A New Frontier: Leisure and the Western Middle Class
Through these many travel articles one can glimpse what is perhaps the single greatest benefit (other than home ownership) coming to the middle classes of the Far West in the twentieth century, especially the second half--leisure. In nineteenth-century America, significant leisure was in the main the prerogative of the more affluent classes. Increasingly, however, in the twentieth century more and more middle-class Americans had more and more time--weekends, national holidays, paid vacations--in which to travel or otherwise to enjoy recreational activities. Here was time for family life, for sport and other forms of recreation, for the cultivation of the inner landscape through enjoyable hobbies, for time to enjoy the sheer goodness of life. And no region had opportunities for using that time comparable to the West. Here again was a Progressive ideal: a belief in balance between work and leisure, money-making and soul-making activities. Hence arises another major category in this Sunset bibliography, recreation and leisure, 568 notable entries in all, covering every conceivable kind of activity. Taken together with travel, this allied category brings to over 2,000 the notable leisure-oriented articles published by the magazine.
Fly-fishing on Lake Tahoe, yachting on San Francisco Bay, duck hunting in the Delta country, tennis in Santa Cruz, golfing at Del Monte, and like activities in other areas served by the Southern Pacific: Initially, Sunset tended to emphasize upper-end, upper-class sorts of pursuits. As the century progressed, however, these activities--especially after the Lane family took over the magazine--became much more middle-class in their orientation; indeed, in the more than 500 notable articles dealing with recreation and leisure is evident a process through which the good life was being democratized. (For example, the once-elite subject of playing polo becomes in 1986, in an article entitled "Fast Polo and Relaxed Picnicking," an entirely accessible spectator sport for a family outing.) In general, one follows a path of development in Sunset in which leisure activities become more and more available to a broader and broader audience, though one which stays within Sunset's primary public of Western home-owning families.
Winter sports, for example, especially skiing, can be traced as they are being enjoyed by more and more Far Westerners. While fly-fishing remains a pursuit of the few, the swimming pool, once a prerogative of the more privileged, became a rather common backyard amenity. The Sunset book on swimming pools became a best-seller. Hence, the spate of articles from the 1950s onward suggesting ways of enjoying one's backyard, one's swimming pool, one's poolside barbecue, perhaps enjoyed with a spa and followed by a sauna, both early championed by the magazine. Golf, another prerogative of the affluent in the early years, becomes a municipal event with the rise of city-owned golf courses in the Far West. Outdoor life--camping, back-packing, hiking, pack trips with horses, river rafting--which once seemed the prerogative of the elite Sierra Club in the early years of the century (professional people, capable of mounting expensive expeditions into the Sierra Nevada) increasingly became an affordable family-oriented affair in state and federal lands that were far more abundant and available to more people. Every now and then (a 1975 article on hot air ballooning, for example) Sunset reverted to the once privileged and the exotic, and also as a travel opportunity for all reader families to enjoy as spectators. In the main, however, its activities--family sailing, bird watching, gathering driftwood on the beach, observing sea otters, arranging a chuck wagon party for teenagers, making and flying kites, hunting for exotic rocks, bicycling, skiing, snowshoeing, kayaking, rafting on the Klamath River--were within the financial reach of mid-America, but again, with greater interest and participation in the West, and particularly on the part of Sunset readers. In 1970, Sunset introduced its readers to the pleasures of playing boccie ball on the lawn. In 1975, serving the physical fitness craze, it introduced its readers to the PAR course. In fact, Sunset had installed its own PAR course at its headquarters; magazine employees served as models for an article in their own backyard, the Laboratory of Western Living.
Increasing Environmental Awareness and Activism
Travel and many of the leisure activities promoted by Sunset, moreover, were linked to conservationism. "Through travel in the West," Bill Lane pointed out in May 1969, "we also believe that people gain interest and courage to fight ugliness by appreciating beauty in both their homes and travels."9 Both Bill and Mel had been reared in an instinctively conservationist environment, shaped by both the love of their parents for the outdoors and the pervasive conservationism of the Sunset ethos. Long before the term ecology surfaced in American discourse, Sunset had been advancing in both the pre-Lane and Lane eras a conservation ethos that was at the very center of the pre--World War I Progressive ideal. With the enthusiastic support of Bill and Mel Lane and their editors, Sunset magazine, books, and films advanced a steady, if occasionally subtle, program of conservation advocacy. The "Lane boys," as they were sometimes referred to, became active in conservation activities when they felt their efforts coincided with their own interests and those of the Lane publications. The magazine, for example, was among the first to see the possibilities of transforming the Presidio of San Francisco into one of the most distinctive national parks in the nation, a designation that has been achieved and is now being implemented. Two such activities that set a national precedent were the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the California Coastal Commission, on both of which Mel Lane served as the first chairman.
