by Alexandra Rasic
In April of 2019, a wonderful thing happened for epicureans in Los Angeles: the Food Section of the Los Angeles Times was reintroduced. Managing Editor Kimi Yoshino said, “Our hope is that we’ll help readers get the most out of their trips to farmers markets, the meals they prepare at home and their explorations of the rich variety of dining experiences throughout the region.” The Times has a long history of sharing recipes with their readers, and the Homestead is fortunate to have three of the earliest Los Angeles Times cookbooks from 1905, 1908, and 1911 in our collection. They are fascinating reads, especially if you love to cook. I took a deep dive into the book from 1905, which boasts “One Thousand Toothsome Cooking and Other Recipes Including Seventy-nine Old Time California, Spanish and Mexican Dishes.” A quick survey of the book revealed the promise to be true. Many recipes featured longstanding California crops like oranges, walnuts, grapes, and avocados (or alligator pears); and there were numerous recipes attributed to Mexican and Spanish cuisine including tamales, enchiladas, Spanish rice, and chile rellenos. Novices to cooking these foods were told that unfamiliar ingredients like “the dry seeds of china parsley [coriander] or culantro,” could be purchased in “Mexican stores.” At first I thought culantro was a typo, but it’s actually a different plant with a stronger cilantro flavor.
While some recipes were attributed to establishments and publications, most recipes in the book came from individuals, with many including their home addresses. Some proudly noted original creations, such as Mrs. George Briggs’ Famous Stew (no modesty there, Mrs. Briggs!) and Eagle Rock Soup, submitted by Mrs. Katie V. Frockleton of Eagle Rock Valley, known simply as Eagle Rock today. Other recipes were variations of recipes that had been around long before the book was published, such as marmalade, Brown Betty, beef stew, and chicken salad. Flipping through the pages, one sees how cooks referred to common items to give an indication of size or quantity, for example: “roll into balls the size of walnuts,” for meatballs; “roll out to the size of a breakfast plate,” for tortillas; “add two teacups white mustard seed,” for a Spanish Catsup recipe; and “add butter the size of an egg,” to a pot of clam chowder.
The second largest section of the book behind salads was dedicated to soups, and that’s where I spent most of my time reading recipes for bean, cream, pea, tomato, and vegetable soups galore! There was one type of soup, however, that piqued my interest above all others: wine soup. There were three recipes. Wine Fruit Soup included raisins; prunes; lemons; apples; sago; and claret, a light, red wine. Chilean Wine Soup called for “good grape wine (not made in a drug store)” and suggested that you thicken it with tapioca, sago, pearl barley, rice, or flour. This is where I had to learn the difference between sago and tapioca. Sago is the edible starch from specific tropical palm stems. Tapioca is a starch extracted from the cassava plant. Sago is native to Southeast Asia, while tapioca is native to Brazil. The third recipe was called Wine Soup (A la Knowlton), contributed by Mrs. Knowlton of No. 411 West Fourth Street (in true LA fashion, the location of her home is a parking lot today). This recipe called for tapioca, raisins, lemon juice, and claret. Mrs. Knowlton suggested the cheaper the wine, the better because it “will give the soup a more delicate tart flavor.”
I decided to try making her soup, so I checked in with the Homestead’s Facilities Coordinator, Robert Barron, who also happens to be a sommelier. I explained what the recipe called for and without skipping a beat, he sent me off to the grocery store to buy “jug Burgundy.” That was easy to find, as were all of the other ingredients in the recipe, but alas, no tapioca. And no sago. So I bought chia seeds. Just as Angelenos of the early 1900s had their way of measuring things using the size of an egg and breakfast plates, us modern Angelenos are empowered with the latest and greatest healthy food substitutes, and chia is one of them. Some readers may have tried making puddings or smoothies with chia, a seed that comes from a plant in the mint family with origins in central and southern Mexico. I first became familiar with chia from our work with Matt Teutimez of the Kizh/Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians. In helping us put together our Native Garden at the Homestead, Matt shared that the Kizh would often add chia seeds to water because each seed could absorb over 10x its weight in liquid. When travelling far distances or exposed to extreme heat, consuming the chia would help maintain hydration. The seeds are also high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Matt told us about delicious puddings he made with chia as he found it to be a great substitute for tapioca because of the texture.
When I got home with the supplies I looked online to see if someone had made a wine pudding or soup using chia. Nothing came up for soup, and I got one hit for a chocolate chia pudding with a drizzle of wine on top, which was not quite what I was looking for. I also looked for wine soup recipes, but nothing came up other than a bunch of good looking recipes for soups that have wine as an ingredient. With chia as the thickening agent, I already figured this was going to be more like a pudding than a soup. Next, I called my colleague Gennie Truelock to talk things through. She’s looked at many historic recipes with me and can always come up with a good substitution or recipe alteration. She looked up “wine pudding tapioca” and found a number of Brazilian recipes that actually looked like soup. Taking a look at a few of those and reviewing Mrs. Knowlton’s recipe, we came up with a plan and I went to work. The result was remarkably good. Here is the recipe (which my husband agrees is a keeper!):
Chia Wine Pudding Inspired by Mrs. Knowlton
In a stock pot, soak 1 cup chia seeds in 4 cups of water for two hours.
In a small bowl, soak 1/2 cup raisins in water for the same amount of time.
Strain the raisins and add them to the stock pot along with:
- 2 cups of jug Burgundy wine
- 14 T of sugar
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- Juice from 1 1/2-2 lemons
Cook until the mixture boils.
Serve hot, at room temperature, or cold.
If you’re not a fan of raisins, you can absolutely leave them out of this recipe. Next time I think I’ll try currants, instead. The beauty of this recipe is that you can make the final product as thick or runny as you’d like, so you can add less chia or more wine. Some might also want to start with 3/4 cup of sugar and add more to taste. I felt it needed just a little more sweetness.
In making this recipe I was reminded that things are different for every generation of cooks: technology changes, tastes change, availability of ingredients come and go, but for those who love to cook, preparing food is a great adventure made all the more fun with experimentation and inspiration from resources like historic cookbooks and fellow food enthusiasts. Do you have an old family recipe you’d love to share, that you’ve successfully tweaked, or need help tweaking? Let us know below.