Fort Cookbook: New Foods of the Old West from the Famous
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