Regrettable Food Ahoy

Strolling through the aisles at Sam’s a week or two ago, I found a reprint edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. Apparently, the people at BH&G get requests for the original 1953 edition quite often. I’m a sucker for a cookbook, so I picked one up. Upon a moment’s reflection, I called my mother-in-law L and asked her if she wanted one. She did, so I threw an extra in the basket. We have had a large time giggling over it since then.

James Lileks knows of what he speaks. The cookbook is a collection of things I wouldn’t even contemplate preparing. Furthermore, the entire staff of BH&G circa 1953 should be committed for examination. Anybody who tells you to glaze and oven-roast a can of luncheon meat is obviously deranged and not to be trusted with sharp items. Roughly one-half of the recipes are damn near nauseating. The other half are uninspiring, to say the least. As a practical cookbook, it’s completely useless.

However, as culinary history, it’s quite interesting. My biggest revelation is that 50 years ago American cooking was stupendously bland. I use more spice on a weekly basis than the recipes would call for in a year. I also enjoy the weird commentary about how to keep kitchen and house. The absolute conviction displayed on gender roles is comical. At no time did anyone ever consider during the writing and editing process the idea of a man reading the book. I am constantly bombarded with suggestions about how to feed the man of the house and the children. The writing style is also relentlessly perky and upbeat. I can see why Mom was popping Valium like breath mints by the early sixties. If everything aimed at my demographic was as cheery, I’d go nuts, too. Not to get all panglossian on everybody, but it’s just a happy reminder to me that I’m damned glad I live in the time and place that I do.

Incidentally, if the horrible things people used to eat are of interest to you, you should pick up The Gallery of Regrettable Food. It’s well illustrated with the horrors of years past, and the commentary is funnier than mine, too.


Post a Comment

<< Home