In all these efforts, Yosemite National Park has remained for three generations of Lanes and Sunset staff both the reality and the symbol of all that great national parks have to offer. On a trip to Yosemite in the early 1920s, Larry Lane made the decision to leave Iowa and become a citizen of the Far West; and in later years the Yosemite, which Bill and Mel Lane first saw as boys on their first summer vacation trip with their parents, remained for each of them--and later their families--a beloved place throughout a lifetime.
As Wallace Stegner and others have pointed out, the big question west of the 100th meridian is water, water, water. Both directly and indirectly, Sunset has been constantly addressing the water problem; indeed, like the Stanford campus nearby, the Cliff May--designed Sunset headquarters in Menlo Park, to which the company moved in 1951, favors the dry look. Beginning in the 1930s, use of water became more home-oriented. Water conservation has more recently been a frequent theme in Sunset gardening articles. On a more macroscale, Sunset has addressed itself since its earliest years (e.g., "Phoenix, Born of Water," by J.O. Dunbar, August 1904) to the continuing question of water in the West, which is to say, the future of the West itself; for water constitutes the fundamental resource and environmental premise of Sunset country.
It is not, however, the only question. Among other causes, Sunset has realistically aligned itself behind the cause of solar heating, especially in the home. It first addresses solar power as early as April 1903, with "Sunshine as Power" to pump water for irrigation, by Arthur Inkersley. The February 1979 issue (celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Lane Sunset), featuring a cover-story article on a Colorado home of country singer John Denver, focused on solar heating. It also included an analysis of how the Native American pueblo cultures of the Spanish Southwest practiced this art. The articles in this issue--giving illustrated examples of solar-heated homes in New Mexico and Colorado and, in the usual Sunset fashion, providing extensive guidance for readers wishing to avail themselves of this nonpolluting, non-resource-consuming energy source--built upon the more ambitious treatment of the Sunset Homeowner's Guide to Solar Heating, published in 1978. In 1980, Pacific Gas & Electric cooperated with Sunset editors to build a demonstration of solar technology at Sunset's headquarters for public viewing. Solar heating had an international dimension as well, for Swedish architect and solar heating expert Varis Bokalders and Swedish journalist Barbro Larsson were brought aboard as consultants. (While importing such expertise from Sweden was unusual, the practice of engaging outside experts has long been a routine editorial practice.)
A Distinct Identity for the Western Home
The focus of these solar heating articles, in both book and magazine, was upon the home. So many of the categories in this bibliography--gardening, landscaping, architecture and home design, home improvement, workshop projects and crafts, and food preparation--directly serve the Sunset ideal of the home as balanced, rational, aesthetic, promotive of family life and personal development. It was the desire for a home and land of one's own, it must be remembered, which so powerfully motivated Far Western migration in the nineteenth century. Then, the goal was largely rural and agricultural, a 160-acre land grant and the chance to build a farmhouse and barn. Later, while remaining agricultural, that ideal transmogrified itself into urban and suburban circumstances: a family-owned house with a backyard in a decent neighborhood. In the highly suburbanized Far West, such ambitions took on the intensity of a crusade. A home of one's own and a flourishing family life became the popular image of what the Far West, beginning with California, most dramatically offered and thus was and is the natural focus of Sunset's editorial coverage and advertising--even though by no means all readers own their own home but find the spectrum of ideas stimulating and useful: They may be planning a home (or getaway home) or hoping to buy one, already using food and travel ideas, or enjoying container gardening. The ideal of a well-kept and aesthetic home for the Western family went hand in hand with a concern for the broader community and social responsibility. As Bill Lane would put it in 1969: "The family that maintains and improves its home, shares it with friends, goes traveling together, and pursues constructive hobbies, is relating in a very positive way to the social and natural environment of its community and country. Any responsible minister, psychiatrist, or probation officer can document that statement with very strong statistics."10 Among the Progressives and even more so in Sunset, the focus was suburban over urban (though Sunset did run occasional articles on downtown or midtown multiple dwellings, which receive recognition via Sunset's Western Home Awards program, cosponsored with the American Institute of Architects). Sunset early began coverage of cluster dwelling development within the suburban milieu, thereby preserving open space in the planning process. For the suburban ideal, so redolent with Jeffersonian implications, expressed an America that was neither a landed patriciate nor an urban proletariat but was, rather, a flourishing middle ground, especially in the West, where suburban growth has been particularly pronounced.
In its architectural articles, as in the case of its travel and leisure articles, Sunset had a tendency in its early years to focus on the upper end of the economic spectrum, such as Porter Garnett's "Stately Homes of California" series in 1913--1914, describing the great estates of the San Francisco Peninsula, or Mira Maclay's description of James Duval Phelan's Villa Montalvo farther south, near Saratoga. Here were homes in the grand style, true, but available only to an affluent elite.
