The Castelar Creche Cook Book
The Board Of Directors Of Castelar Creche, A Home for Homeless Babies
Los Angeles, 1922
Castelar Creche was a “home for homeless babies” founded by Mrs. M.J. Connell. In 1921, the home officially opened at 818 Castelar St. (now North Hill Street in LA’s Chinatown). The building project was backed by a generous donation from William A. Clark Jr., whose name may be familiar to some Angelinos as the beneficiary of UCLA’s William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, named for his father. Castelar Creche cared for 108 infants within its first year. Some were fostered until a guardian returned for them and others were adopted into new families. At the time, it was the only infant care facility of its kind on the West Coast.
The home was a favored charity of Los Angeles’ society women. In 1922, Alma Witaker wrote of Castelar Creche in the Los Angeles Times, “It was started just a year ago by that coterie of society women whom a certain section of the public loves to regard as social butterflies, but who, in the Red Cross days and in the matter of homes for homeless babies, are remarkably capable, efficient, and industrious butterflies.”
Witaker goes on to detail the arrival of The Castelar Creche Cook Book; “Oh, no, there won’t be any drive, no begging. These stylish directors have a better scheme than that. They have compiled and edited a remarkable cookbook, replete with 300 pages of inspirational recipes for which their own tables are famous - recipes you positively can’t get anywhere else, and everyone tested for epicurean perfection… Generous friends have contributed to this undertaking so that no money has been expended, and stores all over town are selling it free of commission or profit of any kind. So, simply by the comfortable and succulent method of gastronomic sagacity - that no well-run household would think of doing without, you help to support one of the very nicest charities in town.”
The cook book was sold as a fundraising tool until at least 1933, when it appeared in a Christmas advertisement for the J.W. Robinson department store. The home existed into the 1940s, but appears to have disappeared by later decades. It perhaps merged with another facility or was forced to close by the extension of the 101 freeway in the 1950s.
Recipes include an early written (english-language) recipe for "Tacos", submitted by Carlota L. Algara as well as a recipe for "Oysters Kirkpatrick". See "Pictured Recipes" for more.
I’ve cooked several recipes from this book! Pictured are “California Chews” by Ethel Hay Mckee and “Van Nuys Fruit Cocktail” by Chef Thomas Cooney.
Both recipes celebrate their location in their name and also through their ingredients. Dates, walnuts, and citrus were all important to Southern California’s growth at the time of this cookbook’s publication.
Ethel Hay McKee, the contributor of “California Chews” was a respected LA philanthropist. She came to LA from Michigan as a girl, in 1894, to enroll in the Marlborough School and later married Henry McKee, a president of Barker Bros Department Store.
The “California Chews” are possibly a Los Angeles spin on “Chinese Chews,” a popular kind of cookie bar in the 1920s, which, despite its name, bears no known culinary connection to China.
As for the fruit cocktail, it’s likely that it takes its title not from the city of Van Nuys but rather from the Van Nuys Hotel, where contributor Chef Cooney worked. It wasn’t uncommon for the women organizing charity cookbooks to solicit special recipes from the chefs at favorite, local restaurants. Cooney, who was born in Ireland and arrived in LA in 1908, also published recipes for the Los Angeles Times.
The origin stories of the “fruit cocktail” (usually non-alcoholic) often attribute the dish to California fruit canners in the late 1930s combining fruit scraps into a new concoction. But here we have a 1920s recipe that holds many similarities to the later canned versions. Of note, this recipe incorporates maraschino cherry liqueur rather than the diced cherries that would become common in store versions, making this recipe a somewhat boozy treat.
Today the USDA actually defines what can be marketed as a “fruit cocktail,” including very specific regulations on the percentages of each kind of diced fruit.