This week I’ll be cooking from the Junior League of Pasadena’s Pasadena Prefers (1964), because I felt like moving a little closer to home, preferably towards a city with no Major League baseball team (though Jackie Robinson did grow up there, and cut his sporting chops at Pasadena Junior College in the 1930s).
Though Pasadena is just a few miles north of downtown Los Angeles, it seems worlds away, an outpost of quaintness, quiet, and beautifully landscaped yards within easy reach of the squalorous city. As a result, it’s both a city in its own right, and an uncommonly pleasant suburb, possibly the closest that southern California comes to recreating life as experienced on Leave it to Beaver. When Brady first moved to Los Angeles, he stayed with a friend there while apartment-hunting in the city, and began to refer to Pasadena as “The Womb.”
Even in its beginnings as a modern city, Pasadena was very much a product of that line of thinking.
Let’s travel back to the 1870s, when a group of asthmatic, consumptive Hoosiers is so eager to escape another brutal Midwestern winter that they form a trust, the California Colony of Indiana, whose sole mission is to acquire some land in California, so that its membership might settle there. A Mr. D.M. Berry was sent to survey the state, and wound up deciding that the land then known as the Rancho San Pasqual was ideal for their purposes. In 1873, that particular chunk of property was owned by two men, Benjamin D. Wilson and Dr. John S. Griffin. Griffin was eager to get rid of his land, while Wilson wasn’t (until a few years later). The dividing line between their properties is now known as Fair Oaks Avenue.
Complicating all of this was the Panic of 1873, which was nearly the end of the California Colony of Indiana. However, Berry was quick on his feet, and formed the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association, which sold stock to Angelenos eager to move to the area. Each new settler got 15 acres of land for each share of stock, and thus, a city known for being settled by Midwesterners actually wasn’t… exactly.
In 1875, the city was named Pasadena, from a Chippewa word meaning either “valley between hills” or “Crown of the Valley,” depending who you ask.
Houses, churches, and schools were built, and then hotels, making Pasadena a prime destination for wealthy tourists, many of whom became residents. A “Millionaire’s Row” sprung up along Orange Grove Avenue, boasting residences owned by families with names like Wrigley, Gamble, and Busch.
Pasadena is probably best known for hosting both the annual Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose Bowl. Both got off to interesting starts. The first parade was held in 1890, and consisted of a bunch of buggies adorned with flowers, followed by a day of sporting events (today, it’s not uncommon for a ToR float to run about a quarter of a million dollars). Football didn’t enter into the picture until 1902, when Michigan trounced Stanford 49-0. Though the event was a great success, drawing around 8000 people and creating an enormous traffic jam, it was thought too rough and wild, and the football game was discontinued until 1916.
However, in 1964, both traditions were alive and well. That year, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower would serve as Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade.
As for Pasadena Prefers, the Junior League of Pasadena’s Cookbook Committee reads like a Who’s Who directory of Los Angeles County, though perhaps the best-known person on the roster is Marilyn Chandler, then wife of Los Angeles Times publisher Otis Chandler. Despite its pedigree, the Foreword to the cookbook has a down-to-earth, slightly dippy, harried housewife tone worthy of Erma Bombeck (who would serve as the Tournament of Roses Grand Marshal in 1986):
Next came the tasting forms which enlivened many a dinner party and tried many a husband who had been busy at a desk all day and might have preferred to eat his dinner without comment… Without their help, we would never have been able to collect anything we were sure they that they would like. Children helped, too. For the strictly raised child who is normally not allowed to remark about the food on his plate, tasting forms were a real boon. “Do I like the taste? Ugh! Would I serve it to guests? Only if they were enemies.”
… Determining the length of time necessary to prepare a given dish was fraught with difficulties… Kitchen utensils have a way of disappearing just when you need them. Foreign objects sometimes find their way into cake batters (remove all Lego pieces before baking). Mud-covered children invade your domain. Under these conditions, there is no such thing as a quick recipe, but remember, it is all relative.
The book itself divides recipes not by standard courses, but by their “adaptability to sporting activities either as accompaniment or postlude.” As a result, chapters have names like “Lawn Sports” (outdoor picnics) “Skiing” (hearty, fortifying meals) and even “Bridge” (ladies’ luncheons), “Parlor Games” (entertaining in), and “Armchair Sports” (small gatherings of close friends and family).
The recipes themselves are textbook examples of 60s home cookery. Aspics abound, ethnic foods are adapted to middle American palates, and there’s even a tamale pie or two. Later this week, I’ll be trying out a number of them. Most are dishes that I’ve never even come close to attempting, and two have greatly fallen out of favor in our times: the roasted leg of lamb and the icebox cake.
We’ll see if that’s for good reason or not. I will say, however, that leg of lamb is not exactly cheap these days, and icebox cake usually calls for raw eggs, so we’ll see how this all turns out. Hopefully not with a trip to the ER (or as in that classic Roald Dahl story/Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, to the morgue).
For the record, my leg of lamb is not frozen, thus making it an improbable murder weapon.