Fortunately, such an emphasis did not remain long in force. Almost simultaneously Charles Francis Saunders was describing "bungalow life" in 1913. When the Spanish Revival came in the 1920s, Sunset was there to cover it; indeed, it would not be difficult to piece together examples from nearly every phase of domestic architectural development in California and the Far West from Sunset articles and illustrations. (Even the condominium would receive some consideration in 1952.) In 1956, Sunset inaugurated, in conjunction with the Western chapters of the American Institute of Architects, its Western Home Awards program with a panel of noted professionals serving as jury. Interestingly, the suggestion that Sunset partner with AIA in this program came from Time Inc., which had earlier cosponsored similar award programs. Many of the homes recognized by Sunset went on to win national awards, and a number of architects recognized in the program achieved regional or national reputations. This program also brought landscape architects and interior designers as judges and was the first to include remodeling and recreational homes as separate categories. This biennial awards program continues to thrive under Sunset Publishing Corporation.
If the truth be told, Sunset was not much concerned with historicity in Spanish or other Revival styles. Its persistent preference, rather, if one is to judge from homes and architects recognized, was for homes in a simple, straightforward manner, devoid of historical fussiness, a style that can be generically described as California Ranch. Cliff May, for instance, worked in this idiom, although his homes did possess a strong Spanish or Mexican ambiance, as did other popular designers and architects featured in Sunset. This ambiance came, however, not from historical detail but from the emphasis on roof line, wall, mass, and volume in dialogue with, but not slavishly repeating, the best elements in the Southwestern and Southern Californian adobe. The concept of a home ranged across the entire space between property lines, encompassing both interior and exterior in a single living space. Thus, fences and landscaping for privacy became important concerns and prompted several Sunset books. Ditto patios and decks, as witnessed, among numerous examples, by 1993's "Best Owner-built Deck."
Sunset also paid attention to the second home, a growing phenomenon in the Far West. Sunset began to cover second homes in 1920, then often called "vacation cabins," and Lane published a book on the topic in 1932. Through its coverage of second, or recreational, homes, Sunset is credited with launching the A-frame design and the hillside or waterfront deck, which again extended living space into the outdoors.
Home Improvement and Remodeling: A Continuous Stream of Practical Solutions
Homes, whether primary or secondary, not only have to be designed and built (and Sunset ran a number of articles on building materials and techniques), they also have to be adapted and improved over the years, often by adding additions or remodeling. For Sunset, fixing up one's home constituted a near-ritual. Here, after all, is a celebration of both the home as the locus of family togetherness and as one's individual responsibility for maintaining the house, while often inspiring community pride and engagement through a virtual contagion of visible improvement. And besides: Home improvement is both fun and practical, particularly in adding value to the owner. All in all, this bibliography lists 780 notable entries in the home improvement category. In the early Lane years of the Depression, the emphasis was upon such basic but still new items as electrical wiring, refrigerators, and water heaters. (It is not coincidental that these were years when advertisement was less abundant. Later, as advertising volume grew, expansion of editorial content followed.)
From the start, Sunset is interested in roofing design and materials and in the development of unused space. When new construction products such as plywood come on line, Sunset responds with suggestions. Sunset sees glass as a positive construction material that both delineates space and enables visual possession of the outdoors. In the 1950s Sunset began to introduce its readers to the advantages of sliding glass doors and the skylight: another case of allowing the light of the Far West to stream into the home.
Sunset, however, remains more than slightly suspicious of air conditioning, which closes off the home and consumes vast amounts of electricity. Sunset tries to emphasize as much as possible, rather, designs and materials facilitating natural ventilation, along with landscaping for shade. On the other hand, Sunset embraced early the microwave oven, prototype models of which were tested in Sunset kitchens. These became especially popular in the West with its higher incomes and more active lifestyle, and in turn, furthered the use of frozen foods, which were consumed proportionately more than in other regions. The computer, too, which made its appearance in the May 1988 90th Anniversary issue, was enthusiastically welcomed, as were many technological advances which improved the safety, utility, and comfort of the home. Just a few blocks away from Sunset headquarters, Silicon Valley was in the process of taking the Far West and the world into cyberspace and bringing cyberspace into the Far Western home. Sunset practiced what it preached, too; its own production was one of the earliest magazines to be automated with the Atex computer system for editing and composition. To the Sunset way of thinking, high technology and conservationism (in such forms as efficient programmable heating/cooling and sprinkler systems) went hand in hand. Sunset publications had a high penetration among high-tech research and technical professionals, who, with their families, were often home owners in traditional Sunset areas.
Sunset also made many valuable suggestions on how to integrate the storage, display, and use of books into the home, as both a source of knowledge and adornment. Some Sunset housing suggestions, the decorative use of stained glass, for example, were very much part of an era, in this case the revival of the 1970s; but in general, home improvement articles tended not to be overly faddish. There are a number of realistic suggestions as well--burglar alarms and security systems, for example--reflecting the more noir aspects of contemporary life.
