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Chez Panisse Vegetables

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The Father of Farm-Fresh Cooking

Alice Waters, at her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse in the early 1970s, is often credited with starting the practice of identifying the farm where an item on the menu came from. In fact, H.J. Clayton was doing that 90 years earlier. Clayton launched the trend in print with Clayton’s Quaker Cookbook, published in 1883 by the Women’s Co-Operative Printing Office in San Francisco.

A successful San Francisco caterer, Clayton offered an explanation for the practice that is echoed by Waters and many other chefs these days. "In these degenerate days of wholesome adulteration of almost every article of food and drink, it is eminently just and proper that the public should be advised where the genuine is to be provided," Clayton wrote.

More than two dozen of H.J. Clayton's original recipes, along with more than 250 other old recipes, are reprinted in Vintage California Cuisine

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Thus not just any tripe would suffice in his recipes. Clayton called for John Bayle’s pickled tripe. He also recommended Whittaker’s ham, Davidson’s cheese from Gilroy and Jersey Dairy milk from San Bruno.

Clayton’s motives for urging consumers to buy their food directly from farmers weren’t always particularly enlightened. He advised his readers to buy their pigs directly from farmers, for example, because, he complained, hog butchering in San Francisco was "monopolized" by the "Heathen Chinee," whose butchering skills were somehow called into question by their reputed "devoted affection for the hog."

Clayton was raised on a farm -- the book doesn’t say where. But he wasn’t a typical farm boy, the introduction discloses. In his youth, he had a "delicate constitution." So "instead of joining in the rugged work of the field, he remained at home to aid and assist his mother in the culinary labors of the household."

After Clayton became established in his catering career, he set out to write a cookbook in the "plainest style" that would be "fully comprehended by all classes," he wrote.

According to Dan Strehl, curator of the culinary collection at the Los Angeles Public Library, Clayton’s Quaker Cookbook is the first cookbook published in California to do something that is practically de rigueur these days -- openly paying homage to locally grown, farm fresh ingredients.

The cookbook, typically for the time, is top-heavy with meat dishes, with recipes for everything from beef and turkey to canvas back ducks and terrapins. Clayton also liked his oysters, serving them in omelets, patties, soups, stews and fried in batter.

He had a few signature vegetables dishes, including "Clayton’s Beets": Boil the beets, slip off their skin, slice and arrange them on a platter. Douse the slices with butter and lemon juice, then place them in a hot oven for a few minutes.

Here’s another recipe whose title seems to indicate that it was all the rage in San Francisco circa 1883. (No word on how many of Clayton’s catering clients came down with salmonella.)

Clayton’s Celebrated
California Salad Dressing

Take a bowl with a wooden spoon fitted to its bottom. Mix 2-3 tablespoons mustard until quite stiff. Pour on slowly 1/4 pint best olive oil, stirring rapidly until thick. Add 2-3 fresh eggs, mixed slightly. Pour on remaining 3/4 pint oil and stir rapidly until it forms a thick batter. Add a teacup full of best wine vinegar and juice of one lemon, a small tablespoon salt, one tablespoon white sugar. Stir well until all is incorporated.

If bottled and sealed tightly, the dressing "will remain good for months," Clayton asserted.

For "those not fond of oil," he offered this variation: "sweet cream of about 60 to 70 degrees in temperature is a good substitute though it doesn’t keep very well."


Copyright 2005 Seasonal Chef