History Week: Charming Dude Edition

I have a confession to make: my inability to finish the Soup of One Thousand Onions on time was not the only reason I put off History Week 2. The truth is, I have no idea how to write about Cookbook #34: The Gentleman's Companion, Vol 1: Exotic Cookery Book (Charles H. Baker, Jr., 1939). By which I mean, it is very amusing (on purpose) and I do not want to compete with it. Here, for example, is the book's dedication:

"Contrary to current routine this volume is not dedicated to Publisher, Wife, Friend, Mistress or Patron, but to our own handsome digestive tract without which it never could have seen light of day."

What on earth am I supposed to do with that? Just cook the food and quote extensively? Okey doke. Provenance: Dan found this at an antique store on our honeymoon. Good catch, Dan! Previous recipes on this blog: none. Reason I am going to say receipt instead of recipe from here on out: "There are already enough pink ribbons tied around cookery terms without giving the French every credit for fair cookery routine...dwelling as we do in an English-speaking country it is only just to adopt the Anglicized formation of the word. We have a volume dated just after 1650 calling it 'receipt.' What was good enough for Charles I, is good enough for us!"

Fair point, Mr. Baker. As you can probably tell already, Charles H. Baker, Jr is very nearly the exact opposite of practical task-mistress Fannie Farmer. There is in fact a great deal of nonsense scattered amongst the vague rec...eipts. To give you an idea of his character, this article includes a picture of Baker standing next to a shirtless Ernest Hemingway and an absurdly-sized fish, and an opening paragraph describing the unplanned cocktail-party marriage to his third wife. I want you to look at that picture and then I want you to imagine the expression Fannie would make at it.

Anyway, this post is ostensibly about food, so onward to the victuals. As soon as I saw the word "calalou," I knew I would be making it because in 1991 Cliff Huxtable burned it into my brain and I have wondered about it ever since. Callalooooooo! Here is Baker's receipt, in a nutshell: any and all chunks of raw meat, seafoods, vegetables. To this add: "a cut up rabbit, a jointed duck, pigeons, doves, coots, squirrels,--anything!" Anything indeed. Oh, and if any of the following strike your fancy: "worcestershire, sherry or other wines, garlic, chopped up orange peel, chutney, capers, hard sliced bananas" are all fair game. Let us now take a moment to feel relief at the fact that we are not making the similar Spanish Olla Podrida, which he insists "further adds bacon, saffron, cinnamon, pork sausages, chick or black eyed peas, turnips, lean ham, corned beef, whole cloves and a pig's ear."

Food and Food-Like Items Stew
I tried to get into the spirit of the receipt by including beef, chicken, and a package of shrimp along with about six kinds of vegetables. This had the effect of creating a beefy stew with a fishy aftertaste, which is less horrifying than it sounds but unsettling nonetheless. The good news is, it made about 12 servings and we will never be finished with it, never ever ever.

Next up: Filet of Sole, Habañero. It took me a minute to figure out that there were no habanero chiles in this dish, as I assumed (by the way, Baker--no ñ in there, you are engaging in hyperforeignism) and then another minute to figure out that the word is just a shared descriptor and probably fifteen more minutes to get to "meaning 'from Havana.'" But I did work it out eventually. This was a nice combination of onion, lime juice, white wine, and almonds. It's also the first time I've poached something in wine, which feels terrifically decadent but added disappointingly little to the finished product.

Still nice to feel like you're eating like an emperor. That's what they have in Cuba, right?

And that seems to be where I ran out of steam on the "exotic adventure" route, as the last receipt is for French onion soup and green salad. Oh, don't worry--the proper serving of a green salad is significantly more complicated than the previous dishes combined.

I did every single one of these things and it tasted exactly like lettuce.

Interesting to note that Baker's instructions for making French Dressing are, while a tad more embellished, the same as Farmer's.


Onion soup is more or less onion soup, though Baker has some thoughts of the "You're Doing It Wrong" variety.

I feel like he would have enjoyed the internet.

Turns out my modern palate wanted fewer onions, more salt, and less sugar. And probably some butter, while we're at it. But I appreciate the input, 1939.

Still soup. Soup's good.

Verdict: this really is an interesting little sliver of the past, and Baker is quite funny when he isn't tripping over his own cleverness (so, so many versions of "hoist/petard"). I certainly wouldn't buy it for the food, which is mostly too difficult to figure out or to obtain. But as a witty snapshot of a moment in time, it's a winner.

Elsewhere, Cash turned three! And he had an adorable space-themed party!

Not pictured: the delicious nacho bar, because I still feel some lingering sodium-bloat when I look at it.

The girls took the donut cake very seriously, which I can understand.

And look at the All Hail kids, on the very edge of their seats at piñata time.

Rock star kids. Totally blasé .