As Dan Wichlan researched and collected the complete nonfiction of Jack London, he discovered some surprising and unusual pieces including ads, jokes, poems, song lyrics and recipes. Here Dan shares the recipes that he found including the renown “Roast Duck” and an unpublished one for “Bubbles”. Although the recipes are not extensive enough to constitute the “Jack London Cookbook”, they do provide insight into the dietary habits of our favorite author.
Jack London's Recipes
By Dan Wichlan
London dubbed this dish the “sovereign food” in an interview in the “San Bernardino Sun” on September 7, 1907. “Roast Duck” is really a misnomer, since London's recipe calls for very little cooking.
The only way in the world to serve a canvas-back or a mallard, or a sprig, or even the toothsome teal, is as follows: The plucked bird should be stuffed with a tight handful of plain raw celery and, in a piping oven, roasted variously 8,9,10, or even 11 minutes, according to the size of bird and heat of oven. The blood-rare breast is carved with the leg and the carcass then thoroughly squeezed in a press. The resultant liquid is seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon and paprika, and poured hot over the meat. This method of roasting insures the maximum tenderness and flavor in the bird. The longer the wild duck is roasted, the dryer and tougher it becomes.
In the same interview, London recommends serving the duck with fried hominy or Italian spaghetti and he gives his recipe for the latter.
Boil one pound of Italian spaghetti for about half an hour. Be sure that the boiling water is first poured upon the spaghetti, as otherwise it will be disagreeably sticky. Peel and boil three good-sized tomatoes. When they are smooth add the juice from one can of French mushrooms and one tablespoon of cornstarch, already mixed with a little water, a clove of garlic, a pinch of cayenne pepper, a little salt and sage as seasoning. Take the mushrooms from which the juice has already been used, cut each of them once or twice and spread the pieces cold over the spaghetti after it has been placed upon a hot platter. Then pour the tomato sauce over the spaghetti and mushrooms, add a little Parmesan cheese and garnish with parsley.
The following recipe was published in the “Belgian (War) Relief Cook Book” in 1915. It presents a taste that London acquired during his visits to Hawaii.
This is one of my favorite Hawaiian dishes, and it is much esteemed by the natives as a relish with their poi. It is called by them lomi'd salmon – from lomi-lomi, massage – the salt salmon being pulled to pieces by the fingers with much the same movement used in their famous massaging.
The salt salmon (salmon bellies are of course best) should be soaked for some hours in fresh water to mitigate the saltiness, and afterward thoroughly pulled to pieces with fingers or fork. It is then stirred in with raw sliced tomatoes and onions, and salted to taste. A diversion in this simple recipe can be made by adding sliced cucumber, and a squeeze of lemon, as well as paprika and minced green pepper.
This recipe appeared in the “Suffrage Cook Book” by Mrs. L.O. Kleber published in 1915. London may very well have developed this recipe during his days as an oyster pirate.
These make a more substantial dish, and are delicious when served with a celery salad: Six oysters, six slices of bacon, fried bread, seasoning. Cut very thin strips of bacon that can be purchased already shaved is best for this purpose.
Season the oysters with pepper and salt, and wrap each in a slice of the bacon, pinning it together with a wooden splint. Place each oyster on a round of toast or of fried bread, and cook in the oven for about five minutes. Serve very hot, and sprinkle with pepper.
Savory Rice and Tomatoes
This recipe also appeared in the “Suffrage Cook Book”. As we know from “John Barleycorn”, London supported the suffrage movement and this publication is further evidence of that support.
Fry until crisp a quarter pound of salt pork. Put into the pan with a medium-sized onion, minced fine and brown. Add this to three cupfuls of boiled rice; mix in two green peppers seeded and chopped, and a cupful of tomato sauce. Season all to taste with salt and pepper, turn into a buttered baking dish, sprinkle with fine breadcrumbs and small pieces of butter. Brown.
This recipe also appeared in the “Suffrage Cook Book”. And it brings us full circle (eight years later) back to London's beloved roast duck.
A most delicious relish is made with Roquefort cheese, the size of a walnut, rubbed in with equal quantity of butter, moistened with sherry (lemon juice will serve if sherry be not available), and seasoned with salt, pepper, celery salt, and paprika; then squeezed into the troughs of a dozen slender, succulent sticks of celery. This is a very appropriate prelude to a dinner of roast duck.
Hoping that you may find the foregoing useful for your collection, and with best wishes for the success of your book. Sincerely yours, Jack London.
This last recipe is unpublished and is part of the Huntington Library collection. It is really a chemical concoction and not food, but London describes it as a “recipe”. The ingredients represent a type of soap but why London titled the piece “Recipe for Bubbles” and the “experimental” nature of its use are unknown.
In twenty ounces of water dissolve half a dram of caustic soda, and to it add three and a half drams of oleic acid. Let this stand a day or so in a stoppered bottle, and then add to three parts of the solution one part of pure glycerin. Shake well and set aside for two days, after which the pure liquid should be siphoned away from the top scum. If kept carefully corked, this solution, costing a few cents, should suffice for many experiments.
Jack's favorite restaurant was the Saddle Rock in Oakland, CA., and his favorite on their menu was "ten-minute" wild duck, washed down with his favorite imported Liebfraumilch wine. Jack loved either canvas-back, mallard, or teal cooked excessively rare and accompanied by potatoes au gratin. Jack sent his favorite recipe for roast duck to the editor of the Suffrage Cook Book. – Russ Kingman
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