Aged like fine wine: Cookbook from ’60s is treasure of cooking with wine

By Published On: October 10, 2022

Holly Ebel, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn. (MCT)

If you believe the older the wine the better, then perhaps the same holds true for a vintage cookbook devoted exclusively to recipes using California wines.

Recently, Jay and Carolyn Beck of Rochester lent me their copy of “Favorite Recipes of California Winemakers,” a cookbook published by the Wine Advisory Board in 1965, assuming it might be of interest. They were right.

With heavy pasteboard covers, a spiral binding and line-drawings it predates the glossy cookbooks of today in a comforting sort of way. Still in good shape and with hand-written notes from Carolyn here and there, the collection is a treasure, loaded with recipes donated from over 200 winemakers in that area. You can’t just skim it as there are four recipes per page with 119 pages totaling 476 recipes, if my grade-school math is correct.

Every recipe includes California wine, whether it is a half-bottle, half a cup or a tablespoon. Included are recipes for punches, soups, meats, wild game, sauces and just about any other category of food you can think of.

How did the Beck’s come to own this treasure? Explains Carolyn, “Back in the 1960s we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. Jay was a sales rep for RR Donnelly and Sons, at the time the largest printing organization in the country. He called on the California Wine Advisory Board, which had recently been formed to support the new up-and-coming wineries. While there, he noticed this particular book and thought that cooking with wines would be a great thing for us to learn. Hard to believe, but then cooking with wine was just a developing culinary interest. The board gave him the book, encouraging him to share it with friends.”

Fifty-seven years later, they still are.

With so many recipes to choose from were they able to find favorites?

“We ended up studying the ones that especially appealed to us, and our favorite came from experimenting with a combination of leg of lamb recipes,” Carolyn says. “In fact the recipe became — and still is — a family favorite. These days the book sits mainly on the cookbook shelf, but when we are feeling nostalgic we take it down and page through it. In fact we still discover new dishes and try them out.”

Following the recipes there are several pages devoted to educating the reader/cook on the uses of wine and the proper serving techniques, glasses to use, how and what type of wines are the best with various food categories, and the best way to store wine bottles, both opened and unopened. Interestingly, though written years ago, most of the information is still applicable.

Today they would likely add some additional information, especially relevant to less experienced cooks: Stay away from supermarket cooking wines which have added salt, sugar and preservatives — use the wine you would drink. The purpose of using wine as an ingredient, no matter how little or much, is to enhance the flavor of the food, not to mask. So when adding use a light hand.

A lesson I learned the hard way: Adding more than the recipe calls for won’t make it better. Also it does not automatically turn an ordinary soup or stew into a gourmet dish. Use discretion. Finally not every dish benefits from its addition. All good things to keep in mind.

For collectors this book would be an outstanding addition, if you can find it. I looked around but with no luck so I’ll just enjoy the Beck’s copy for as long as they let me.

MORE COOKBOOK PHOTOS:

One 5 or 6 lb. leg of lamb, boned and butterflied, pierce with fork, rub with lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread out in a glass or porcelain pan.

Mix and simmer for a few minutes, then cool:

2 cups California Rose

1/2 cup soy sauce

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 teaspoon oregano

Pour half of the marinade over the lamb. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator, overnight or longer, turning occasionally. Refrigerate remaining marinade.

Grill skin side up for 30 minutes, turn and continue cooking until meat thermometer reaches desired temperature. Baste with remaining marinade while grilling. Or roast in 375 oven, skin side up for 30 minutes, turn and continue cooking until meat reaches desired temperature. Baste with marinade while cooking.

Cook’s note: Beck’s say the marinade is exceptional.

Medium large firm tomatoes

California Sherry

Salt and pepper

Dried dill

Mayonnaise

Grated cheddar cheese

Cut tomatoes in halves, crosswise. Pierce with fork and sprinkle with sherry. Season with salt, pepper and dill. Broil 5 to 7 minutes or until heated through. Combine equal amounts of mayonnaise and cheese. Put a spoonful on each tomato half. Return to broiler and brown lightly. Excellent side dish with barbecued meats or chicken.

3 pheasants, split

1/2 cup butter

2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 cup California Sauterne, Chablis or other white dinner wine

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 cup chopped green onions

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

Saute pheasant in butter over moderate heat 10 minutes. Remove pheasant. Sauté mushrooms in remaining butter for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Return pheasant to skillet, add wine, lemon juice, green onions, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer one hour, or until tender. Serve over rice.

Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to

life@postbulletin.com

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