Yes, dear readers, I bought myself a birthday present. I was so excited, too! I had read an article about this cookbook a while ago, and was delighted to find it in print with what I thought would be some historical analysis.
Alas, I was very wrong.
This is one of those things where someone takes a public domain cookbook, puts a modern spin on the layout, and pretends it's new.
I hesitate to even call this a review, as I won't be recommending much about my present to myself.
I purchased "Vintage Vegan: Recipes From the World's First Raw Vegan Restaurant." It's attributed to Vera Richter, despite the fact that the actual title of the cookbook she published in 1925 (and again in 1948) was "Mrs. Richter's Cook-less Book."
Vera Richter was a proponent of raw food and veganism and she and her husband John opened a raw vegan restaurant in Los Angeles, California sometime after 1918. And guess what! There's a Fargo, ND (my hometown) connection! John's father Frederick Richter (a trained pastor) became a physician and pharmacist there in the 1870s in the very early days of settlement. John later studied the sanitarium style healthcare pioneered by John Kellogg and started treating his father's patients with natural cures. He married Vera in 1918 and they moved to California where they opened a restaurant they later calledv"Eutrophion," which is apparently Greek for "good nourishment."
It's a pretty fascinating story and apparently the restaurant was fairly influential in LA's early health food and body building scene. But of course, none of that is included in the book. Which is a pity, because with a little effort the reprint could have been wonderful, instead of disappointing.
Essentially, the "editor" of the cookbook, wrote a 2 page intro which reads like a Wikipedia article (except the actual Wikipedia article is more extensive) and added a couple of editor's notes on the recipes. The editor is also quite clearly a proponent of raw veganism, and thus takes any and all claims at face value, and adds a few of her own.
I'm not really sure why I was so convinced it was going to be a history of the cookbook and the restaurant with the recipes included.
Just another case of expecting food history where clearly there is none! Sadly, so much context could have been given about California in the 1910s (when the restaurant was opened), the history of veganism and raw foodism in the United States and elsewhere, why California, etc., etc.
Thankfully Mrs. Richter's actual cookbook is quite interesting, although her egg-less mayonnaise calls for the use of a ripe banana - not sure the taste is quite the same. But fascinating nonetheless. If anyone is looking for good raw vegetable salad recipes, this is the place to visit. But maybe, visit the original, instead of buying the reprint.
And if you want to know more about Mrs. Richter? The LA Weekly has you (and me) covered.
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.
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