The Fort Cookbook: New Foods of the Old West from the Famous Denver Restaurant

by Samuel P. Arnold

HarperCollins

320 pages, 1997

ISBN: 0060175672


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The Fort Restaurant at Denver is to western meat eaters what Moosewood is to the tofu crowd: Mecca and nirvana in one rugged package.

By all accounts, the package at The Fort is a nice part of the whole thing: an adobe brick replica of Brent's Fort, one of the original trading posts in Colorado. The man behind the building, the restaurant and even the book is Samuel P. Arnold. Arnold is hailed in his bio as "the most colorful man west of the Mississippi," which is an accolade of the stripe that most of us can only dream of aspiring to.

Not having met the man, I can't vouch for his colorfulness, but he wrangles a mean cookbook. The Fort Cookbook is big and fat and filled not only with Arnold's meat lover's recipes, but also with tales of the west and valuable information about various indigenous flora and fauna that might end up in your kitchen. Almost every recipe is prefaced with a little tale of how Arnold came upon it or some other connected bit of information: sometimes both. It's a fun book.

In addition to the comments before each recipe and a snappy preface to each chapter, there are sidebars strewn throughout the book containing interesting Western tales, important menus from The Fort's past, special kitchen tricks and even some stuff that Arnold just seemed to find interesting. Rather than detracting from the book, however, Arnold's asides add to the richness and to the feeling that here in your hand is more than a cookbook: rather it's a filled-in scrapbook on the history of an important part of the modern west.

This from the preface to a recipe called Bowl of the Wife of Kit Carson:

In the spring of 1961, two years before opening The Fort, my family and I found ourselves stopped during a road trip to Mexico in Durango, some six hundred miles south of the border, driving a tiny English Morris Mini-Cooper S. Today a city of several hundred thousand, Durango was then a city of less than half that size. We were told that the best place to eat was the drugstore.

And so on, leading us to the encounter with the drugstore kitchen where they first tasted what would become one of The Fort's signature dishes. Throughout, Arnold's style ambles pleasantly but with purpose and it's difficult to look through the book without getting hungry. A nice bonus: the recipes are clear and easy-to-follow and many of the recipes call for ingredients commonly found in most major North American cities.

The book covers all aspects of edibles as well as a brightly written history of the restaurant and -- to a certain degree -- the area. The foreword was written by Arnold's daughter, Holly Arnold Kinney. Kinney's recollections of a childhood spent around a growing restaurant are touching and lend the proper homespun feel. Arnold's introduction adds in the right historical notes and sets the stage for the successful restaurant that would follow. But, as expected, among all of these recollections and reminiscences, the food is the real star with chapters on appetizers, meats, poultry, vegetables, "From the Quartermaster's Storerooms", fish, bread, desserts and from the bar. A resource directory with addresses and phone numbers of suppliers of difficult to find ingredients finishes The Fort out nicely. After all, what's the good of all these recipes if you can't locate the things with which to make them?

The Fort Cookbook is a strong addition to the bookshelf of the chef who's read everything. It's a modern history book that shows us that -- in some places, at least -- the old west lives on.

 

A recipe from The Fort Cookbook