Sunset served as a leader in the development of the American kitchen after the Second World War from a hidden workplace, peopled by either servants or an isolated woman, to an active positive space where the family, not just the cooking mother, came together. Its kitchen books were among its best-sellers. Sunset was an early popularizer of how-to-do -it solutions, such as open kitchens with adjoining family room, island counter spaces, built-in appliances, glassed-in herb or kitchen gardens. Sunset also paid close attention to the bathroom, which like the kitchen was being rapidly developed in the second half of the twentieth century, another trend initiated in the West and first reported by Sunset. Among other innovations, Sunset introduced its readers to the Finnish sauna and the Japanese hot tub, in the forefront of national trends. In the case of its articles dealing with the renovation of older homes, with respect for their architectural integrity, Sunset showed a strong preservationist commitment.
Coming outdoors, Sunset returned again and again to the enclosed patio as a distinctively Far Western form of indoor/outdoor space. Closely allied to the patio, and also an indoor/outdoor construction, was another Sunset favorite, the deck. Then there was the poolside, which was also in the mind of Sunset a form of outdoor living space connected to the house itself, far more popular in the West because of extended swimming seasons.
The Suburban Freeholder's Domain: Intensifying One's Plot of Land as Living Space
In a tradition that went as far back as Thomas Jefferson, who built a serpentine wall at Monticello, Sunset made many valuable suggestions as to how brick, stone, and Mexican-inspired adobe walls might protect and enhance the garden. Here again is another major category in this bibliography, gardening, 1,170 notable entries in all. As metaphor and ideal, the garden offered one of the most powerful images associated with the Far West in the nineteenth century. As the theory of Manifest Destiny suggested, it was the destiny of the American people to settle the Far West and make the desert bloom: as agriculture, of course (as ardently promulgated by the Southern Pacific), but also as horticulture and landscape architecture and parks, such as those set aside by San Francisco in 1855 (Golden Gate Park) and San Diego in 1870 (Balboa Park). The search for the Garden of the West was central to the epic of Western settlement and migration: made all the more challenging by the fact that a significant percentage of the Far Western environment was arid or semi-arid. To seek the Garden of the West, then--whether as agriculture or horticulture--was to seek to redeem the land, to make the desert bloom, with all that such biblical imagery implied. Planting the West was nothing less than a search for redemption itself. With the addition of Alaska and Hawaii to the Far West, moreover, two very dramatic and contrasting environments were added to this garden quest.
In time, especially after 1928, Sunset increasingly concerned itself with the domestic garden as well. As with cooking, Ruth Lane, a keen gardener before and after she came West, played a key role as a participating consultant to the garden editors. As far as garden theory is concerned, Sunset would seem to have preferred over the years the informal, slightly romantic garden, although it did publish a number of articles dealing with large formal gardens as well. With so much of the Far West being semi-arid, even desert, Sunset paid extensive attention--beginning in 1930 with such articles as "Gardening in the Land of Little Rain"--to water conservation-oriented techniques, encouraging its readers not to waste water, but to garden with nature rather than against it.
Sunset also advocated a 12-month cycle of planting, as only possible in the Far West, as evident in another 1930 article, "A Year-Round Garden Calendar," by the great landscapist John McLaren, superintendent of Golden Gate Park. Numerous articles suggested how Sunset readers, both men and women, might take their autumn plants into winter, their winter plants into spring, their spring plants into summer, and their summer plants back into autumn, and thus to achieve a rich and varied garden year. With gardening especially, Sunset's regional editions reflected local soil, weather, and other regional differences. In numerous articles, Sunset helped its readers carry on a civilized warfare against garden pests, including the omnipresent deer and the medfly, which made its debut in 1981. Sunset also encouraged the development of gardening as a family ritual, publishing articles which encouraged parents to introduce children to gardening as early as possible and thus make of it a lifetime avocation. Paying attention to the placement, care, and cultivation of the more standard trees--maple, birch, ash--Sunset, beginning in 1965, also assisted the more exotic palm in making a triumphant comeback. Within 25 years, in fact, transplanted palm trees would be commanding fantastic prices. Often symbolic of stately landscaping as seen today with Palm Drive at Stanford University, planned by Frederick Law Olmsted for the original campus, the Southern Pacific promoted commercial development of date palm growing in the California desert, following the development of irrigation. Sunset also gave advice on the growing of fruit trees--apple, fig, pear, cherry, even the banana tree ("Bananas in Your Garden?" August 1996)--as part of the garden environment. In 1959 Sunset introduced its readers to the Japanese bonsai.
The edibility of garden fruit underscored another dimension of Sunset's garden advice, the vegetable garden--carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, sweet potatoes--which had provided such a main staple of the Home Front through the Victory Garden movement in the Second World War. In 1982, in far more peaceful and profitable times, Sunset encouraged its readers to grow their own endive (and thereby save themselves $6 a pound for this gourmet product at their local market) as well as fresh herbs, again more widely used in the West.
