Bohemian San Francisco

Bohemian San Francisco cover
Cover of “Bohemian San Francisco”

How many cookbooks start like this:

No apologies are offered for this book. In fact, we rather like it. Many years have been spent in gathering this information, and naught is written in malice, nor through favoritism, our expressions of opinion being unbiased by favor or compensation.

and then continue like this?

San Francisco! Is there a land where the magic of that name has not been felt? Bohemian San Francisco! Pleasure-loving San Francisco! Care-free San Francisco! … It was in Paris that a world traveler said to us: “San Francisco! That wonderful city where you get the best there is to eat, served in a manner that enhances its flavor and establishes it forever in your memory.”

So begins Clarence Edwords’s 1914 culinary history of the City By the Bay, Bohemian San Francisco. He starts by defining “Bohemia” as the “naturalism of refined people,” and the “protest of naturalism against the too rigid, and oft-times, absurd restrictions established by Society.” Edwords touches on each period of San Francisco history, each community of European and Asian immigrants, with recipes from most of them.

Bohemian San Francisco title
Title page of “Bohemian San Francisco”. The photograph on the frontispiece is of the Cobweb Palace, an old saloon at the corner of Francisco & Powell

Unsurprisingly, Edwords lavishes particular attention on seafood. (“The Bohemian way to have your clams is to go to the shore of Bolinas Bay or some equally retired spot, and have a clam bake.”) Bohemian San Francisco contains perhaps the earliest mention in print of the Crab Louie salad, and the book is credited with popularizing the Celery Victor salad (which was invented by Victor Hertzler, chef at the St. Francis Hotel).

Clarence Edgar Edwords (1853-1941) was born in Virginia and practiced medicine in San Francisco. In 1930, his physician’s license was revoked for performing an illegal operation. In 1933, the California State Board of Medicine restored his license and placed him on probation for five years. He is buried in Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma.

Though many—if not most—of Paul Elder’s publications have languished in obscurity, Bohemian San Francisco is one of a handful to be reprinted in recent decades. In 1973 it was published by the Silhouette Press, and in recent years by a number of on-demand publishers.

Bohemian San Francisco p18
Page 18-19 of “Bohemian San Francisco,” where Edwords describes the Cobweb Palace

Edwords’s approach to food is probably best summed up by the toast that appears at the beginning of the book:

Our Toast:

Not to the Future, nor to the Past / No drink of Joy or Sorrow / We drink alone to what will last / Memories on the Morrow / Let us live as Old Time passes / To the Present let Bohemia bow / Let us raise on high our glasses / To Eternity — the ever-living Now


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