aspect I will encourage you to substitute and create, adapt and im­prove, and simplify to make your time in the cocina, or kitchen, more enjoy­able.
     The real object of time in the cocina is to bring friends and family together around a loving and laughing table, to celebrate life and God's abundance--and I hope these recipes help you do just that.  In Old Alta California, when one left the table ahead of others, he wished them "buen provecho," which translates something like, "may it do you good."  As then, and with these recipes....
     If you see a variety of measurements, such as a "palm full" or "bit of…"  that's because that's the way the recipes came to me, and I'm merely passing them along.

This is typical of the many inserts in the book:

....the ink was taken from the mill pond fresh this morning, being composed of three parts water, two of mud, and one of tadpoles well ground.

from a letter
Hugo Reid to Don Able Sterns
Los Angeles, 1838

The vineyard is walled around.  It contains vines totaling 22,730 and ground sufficient to make up the number of 40,000, besides 430 varieties of fruit trees: 20,500 parras (vines on stakes) of uba prieta (dark grapes), 2,070 uba blanca (white grapes), 160 uba cimarrona (maroon grapes), in all,...  21 fig trees, 7 plums, 25 pears, 5 apples, 32 ornages,

Link to buy California Cocina:

Link to buy Cooking Wild & Wonderful:

Link to L. J. Martin author page on Amazon:


  1. "Were the devil himself to call
    for a night's lodging, the
    Californian would hardly find
    it in his heart to bolt the door..."

    Diary of
    Walter Colton
    Monterey, 1850

  2. Typical of the quotes in California Cocina:

    The purser maintained a storeroom: tallow for grease; tar; whale oil for lamps; a slopchest to replace uniforms; tools; sailcloth; and shelves and bins holding every other imaginable item that might be of need for both ship and personal use in the middle of the wide Atlantic; kegs of rum, dried vegetables, pickles, salt pork and beef, salt cod, flour, beans, suet, raisins, butter, bread, wine, brandy, condiments; vinegar, olive oil, mustard seed; and live stock. Prunes, pickled sorrel, onions, and sugar were kept, but only for the captain's table or the sick.
    To both the joy and bane of the middies, the Independence kept a complement of live chickens, sheep, and hogs aboard, the only way to provide fresh meat when at sea. Hog, sheep, and chicken pens--for meat only, as the hens promptly stopped laying when on board--huddled first gun deck forward, where they provided some of the least desirable duty, slopping and sloshing, for those who needed dressing down.

    Aboard the 84 gun frigate Independence
    from the novel Rush to Destiny
    by L. J. Martin

    The term "middies" refers to midshipman. In 1835 young men were inducted into the Navy at age fifteen. Training and education was accomplished onboard, as the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis came later. Edward Fitzgerald Beale, the hero of the Battle of San Pasqual near San Diego and the subject of the biographical novel, Rush to Destiny, served aboard the Independence. She was built in 1814 and razed from an eighty-four-gun frigate to a fifty-four-gun frigate in 1836. She was sold by the Navy in 1914. In my opinion, Edward Fitzgerald Beale was the most exciting character ever to come from the west or the mid-nineteenth century.

  3. WOW, Larry! This looks sooooo interesting! I just love this kind of stuff. You are making ME want to cook, and that is not easy. I was the youngest in my family and by the time I got old enough to help in the kitchen, my mom was just tired. And, because my dad worked in the oil fields, it was usually just the two of us--mom and me. So we ate really simple stuff. But you're making me realize how special cooking can be and that it can be fun.Great excerpts, too!

  4. Cheryl, I started cooking when I was eight. I can remember stirring that first cake mix a whole long tme ago. My dad was among the missing and my mom worked, so my older brother and I cooked. I cooked my way through college as a fry cook for 1,600 at lunch, and then in a boys camp where I also wrangled. All good look back on.

  5. GAH! This looks like another must-have for my kitchen, Larry. (Unlike my Okie compadre Cheryl, I love to cook.) Repent of your ridiculous notion that combining history and recipes is a good thing before I run out of room for the books! :-D

  6. I'm really looking forward to reading more! Cooking Wild and Wonderful is awesome, and it looks like California Cocina is essential to those of us who love Mexican-influenced and native foods. Plus, the entertainment value alone makes this book an auto-buy.

  7. Thanks, ladies. This is one of those books that I can continue to add to from time to time. For you writers an interesting thing I've learned at if you add to a book on Amazon, they do another mailing to all those who've bought one of your books in the past. A great marketing tool. It seems we cooks love cookbooks that we can read as well as cook from.

  8. OH YEAH!! I hardly cook anymore, but just for historical tidbits, YEEHAW! I'm getting my copy. Thanks, Larry! Awesome stuff.

  9. I love cookbooks, history and this combines both. When you mentioned the mustard, I can see the description in my mind that Helen Hunt Jackson wrote in her "Glimpses of the California Missions". Talk about visions, just reading your post brings up all kinds of wonderful. Now back to the kitchen...