C. R. Cook came to Seattle about 1919, and with his wife Genevieve he soon opened Cook’s Tamale Grotto. Mr. Cook was born in Missiouri, and learned to cook in a chili parlor; later he traveled to Mexico. In the 1920s and 1930s his Seattle enterprise was a popular downtown lunch and dinner spot, with a menu that cheerfully ascribed Spanish, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, and even French, Texan, and Aztec attributes to its dishes. Fusion dining has deep roots.
A bit of study establishes that a version of Mexican cuisine is the dominant note, with a menu that is characterized by tamales, enchiladas, frijoles, and tortillas. The Chinese menu appears to be an added bit of exotica, as perhaps the Italian menu is also; on the other hand, Italian and Spanish are similar, you know, Latinate. The term Spanish is used interchangeably with Mexican in most cases, but it is not clear just what to make of such terms as “boiled chicken Spanish” and “Aztec albondigas.”
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer published a small cookbook, “Cosmopolitan Seattle,” featuring the recipes of noted local chefs, in 1925 and again in 1935. It was authored by the newspaper’s corporate food maven, Prudence Penny (a part played by a number of staffers over many decades), and Prudence not only coaxed recipes from Seattle chefs and cooks, but also interviewed them about their training and hobbies. C. R. Cook, for example, liked to spend his days off at his chicken ranch near Black Diamond, where he could watch the chickens “grow up for tamales.”
(Spanish meat Balls)
1 pound lean hamburger
2 tablespoons raw rice
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped green pepper
1 raw egg
1 teaspoon chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix well, form into balls the size of an egg, using ground cracker crumbs to prevent mixture from sticking to hands. Boil slowly one hour in Spanish sauce made as follows:
SAUCE: 1 can tomatoes with puree, 1 pint water or broth, 1 chopped green pepper, 2 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 4 whole cloves, 1 bay leaf, salt and pepper to taste.
Serve meat balls on large platter with spaghetti or noodles in center and sprinkle with grated Italian cheese.
— From the 1935 edition of “Cosmopolitan Seattle”
Spokane, too, had its tamales. This menu is from the 1930s; the proprietors of the A. B. C. Chili and Tamale Parlors were H. R. Atkinson and Clay Bennett.
Ephemera from author’s collection. Original of 1935 “Cosmopolitan Seattle” at Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries.