As Kim Severson writes in Tuesday's New York Times, Southern Pacific Railroad big-wigs started Sunset magazine to express the idea of California living: sunshine, gardens, open spaces, clean air, and opportunities as wide-ranging as the state's epic coastline. The intent was less ephemeral. Content aimed to convince Easterners to bail on their dreary Mid-Atlantic metropolises and move west.
Part of the draw then, as it it remains for transplants now, was the food. According to Severson, “The Sunset Cookbook” (Oxmoor House, $34.95), a collection containing one-thousand of the 112-year old magazine's recipes, is a throwback to “that other California cuisine:” how people ate and entertained in this state decades before Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck, and Slow Food dropped their flags.
“Laced throughout are. . .old-school California dishes like guacamole, grilled turkey, cioppino, barbecued oysters, Crab Louis and fish tacos. . .Collectively, they summon a way of life that flourished in the postwar boom, when Sunset was a coffee-table staple.”
To illustrate how this emerging culture of eating and entertaining was, at the time, quite fresh, Severson quotes former Sunset writer Linda Anusasananan:
“Instead of being formal like it was back East, where they were worried about china service and having all the right silver, here you could put your bread in a basket and you could eat food outside and you didn't have to have a maid.”
While we imagine such concerns–China, the right silver, maid-lessness–weren't troubling a great many of the migrants (and, of course, immigrants) heading to the Golden State in the first half of the 20th century, we do see the merit of avocado fries. And Santa Maria-style tri-tip. And date shakes.