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 It's full of historical references as it's a look at the past, a look at old California, and the wonderful lifestyle that proceeded the Gold Rush and the influx of 350,000 argonaughts from the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.
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: http://amzn.to/13nQECE
Link to buy Cooking Wild & Wonderful: http://amzn.to/VE6uiI
Link to L. J. Martin author page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/ljmartin