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By Laura Hahnefeld
By Laura Hahnefeld
It was probably over 100 degrees in the shade. In fact, there wasn't much shade. The cook was making sourdough biscuits and boiled salt pork. If he had time, he might make some pinto beans. For dessert, he was planning to make a pie with dried apples.
He did all his cooking in cast-iron Dutch ovens placed on top of hot coals. For pies and biscuits, he put a pile of coals on the lid so the heat was more evenly distributed.
This was your basic chuck-wagon dinner. It was also typical of home-cooked meals in territorial Arizona. In those days, the British made fun of our food.
All of the chuck-wagon chef's recipes were in his head, and he often had to make due with things he found on the trail.
This galloping gourmet had a special power on the trail. That's why the cook was paid twice as much as the cowboys.
If he'd just written down his recipes, he'd have given Fannie Farmer -- one of the first widely published cookbook authors -- a run for her money.
Arizona chefs are still pretty innovative. Thankfully, we've come a long way down the culinary trail. Today, Arizona's food is far from one-dimensional.
Bookstores typically have at least one aisle devoted to food and cooking. Homegrown cookbooks are often interesting from a historical perspective, and the recipes are often more amusing than appetizing.
Local cookbooks can be quaint and quirky, but they can also be stylish and cutting-edge. In fact, a review of Arizona's cookbooks and recipe collections affords a good picture of the state of our state's food.
Let's start with the cheesiest of our local cookbooks, even though it's traditional to serve the cheese course last. It's my way of whetting your literary appetite.
Daphne Overstreet's Arizona Territory Cook Book, $5.95, offers a wonderful historic perspective of local cooking from 1864 to 1912. She categorizes early residents as Indians, cowboys, Mexicans, the military, miners and Mormons.
I'll probably never use her recipes. She admits that "many of the recipes given here were submitted without exact proportions, and rather than ruin the spirit of pioneer cooking, I leave it to you to discover the amounts yourself."
Unless you're a glutton for punishment, never buy a cookbook that contains untested recipes. If she didn't care to test and taste the recipes, why should her readers?
I did enjoy Overstreet's account of a young miner's first experience eating chili: "The miner . . . took the piece of meat out of his mouth, laid it aside, and remarked that he'd use it later to light his pipe."
If you hunt, or if wild game intrigues you, your mouth will water as you read Arizona Small Game and Fish Recipes, $5.95. Author and hunter Evelyn Bates offers recipes for cooking all sorts of critters. I almost expected a foreword by Granny Clampett.
Thanks to Bates and her 22 recipes for rabbit, I now look at those little white tails scampering around my yard with less annoyance and a little more culinary interest.
She also includes recipes for squirrel, raccoon, javelina and rattlesnake. Her 17 recipes for dove include chow mein, hash, salami and dove hearts.
If you're ready to clean your gun and apply for a hunting license, don't forget that wild game has less fat than its domestic brethren. Bates adapts by slow-cooking with bacon or salt pork to add moistness and flavor.
If you actually want to cook with Arizona ingredients, but you're not intrigued by removing buckshot from your entree, consider the Arizona Cook Book,by Al and Mildred Fischer. With recipes ranging from cheese crisps and tacos to guacamole, salsa and cactus candy, it's truly a $5.95 bonanza of local color for your table. Best of all, the recipes are generally simple and easy to follow. The chapter on Indian cooking is short but well-rounded and interesting. This is a great souvenir book.
Another source for tasty, practical recipes is Arizona State Fair Blue Ribbon Recipes,$10. Its award-winning recipes for cakes, pies and cookies are a handbook for family-pleasing desserts. I got my copy at the Arizona State Fair, but it's stocked by several local bookstores.
Fenzl's book is full of Southwest recipes from celebrity chefs, as well as many of her own. Some of the recipes are a bit complicated, but most are straightforward. I like the pointers about which parts of the recipe can be made ahead.
I can't wait to try the cactus shrimp with butter sauce and Robert McGrath's salad of spring melons and green onions. Fenzl also includes beautiful photographs. One makes RoxSand Scocos' Anasazi bean and Peruvian potato salad look more seductive than seems appropriate for something inanimate.
I was a bit disappointed with Vincent's Cookbook. Chef Guerithault is one of the chefs responsible for raising the reputation of local restaurants and the consciousness of Phoenix diners. For $25.95, even one picture would have been nice. The paper has a cheap feel, and the introductions for each recipe often seem stiff and contrived.