Part 5: The Pantophagist
By Galen Patterson
Anita Baldwin is known by several accounts to have a generous person.
Local Historian Carol Libby says she was the kind of lady who would anonymously pay off the debts and bills of those she knew and cared for. As mentioned earlier in the series, Anita’s obituary tells a small story of how she rewarded a rail station worker for his integrity when returning a ring to her.
Anita was raised with relative wealth, and basked in it throughout her life.
She had been given so much, that to think she would give back to society may not be intuitive. This is part of what makes Anita’s character so noteworthy.
Anita touched the lives of those around her both with wealth and food.
In 1933, the Citizen-News Company in Hollywood, CA, published Anita’s cookbook The Pantophagist.
The cookbook is dedicated to her friends, but the book truly begins with the words “To the cup that cheers, but does not inebriate, to the plate that lures, but leaves no tummy ache.”
Dr. Dana Hicks of the Gilb Museum passed the recipes onto Arcadia Weekly from the Gilb’s copy of the now ultra-rare and out-of-print book.
From this point forward, this article is a food review.
It seemed like Pot Roast Anoakia was the appropriate choice for a trial. The ingredients were simple and easily attainable. More importantly, the instructions were so vague, that a pot roast held the least risk of failure, danger, or any other form of culinary disaster.
Combining the 5 lb beef roast with 2 onions, two cloves of garlic and olive oil was simple enough. The seasoning consists of salt, pepper, cayenne (pepper), Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, and dry chili pepper. Needless to say, I expected the meat to be hotter than the San Gabriel Valley in August.
Where most roast seasoning is applied to the meat by rubbing the spices into the surface, Anita simply says to combine all items at the same time. Instructions for the application of the spices were non-existent.
I mixed them all together, into a spicy, grainy sludge and rubbed them into the entire surface of the roast. I then quartered the onions, separated the layers and spread them across the pan.
As per Anita’s orders, I browned the roast on all sides and slowly cooked the dish in the back of the stove for three hours, in a covered pan.
The final sentence in the paragraph-long recipe was to serve the roast with noodles topped with buttered bread crumbs.
The meat was fantastic. The onions adhering to the roast, turning themselves to mush and boiling in the juices created a flavor beyond the expected peppery taste.
The peppers lost their edge in the process, and rather than searing regret into my mouth, ushered forth a subtle collection of earthy taste, enhanced by the salt and vinegary Worcestershire.
Pot Roast Anoakia was indeed a dish worthy of its palatial namesake. I will be making it again.
For the second try, I selected a basic desert Anita called “Baked Bananas.” Again, selected for all the reasons the pot roast seemed appealing.
I buttered and baked the bananas, and stirred up a mixture of maple sugar and water. The next task was taking the golden brown bananas and combining them with the sugar syrup.
Generally, I do not like the taste of bananas. I appreciate them for their remarkable convenience and value of potassium, which acts as something of a wonder-element in the human body.
The baked bananas were light and creamy. The taste of banana was amplified but spiked with what I never realized was missing from bananas: sugar. The desert was sweet, soft and rich in flavor, taste and texture.
I do not plan on making the baked bananas again, but not because I did not like them. Instead I just do not want to make a habit of eating bananas.
It is evident to me that Anita knew her way around a kitchen, and someone of such stature and comfort at the time may not have been expected to be capable in such areas. Anita stands out to me because of it.
Next week, the next installment of the series lays out the legacy left behind.