Here’s What “Californios” Feasted on During Those Early Settlement Days

Expect a mix of Spanish, Mexican and native cooking.

California, with its ample agriculture resources, cultural diversity and eclectic tastes is no stranger to epicurean adventure. But with such a rich and varied menu, what exactly constitutes California cuisine?

According to Georgia Freedman in Taste, “California cooking has been known for many things over the years: ’70s-era carob bars and sprout-filled sandwiches; Alice Waters’ and Jonathan Waxman’s “California Cuisine,” which first bloomed in the Bay Area and introduced Americans to the idea of cooking focused on local, sustainable, seasonal ingredients, fueling the organic and farm-to-table movement; Roy Choi’s Korean-Mexican fusion served out of trucks and in cool spaces in Los Angeles.

But the state’s first fusion foods evolved back in the 18th century, when the Spanish began to establish a colonial presence and built a string of missions up and down the coast. For the next 100 years or so, the land around these missions was divvied up into ranches and granted to a new landowning class of ‘Californios,’ who raised cattle to feed the soldiers and the local presidios, or forts.

Curious about what those early Californians dined on? Freedman offers a few heirloom recipes, including Baked Chile Rellenos with Breadcrumbs and Bean Soup with Chiles and Meatballs. Find them here.

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