Ever Evasive Evans Brown

Today I am looking at another Helen Evans Brown cookbook and again find her refusing to eat.

In an earlier posting Brown refused to tell readers about tamale pies. In California Cooks, a collection of articles she published in The Californian, she rejects persimmons, but in the most alluring way:

“At last I’ve come to them. They’re an autumnal rite with me. I watch them change their color, soften, reach that stage of transparency and utter ripeness when they are at their very best, I’m told.

And then, when they’ve become of more than passing interest to the fruit flies, I throw them, ever so reluctantly, into the garbage can. But don’t listen to me. Listen to the gourmet who says they are best eaten directly from the skin, scooping out the flesh with a spoon.” Why does she tease us this way? Brown is introducing her readers to a new way of thinking about food, one that values knowledge about food that goes beyond “just” cooking or even just eating. Her oblique relationship with the persimmon introduces the personal, emotional mood into her food writing. She isn’t giving tips on fruit cookery, she’s giving insight into her own aesthetics.

Brown was one an early promoter of the idea of California cuisine, writing that “it won’t be long now” before California cuisine would be recognized as “the greatest cuisine in all the world.” The recipes in California Cooks emphasize ingredients grown in and associated with California.

“Almonds are High Style in the Culinary Circles of California,” she assures us.


Brown provides recipes for curried almond toast, california chicken saute, and English almond-butter toffee, while also subtly letting us know that there is something going on out west. We aren’t part of it yet.


 

 

Brown provides recipes for curried almond toast, California chicken saute, and English almond-butter toffee, while also subtly letting us know that there is something going on out west. We aren’t part of it yet. Brown provides recipes for curried almond toast, california chicken saute, and English almond-butter toffee, while also subtly letting us know that there is something going on out west. We aren’t part of it yet. She writes of ranch life “free and easy–that’s the ranch life in California” that does not seem to involve rustling up anything more than dinner. Even that might be done by a movie star:

Lee Bowman, Columbia Star, does the Barbecue Chores for a Patio Ranch Supper

Despite her emphasis on pleasure and her advice to “play at” cooking in order to improve your skills, Brown also includes a section titled “Eat, Drink and be Slender.” It’s a section that fits perfectly with national stereotypes about Southern California prevalent in her era as well as our own. The stars have to stay slim, so they must have secrets to share with the rest of us… Brown promised that “you can enjoy your food and still trim yourself down to bathing suit size if you’ll eat things that are not too high in those insidious calories.”

Her prescriptions do not differ much from those of other diet advisors: “More about breakfast: Do have fruit, a piece of whole wheat toast without you know what, and an egg.” And for lunch the usual “salad or a vegetable plate, and either a glass of skimmed milk or some yami yogurt.” She also includes the peppy/recriminating advice that “losing weight is 90 per cent the desire to lose it.”


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