Gary Kurutz, the curator of an exhibit titled "Culinary California" now on display in the lobby of the State Library, is reading aloud about the effects of terrible cooking from "How to Win a Heart," a cookbook published in Lodi in 1883.
"Bad cooking is an unsuspected cause of many a heartache, the insidious destroyer of many a happy hour. It incites domestic discords, induces intemperate habits. It ruins its victims physically, mentally and morally."
The group he's leading erupts in laughter. In guiding people through the small yet concise "Culinary California" exhibit," Kurutz never tires of telling the stories behind the treasures he curates. He comes to "Clayton's Quaker Cookbook."
"It's the first cookbook to actually have singularly California recipes," Kurutz says.
Kurutz chose items for the display that, in the telling, carry humor.
"You know you need to wash your food down with something. We have this wonderful cookbook from 1891, not cookbook, but a recipe book, of Cocktail Boothby's, the first mixologist book printed in California," Kurutz tells the group. "And he later became a state assemblyman and he had heavy support from the liquor industry in San Francisco."
If you stop in at 9th and N Streets, you'll also see a menu printed on pink silk and cookbooks in English and Chinese used as training texts in early California restaurants. There's a celebrity cookbook featuring a young Humphrey Bogart tasting at his impressive home stove. The oldest item is a diary of handwritten recipes from 1850. The newest? A 1963 poster of the big Milk Farm sign that still towers over Interstate 80 in Dixon.
The "Culinary California" exhibit is free and open from 8 to 5 weekdays through December at the California State Library.