CASTLE FARE – VISITING HEARST CASTLE

My penpal, Betsy, who lives in Michigan, began downsizing her own cookbook collection a few years ago; some of the books went to her adult children—some she began sending to me. She also goes to book sales that are far more prolific in Michigan than they are in California and finds amazing treasures. Recently, she sent me three boxes of cookbooks which included several Gooseberry Patch cookbooks in like-new condition, and a few Quail Ridge “Best of the Best” cookbook collection. The latter contains cookbooks featuring all 50 states and in a few cases, a second volume on states such as Texas. Amongst the books she sent to me was a Volume II of Best of the Best from Virginia—which, surprisingly, I didn’t have. (It’s always amazing to me how many books she has sent that I didn’t have—and I have a pretty large collection).

When it’s a cookbook that I already have, I give the duplicate to a friend or one of my nieces.

Well, in one of the boxes that found its way to my doorstep this month is a booklet titled “CASTLE FARE” with a subtitle “Featuring AUTHENTIC RECIPES served in HEARST CASTLE, and next to it a price of $1.00. CASTLE FARE was compiled by Marjorie Collord and Ann Roranzi and it was published in 1965.

One Thanksgiving weekend in the late 1990s, Bob & I stayed at a motel on Route 1 in San Luis Obispo, and scheduled a tour of Hearst Castle for ourselves. Then, again, in 2008 when my penpal Sharon was visiting me and we went on a California Adventure road tour which included one of the Hearst Castle tours (There are 4, I think, from which to choose). It’s a spectacular Tour—one that average people like ourselves can’t begin to imagine.

When Sharon and I were there in 2008, we bought some books about Hearst Castle and I am quite sure we didn’t see a little cookbooklet such as the one Betsy sent to me.

Let me begin by telling you some of the history of the mansion created by famous newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who died in 1951.

It was designed by architect Julia Morgan between 1919 and 1947. In 1957, the Hearst Corporation donated the property to the state of California. Since that time it has been maintained as a state historic park where the estate, and its considerable collection of art and antiques, is open for public tours. Despite its location far from any urban center, the site attracts about one million visitors per year.

According to Wikipedia on Google.com, Hearst Castle is a National Historic Landmark mansion located on the Central Coast of California, United States. Hearst formally named the estate “La Cuesta Encantada” (“The Enchanted Hill”), but usually called it “the ranch”. Hearst Castle and grounds are also sometimes referred to as “San Simeon” without distinguishing between the Hearst property and the adjacent unincorporated area of the same name.

Hearst Castle is located near the unincorporated community of San Simeon, California, approximately 250 miles (400 km) from both Los Angeles and San Francisco, and 43 miles (69 km) from San Luis Obispo at the northern end of San Luis Obispo County. The estate itself is five miles (eight kilometers) inland atop a hill of the Santa Lucia Range at an altitude of 1,600 feet (490 m). The region is sparsely populated because the Santa Lucia Range abuts the Pacific Ocean, which provides dramatic seaside vistas but few opportunities for development and hampered transportation. The surrounding countryside visible from the mansion remains largely undeveloped. Its entrance is adjacent to San Simeon State Park.

Hearst Castle was built on Rancho Piedra Blanca that William Randolph Hearst’s father, George Hearst, originally purchased in 1865. The younger Hearst grew fond of this site over many childhood family camping trips. He inherited the ranch, which had grown to 250,000 acres (1,012 km and fourteen miles (21 km) of coastline, from his mother Phoebe Hearst in 1919. Although the large ranch already had a Victorian mansion, the location selected for Hearst Castle was undeveloped, atop a steep hill whose ascent was a dirt path accessible only by foot or on horseback over five miles (8 km) of cutbacks.