In its attention to flowers, Sunset encouraged its readers to merge native blooms (the poppy, the sunflower, lupine) with the unpretentious imported (the honeysuckle, the pansy, the geranium), the delicate imported (the hibiscus, the daffodil, the peony, the crocus, the petunia, jasmine, dahlia, and orchid), together with such luxuriant standbys as the begonia, the camellia, the lily, the magnolia, and the fuchsia. And then there was always the rhododendron and the chrysanthemum, flourishing so magnificently in the admixed sunshine and fog of the coastal regions, blooming across the year in a riot of Impressionist hue; and rich red poinsettias for Christmas, and every now and then an exotic, such as a 1930 article on the night-blooming Cereus which opens its flower between twilight and sunset, then vanishes into blossomless secrecy for another cycle. Above all, there was the rose, a variety of which, the Sunset Celebration, was introduced and named in honor of Sunset during this Centennial Year (just as the Sunset Jubilee was introduced during the magazine's 75th anniversary).
From the 1970s onward, Sunset was especially eager to integrate indoors and outdoors through flowering plants. Take shrubs, ferns, and flowers back into the home from the garden, Sunset urged its readers. Line the deck with bold earthen pots big enough to support plants that would link the indoor and outdoor environments. Create hanging gardens in the kitchen or suspend window gardens off the kitchen or the bedroom. Adorn living rooms with ficus. Live, in short, as completely as possible in the garden of the Far West, an essential component of an even larger ideal, the home. Sunset's headquarters exemplified this integration of outdoors and indoors for its hundreds of thousands of visitors.
Cultivation of the Home Life: Crafts, Holidays, Food
Likewise did household crafts and food preparation serve this domestic ideal. Articles on crafts began appearing in Sunset increasingly from the 1930s and reached 265 notable entries by 1997. Like gardening and recipes, the vast majority of these projects--pack and ship a gift of Western fruit, build a tree house for kids with a safe exit rope, build a bird house, construct a Japanese folding bed, build your own outdoor picnic table--were home improvement and other family-oriented projects fitting into the overall Sunset philosophy of the home as domestic ideal and showing care for the quality and rhythms of daily life. Here again, these projects often appealed as much to readers who did not own their own homes as to home owners. The sheer variety of these projects is astonishing. Some of them involve simple skills; others, more advanced knowledge of carpentry or other skills. As in the case of gardening and food preparation, crafts suggestions were keyed to the cycle of seasons. For Halloween, for example, make costumes for children out of paper bags.
The Christmas holidays represent an especially intense season for crafts (make Christmas Magi for the windows, make homemade Christmas cards and tree ornaments); indeed, all things considered, Christmas is the favorite Sunset season, at least in terms of the predominance of Christmas-oriented crafts and menu suggestions. In its Christmas recipe proposals, Sunset adhered to tradition (bake Christmas breads) but at the same time offered over the years an intriguing number of variations on the traditional Christmas dinner. Not, however, that Sunset ever forgot the turkey! But Sunset often added a Western twist, for example, by barbecuing the holiday bird. It would seem, in fact, if one were to judge from the turkey-related items in this bibliography, that Sunset was making a special cause of this low-fat, low-calorie, high-protein bird: just another example of the nutritional and health awareness which pervades the 1,391 notable food, holiday, and entertaining suggestions in this bibliography.
In the case of its treatment of food themes, moreover, in both the magazine and in its many cookbooks, Sunset adhered to its usual philosophy of balance and practicality, the cycle of seasons, and family values. Many Sunset recipes originated as suggestions from readers. All recipes are thoroughly tested in the Sunset kitchens at the Menlo Park headquarters by a trained staff of food editors with employee and outside panels of chefs, restaurateurs, food writers, and selected members of the public, with the likes of Julia Child and Duncan Hines among the guest experts.
What is the Sunset philosophy of food? Like so many other aspects of Sunset, it is keyed to the range and variety of the Far West, the cycle of seasons, family life, and that persistent elegant simplicity that was ever part of the Sunset aesthetic. The formula was set by editor Genevieve Callahan, with the help of Ruth Lane, upon the publication of the first "Sunset Kitchen Cabinet" feature in the first Lane issue. Most explicitly with the later addition of the "Chefs of the West" monthly feature, Sunset energetically brought men into the kitchen or barbecue area. Long before the rise of Martha Stewart, Sunset was sustaining a continuing dialogue, at once intimate and practical, with its readers as to how food preparation might help them celebrate their lives, enjoy their region, reinforce their family life, along with sharing with friends, and experience the pleasures of good taste.
