Virginia City cookbook mixes history and flavor |

Virginia City cookbook mixes history and flavor

Brian Shaw
For the Nevada Appeal

You may have heard that Virginia City is having her sesquicentennial celebration this year (that’s 150 years for those of us who don’t speak Latin), and it promises to be a good one. Although the big bash isn’t scheduled until the weekend of June 5-7, in typical V.C. style, the party’s already started.

Kicking it off was a get-together at the Piper Opera House attended by a few hundred ladies and gentlemen in period attire plus a scattering of Civil War soldiers, sipping champagne and slurping oysters.

Of the various items for sale commemorating the first 150 years, I was drawn to a cookbook, first printed in 1953. The collection of recipes claims to be from both “the cosmopolitan ghosts of a fabulous city and the worldly residents of a ghost town.”

Each recipe comes with a little history about the author, many of the names still prominent today. Interspersed throughout the pages are old advertisements, tidbits of past news and obscure Virginia City lore.

As kind of a culinary anthropologist, I was struck by the windows into the past provided by the varied recipes. There is a homey, simple, pre-Campbell soup variety written in colloquial style. But then there is also haute cuisine from the Silver Baron days like Epigrams of Partridge with Chestnut Puree and Mushroom Sauce from the International Hotel. How about Noisettes of Lamb with Sauce Diable calling for dijon mustard and espagnole ” and if you don’t have espagnole, they tell you how to fake it. The recipes are like economic indicators of how opulent and grand the city once was.

The original foreword written by Lucius Beebe is alone worth the $12 price of the book. Beebe, who in 1952 resurrected the Territorial Enterprise, (Virginia City’s local paper that at one time employed Samuel Clemmens) had been a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune covering that city’s cafe society. As such he was accustomed to and appreciative of the finer things.

Through his account of a gala at the International in Virginia City where 6,000 bottles of champagne were consumed in a single night and his stories of elaborate parties at the Palace in San Francisco hosted by William Sharon and mining’s elite, you begin to grasp the connections ” financial, cultural and even spiritual ” between the Comstock and the City by the Bay.

So mark your calendars for the first weekend in June. And if you like a little flavor with your history, check out the Virginia City Sesquicentennial Cookbook, available downtown at the Mark Twain Bookstore, or you can pick up a copy here at Del Rio.

– Brian Shaw and his wife Ardie own the Cafe del Rio, 394 S. C Street in Virginia City.

This is one of the recipes from the book and comes from the McBride family of Bucket of Blood Saloon lineage. The original was passed down on the back of a dentist’s office receipt ” I’ve seen the receipt. Since around here well enough is never left alone, I have taken a few small liberties with the original. The salsa ranchera is the recipe we use here at the restaurant.

Serves 4


2-6 ounce cans of whole green chilis or four fresh Anaheim’s, roasted, peeled and seeded

4 ounces of Monterey Jack cheese, cut into chunks

4 large eggs, separated

1⁄3 cup milk

1⁄2 cup flour

1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1⁄2 teaspoon chili powder

Salsa Ranchera

Butter a 11⁄2 quart casserole dish. Remove any seeds and pith from the chilis and stuff them with the chunks of cheese. Place them in the casserole dish side by side. Mix the milk, egg yolks, flour and baking powder in a small bowl until smooth. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until medium still peaks. Fold the whites into the batter and pour over the chilis. Top with the grated cheese and bake at 375 degrees until golden ” about 30 minutes. Serve immediately topped with warm Ranchera Salsa, sliced black olives and a little sour cream.

Salsa Ranchera

1 medium onion, diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 large poblano chili, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced or a small can of diced green chilis, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1-26 ounce can of diced tomatoes in juice, roughly processed

1 small bunch cilantro, washed but leave the rubber band

Sweat the onions and garlic in a little corn oil. Add the chilis and cook for a minute. Add the balsamic and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the cilantro bunch, stopping just before the rubber band. Allow to steep like tea for about 15 minutes. Remove the cilantro to a strainer. Place the strainer over the pot and force as much of the liquid back into your sauce. Stir and taste for salt and maybe a pinch of sugar. If you like it hotter, add a little hot sauce. Will keep refrigerated for 4 or 5 days.