A Tasty way to Learn History

As an avid collector of old cookbooks I couldn’t resist picking up the Old San Diego Cook Book the other day at a yard sale.

Old cookbooks tell you as much about history as any textbook or memoir might, but in a more interesting fashion.
Tucsonans know the allure of San Diego. The sunny beaches, the hundreds of activities for everyone in the family and the food all add up to a great time.

So this Cook Book – and that’s how it reads on the cover – was a must.

The book is similar to all those Junior League and church group cookbooks in that recipes come from home cooks. The inside page reads. “Favorite Recipe of the Navy and Marine Corps San Diego” and continues “Including a collection of Representative Mexican and Old San Diego Dishes. Contributed by the descendants of Early Settlers of San Diego County.” It is compiled by the Volunteer Women of the Navy Relief Society, San Diego Auxiliary. As was standard for the times, the name of women are listed by “Mrs. their husband’s name.”
I haven’t tried any of the recipes but I have enjoyed reading the book.
The book opens with a recollections of an early school teacher describing what San Diego looked like in 1898. She writes about the “Wild looking horsemen flourishing their riattas” and “Wild Indians, naked with the exception of a cloth about their loins stalked majestically across the plaza…”
She is amused by the “Spanish” ladies smoking cigarettes and adds that her classroom is made up of mostly Spanish children and half-breeds with a handful of Irish ad some Americans.
Her only description of food the dinners she was invited to by those very same Spanish ladies:“….sheep, pig and kid were roasted whole in an outside oven, and served with a dressing composed largely of olives, red pepper and various savory herbs and a sauce made of tomatoes and chili peppers, half and half. A small quantity of this would bring tears to the most stony eyes.”

Granted all that was written ages ago but the language in the recipes and some of the ingredients are just as telling of how things have changed since mid-20th century. And as I said, many of the recipes are even older than that.
For example, one of the recipes under the Mexican section is called Tacos Teresa. There is this explanation, “This is a Mexican sandwich to be eaten with the fingers.” Good thing to know.
But what struck me more than that was one of the ingredients – “rat-trap cheese.”
I had to look it up. Apparently rat-trap cheese is cheddar. I have to do more research on the usage of the term. Is that all cheddar was good for? Anyway, using the word rat in any recipe is a real turn off for the modern palate.
Another recipe calls for California peppers (whatever they may be) and yet another called “Luncheon Day Lifesaver” stuffs wieners with mashed potatoes.
Then there is the chapter titled “Special Meals & Foreign Cookery’ with such marvels as Jamboylah, Jon Margetti and Wan Tun (Chinese ravioli.) Some I can figure out what they are, others not so much.
Not to be outdone, the men have a chapter all their own. Of course the recipes include game and the like but then there is a recipe for gustpatchie. Hard tack biscuits are soaked in milk for “at least four hours” and then squeezed dry and layered with tomatoes, house made mayonnaise, green peppers and cucumbers. The whole thing is then kept in the refrigerator overnight and served at lunch.
Doesn’t that sound tasty? Ummm, no!
Another intriguing dish; Congealed Tuna Luncheon Salad. And don’t forget Liver in Aspic. Luncheons in old San Diego must’ve been something else back in the day.
I will continue to read the book because there are some recipes that actual sound doable.
And I will continue to build my collection.


  1. coolsandiegosights · March 17, 2015

    I believe Congealed Tuna Luncheon Salad was what I had yesterday!


  2. ritaconnelly · March 17, 2015



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