NEW COOKING FROM THE OLD WEST by Greg Patent is a large, thick soft cover cookbook published by Ten Speed Press, that first caught my eye at Old Town in San Diego. Having already exceeded my spending budget for this trip, I paused long enough to write down the name of the book, author, and publisher in my “gotta find” notebook..but what is truly odd and synchronistic about this “find” is that a few days later, a copy of NEW COOKING FROM THE OLD WEST arrived in the mail, from my editor Sue Erwin (publisher of the newsletter the Cookbook Collectors Exchange), who happened upon it and thought it would enhance my “cowboy and Indian” articles that I had been working on for many months.
Published in 1996, Mr. Patent tells us that his book was a project three years in the making. He says that the West is not only a place, it is a state of mind—open, receptive, and welcoming—a philosophy I share with him.
“Perhaps,” says the author, “the feeling of the west is best expressed by Cole Porter’s song ‘Don’t Fence Me In’ which he based on a poem by Bob Fletcher, a Montanan…
Over the years, says the author, he has come to appreciate the West’s natural abundance. Wild mushrooms and berries, all kinds of game meat, whole grains, and of course, the hard winter wheat that is essential for making yeast breads.
Greg began cooking shortly after his family moved to San Francisco in 1950. He says after school each day he raced home to watch a live coking show on KRON-TV, where he learned the basics of biscuits, pies, cakes and desserts. As a teenager, Greg branched out into preparing “real” food and helped his parents by getting dinner ready before they came home from work.
He says he never considered that his passion for coking might be a career, until, at a friend’s suggestion, he approached a local TV station and proposed a weekly cooking show. Around the same time, he was a finalist in the National Pineapple Cooking Classic and won a trip to Hawaii to compete in a cookoff. That, along with having been a Pillsbury Bake off winner as a teenager, convinced the management at KECI-TV to make a pilot half hour show called Big Sky Cooking, the beginning of his cooking career.
Greg’s credentials are impressive – along with shooting 52 episodes of Big Sky Cooking, he published two cookbooks with the recipes, wrote a weekly food column for a local paper and continued a profession as zoology professor at the University of Montana!
In 1982 he was offered a job as a spokesperson for Cuisinart whereupon he left the university and began traveling all over the country, teaching food processor cooking lessons for many years. He also managed to publish a few more cookbooks and was a restaurant chef (makes me feel like such a slacker).
Perhaps I have told you more than you need to know about Greg’s credentials – I haven’t even touched on the contents of NEW COKING FROM THE OLD WEST.
The subject matter is near and dear to my heart. Greg Patent points out, accurately so, I believe, that the west cannot claim a truly original cuisine since the region is so large and was settled by pioneers from so many different backgrounds.
He says what excites him today are the foods being brought by new immigrants to the West. “Over the past twenty years,” explains Greg, “people from Asia, Mexico, Russia, and elsewhere have influenced public tastes by selling their homegrown herbs and vegetables at farmers’ markets. This in turn has led to supermarkets stocking ethnic cooking staples and the opening of local restaurants. As an example, Greg cites Asian flavored marinades which give smoked salmon a new dimension.
“I do not believe that the West can claim a truly original cuisine,” writes the author, “Primarily because the region is so large and was settled by pioneers from so many different backgrounds.”
NEW COOKING FROM THE OLD WEST is a great deal more than a cookbook – if you enjoy reading about the history of food and recipes, as I do, you are going to love this book. Explain the publishers, “Weaving together the many threads of the region’s rich food history with archival photos and pioneers’ quotes, journal entries, traditional recipes, songs, and poems, NEW COOKING FROM THE OLD WEST looks back at the people and traditions that shaped western cuisine, and presents more than 125 contemporary recipes that showcase the flavors and foods of the west…”
“…From Calamity Jane’s ‘receipt’ for 20-year cake (which makes three 8-pound cakes!) to 102 year old chuck wagon Tony Grace’s description of making biscuits under the wagon when it was raining on the trail, to stories about a modern day rhubarb festival and the making of whitefish caviar, NEW COOKING FROM THE OLD WEST is a feast of history and nostalgia, as well as a contemporary guide to the best food of the west…”
I have discovered that new books about the Old West, such as NEW COOKING FROM THE OLD WEST are finding an enthusiastic audience, as many of us seek to learn more about our Western heritage. This was confirmed by the cashiers at the gift shop of the Western Heritage Museum (where NEW COOKING FROM THE OLD WEST was on sale) who told me that new books about women’s roles in traveling west on the Oregon Trail, along with cookbooks devoted to this topic, sell out rapidly*.
What makes books like NEW COOKING FROM THE OLD WEST so important to us today is that they help to dispel the long-held belief that the settling of the west was, to quote another author, Kenneth Holmes, “A male adventure epic”.
*This cookbook review was originally written in 1998. I have no idea what may be in stock right now at the Western Heritage Museum.
However, Amazon.com has new copies for $4.24 and pre-owned copies starting at .03 cents. Alibris.com has copies starting at 99c.
Well, I almost fell off my typing chair when I googled Mr. Patent. He has a website and is also the author of MONTANA COOKING, A BAKER’S ODYSSEY, FOOD PROCESSOR COOKING and NEW FRONTIERS IN WESTERN COOKING.
–REVIEW BY SANDRA LEE SMITH