Each season has its special foods and recipes--summer, winter, fall, spring, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Passover, Easter--and in recommending such seasonal recipes, Sunset was once again, as it did in encouraging its readers to plant a 12-month garden, helping its readers make life a little better, a little more caring, a little more enhanced. What kind of dishes might be served on long summer evenings, spent outdoors on the lawn? What kind of food could be served on long wintry evenings spent by the fire? What kind of foods would be fun to be served in the autumn, with football in the air, or in the spring, when the infinite variety of Far Western agriculture made itself most noticeable at the local grocery store or supermarket? Wine, for Sunset's food editors, was both a cooking ingredient and a beverage to serve for all seasons. Sunset built on the vineyard heritage of the Spanish missions, promoted wine regions throughout the Far West, and backed its editorial emphasis with an advertising policy that declined ads for all alcoholic beverages except wine. (Beer ads, like tobacco ads, were discontinued early in the Second World War years.)
For Sunset, cooking could so often be a unifying family ritual; hence, Sunset recommended that families cook together whenever possible, that teenagers be taught how to cook, and, by implication but powerful nevertheless, that a family "team effort" was part of a rewarding family life. Hence, Sunset paid attention to family vacation time as well as the rest of the year, with recipes for campfire cooking on outdoor treks or simple summer dishes to be enjoyed in mountain cabins or cottages by the sea. There is a near-infinity of suggestions for how best to prepare a picnic: family picnics in the main, but also picnics for couples, together with suggestions for an elaborate picnic buffet while tailgating before a football game.
In discussing the philosophy of the Sunset recipe and cookbook program, editors emphasized the variety of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products in Sunset country. Certainly, Sunset played no small role in helping to revolutionize American cuisine--such a meat-and-potatoes affair in the nineteenth century--by repeated recipes emphasizing garden vegetables and seasoning. Sunset also helped make such new, even exotic vegetables as the asparagus, the artichoke, the eggplant, and the avocado (actually a fruit) assimiliable to the Western, and eventually American, palate. In the case of the asparagus, a luxury vegetable was made middle-class. In the case of the avocado and the eggplant, even disrespected foods (in earlier times the avocado was used as animal feed) were upgraded in their status. If one were to judge by the number of recipes, one might say that Sunset practically re-invented the salad--or at the least brought the salad to the fore as a meal in itself as well as a side dish--with novel combinations of vegetables, fruits, seafood, cheeses, and wine dressings. Once again, the emphasis was upon the intrinsic healthfulness of salads as a main-course dish and the seemingly infinite variations of which salads were capable. Sunset's early cookbooks were unique and promoted to the book trade for covering foods "from artichoke to zucchini," neither easily available nationally outside the West at the time.
What was true of vegetables was equally true of fruits, another bountiful product of the Garden of the West. Obviously, Sunset paid attention to such known fruits as the apple, the orange, the pear, the plum, and the cherry; and when such new fruits as the mango, papaya, kiwi, and, most recently, pluot were introduced, Sunset came forward with suggestions-- for instance, not only serving papaya fresh, but also baked. It also brought its readers to a better understanding of two other genres, berries and melons, made possible by the eclectic vitality and year-round growing season of Far Western agriculture. While the strawberry was reasonably known in the Sunset market, the raspberry began its career as a more exotic introduction, and the blueberry seemed very much a Yankee import. As far as melons were concerned, Americans knew the watermelon, and Far Westerners knew the cantaloupe; but Sunset helped them appreciate even more exotic varieties of this genre--the Crenshaw, the Persian, the casaba, the honeydew--imported from the Middle East and now flourishing in the Far West amidst comparable warmer climate and soil conditions. (Thirsty crops such as melons generally benefited from Western large-scale irrigation systems, as reported by Sunset throughout the century.)
Not that Sunset lost connection with such old-fashioned standards as the sandwich, the mashed potato, and homemade bread. Over the years, in fact, Sunset showed great respect for the American sandwich, documenting and presenting its variations throughout the Far West; and perhaps only Sunset would have the courage to promote so many variations on the theme of mashed potatoes. In a number of recipes, the classic American hamburger is garnished with elements of haute cuisine. There are dozens of articles on pie-baking and jam-making; and even the prosaic cabbage takes on a certain éclat when submitted to the Sunset recipe treatment. Then there is the case of that ritual of Far Western identity, the barbecue. As might be expected, Sunset has innumerable articles on barbecuing, to include such mildly exotic variations as barbecuing a whole salmon or a whole pig, barbecuing in the Mongolian style, barbecuing on mesquite. Sunset often tested different types of built-in barbecue designs--both indoor and outdoor--as well as portable barbecues. Many articles, along with several books, detailed instructions for building barbecues and other outdoor cooking facilities, such as one of Sunset's most popular how-to-do-it projects: a Mexican adobe baking oven.
