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California Rancho Cooking: Mexican and Californian Recipes Paperback – July, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

California cuisine--with its goat cheese, arugula, and free-range chickens--took the culinary world by storm in the 1980s and '90s, but as Jacqueline Higuera McMahan shows us, "Rancho cooking" may be the original California cuisine. Descended from early Spanish settlers--known as the Californios--McMahan comes from a culinary tradition that spans backward through the gold rush and the missions to Mexico and Spain. In Rancho Cooking she tells the tale of the Californios' cuisine, and of her own family, through stories and recipes handed down for generations.

"Chiles are in our blood, my grandmother told me," McMahan writes, "I pictured rivers of dark chile flowing in our veins." That river of chiles flows not only in the veins of the Higueras, but throughout the history of cooking in California. Beginning with the Spaniards who, by necessity, borrowed culinary traditions from everyone from the Moors to the Indians, and merging with Mexican food drawn from Aztec and other Indian culinary traditions, Rancho cooking evolved as it was carried north through the Spanish territories in California. The Spanish brought with them their favorite foods--tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, corn, and of course chiles, to name a few--and the settlers perfected the art of barbecuing, which was so well suited to their outdoor lifestyle.

What will strike readers first about this book is that the cooking represented is a far cry from the typical Mexican fare we're used to. This food has a sophistication far beyond smashed beans and rice. Olives, figs, fresh herbs, squash blossoms, and pumpkins appear with surprising regularity, and olive oil, not lard, is the fat of choice for cooking. Of course you'll also find many of the dishes that we think of as standard Mexican fare--enchiladas, tamales, quesadillas--but all have a distinctly Rancho touch. Enchiladas are filled with seafood and napped with a velvety tomato-chipotle sauce, quesadillas are stuffed with squash blossoms and epazote leaves, and tamale dough gets extra flavor from olive oil in addition to the usual lard.

As much a history book as a cookbook, Rancho Cooking belongs on the shelf of anyone who calls him- or herself a connoisseur of California cuisine. --Robin Donovan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

McMahan is a descendiente of one of California's original rancho families, Spaniards who came to California via Mexico in the late 18th century. In her latest book (some of the material is based on text from her California Rancho Cooking, but this is more a new book than a revised edition), she offers many stories about her grandmama and other members of her extended family, along with 150 recipes. Rancho food combined elements of both Spanish and Mexican cooking, using Latin American ingredients such as tomatoes, chiles, and corn and European ones like olives, figs, and olive oil. Sidebars and narratives "The Grandest Barbecue of All," "Maria Higuera's Wedding" are interspered throughout the recipes, and there are full-page color photographs of some of the delectable dishes. A unique look at a culture that no longer exists, this is recommended for most libraries.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Sasquatch Books; 2nd edition (July 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570613842
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570613845
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 6.7 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #707,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By R Yull on March 30, 2014
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Strong title? Yes, because that is exactly what this book represents. It is not just a wonderful cookbook with countless stories chronicling early California (and Western) culture within its pages and recipes. All cooks who love the West and California should have this book in their collection. Shame it is out of print, making purchase expensive but worth it. I so enjoyed Ms Higuera-McMahan's narratives and reflections on another simpler time but rich in family, food and culture. The information within this jewel can easily be lost over time. I read and study a lot about early Western history especially California but it is rare to have an account of what these hardy, wonderful people ate and how their food enriched their lives beyond "nourishment." I do not know if this book has a presence in any of California's museums but should. As a former 4th grade teacher where California history is taught, I wish I had this book to share with my students. It would make a wonderful extension of the curriculum. Thanks to Jacqueline for this genuine reflection on the early Rancho life in this great state.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Coppelia the Cook on August 5, 2006
In my 30+ years of cooking and buying cookbooks, this is the first cookbook I have found that every recipe is perfect. Want to have a successful dinner party where every guest goes home thinking you are the best cook ever? Then buy this book. Not only are the recipes fantastic, but you will find yourself completely mesmerized by the splendid history of the Californios and their small, but amazing, time period in California history.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Eddie the "C" on August 30, 2014
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Genuine Rancho Cooking. Receipt for early California Tamale is Included. It is not a Mexican Tamale, But the Genuine "California Tamale" Like the Kind Made in the Central Valley in the 30',40's 50's. And kind made at Warburtons (Out of Business), the Kind still made a Rosevelts Tamale parlor San Fransico. The California Tamale is Big Round when you break into it after un-tying the strings you break the Corn masa shell and Dip into the Chili Gravy with a Spoon. I hate offend my Mexican Compadres but this is Not your Typical Tex-Mex Tamale. The Book has the Recipe, it is a lost Recipe come Alive ! ! ! It also has the Chile Relleno Recipe, Not your Mexican Chile Relleno but the Genuine California Chile Relleno. Do I need to say More! These Recipes need to be Resuscitated as a Californian this is your Heritage. The Book is Written in Detail no Short Cuts and Adapts to Ingredients available in Todays Markets, it does not call for you to slaughter you own beef, nor grow your own Corn.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Charles McVey on February 3, 2004
Cookbooks have a critical audience. A five-star book must not only have recipes that produce great dishes, but recipes that read well, producing in the reader's mind a dish that the reader can virtually see and taste. A great cookbook is also more than just a listing of recipes grouped by beef, chicken, and desserts. California Rancho Cooking hits on all these points. Through these recipes we get a glimpse into an early Californio family and through them into early Californio history and life. An additional benefit is that the author lets you in on how she modifies recipes into something new and different. As a cook myself, I know that this is how you really advance in your understanding of the art of cooking... and the fun of cooking.
Two recipes especially piqued my interest in this regard: Chilena Pie and the old stand-by and oft poorly made, Chiles Rellenos Con Queso. Her (family's) Chilena Pie makes me ache to get started. In addition, I've already got thoughts on how to (hopefully) make improvements. For those who are similarly inclined, always make the base version first so you really understand the baseline, be careful you do not overuse a individual spice, and never try out your new creation with company first.
For me, Chiles Rellenos in gringo-style restaurants are awful; the coating is reminiscent of white bread and then the poor things are covered in a bland ranchero sauce. McMahan's basic version is akin to mine, but her variations of wrapping them in tortilla is great, and I love the idea of the breadcrumbs. What great ideas. All I can add is to consider that you have other stuffing options than cheese. Oh, her Chiles Rellenos Con Queso are on page 125; it is listed in the index under cheese, not chiles, not rellenos.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mia Hopkins on August 28, 2007
I checked this out from my library and just had to get my own copy. McMahan spends a lot of time telling stories about her family history and the food memories particular to her California upbringing. The recipes themselves are straightforward, simple, tried-and-true, and delicious. I recently tried the recipe for spicy chicken at a barbecue and got great reviews--the chicken was moist, the preparation was simple, and the flavor was complex and satisfying. One of my favorite cookbooks of all time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Happy Girl on February 17, 2014
If you are like me and read cookbooks for enjoyment and not just to get a recipe and love to know the history of the food you are cooking this is the book for you. You get a sense of the old California, how it evolved and personal stories from a woman who lived it. The recipes are wide ranging, well written and most importantly are really tasty. She also offers a terrific primer on dried and fresh chiles and sources for purchase. My favorite recipe? The chorizo. I make it for people as a gift.
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