Victor Hirtzler, The Hotel St. Francis Cook Book

Victor Hirtzler, The Hotel St. Francis Cook Book

This is another wonderful historical cookbook archived by the Feeding America project.  Victor Hirtzler was the head chef of the Hotel St. Francis in San Francisco, one of the most prestigious hotels (and hotel restaurants) in the country.  His cook book was published by The Hotel Monthly Press in 1919.  

An interesting bit of history is archived here on the Preface, which initially confused me:

"The recipes in my book calling for wine and liqueurs for flavoring may be followed by those whose legitimate supplies are not used up; and where these cannot be had there are non-alcoholic substitutes available with the flavor near perfect."

This seemed cryptic, until I remembered the time when the book was published.  Prohibition had just begun in 1919, and perhaps if chef Hirtzler decided not to edit his recipes to switch non-alcoholic ingredients, it's because he thought that Prohibition wouldn't last.  He turned out to be right about that, of course, but I wonder what kinds of conversations he had with his publisher over that decision!

The Hotel St. Francis Cook Book is organized a little unusually.  Instead of grouping recipes by any sensible means, Hirtzler chose to group them by day and menu.  The book begins on January 1, with fifteen recipes across three meals, including a breakfast that features calf liver and onions (not so great for a hangover I'm thinking), a lunch with cold ham and tongue salad, and a dinner with Squab pot pie a la Anglaise.     

The recipes themselves are more like notes than recipes as I tend to think of them.  For example, the entry for Boiled Whitefish Netherlands Style simply says "Boil, and serve on napkin with small boiled potatoes, lemon and parsley.  Serve melted butter separately."

Other recipes are more verbose, but only barely.

The Hotel St. Francis Cook Book strikes me as something that Hirtzler wrote in order to pass on his legacy and scheduling finesse to his eventual successor.  Presumably that successor would be fairly accomplished with the cooking thing, and would need little in the way of instruction.  Just the odd tip here and there, the little bits of finesse that Hertzler implemented, the things that made his meals for the hotel unique.

Hertzler was a fairly clever with his meal planning, as a close eye can spot.  For example, his dinner for June 8 includes "Broiled egg plant."  And his breakfast for June 9 includes "Omelet with egg plant," which begins with the instructions to "Use any broiled egg plant that may be left over."

Hertzler also gave a lot of thought to his meals, tailoring them to seasonal preferences (I noticed that the breakfasts, for example, are a lot heavier in winter than in summer) and to seasonal ingredients.  It's worth noting that until fairly recently, you had to wait for a vegetable or fruit to be in season before you could use it (much less put it down on paper as the breakfast for that day).  Hertzler must have really known his stuff, if he felt confident enough to put down "Fresh strawberries with cream" for April 5th!