I like to eat. I like to cook. And I like to dine out. I also like to write about food and restaurants — as my readers will note. Some readers stiffen their spines and want to tear me apart at the seams for various things I write. Recently, one accused me of doing a hatchet job on one of his favorite North Beach restaurants and gave me chapter and verse on how stupid I am. Another wanted to chase me out of the neighborhood, and said I was insulting “North Beachers with my [expletive] extremely wrong review.” My sin was I didn’t praise some of her favorite joints. She was especially irritated because I said Capp’s Corner is my favorite saloon. As a saloonist who has earned his stripes, that hurt.
Certainly, readers are entitled to their opinions, which can be just as valid as mine. I like to hear from readers, and once in a while I get a pat on the back from them, but I don’t appreciate churlish, and at times, vindictive comments. I also don’t have much respect for the Yelpers who frequently seem to me to be disingenuous, snide and persnickety. So bear with me here as I write yet another column about food stuff — that is, stuff about food. Then if you must rip me apart or pat me on the back, go ahead. You can probably find me at Capp’s Corner.
PIKE IN HALF MOURNING
I collect cookbooks. I have some old ones and some strange ones. The oldest is A Guide to Modern Cookery by Auguste Escoffier, published in 1907. Yes that Escoffier. My father was a chef, and I have the cookbooks from his library. The strangest cookbook I have is Aromas and Flavors of Past and Present by Alice B. Toklas, 1958. This is not the one with the marijuana cookies that she called “Haschiche Fudge,” but it’s strange nevertheless. How’s this? Pike in Half Mourning. It takes 12 hours to prepare. And I can’t figure out why this particular pike is so sad. He’s drenched in red and white wine, sherry and Madeira — and almost as an afterthought slathered with mayonnaise. But my favorite Alice B. Toklas recipe — with the exception of the Hippie Brownies — is called Extravagant Mashed Potatoes. Here’s the recipe in total: Bake four large potatoes. Peel and put through a food mill. While potatoes are still hot, add two cups of butter and one teaspoon of salt.
I have a cookbook — Charleston Receipts — said to be the oldest Junior League cookbook. What I like about this one are the recipes that originated with the Atlantic Creoles — about 200,000 Afro-Americans, descendants of slaves, who live in the low country of South Carolina and Georgia, and still speak a Creole language called Gullah. Example: Crab got tuh walk een duh pot demself or dey ain’ wut. Translation: Crabs have to walk into the pot by themselves, or they are no good. So begins a recipe for Aunt Blanche’s She-Crab Soup. And, by the way, there are she-crabs and he-crabs.
I like this one too: Cooter Soup. A cooter is an edible freshwater turtle, and the recipe begins “Kill cooter by chopping off head.”
DELAPLANE’S MEXICAN PINEAPPLE
I miss my friend Stanton Delaplane, Chronicle Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter. He loved Mexico and gave me this recipe for what he called Mexican Pineapple. “Take a bunch of fresh pineapple chunks or from the can. Squirt Worcestershire sauce over them and dust with red pepper powder. Enjoy with a glass of cold Mexican beer.”
TRINIDAD AVOCADO SOUP
Many years ago, before boarding the P&O liner Himalaya in Port of Spain, Trinidad on which I was to serve for a while as press officer, I had an avocado in my soup. The local shipping agent, a Sydney Greenstreet look-alike in Panama hat and white linen suit, took me to lunch at his club. Pink gins and peanuts were followed by the club’s soup of the day — a strong, clear beef broth laced with Worcestershire sauce into which a peeled avocado half had been submerged.
Ernest Hemingway was a regular at San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel, so regular that when he checked in, the chef automatically prepared abalone from a personal Hemingway recipe: “Fry in oil, to which a little butter has been added, to a light brown like fried oysters. Oil must be sizzling before putting the abalone in. Time: A few minutes. Serve promptly with a little butter and lemon. Pop Ernest.” In 1943, Hemingway took Ingrid Bergman to dinner in the hotel’s Mural Room to persuade her to take the leading role in the film of his 1940 novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. He succeeded.
MARY ETTA’S COOKBOOK
My friend Mary Etta Moose was once the heart and soul of the Washington Square Bar & Grill. Ed Moose, Sam Deitsch and Mark Schachern were the guts and the smiling (or scowling) faces of The Square, as we called it. Mary Etta was usually back in the kitchen. She wrote a book with Brian St. Pierre called The Flavor of North Beach, now unfortunately out of print. But I have a dog-eared copy. It’s choc-a-bloc with recipes from North Beach restaurants — some long gone.
Mary Etta’s recipe for veal scaloppini is unusual and worth a try. It’s finished in the oven in a casserole. Another is Sam Deitsch’s version of pork roast with sauerkraut and red cabbage. I prepare both occasionally. The recipes are too long to reproduce here. E-mail me if you’re interested.