Tuesday, November 12, 2013

California Cocina

California Cocina is my most recent effort in the world of cooking and the kitchen, however it's a long time endeavor of mine.  Each time I've seen a reference to cooking and the kitchen in old journals I've made a note of it, and many make up the hide, hair, and bones of this look at history and the California Cocina (kitchen).  This has been a book of great interest, and fun, to me, and I hope it is to you as well.
This from California Cocina:

A Little Sittin'-Round-The-Fire
 Cookin' Philosophy!

Don't you dare be afraid to cook!  Eggs are the toughest things a chef has to master and I'll bet you've conquered them long ago.  If you can fry an egg, you can master any recipe in this cookbook, or any other.
     As I mentioned in the introduc­tion, adaptability and creativity are the hallmarks of a good cook.  I've had my share of flops--all good cooks have.  If they haven't, they're not trying hard enough.
     I learned to cook at home from age eight, with a mother who worked and an older brother who was more than glad to share the chores.  I went on to cook my way through college, manning a grill 3' deep by 18' long, feeding 1,500 at lunch and dinner--not much for style but it did wonders for charge-forward and damn the torpe­does.  As fast as I could, I threw the hamburgers or chops on, ran back, salting on the way, and turned them on the way forward again, only to run back salting again--then I could im­mediately begin picking them up with a three-patty spatula.  Like a machine gunner, I had a loader who walked alongside, only this one carried a tray to fill with food.  And God help the irate student who wanted his "a little more done," or, worse, complained about over-cooking.  Later in life, I had four sons only a couple of years apart, which was almost as crazy as cooking for 1,500.  They, by the way, are all good cooks.
     During and after college, I did a stint counseling and wrangling horses at a boy's camp, and had to do the cooking for as many as twenty at a time over a campfire with only what we carried on our backs.  I also seemed to get the cooking job for many a horseback hunting, fishing, or just lookin' trip into the back country, and still do as my wife and I try to get into the high Sierra at least once a year-- usually with an entourage of a half dozen or more who work up big ap­petites.  There are a lot of tricks to making camp cooking easy, and I'll share a few here.
     Notice, I refer to myself as a cook, not a chef.  Standing over an open campfire, before dawn, not able to see if you're burning the flapjacks and having to judge by nose power alone, is not the bailiwick of a la-ti-da chef.  More than once I've made a lantern out of an empty coffee can and bacon grease, so I could see in the pre-dawn to cook.  Most chefs would quit under far better cooking cir­cumstances, but just try and quit when you've got a camp full of hungry hunters or fishermen or cowhands--at worst, you might quit more than just a job, at best, you'd leave camp a'skippin' with cans tied to your tail.
     In everything else I'm hell for prompt--not cooking.  I learned a long time ago that the most appreciative eaters are damned hungry, or movin' on toward drunk, so I've always made it a habit to serve about an hour after I said I would.  You can get by with this in polite society, don't try it at a campfire.
     Now that you know my back­ground, I will tell you that I can set as fancy a table as most chefs.  I can Wellington a beef and bone a chicken and crown a rib roast and flambeau and all the rest—and yes, I own French Cooking Volumes 1 & 2.  But its sel­dom I use a recipe book when cooking for friends.  After cooking a while, you develop a sense of what will work and what won't.  Some of my best meals have come about from the habit of using left-overs (having grown up poor I always cook too much) but not as originally served.  Day-old mashed potatoes can become wondrous treats in the hands of an imaginative cook. 
     So don't be afraid to add to or subtract from or change most of these recipes.  I stole most of them from other cooks, and changed them (or didn't) to suit me.  You do the same, and if you hate cilantro or lemon pep­per, leave it out and add what you love.
     After all, they're your pork chops.

This is typical of the historical recipes included:

Blossom Fritters

·      12         male squash or pumpkin blossoms
·      3/4      cup warm flat beer
·      2           eggs
·      T          oil
·      1/4      t salt
·      1/4      t sage
·      4 oz     Monterey Jack or other white cheese

Separate eggs and beat yolks with beer, salt, and flour until smooth.  Beat egg whites until stiff, then fold gently into batter.  Remove all stems and stamens from blossoms  Fill each blossom with enough cheese so you can twist blossom ends and seal, dip in batter, fry in hot oil.  Drain and serve warm.