Hearst first approached American architect Julia Morgan with ideas for a new project in April 1915, shortly after he took ownership. Hearst’s original idea was to build a bungalow, according to a draftsman who worked in Morgan’s office who recounted Hearst’s words from the initial meeting:

“I would like to build something upon the hill at San Simeon. I get tired of going up there and camping in tents. I’m getting a little too old for that. I’d like to get something that would be a little more comfortable…”

After approximately one month of discussion, Hearst’s original idea for a modest dwelling swelled to grand proportions. Discussion for the exterior style switched from an initial suggestion of Japanese and Korean themes to the Spanish Revival that was gaining popularity and which Morgan had helped to initiate with her work on the Los Angeles Herald Examiner headquarters in 1915. Hearst was fond of Spanish Revival, but dissatisfied with the crudeness of the colonial structures in California. Mexican colonial architecture had more sophistication but he objected to its profusion of ornamentation. Turning to the Iberian Peninsulafor inspiration, he found Renaissance and Baroque examples in southern Spain more to his tastes. Hearst particularly admired a church in Ronda and asked Morgan to pattern the Main Building towers after it. The Panama-California Exposition of 1915 in San Diego held the closest approaches in California to the look Hearst desired. He decided to substitute a stucco exterior in place of masonry in deference to Californian traditions.

By late summer 1919 Morgan had surveyed the site, analyzed its geology, and drawn initial plans for the Main Building. Construction began in 1919 and continued through 1947 when Hearst stopped living at the estate due to ill health. Morgan persuaded Hearst to begin with the guest cottages because the smaller structures could be completed more quickly.

The estate is a pastiche of historic architectural styles that its owner admired in his travels around Europe. Hearst was an omnivorous buyer who did not so much purchase art and antiques to furnish his home as built his home to get his bulging collection out of warehouses. This led to incongruous elements such as the private cinema whose walls were lined with shelves of rare books. The floor plan of the Main Building is chaotic due to his habit of buying centuries-old ceilings, which dictated the proportions and decor of various rooms.

Hearst Castle featured 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 127 acres (0.5 km) of gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, an airfield, and the world’s largest private zoo. Zebras and other exotic animals still roam the grounds. Morgan, an accomplished civil engineer, devised a gravity-based water delivery system which transports water from artesian wells on the slopes of Pine Mountain, a 3,500-foot (1,100 m) high peak 7 miles (11 km) east of Hearst Castle, to a reservoir on Rocky Butte, a 2,000-foot (610 m) knoll less than a mile southeast from Hearst Castle.

One highlight of the estate is the outdoor Neptune Pool, located near the edge of the hilltop, which offers an expansive vista of the mountains, ocean and the main house. The Neptune Pool patio features an ancient Roman temple front, transported wholesale from Europe and reconstructed at the site. Hearst was an inveterate tinkerer, and would tear down structures and rebuild them at a whim. For example, the Neptune Pool was rebuilt three times before Hearst was satisfied. As a consequence of Hearst’s persistent design changes, the estate was never completed in his lifetime.

Invitations to Hearst Castle were highly coveted during its heyday in the 1920s and ’30s. The Hollywood and political elite often visited, usually flying into the estate’s airfield or taking a private Hearst-owned train car from Los Angeles. Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, the Marx Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Bob Hope, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, Dolores Del Rio, and Winston Churchill were among Hearst’s A-list guests. While guests were expected to attend the formal dinners each evening, they were normally left to their own devices during the day while Hearst directed his business affairs. Since “the Ranch” had so many facilities, guests were rarely at a loss for things to do. The estate’s theater usually screened films from Hearst’s own movie studio, Cosmopolitan Productions…” (from Wikipedia)

A closer look at guests arriving at Hearst Castle is related in “CASTLE FARE”; the foreword to the 1965 cookbooklet was written by William Randolph Hearst Jr., who writes, “I first started sampling the food as a kid at San Simeon along about 1919…practically all of the perishable food – beef and venison, all sorts of poultry, eggs, most of the fish, vegetables and fruits were raised, shot, caught or grown and eaten right there on the place, which, of course, contributes a great deal to the savory result.

The cooking was, with exception of a very few dishes, just plain American home cooking. By this I don’t mean Grandma Hearst or Mom did it themselves, but I do mean that there was a minimum of dishes done in a fancy French or Italian style.

