Mexican Cookery for American Homes

Last week I acquired a copy of a small cookbook, Mexican Cookery for American Homes, published in 1936 by the Gebhardt Chili Powder Company of San Antonio, Texas. This was an updated version of a 1923 cookbook also published by Gebhardt. (In 1908, Gebhardt published another book called Mexican Cooking; there’s a reprint now available.)

In the early 20th century, Mexican food has become a staple of the American diet, though it’s been Americanized to some extent. It’s no longer exotic in any way. We all know enchiladas, tacos, and tamales. In 1936, however, Mexican food could still be a bit more of an unusual treat unless you lived in areas such as the Southwest U.S.. The cookbook’s foreword alludes to this when it says “Mexican foods are as interesting and appetizing as they are exotic” and stresses that “Americanized recipes are also included.”

Indeed they are. Along with the enchiladas and tacos, the book includes Sopa a la Creole (Creole Gumbo), Torta de Carne Enchilada (Chili Meat Loaf), Rarebit a la Mexicana (three versions of Mexican Rarebit — basically, Welsh Rabbit with with such additions as chili powder, corn, and Gebhardt’s Deviled Sandwich Spread), Huevos Endiablados en Aspic (Deviled Eggs in Aspic) and Chili Scrapple.

My favorite recipe, for its sheer silliness, is the recipe for Gebhardt’s Chili con Carne:

(Gebhardt’s Chili with Meat)

No. 2 can Gebhardt’s Chili con Carne

Place the can of Gebhardt’s Chili con Carne, either plain or with beans, in a saucepan and cover with hot water. Allow to boil gently for 20 minutes. Turn into hot bowls and serve at once.

Yes, you read that correctly. This recipe is telling you to heat up a can of chili. If that’s not enough, it’s telling you to boil it unopened. That’s not something we see much in modern cookbooks, is it? (Though I admit to making dulce de leche that way once or twice — you boil a can of sweetened condensed milk for 3 hours. Problem is, if the pan runs dry, your can explodes.)

Many of the other recipes are a bit more complex and don’t require products out of a Gebhardt can, though most of them do require Gebhardt chili powder, which makes sense since that was the company’s flagship product. This week, I made Enchiladas, Mexican Style and Salsa de Chili from this cookbook. I’ll report how those recipes turned out in my next post. In the meantime, however, you might enjoy Gebhardt’s recipe for tacos.


Place slices of cooked meat of chicken on a tortilla, spread with pickle relish and fold over, fastening each tacos with two toothpicks so as to hold together. Fry in deep hot fat (390 F.) or toast on a hot griddle, until throughly (sic.) heated and a golden brown in color.

Have ready a salad of shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes dressed with Gebhardt’s Salad Dressing (page 39). Top each hot tacos with the salad and serve at once.

Note: Tacos is the Mexican’s Sandwich. It is generally thought of as made of roast meat of chicken, either sliced or minced but cheese and sweet fillings are rapidly gaining in popularity. The Mexican enjoys his Tacos and Hot Chocolate as does the American his Doughnuts and Coffee.

An interesting thing about the Gebhardt recipe is how the text uses the word “tacos” — it uses it as a singular noun: “Top each hot tacos with the salad.” Other old cookbooks and magazines from before this time don’t do this. For example, Table Talk, “The American Authority upon Culinary Topics and Fashions of the Table,” discussed Mexican cooking in October, 1913 in the article “Mexican Kitchens and Cooks,” and said: “A taco is the Mexican sandwich; it is a tortilla in which are rolled meat, frijoles, salsa, or nata (curd of boiled milk).”

As a bonus, here’s one more early 20th century recipe for tacos, this one from the Castelar Créche Cook Book, published in Los Angeles in 1922:


Put the tortillas in boiling lard and put in tomatoes mashed with onion and bits of garlic, cheese, cooked pork meat, alligator pear, salt and strips of peeled chiles. Roll and cover with a clean tortilla, hold together with toothpick and fry in very little lard, in fact, just enough not to burn. To eat, take off the first tortilla.—Carlota L. Algara.

Next post — The Enchiladas, Mexican Style experiment. Stay tuned.

Mexican Cookery for American Homes

The Asparagus on Toast experiment

Grandma's cookbook: inside the cover (I apologize for the lengthy gap in posts. Real world stuff for the last couple of months has made it very difficult to find time for the cooking, researching, and posting this site deserves. I do have several topics lined up, though, so stay tuned and they’ll be here eventually. Here’s a quick post for the meantime.)