Another luxury food brought by Sunset to the broad Western middle-class palate was seafood, following earlier traditions of other coastal areas, such as New England and the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf states. While San Francisco and Seattle had long since developed as seafood towns, Far Westerners in general did not frequently include seafood in their daily diet, with the exception perhaps of mountain trout fried in a skillet in the summertime or the tuna fish sandwich sent to school in a lunch bag. In the course of many recipe suggestions, Sunset patiently tutored Americans in the Far West in how to prepare and appreciate a food which, if not treated properly, dramatically loses its excellence. Thanks in part to Sunset, salmon, sea bass, sand dabs, abalone, crab, seafood soups, even crayfish and lobster bisque, became part of the Far Western dining vocabulary, and the many regional varieties, such as Dungeness and Alaska crab, Coho salmon, and the Olympic oyster, were recognized and made popular.
While demanding in their own way, Sunset recipes were never needlessly fussy or self-absorbed. Sometimes, as in the case of suggesting something as simple as a few selected spices to be added to ice tea, a Sunset recipe could be breathtakingly brief. One exception would be the years that "Chefs of the West" featured recipes for men only, and when recipes were often lengthy and time consuming. Rather than payment for recipes, published contributors received a chef's hat and apron. In other instances--making apple cider, cooking venison--one felt the re-emergence of an older American frontier. Sunset never threw itself excessively into the nouvelle cuisine movement. It did not have to, and yet some of today's "California Cuisine" has its roots in early Sunset magazines and books such as the 1936 Sunset All-Western Cook Book, largely made up of Sunset magazine recipes submitted by California readers. Its food philosophy already emphasized nutritiousness and simplicity. Yet it did advise its readers on how to roast their own coffee or serve pasta for breakfast, or even prepare special gourmet dishes in the microwave. In the matter of wine, Sunset avoided excessive connoisseurship and snobbery, preferring instead to emphasize the availability of good wines at moderate prices and how they might be served unpretentiously with food. Sunset's popular wine books encouraged readers not only to use wines but to visit wineries throughout the West, as Sunset magazine articles continue to do today. Thus, by refusing to intimidate them, Sunset brought its readers forward in their taste for, and knowledge of, wine: another ambition as venerable as the wine program of Thomas Jefferson himself, who believed that Americans would never be truly civilized until they learned to enjoy wine as a daily beverage with simplicity and moderation.
Two foods--sourdough bread and Jack cheese--exercised a special fascination on the Sunset staff as emblems of the Far West. Each commemorative issue, in fact--May 1973 (75th), May 1978 (80th), and May 1988 (90th)--ran articles on sourdough French bread as the bread of the West. The May 1973 issue ran a very scholarly article on the history of sourdough, including a chemical analysis of sourdough starter by Professor George York of UC Davis. Needless to say, sourdough French also received due treatment in the Sunset Cook Book of Breads (in five editions from 1963 to 1994) and continues to be featured in the magazine, as recently as March 1998 ("Our Daily Bread: Easier Than You Think").
The same was true of Jack cheese, another product of the California frontier, in this case, the Monterey County dairy of Scotsman David Jacks, who arrived in California in 1850 and went into the dairy and cheese-making business. As in the case of sourdough French bread, Jack cheese--fresh or dry, or California teleme, a first cousin of Jack, all of it manufactured in five cheese factories, three in the San Francisco Bay Area, two in the Central Valley, which Sunset encouraged its readers to visit--offered late twentieth-century Americans a continuing taste of the California frontier.
By the late twentieth century that frontier had produced an extraordinarily diverse population, whose cuisines found their way into the magazine. Over the years Sunset has shown a total and encompassing respect for the cuisine traditions of the Far West, whether the product of Native America, the Spanish, Mexican, or American frontier, or recent immigration. Mexican food, for example, offered Sunset readers an opportunity to enjoy the dishes of the very civilization which had first explored and organized California and the Spanish Southwest. Enchiladas, tortillas, tamales and tamale pie, tacos, huevos rancheros, the burrito, the chilis and peppers of the Southwest, Mexican salads and vegetables, the blue corn of New Mexico, Mexican food on Christmas Eve, even Mexican fondue and Mexican Lite for weight watchers: The recipes of Sunset do more than justice to the food of Mexico and the Spanish Southwest. Also well represented are the dishes brought to the Far West by Basque sheepherders. As Hawaii loomed on the consciousness of Far Westerners, Polynesian recipes made their appearance. Japanese food proved an especial favorite, and Sunset must be given major credit for introducing the middle classes to sushi. By the 1970s, Sunset, like the Far West itself, then in the beginnings of a global immigration, was reaching out to India, to Indonesia, to Thailand, and to Morocco for food influences. By the mid-1980s, Vietnamese cuisine was showing a strong presence. With time, these influences have recombined with other sources, for example, to produce such exotic crosses as "Bouillabaisse, Hawaii-Style" (May 1997).
