IN THE ANNALS of Olympic Peninsula history, James G. Swan is remembered as a naturalist, historian, artist, journalist and judge.
But Catherine Garrison of Port Ludlow sees him in a different way.
“I picture him having dinner with Mrs. Haller and saying, ‘That was a splendid pudding, my dear. Might I have the recipe?'” Garrison said.
Garrison is a volunteer at the Jefferson County Historical Society Research Center, where she has transcribed 149 recipes that Swan collected in the 19th century. The recipes are now being tested by volunteer bakers, with the goal of creating a cookbook with a historic twist.
“He liked food and wrote about food and cooked with the natives,” Garrison said of Swan. “He was upset when people ate hardtack when there was so much of the bounty of nature.”
In his diaries, Swan, who arrived on the Washington coast in 1852, recorded how he sampled local delicacies — crow, otter and skunk — and whipped up batches of duck stew, roast goose and mincemeat made with a gift of whale meat from a Makah.
Most of the recipes Swan collected, however, are for desserts, Garrison said, theorizing that cooking meat is straightforward, while baking requires the right combination of ingredients.
Measurements are also important, not that the recipes provided them — Garrison read half a dozen Victorian cookbooks to get a grasp on the terms and methods used, including measuring in gills.
Baking times were not always included, she said, while temperatures range from “quick oven” to “slow oven.”
That a main ingredient in many recipes is suet — beef fat — didn’t phase her.
“My father was born in England, and I was raised in Canada,” Garrison said. “My mother used to make suet pudding, and I have, too. It’s delicious.”
When she had a question, she called her mother, a retired baker who is 101, but one recipe title, for “Runners,” stumped even her.
Not knowing what she was making, Garrison said it took two tries to turn out something resembling a sugar cookie.
“Some were successes, some were failures,” Garrison said of the recipes. “The Runners were not good.”
Garrison moved to Port Ludlow nine years ago and, deciding to volunteer for the Jefferson County Historical Society, went down to the office in old City Hall in Port Townsend, where she met outgoing director Niki Clark.
“It was her last day,” Garrison recalled. “She asked me if I wanted to be a docent, but I didn’t want to do that.
“Then she walked me upstairs to the research library and introduced me to Vicki Davis.”
Davis, then research center archivist, gave Garrison the task of transcribing old city documents into a computer program.
The files include everything from dog licenses to arrest warrants, according to Marsha Moratti, the current archivist.
Garrison said she kept her eye out for her married name in the records, and ran across an arrest record for a Lydia Garrison, who was arrested for prostitution.
“The record stated that ‘She showed no remorse,'” Garrison said.
Then in February, Garrison started transcribing Swan’s recipe collection, which fill a small ledger, that JCHS collections manager Becky Schurmann found while looking up a recipe for an exhibit on Victorian kitchens.
Reading the recipes in Swan’s handwriting bridged the centuries, Garrison said.
“It’s him talking to me,” she said.
Now, 22 testers are creating the recipes, bringing the results — cream cakes, puddings, sauces and sherbets — to the research center for staff and volunteers to taste, Moratti said.
The codfish balls were a little boring, she said, but Swan rarely specified adding salt, Garrison said, maybe because he assumed people would add a pinch.
No one has stepped forward to test the recipe for calves’ head, which starts, “clean the head and remove the brains,” the brains being cooked separately and mashed to create a topping.
And a few of the recipes are medicinal, including the “Cure for Mange,” and “Government Whitewash” — something that might come in handy today.
Swan, who left behind a wife and two children when he came West during the gold rush, was a familiar character on the streets of Port Townsend until his death on May 18, 1900, at the age of 82.
His cane, as well as his recipes and diaries, remain.
Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or e-mail jjackson@olypen.