Friday, June 18, 2010

The San Francisco Earthquake, John Barrymore & Louie!

John Barrymore as Hamlet. Autographed photo, 1922. Folger Shakespeare Library

John Barrymore was 24 in 1906, and at that point, a relatively obscure member of a famous American theatrical family who had little interest in the family business, even though his breathtaking good looks dropped him squarely on that path. His grandmother, mother and father had all been stars of the American stage in the 19th century.

His sister Ethel was currently the toast of Broadway

His uncle John Drew was knocking them dead on the Great White Way as he had been doing for a quarter century (In case you are wondering, yes, John Barrymore—who was born in 1882, is the grandfather of Drew Barrymore!!). John was supposed to have been staying at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco when the earthquake struck. Instead, he was hiding out in an attempt to elude his cast-mates who were shipping off to Australia to perform a forgettable but successful play that he was starring in.

John Barrymore, 1906

Dressed in evening clothes, he spent the next few days playing at being a reporter, getting cashiered by the militia and nearly being shot for trying to break into a friend’s house to retrieve things before it was bombed for fire break (so many beautiful undamaged houses were destroyed to stop the progress of the fire). He wrote to his sister Ethel telling her of his adventures, hoping to sell the letter for $100 to a NY press hungry for first hand news from the disaster. When his sister read John’s letter to John Drew, she asked if he believed any of it. Drew replied “I believe every word of it. It took a convulsion of nature to get him up and the US Army to make him go to work!” He admitted years later he had indeed made up most of his stories from the quake, but by the time of the admission he was very famous and his embellishment of the truth was thought to be charming... he was a rogue after all!

The St Francis was the place to be during the quake. It survived the shocks and was not seriously damaged till fires came through.

Until then it stayed open and served what it could to anyone who came through its doors for free until the food ran out (including Enrico Caruso with a fur coat over his pajamas, smoking a cigarette and muttering, " 'Ell of a place! 'Ell of a place!" and reported survivor and famous photographer, Arnold Genthe). No wonder, the kitchen was run by the indomitable chef, Victor Hirtsler, who served food himself during a labor strike in 1901 so his guests wouldn’t be disappointed. Surely an earthquake wouldn’t stop him… it took a conflagration for that.

Call me crazy, but for some reason I always conflate Crab Louie with the 1906 SF earthquake (did Jeanette McDonald have it in the movie, San Francisco?). It seems I am not too far off with the notion since turn of the century San Francisco was one the first places to make a Louie or Louis. Hirtsler’s ’The 1910 Hotel St. Francis Cookbook has a recipe for it within its pages. It would be the earliest written recipe for it. The 1919 version of the book has a much spicier version than I was used to:

What's Cooking in America tells us also in the running were San Francisco’s Solari’s Restaurant and the Olympic Club in Seattle . James Beard said the best one he ever had was in Portland at The Bohemian Restaurant before WWI. Solari’s recipe was published in Clarence Edword’s 1914 “Bohemian San Francisco and ran like this:

Solari's Crab Louis

Take meat of crab in large pieces and dress with the following: One-third mayonnaise, two-thirds chili sauce, small quantity chopped English chow-chow [spicy vegetable pickles], a little Worcestershire sauce and minced tarragon, shallots and sweet parsley. Season with salt and pepper and keep on ice.

I was going to make the louis with crab but got shrimp at the last minute. It is all about the sauce, after all, which is sort of a thousand island dressing. It is so good when made with Miss Jennie’s silken mayonnaise. Make it the new way or with all that lovely chili sauce. I just couldn't help myself and made the Solari version with crab.... delicious and sweet!

Shrimp Louie adapted from Epicurious

1 cup mayonnaise (store-bought or Jennie's amazing version below!!!)
1/4 cup chili sauce or ¼ cup ketchup + 1T chili powder
1 T lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 T grated fresh horseradish, or 1 teaspoon bottled horseradish
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 lb jumbo lump crabmeat or cooked, shelled shrimp
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
Hard-boiled egg
Whisk together mayonnaise, chili sauce and chili pepper. Add the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, and salt and pepper to taste.
Pick over crabmeat (or shrimp) then toss with dressing. Divide among 4 plates lined with lettuce. Garnish with capers, tomato, hard-boiled egg, scallions and shallots.

