THE ROUTE 66 COOKBOOK by Marian Clark and Michael Wallis;
The first time my then-husband and one year old son drove across country, from Cincinnati, Ohio to Los Angeles, California, most of the trip was via Route 66. If I remember correctly, we picked up route 66 in St. Louis.
We made the trip in a little over three days, driving long and hard hours. It was October, 1961, and we listened to the World Series as we drove along. Our belongings were piled into the back seat and trunk , and we had a baby bed and ironing board tied to the roof of the car (shades of Grapes of Wrath).
The baby’s mattress had been laid across the piles of clothing in the back, so he could crawl around on the mattress (mind you, this was long before car seats became mandatory much less SAFE enclosures in which children could ride). Michael’s car seat was a little cloth contraption supported by some kind of aluminum tube on which a plastic steering where was attached.
The reason for this autumn trip across country was that Jim’s best friend had moved to Los Angeles and would call on weekends to tell us about the land of milk and honey and the streets that were paved with gold. Maybe not quite – but Jim had been laid off at the factory where he worked and I quit my job downtown. It was never intended to be permanent—and it wasn’t.
I know we visited some interesting restaurants along the way, but confess to having little memory of them, except for one place where we were served huge steaks. I vaguely recall warnings about speed traps in New Mexico, climbing into the mountains of Arizona, traveling through Oatmeal, Arizona, stopping in Needles, before we began the trek across the Mojave Desert into the southern California and in particular, our astonishment as we descended from the high desert into the southern California basin, over the thick white and noxious smelling haze that lay across the land.
“This must be the smog everyone talks about,” my husband joked. Unfortunately, it really WAS.
I feel as though I missed a great deal along route 65—considering we were moving across country, and not on a vacation trip…so it was with a great deal of pleasure that I discovered The Route 66 Cookbook by Marian Clark, published by Council Oak Books in 1993. This soft cover cookbook, replete with photos, originally sold for $17.95.
Ms. Clark is a native of Hereford, Texas, in Deaf Smith County. As a child, she traveled many times on The Mother Road”.
“From Chicago to L.A.,” state the publishers, “these are the stories of Route 66’s best loved eateries, along with favorite recipes. Here is the food that brought fame to hometown diners, hotel dining rooms, cafes and upscale restaurants, all along the Mother Road. Through memorabilia, anecdotes and recipes, these eating establishments come to life page after page…”
In the Preface, Ms. Clark explains, “A book like this did not fall into places from front to back, but was fitted together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Some of the pieces were easy to find, others requires a careful search. A few are still missing…”
The author says that in her search, she found regional specialties, ethnic foods and down-home Americana. She says she also found a story at every stop, a living chronology of people who made their American Dream come true. She writes that the purpose of her cookbook was not to find every pieces of the puzzle, but to capture some memories, to whet the appetite, and to save some history that might otherwise be forgotten.
Interestingly, Ms. Clark states that for travelers, food is a course of comfort, a revelation of new experiences and a mirror of the lifestyle in each succeeding community. A simple bowl of chili, she says, takes on entirely different characteristics along the 2400 mile span of the highway.
This cookbook was a mammoth undertaking, for in order to write it, the author, with husband and traveling companion/photographer Donna Lea, actually made the trip. They were encouraged and supported not only by people they met in diners, cafes and restaurants and hotels along Route 66 but also by librarians, museum employees and Chamber of Commerce members in communities all along Route 66.
The Route 66 cookbook begins, then, with recipes from eateries in Chicago…and takes you through seven states, counting Illinois at the one end and California at the other.
It ends with Belle Vue French Restaurant in Santa Monica, which closed down in 1991, but is worthy of mentioning for as the author writes, “The closing of the Belle Vue is reminiscent of the passing of an epoch in the life of America’s great lost highway. Changes occur but memories remain. Historic Route 66 can never be captured and held to one time. it remains a symbol of movement, adventure and exhilaration, an icon of a more innocent time when a shining coast-to-coast highway first beckoned to intrepid travelers…it remains a living, breathing monument to the people who live along its many miles and to everyone who ever sat behind the wheel—or in the back seat—and watched the wonderful signs roll by long the Mother Road.
This is a cookbook packed with recipes and memories, a kind of time capsule of an era in danger of being forgotten. It’s a great “read” and the recipes are worthy.
There are a number of different editions available on Amazon.com. You can buy a pre-owned copy for as little as one cent ($3.99 shipping)—one of the more interesting copies I found on Amazon is the 75th Anniversary edition, published 10/1/2000 – you can buy this one for $ 3.74 (pre owned).
–Review by Sandra Lee Smith