There were some, of course, as Pop was a great fancier of fowl and raised literally dozens of varieties of pheasant, guinea hen and partridges, ducks, geese, and what not, right there on the ranch…”

William Randolph Hearst Jr goes on to write that while…the food was plainly cooked, his father was not…a steak and potato man. His taste ran more to fowl and birds, lamb chops, cornbeef (sic) and cabbage, ham and hominy grits, and on occasion rare roast beef, kidneys, tripe, etc. rather than T-bone.

The senior Mr. Hearst was also a nibbler, rarely passing a bowl of nuts or candy or fruit without sampling it. He never touched scotch or gin but enjoyed a glass of wine or beer with most of his meals. While the younger Hearst never saw his father drinking brandy, he did have a sweet tooth for liqueurs like Cointreau, Benedictine and crème de menthe.

William Randolph Hearst was also a late sleeper…and if he had breakfast at all it might be a bit of fresh fruit and a cup of coffee with at least half hot milk.

Lunch would be about 1:30 pm, dinner around 8:30 or 9:00 pm, followed by a movie. At luncheon, it was expected that guests be prompt since this meal was served buffet style. Often there were still roaming around the grounds when the luncheon hour arrive, so the butler would pick up the brass cow bell located conveniently on the top of an antique anvil…step out the front door and ring the bell vigorously.

At seven in the evening, guests would start to gather in the Assembly Hall or Living room for cocktails, which were mixed and served by the butlers. Mr. Hearst usually did not appear until 8 pm. He would relax for an hour before dinner, with his little dachshund, Helena, close by. Guests would wander in singly or in small groups to greet and have a few words with their host. At 9 pm, the butler would announce dinner and invite guests to enter one of the most harmonious and beautiful rooms in the castle. This dining room is now referred to as the Refectory and if you have ever toured Hearst Castle, you would be impressed, first and foremost, by the size of the room (67’ long, 27 ft wide) and has a 16th century ceiling from a monastery in Northern Italy. The ceiling displays Christian saints carved from cedar and linden wood. The dining tables are Monastic Refectory tables that are long and narrow because 300 years ago, when Monks dined at these tables, discipline dictated meditation rather than conversation during meals; consequently, the religious only sat at one side of the table.

In contrast to the tables, the chairs are modern reproductions of a 16th Century Dante chair. These copies were, however, made from antique walnut furniture that could not be salvaged so that in a sense are antique themselves. Each chair will fold similar to a camp stool. When Sharon and I toured Hearst Castle in August of 2008, it was almost impossible to take it all in. Tour guides do explain things as you are walking along, but the opulence and sheer magnitude of everything you are seeing makes it almost impossible to take it all in.
If you are interested in visiting Hearst Castle at San Simeon, (and a million visitors a year do so) I suggest booking a motel room in San Luis Obispo, a fantastic college town only about 50 miles south of Hearst Castle, or book at one of the motels along Pismo Beach. It doesn’t take that long to get there. You can pack a picnic lunch, if you like, and enjoy it across the road from the entrance, at a park with a pier.

Whenever I have been there, the park has been doing a bustling business; it might be a good idea to reserve tickets for one of the tours. This is what I have done the last two times I visited Hearst Castle.

I can only imagine how magnificent it must have been when William Randolph Hearst was in residence, living in this impossibly beautiful place – most certainly and surely La Cuesta Encantada. For recipes and more information about Hearst Castle back in the day, you might want to find a copy of CASTLE FARE. I noticed some copies are available on Amazon.com.

–Sandra Lee Smith

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5 responses to “CASTLE FARE – VISITING HEARST CASTLE

  1. I didn’t remember that there was so much information iin that book. I had it for years and don’t know where I got it . I never went to the Hearst castle but it sounds like I should have. Glad you enjoyed the book.

    • and I didnt go into a lot of other information or the recipes. I felt I had enough – could do a part 2 if it gets a lot of responses. :)

    • Betsy, if you ever come to visit me (inbetween all the kids & their famkilies!?- we could go to Santa Marie, Pismo, – and make a reservation for one or two of the castle tours. I have only seen one of the tours – that one more than once – and would love to do the others. We could have a good time!

  2. Maybe a visit is possible. I have enough Amtrak points for a trip, would have to see how far I could get.

  3. well keep that thought in mind,.

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