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?
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.
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.
Now that we’ve overcome our fear of garlic, we can make these fine-looking popovers Portland:
Categorised in: Vintage Books and Magazines