How a 1950 “Artists’ County” cookbook ended up in my hands from Gold Rush country.
The Post Office recently dropped off a package in my driveway. Curious wrapping. A grocery bag from Murphys, a tiny town in the Gold Rush country of Northern California. It was from high school buddy Jimmy Bigelow. Enclosed was a cookbook published in 1950 by the Woman’s Auxiliary of Trinity Chapel in Solebury. “Bucks the Artists’ County Cooks: A Gourmet’s Guide to Estimable Comestibles with Pictures” was an unusual gift for sure. How it got to me is a tale worth telling.
Jimmy, I and six others were close friends at El Capitan High School in Merced, Calif. in the 1960s.
As Boy Scouts, we founded a cave exploration club with frequent outings in Calaveras County made famous by Mark Twain and his jumping frog. We often popped in at the general store in the mining town of Vallecito not far from Murphys to pick up camping supplies. After high school, we took separate career paths. Mine led to Florida and then Bucks County as a journalist, Jimmy moved to Calaveras to become a school teacher and principal. After raising a family, he began traveling the world – from Antarctica on a sailing ship to the Polar Circle, from the Galapagos Islands to Eastern Europe, from the Vietnamese Highlands in Southeast Asia to Argentina’s Patagonia in South America.
Four years ago, he rented his mountain home in Murphys to Herb and Loretta Bettencourt of San Francisco. When Loretta passed away recently, Jimmy helped Herb, 80, relocate to Vallecito. He brought with him cookbooks from among 400 Loretta had collected at thrift stores, yard sales, and flea markets.
As Jimmy described it over the phone, “I went down to Herb’s little rental last Sunday to help with some unpacking. When I arrived, the garage door was open and Herb had spread out 30-to-40 cookbooks across his two work benches. ‘Help yourself to anything you want,’ Herb said. I spotted the ‘Bucks Cooks’ book. After just a short time of turning the pages, I said to myself, ‘Wow, this needs to go to Carl and back to Bucks County!’ From Bucks County to Calaveras County and the little town of Vallecito . . . Can you imagine the 68-year journey, the places it has been, the people who have touched it?”
In fact the cookbook is quite a gem. It’s spiral bound at 230 pages with black-and-white images sketched by 24 accomplished Bucks artists including Daniel Garber and Ranulph Bye. The book was reprinted six times, with revenue paying to enlarge the chapel on York Road.
Solebury residents contributed hundreds of recipes for soups, salads, meats, fowl, seafood, vegetables, desserts and specialties. I’m by no means a celebrated cook (except in the area of Shrimp Scampi). So I turned to family friend Frances Avrut Bauer who is known for her culinary ability at her 300-year-old stone house in Solebury’s Carversville village. My daughter Genevieve dropped off the cookbook so Frances could choose something for us to sample.
Frances and her husband Fred are former Hollywood producers of such hits as “The Buddy Holly Story” and “Under the Rainbow”. Today they continue involvement in the entertainment industry. On the side, Frances loves to cook. For us, she did a masterful presentation of “Cinnamon Cookies” from a cookbook recipe by Emma Tinsman of Solebury’s pioneering Tinsman family. Ten thumbs up for the “estimable comestible” baked by Frances. Dashiell gave the cookies an “awesome” rating as sister Margaux munched down more than one in the Bauer kitchen.
Flipping through the cookbook, Mrs. Estes’ recipe for “Preserving Children” brought a smile:
“Take one large grassy field, ½ dozen children, 3 small dogs, and walk along narrow strip of brook, pebbly if possible. Mix the children with dogs and empy them into field, stirring constantly. Sprinkle the entire with daisies and buttercups, pour brook gently over pebbles, cover all with a deep blue sky and bake in hot sun for several hours. When the children are thoroughly browned, they may be removed. They will be found right and ready for setting away to cool in the bathtub.”
Postscript: Jimmy B. a few days ago described the circle coming around again. “I drove down to Vallecito to check on Herb but he was gone. So I stopped in to see Bea Hollars who lives on the same one-lane road and who rents the little place to Herb. I have taught all three of Bea’s daughter. I told her the story about the cookbook. Bea goes, ‘Oh my goodness.’ She stood up, walks me down the hallway, and points to a faded black-and-white picture. ‘This is my father’s old house on a farm. He was born and raised in Bucks County, near Doylestown.’ ”
At this writing, Jimmy’s a deck hand on a tour boat in the Kenai Fjords National Park, probably with Bucks County on his mind.
Emma Tinsman’s Cinnamon Cookies
4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup old-fashioned molasses
1 large tbsp. lard
pinch of slat
1 tbsp soda
1/3 cup boiling water
Combine flour, sugar, molasses, lard and salt, add soda dissolved in water and mixed with well-beaten eggs. Drop by small spoonfuls into a mixture of sugar and cinnamon. Bake in hot over about 400 degrees, for 15 min.
If you have a family of children wanting a little refreshment, these soft cinnamon ones are very much to the point. Good with butter, cheese or even cream, also to grab and run and play.