I was going through my grandma’s cookbook from the 1930s, looking for something that would be good with dinner, when the word “asparagus” caught my eye. It’s asparagus season, isn’t it? No better time to experiment with an old recipe that uses it.

Here’s the recipe, with possibly the first time I’ve ever seen the phrase “asparagus water”:


Cut off tough ends of stalks, wash, and cut in inch pieces, keeping tips by themselves. Boil tougher portions in salted water twenty minutes or until tender. Add tips when tougher portions are partly cooked. Drain, pile lightly on buttered toast, which has been moistened with asparagus water, and pour over melted butter, or cover with thin white sauce or tartar sauce.


1/2 cup stiff mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped pickle relish
1 teaspoon finely chopped onion
1/8 teaspoon salt

Mix and chill the ingredients and serve with the asparagus.

Though the recipe is another one of the X on toast recipes that seemed more common then than now, the recipe isn’t all that strange, I suppose. I was, however, a bit concerned about the boiled asparagus. Most of the time when I eat asparagus now, it’s steamed, or stir-fried. When I was a kid, I grew up eating canned asparagus, which is kind of mushy. (I liked it anyway, having never had the non-canned version.) I expected boiled asparagus would be closer to the canned texture, and I was not too thrilled about that. But you don’t know until you try, so it was off to the kitchen!

Recipe in progress: tartar sauce

I started with the tartar sauce. I love tartar sauce. As a kid, whenever we went to local burger joints like Dick’s Drive-In or Dag’s, I would always get tartar for my fries. McDonald’s didn’t have tartar, but they were wrong.

As I got older, and more national fast food chains moved into the Seattle-area, the newcomers didn’t offer tartar sauce. Ketchup was everywhere, but it got more and more difficult to find simple tartar sauce for your fries. I have heard that tartar sauce with fries is a “Pacific Northwest thing.” I don’t know. It’s not as common as it used to be, though.

Though I love the stuff, I’ve never actually tried to make it. It’s always been out of a jar. I wasn’t even sure what it was made of. (Or why the tartar sauce from Dick’s is yellow/green.) So I was looking forward to making my own.

The mayonnaise and relish were an issue. The best possible way to make this would be to make homemade mayo and relish to start. I didn’t really have the time or motivation to do that. Also, in the 1930s and earlier, packaged mayo and relish were available, so it would be authentic to use these. Somehow I don’t think my grandma was always making her own mayonnaise. (I used Best Foods mayo, a very old brand.)


I hate sweet relish, but the store had dill relish, so I used that. I added the lemon juice and the salt, and a tiny sprinkle of garlic powder to make up for the onion that I forgot to buy. Then I stirred the mixture, tasted it, and… yum! Even though I didn’t make my own mayo or relish, this tartar sauce was still tastier than the usual jarred tartar sauce. Excellent. I set it aside in the fridge to chill and blend the flavors for a while.

Next, the asparagus. Nothing difficult about this bit—I followed the directions exactly, boiling it in salted water. I boiled the tougher parts for 10 minutes, then added the tips for the rest of the boiling time. The asparagus boiled for maybe 18 minutes total instead of 20, as it seemed perfectly tender at that point. And not mushy.

I buttered toast and moistened it with some of the asparagus water as directed, then spooned on the asparagus and topped it with tartar sauce. (Perhaps a bit more than it needed.) It was tasting time.


Hey! It’s good! The asparagus is cooked but not too soft and not mushy in any way. It has a good asparagus flavor. The bread balances it out nicely both in texture and in flavor. The tartar sauce is bright and vinegary on the tongue with a nice bit of dill flavor from the dill relish. (The flavor did intensify after a couple of hours in the fridge, incidentally.)

The combination was really good, and definitely a surprise. I was expecting something edible but not particularly good or interesting, but this was both. It’s also really easy to make. I will make it again.

I still have a bunch of tartar sauce left—I might have to go to Dick’s for some fries…

Teriyaki salmon, asparagus on toast, rice
(Here the asparagus dish is served with some teriyaki salmon and a bit of rice. Unfortunately it got dark before dinnertime, so the lighting wasn’t very good, unlike the dinner, which was excellent.)