And this:


1 pound white suet
2 cups chockcherries
1 pound jerked meat

Roast jerked meat over open fire until bone dry.  Pound to a dust.  Add it, chokecherries, and as much sugar as you can afford and roll into balls the size of hen's eggs.  This will keep in your polk for a good long spell.
And this from one of my own novels, a look into a California rancho kitchen:
In the cocina, sides of meat and a few plucked chickens hung from hooks, adorn­ing one wall alongside iron skillets, pots, spoons, spatulas, and a hand-held coffee grinder.  Red peppers, green peppers, dried tomatoes, garlic flowers, and bay leaves, all strung together in multicolored bunches, hung from a wrought-iron roof-hung rack in the center of the room, directly over a butcher-block table where two women stood working.  Their speed belied the flesh that vibrated pendoulously un­der their arms.  Fat fingers flashed and flour hung in the air as they formed, twirled, and patted tortillas into shape with the staccato rhythm of chubby, slapping palms.
     Bins of wheat, beans, lintels, dried peas, and fresh vegetables lined the wall opposite the meat and utensils--a flash of warm natural color that contrasted with the cold metal hanging overhead.  Two six-burner black-iron stoves huddled side by side against one wall, each flanked by a through-wall wood box that could be loaded from the outside.  One stove, and part of the stovepipe that rose through the red-tile roof glowed red-hot in the dim light.  This was the reason for the cocina being sepa­rated from the main house: the threat of fire.  The stove supported a variety of steaming pots and an iron pitcher bubbling with hot water that did a thousand vio­lent jigs in little droplets on the glowing surface before roiling upward in vapor.
     The room smelled pleasantly of spices, and roasting meat--and of coffee.
     A smiling Indian woman had a cup poured and hot rolled tortillas waiting by the time Clint had stored the musket.  She handed him a mug laced with sugar carved from a Barbados cone, and whitened with thick rich cream...
from the novel
Against the 7th Flag                                                             
by L. J. Martin

And this from on of the other contributors:

....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, 40 granadas (pomegranates), 2 alvechegos (honey mesquite trees), 240 duraznos (peaches), 8 capulines (blood oranges), 3 nogales (walnut trees), 7 olivos (olive trees), 40 limones (lemon trees), in all 430 trees.
     I don't include my tuna (cactus fruit) patch.
from a letter
Hugo Reid to Don Able Sterns

Translations are mine, not the author Reid's                                 Los Angeles,  1844

The above is typical of the content of California Cocina.  It's an entertaining and educational look at a wonderful time past.  Here's a link to pick up a copy:



  1. Larry, I always find these posts of yours fascinating. I have said before, I don't set the world on fire cooking (or maybe I do!)LOL but your recipes and insights are always so interesting that it makes me re-think my ideas about wanting to cook. That takes talent! LOL I won't be making ink anytime soon, but it's interesting to know how they did it.

  2. Of course the fun part is reading the original material from which all these quotes were derived. California, more than any other state, had such a drastic conversion from 30,000 Indians, Mexicans, and a few Sandwich Islanders and Boston sailors to over 300,000 in four years...the greatest migration in the history of man at the time. Central Cal had 4,000 miles of salmon streams, now zero, and a half million elk and thousands of griz. And lots of those new folks wrote about those things, and much much more.

  3. From the Introduction to California Cocina:

    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!

  4. Some more stuff....

    Saturday I attended Mass in the morning.... Not the least interesting to me were the costumes. Standing, kneeling, sitting over the floor were the people of many races. Here is a genuine American; in that aisle kneels a genuine Irishman, his wife by his side; near him some Germans; in the short pew by the wall I recognize some acquaintances, French Catholics, also an Italian. But the majority of the congregation are Spanish Californians.... All are dressed in holiday clothes. Here is a man with Parisian rig; there one with the regular Mexican costume, buttons down the sides of his pants; beside him is an Indian with fancy moccasins and gay leggins; behind me, in the vestibule, looking on with curiosity, are two Chinamen. No place but California can produce such groups.

    From the journal of
    William H. Brewer
    Sunday evening, March 31 (Easter) 1861
    Los Angeles

  5. Always enjoyed cooking and recipes are just suggestions in my book. Fun and informative. Keep them coming. Doris

  6. So, Larry, I'm guessing the real difference between a cook and a chef is that the chef is the one staring lovingly at all his or her shiny kitchen equipment, while the cook is the one laboring over a sizzling grill, flipping burgers with a three-patty spatula. Thanks for the fun post.

  7. Tom, I've always considered myself a "cook" as I understand "chef" is a French word for boss...and I'm sure as hell not the boss in my kitchen even though I do most the cooking.