Reviving Rancho Fare : Author will sell copies of cookbook to benefit historic adobe near Piru.


Santa Clarita resident Jacqueline Higuera McMahan is among the guests scheduled to attend Friday night's gala opening of the exhibit, "Rancho Camulos and the Home of Ramona," at Ventura County Museum of History and Art.

And she won't arrive empty-handed.

McMahan, a food columnist and author, plans to bring four hardcover copies of her out-of-print book, "California Rancho Cooking" (Olive Press, 1988). The books, which celebrate the 19th and 20th century dishes prepared by rancho communities, will be available for purchase at the museum bookstore for $100 per copy.

The exhibit traces the history of the Del Valle family and their Camulos adobe near Piru and its relationship to the popular romance novel, "Ramona," written by Helen Hunt Jackson in 1884.

"California Rancho Cooking" includes typical rancho dishes handed down to the author from her ancestors, who arrived in California in 1775 and acquired a land grant for Rancho Los Tularcitos, a four-acre parcel in San Francisco's East Bay.

The cookbook includes barbecue and picnic dishes, chile and seafood recipes, dishes served at feasts, and other cuisine traditionally prepared among California's early communities.

Included in the book are instructions for Bull's Head Barbecue (made with a bull's head or a close substitute, fresh mint, oregano and rosemary), eggplant enchiladas, chicken soup with vermicelli, pumpkin soup, chorizo, doves (or squab) in wine, sauteed green chiles with cheese, tamale pie, walnut pie with French pastry crust and "Mama's Apricot Pie to Feed One Uncle (or six ordinary people)."

Sybil Coyner, owner of Buenaventura Catering of Ventura, is one of the few area chefs to own a paperback edition of the book. Coyner used a recipe from "California Rancho Cooking" as a guide for the green tamales she prepared Wednesday night for a dinner celebrating the museum exhibit.

"The tamales were made with fresh corn you scrape off the cob," Coyner said. "You mix it with cheese and a little butter, put it back inside the green corn husk and steam it."

Coyner said the tamale recipe and others in the book offer an accurate picture of rancho fare.

"It was very simple food," Coyner said. "They made use of things they were able to grow or that grew wild in the area."

Coyner will prepare other recipes from the book during an Oct. 17 fund-raising lunch. The benefit will help fund the restoration of Rancho Camulos as a museum.

"One of the stars of the menu will be from the book--pit-roasted beef," Coyner said. "You dig a pit, wrap the beef in burlap soaked in red wine, and roast it in the pit."

The rest of the planned menu will include pursalane salad (made with a weed used as a vegetable in the 1800s), grilled turkey, plain boiled beans and rice pudding--all rancho-era food prepared with a touch of 1990s styling.

"We'll be using more of the spices that we use now, but we are still trying to maintain that rancho feeling," Coyner said. "If we just served it the way they used to serve it, we'd find it pretty bland."


"California Rancho Cooking" (Olive Press, 1988) may be purchased for $100 per copy at the Ventura County Museum of History and Art gift shop. The museum, open daily except Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., is at 100 E. Main St., Ventura; (805) 653-0323.

For information on the Oct. 17 fund-raising lunch for Rancho Camulos, call 521-1561.

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