Jennie Benedict’s Mayonnaise

Yolk of 1 hard-boiled egg
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup olive oil
1 t. mustard
yolk of raw egg, well beaten
1 T vinegar
1-2 T lemon juice to taste
white of one egg beaten stiffly
Rub yolk through a sieve. Using a food processor, add mustard salt and pepper and raw yolk. Add the vinegar and then the oil slowly until a thick mayonnaise is formed and then fold in the egg white. Add lemon juice to taste.

Come and visit my article on Blog Critics about bloggers and with a great chocolate cake! Thanks to Lazaro for telling all his readers about it!


Diane said...

What an interesting post with so much history and news, The recipe looks very yummy. Diane

Anonymous said...

I love reading about the beginning of 20th century, such fascinating times and people! I have to try this delicious looking Shrimp Louie!

Gemma said...

It's a very interesting history...
Crab salad seems to me delicious, although probably a bit spicy for me ;)

Unknown said...

Beautiful recipe, I am so impressed that you even made your own mayo.
*kisses* HH

Lazaro Cooks said...

I love reading this blog. Those who do not know their history are missing out...I love all things history.

Fantastic dish recipe and the mayo looks magnificent.

Thanks Again Deana!

Be Well

Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella said...

That's definitely my kind of dish! :D And isn't it amazing how the look of the Barrymores has come down through the generations. Drew Barrymore's profile is just like John Barrymores'!

Sarah said...

Another great post, Deana. I will be trying this, probably with shrimp. No wonder Drew was such a brat when she was young! She came by it honestly.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Another wonderful and informative post! I loved the photos and history of the Barrymore family. Drew has grown up to be a lovely young woman and wonderful actress.

I must try making the Louie salad with that wonderful mayonnaise recipe!

tasteofbeirut said...

Wonderful post as is always the case here; I enjoyed reading about the Barrymore family (wow, Drew came from that illustrious family, no wonder) and the shrimp louie is a great dish! I had the crab version years ago in New York City at a famous fish market (forgot the name) and loved it ever since.

Deana Sidney said...

Foodfun>I think you will like it.. the mayo takes 5 minutes to make and is so worth it!
5star> I like to imagine Barrymore eating the Louie... between drinks (the family are notorious for their excesses... Drew comes by it naturally!
Gemma> AMerican chili sauce is very mild... just ketchup with a little mild chili!
Heavenly> the mayo is soooo easy. you should try!
Savoring> Considering her background, she has done very well coming out of alcoholism. It was said her grandfather John was an alcoholic from the age of 13!!! That he lived to be 60 was a medical miracle!
Taste of beirut>Fulton fish market?? It has moved now... the real estate was too valuable. The shrimp is really nummy... will try for crab today to make it the old way with lots of that chili sauce!!!

Joanne said...

You really did a thorough job getting to the history behind this dish! Awesome. I love learning something over breakfast :P

Not to mention that the dish looks great. I've never had Crab Louis before...or heard of it actually but sounds good!

Stella said...

Hi Deana,
I never knew all of this about the Barrymore family-very intriguing. And Ethel looks shockingly similar to Drew Barrymore in that photo. I think it's so romantic to see the lines of family...
I've never had Crab Louis, so I don't associate it with San Fransisco or anything else for that matter, but it sounds so delicious. And I can't believe you made something so wonderful with Benedict's mayonnaise!
I'm still making her mayo by the way-I'm waiting for us to see Fresh, Local eggs at the farm we visit south of us.

Linda said...

Wonderful post Deana! I was living in SF during the earthquake of '89. Something I will never forget. I have always loved a good Louie since living there...yours looks wonderful. Great dish for a hot day. That mayo recipe looks fabulous...I will be giving it a try really soon!