Resurgence of Stewardship as Pressures Mount on Western Environment
All this suggested that the Far West had become an international place in both its peoples and its cuisine. One hundred years earlier, Sunset had been founded to serve a smaller and more restricted audience and a sparsely settled region. Now that audience, once almost exclusively Anglo-American, contained the cultures and ethnicities of the planet. Still, the same ambition remained at Sunset: to provide this audience with the information and references it needed to pursue its identity, maintain its quality of life, and exercise proper stewardship over its region. Sunset began as a travel magazine, then exfoliated into a general review in the pre-Lane era. The Lanes had brought focus, and from this focus had come new strength. By the May 1973 75th Anniversary issue, however, Sunset was expanding on its growing concerns with environmental considerations outside the fourfold editorial policy--building, gardening, travel, and cooking--which had served it so well.
"Can the West Grow Wisely and Well?" Sunset asked in its 75th Anniversary issue. Several environmentalists, including Starker Leopold, sought to answer the question. Recognizing the importance of government, Sunset included comments on the future by eight Western governors. Merely to ask this question implied a certain concern for the problems facing Far Western life. Sunset country could no longer be taken for granted. The great big Far West had its own great big problems to face, and Sunset, while not abandoning its nearly half-century identity, could not help but be open to the challenges of the present. Six years later, in the February 1979 issue celebrating 50 years of Lane ownership, Sunset took pride in its role in advocating environmental living, progressive technology, the new agriculture and aquaculture, good nutrition, preservationism, and public parks. By the May 1988 90th Anniversary issue, Sunset had become even more explicit regarding the social and environmental challenges facing the Far West. Hence, the articles on traffic, open space, waste management, urban design, water conservation, and other social and environmental matters in this anniversary issue. Sunset still stood for a better life--for travel and recreation, for building and remodeling, for food and entertainment, for gardening and landscaping, for outdoor living, for workshop and crafts--but it had also aligned itself solidly behind the effort to deal with the awesome challenges facing the region. The November 1994 issue, for example, described "Painting to Save the Land," revealing that "armed with brushes and canvases, Santa Barbara's Oak Group fights to save open spaces." Mel Lane, in a 1988 editorial celebrating the 90th anniversary of Sunset, wrote: "As we look toward our centennial and the beginning of the 21st century, we see more challenges aheadů Sunset editors are already researching solutions to these and other challenges. And as the West continues to change, so will we."
In one sense, however, while this response to challenge was receiving a more explicit acknowledgment, it was nothing new. Reminiscent of the Progressive philosophy earlier in the century, conservation, preservation, and stewardship had long been part of the Sunset program, whether expressly stated in the early era of the general review or reflected in the Lane era through the presentation of better ways of living and later with articles expressing strong concerns for various environmental issues. Over the years, Sunset had its critics, as any strong publishing institution will, such as the Stanford professor, talking to journalist Neil Morgan at a conference at Carmel in 1958, who believed that Sunset "... could spearhead an emerging sense of Western responsibility" and should return to its earlier identity as an intellectual review. The professor told Morgan, "Sunset could be a terrific force for good in the West today."11 The unnamed Stanford professor was of course wrong on both counts, unaware or forgetting, on the one hand, that Sunset had gone broke as an intellectual review 30 years earlier and, on the other hand, that the formula as enunciated in the first Lane issue was very much a force for good in supporting strong family values. It also would develop a distinguished record of advocacy for the Western environment, addressing regional problems with workable solutions. In fact, Sunset: The Magazine of Western Living had been flourishing for three decades by 1958, not only addressing problems but helping to solve them, and its circulation was in better shape than ever. As background, it is worth noting that the Far West had never in its history supported a general review for any significant length of time. And Sunset's influence for social and environmental improvements has increased greatly over the years.
Why? Because Sunset does not proselytize. Sunset, rather, for most of a century has advanced its message through adherence to context and practical, useful facts. Readers do not feel intimidated by Sunset. On the contrary, they feel supported and encouraged in their desire to make their lives as dignified, as purposeful, and as enjoyable as possible. And besides: At the core of Sunset is message enough. Here is a magazine based upon the fundamental goodness of life and the nurturing and ennobling Far West where the good life can be pursued, but with an added social responsibility to others. As Wallace Stegner stated in a 1978 video interview produced by Sunset Films, "Sunset is both traditional--in that it takes its stance from Western places, architecture, gardens, and food--and progressive in that it knows that in an all-but-experimental society like that of the West, change is going to be a constant. Sunset, on its record, is as competent to deal with change as to reflect the unchanging."12
As long ago as ancient Greece, and certainly among the Founding Fathers of the American Republic, this notion--the pursuit of happiness--possessed the force of a fundamental and transforming idea. From this perspective, Sunset is about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: life in the Far West, liberty to make that life as good as possible, happiness to pursue in a thousand simple ways, alone or with one's family, in the midst of landscapes which in the nineteenth century had beckoned Americans to cross a trackless continent. Sunset now, as the twentieth century turns into the next millennium, beckons the world as well to see in this Far Western region one of the most privileged and promising portions of Planet Earth.