I wrote earlier about the history of the Brown Derby Restaurant as well as it’s importance in Clark Gable history. And since it was his favorite restaurant, I couldn’t help but buy myself The Brown Derby Cookbook and get to cookin’ Clark’s favorites.
From a cooking standpoint, I am very lucky that Clark was a meat and potatoes kind of guy. His favorite foods were steak, pancakes, potato salad, coleslaw, etc. No caviar or crepes suzette or cheese souffle for this Ohio-bred boy. There are over 500 recipes in the cookbook–everything from onion soup and chicken pot pie to strawberries romanoff and lobster medallions. (My husband suggested I do a Julie and Julia thing and cook everything in the cookbook—yeah, that will not be happening! Unless he wants boiled sweetbreads for dinner one night!)
Clark’s favorite meal at the Brown Derby was Corned Beef Hash. Simple, country food! It was also the favorite of Wallace Beery, who apparently went to the Vine Street Brown Derby for lunch every single day for three years and ordered it every time. It was also a favorite of Dennis O’Keefe and George Montgomery.
The recipe for the corned beef hash was extremely simple, just corned beef, chopped boiled potatoes and onion. I cooked my corned beef for several hours in the crockpot like I usually do. I found it a bit strange that according to the recipe I was supposed to form cakes out of this mixture; there wasn’t any binder. I tried anyway, but after a while on my griddle it just turned into a heap of corned beef hash rather than a corned beef hash patty.
It was yummy though, simple comfort food. The Derby served it with a poached egg on top, but none of us like that so we omitted it. Ok, ok, I know it doesn’t photograph well–and I am certainly no food photographer!–but it was pretty good, kind of like hash browns with corned beef in it.
Now onto dessert. Clark (and Carole!) both loved two cakes at the Brown Derby: the grapefruit cake and the orange chiffon cake. I read that the orange chiffon was what Carole ordered for Clark’s birthday on more than one occaison so I set out to recreate it!
I am no master baker–I can handle cookies and pies just fine but when I saw that this recipe involved folding ingredients and beating egg whites and cream of tartar into steep peaks, I enlisted my mother to help. Thanks, Mom!
There are a few varieties of the infamous Brown Derby Chiffon Cake: Basic, Orange, Chocolate and Walnut. There are pages and pages of desserts in the cookbook, but the chiffon cake was the very first dessert served at the restaurant. It was created by a bond salesman who baked them for the Brown Derby for years and never revealed the recipe. In 1947, he sold the recipe to General Mills. It was described as “a fluffy, golden cake, neither angel food nor sponge, but infintely lighter and more delicious than either.”
The directions in this cookbook can be a little vague and it was when it came to what kind of pan to use. It seems you can use a bundt pan or loaf pans. My loaf pans weren’t big enough and I don’t have a bundt pan (see, I don’t bake) so we used two round cake pans.
Our cakes fluffed up quite a bit in the oven, but deflated rather quickly after removing them. We were a bit afraid of overcooking so maybe they could have used another minute or two to avoid the deflating.
They tasted delicious though! A very light texture, even lighter than angel food as suggested, with just the right amount of orange flavor, not too much. It would be the perfect cake to bring to a summar picnic.
Since then, I have also cooked chicken a la king and french onion soup out of the cookbook. Both were delicious! The book was written decades ago, so a lot of the terminology is old fashioned and the techniques obsolete, but all in all it is a great read, with snippets about the stars nestled in between the recipes.
Coming up next week, I eat at the Brown Derby Restaurant!