The Ladies' Tea Guild

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Historic Cooking: Artichokes, Italian Style from 1898.

This is another entry for the Historical Food Fortnightly project, which is now being continued on Facebook.

Artichokes, Italian Style. 
From _El Cocinero Espanol_, 1898.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Challenge: April 22-May 5: Flower Power. A dish that is floral, flowery, or flour-y, as you desire.

A month late in posting, but better late than never!  It took me a while to decide what to do for this challenge; I have orange-blossom honey, rose petal honey, dried rose petals, and both orange-flower and rose water in my pantry.  What to do?  I finally decided on artichokes – which are a flower! -- when I saw them in the grocery store, but then it took me another while to choose the historic recipe to use to cook them.  My first couple of artichokes had to be cooked and eaten in a not-particularly-historical-way when they were on the point of going bad, and I hadn’t yet chosen a recipe!  A week or so ago I bought some more artichokes and again, took more than a week to choose, not because there weren’t many recipes, but because there were so many choices! 

I selected a recipe from Encarnación Pinedo’s _El Cocinero Español_, which I have been slowly translating from the original 19th century Californian Spanish, because I’ve been wanting to try some of the recipes.  This recipe book is the earliest published cookbook from the colonial Spanish/Mexican California culture; I’m sure there are other recipe collections in existence, but as far as I know, they are still in manuscript form, hidden in attics and storage areas, and the California history scholars and museums that I contacted didn’t know about them. 

Page from _El Cocinero Espanol_,
by Encarnacion Pinedo, 1898.
_El Cocinero Español_ was published in San Jose in 1898, written by a lady from an influential Spanish ranch-owning family, who recorded the traditional Californio recipes that she learned at home, and at the Catholic convent school that she attended in the 1850s and 1860s (staffed by South American nuns).  At the time the book was written, the author, Doña Encarnación, was unmarried and lived with her sister, her Yankee brother-in-law, and their children, one of whom was already grown up and married to a Yankee.  The author and her sister were raised during a very difficult time in California history when the established community of Californios was being abused on all sides by American and English (and other foreign) immigrants and settlers, due to the misunderstanding, encouraged by the newspapers, that all land and property titles that existed before 1850 (California entered the United States), were legally null and void, and that all existing residents were reduced to the status of conquered enemies.  In reality, California was purchased (as part of the treaty that ended the war, because the residents had already started fighting for independence from Mexico), not conquered (it was the central government of Mexico that was conquered);  all property titles were upheld (but actually ended up being required to be confirmed in court), and all existing residents were automatically made citizens of the United States, but that is not how most people understood the situation!

In her introduction to the cookbook, which was initially written as a private family record of their history and food culture, Doña Encarnación records the animosity and distrust that her mother (her nieces’ grandmother) held for the foreigners, especially the Yankees, and attempted to pass on to herself and her sisters (including her nieces’ mother), and details some of the abuses that their family, in particular, suffered at the hands of the Yankees. The book was written in order to secure, to her nieces, their Californio family identity and history, in the form of the stories and recipes, which Doña Encarnación saw was not being taught alongside their American identity, and feared would be lost forever, as the girls would all, likely, marry American or other non-Californio men.  It is likely that the book was published because it fulfilled the same purpose for other mixed Californio/non-Hispanic families.

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)