A Forgotten Food Writer

August 31, 2016


Searching through my cookbook collection the other day I came upon this book by Helen Evans Brown, who was, in her time, the authority on West Coast cooking.  Long before anyone was talking about “California Cuisine” Helen Brown was writing about it. And writing well. Why has she been so neglected by history?

Helen Brown and her husband Phillip were close friends of James Beard; Beard’s letters to Helen are collected in a book called Love, Kisses and a Halo of Truffles (published in 1995.)

Was Brown forgotten because she died young, before the great cookbook revolution of the seventies?  Perhaps.  Or has she been been overlooked because she wrote about American recipes with a seriousness that was ahead of its time?  Listen to Brown discussing what kind of recipes she’s included in her 1952 West Coast Cookbook, and why:

The first group are those of the early settlers- recipes that were brought from various other places, and which proved to be so right for the new world that we now think of them as natives. There were those brought to California by the Spaniards and the Mexicans; and they weren’t new even then – they’d been favorites in Mexico since the days of Cortez.  There were the recipes of the pioneers of the Oregon Territory, which included what is now the State of Washington, recipes brought over the plains and changed to suit the supplies of the new land. Many of these have a Yankee flavor. Then there are those that show their origin to be of other lands – favorite dishes brought by the many people who came to this new country to dig gold, or build railroads, or to seek adventure or security. Of all these, I have admitted only those that have been generally adopted or adapted by us. 

That “us” stopped me short. Who is this “us?” and was it really “us” who did the adapting?

Still, when it comes to food Brown is on solid ground.  In the early fifties, when this book was published, I’d bet that few people in this country had ever tasted fresh coriander.

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Next up? Garlic – which was still viewed with suspicion by the majority of Americans.  (In the seventies, when some friends moved to South Dakota, they begged me to send them garlic; there was none, they said, in the entire state.)

Note, incidentally, Brown’s different use of “us” in this instance. IMG_6035

Now that we’ve overcome our fear of garlic, we can make these fine-looking popovers Portland: IMG_6036



Goa, Goa, Goa

August 30, 2016

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I was so taken with my meal at Pao Walla a couple of weeks ago, and I kept thinking about the fact that the chef, Floyd Cardoz, is from Goa. I wanted to know more about the cuisine. Then I I found this Madhur Jaffrey article on Goan food in the October 1976 issue of Gourmet magazine.

The recipes look great.  I want to try them all, but here are a couple that particularly appeal to me.

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Three Great Hudson Valley Foods

August 27, 2016


Just back from the Hudson Farmers’ Market.  Bought a small mountain of garlic to put in a dark, cool place and save for the fall.

Bought tomatoes – they’ve been fantastic this year – and corn (also a great season), and prune plums.  The late strawberries are in, and I bought those too, along with watermelon, blueberries and shishito peppers. I was on my way out when I saw the Rockerbox stand, and bought this bottle of dried, unadulterated garlic flakes.  It will be perfect in the winter, when my hoarded garlic’s gone. Then I made the mistake of opening a jar of  black garlic powder.  The aroma came leaping out –  the scent is insanely intense – so I bought that too.

I managed not to stop in at Bonfiglio Bakery for one of their irresistible lemon puffs. The bakery makes them only on Saturday, and they always sell out. Rich and flaky, with a heart of lemon custard, eaten warm they’re one of the best things on earth.

Now I’m sorry I skipped them.


But I did stop in at Little Ghent Farm for a loaf of their superb sourdough bread.  This is the most picture-perfect farm you’ll ever see and I always end up buying more than I expect. Today: eggs, liver pate and sausage.

Now I’m about to slice the bread, salt the tomatoes, fry some bacon and make BLTs. They are never better than they are right now.


Gap and Swallow Pudding

August 26, 2016

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I couldn’t resist: from the August 1951 issue of Gourmet Magazine, a true American original.  Straight from Frances Parkinson Keyes (a prolific author whose most famous book was a mystery called “Dinner at Antoine’s.)


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1 Comment

In a Pinch….

August 24, 2016


Let’s get this out of the way right from the start: it’s not home-made. It doesn’t taste like the stock you make yourself from bones. It is also a little too salty.

However, it’s not disgusting. Which is, when it comes to canned chicken broth, a first in my experience.

And sometimes, let’s face it, you run out of homemade stock.

I made risotto from this broth last night, and it was more than acceptable. So I plan on making sure I’ve always got some on hand.

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