Barbara said...

The Barrymores were/are certainly a fascinating family! John was so handsome but such a lush. And so bad. I remember seeing one of his movies from the 30's (Dinner at Eight) and he played a lush. He was not looking his best by this point.
As for Crab Louis...YUM. So many people are afraid to make their own mayonnaise. So pleased you posted Jennie's recipe!
The dish is all about the sauce!

Mary Bergfeld said...

It is always such a treat to visit your blog. This post was fascinating. I loved the backstory and the recipe you chose to share with us today. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Anonymous said...

What an interesting post.

Faith said...

It's so interesting to take a deeper look at events that changed the course of history. I always learn something new when I read your blog! And of course the food is gorgeous, as always!

Deana Sidney said...

Joanne> I thought it was cool that the St Francis fed people... not just people who stayed in the hotel... and wanted to share it!
Stella> it is an amazing family... and you will love this mayo!
Linda> I have been in SF for a few quakes.. but nothing huge... I can't imagine. From what I understand, the fire did as much or more damage than the quake itself
Barbara> Admission, I had a crush on John as a kid and still do... he was the most gorgeous thing on the planet for a while... the alcoholism was tragic. Up through his 40's.. wow~ The mayo takes 5 minutes to make... it is so easy people shouldn't be afraid of it and this one uses half the oil of regular mayo. Yummy!
Mary> thanks, it was an excuse to tell you about the Barrymores!
Des> thanks, it was one heck of a family at one heck of a time!
Faith> History is incredibly interesting... when it's hooked up to food!

Tasty Trix said...

You never disappoint me, girl! I love this post and this recipe, and of course the background of it ... hmmm, it's got me thinking, is it a little teeny bit like crab ravigote or am I crazy? I think I have to go look that up now!

pierre said...

love your shrimps !! Pierre de Paris

Ken Albala said...

What a fabulous story! I was about to say why don't we make great theatrical Barrymore families anymore, but I guess there are a few.

But do you know about Crab Louie Louie? I need ore-gano, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa...

2 Stews said...

What a handsome rogue he was!! And I think Drew Barrymore is so talented, beautiful and charming.

The Crab Louis from Epicurious is more my style since adding chow-chow to it is so unappealing to me.

Thanks for the story and reminding us about this updated classic. It is perfect summer food on this first day of summer....and, Happy Summer!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I remember during the New York blackout many folks from my office banded together at a nearby hotel to drink beer as it got progressively more dark. There were no members of the Barrymoore family present, unfortunately, and I would have loved it if someone had served me Crab Louie!

Deana Sidney said...

Trix> it is a little ravigote but mayonnaise and not butter and flour...
Pierre> merci, pierre, glad you like it!
2stews> when I made the crab version i used homemade pickles not chow chow. it was delicious... but I did like the epicurious version best!
Ken>We do't make dynasties like the Barrymores anymore...5 generations of theatre/film? Nope. It was a good story...and a very silly song!
TW> NY'ers did pull together for the blackout... I remember everyone on front stoops in Brooklyn... drinking of course!

~~louise~~ said...

Hi Deana,
Barbara suggested I pop in and say Hi and I finally made it. I've been trying to get here for days now and it looks like I sure have been missing a lot!!!

What a wonderful post. Filled with morsels of history and Crab Louis to boot!!!

I must return after the Picnic Game is posted. (you're more than welcome to join us:) I hear you make a "Divine" Chocolate Pie and, you might be interested in knowing June 26th is National Chocolate Pudding Day! (yes Barbara told me that also:)

Thank you so much for sharing, Bookmarked!!!

sweetlife said...

great post, I love learning about families from the past, homemade mayo oh how wonderful, great Louie..


OysterCulture said...

What a fun read, new to San Francisco its always fun to learn more about this amazing city and to score an incredible sounding recipe in the process, does it get any better.

furqan said...

news about earthquake visit at;

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