When you read a modern cookbook, you might just read it from cover to cover, like a novel. There is apparently a lot of fantasy cooking going on, in fact, where people read cookbooks and buy kitchen gear but don’t actually cook. I have no quarrels with that. It’s not so different from reading travel books instead of traveling.
You can also look things up because you’re going to cook them, and then cook them.
But an old cookbook must be approached differently. I have here the Better Homes and Gardens Meat Cook Book from 1965. It will serve as a good example of the best method.
First, you have to admire the period photos or illustrations. This particular book is part of the era of sickening meat photography and is an all-meat cookbook, so it is not appetizing, but you can still appreciate it.
The lamb chop in lacy panties is a marvel. And the charts showing all the different cuts of meat a person might choose. They ate so many parts of animals in those days, and so many different animals. The charts are dizzying. They also apparently put decorations on their meats, where nowadays we might only decorate desserts. Little caps of fruit with toothpicks and aspic cutouts and things abound. Vegetables were used decoratively, as you can see in the excessively carnivorous picture here, and things were made in the shape of rings and then filled with something. I do not know a single soul who does this nowadays, but perhaps we should.
Then you want to look for the exotic uses of language.
This book, for example, includes “pork treats to bring compliments.” I don’t think any modern cookbook could use the phrase “pork treats.” If such a phrase were used at all, I think it would have to be about pet food.
The section headed “When he brings home game, cook it right” is another period piece. It is however followed by a picture of a man in a housewifely striped apron, captioned, “While guests watch, Dad carves meat…” I guess the sight of a man preparing food, even to the extent of carving up meat that a woman has cooked, would be thrilling enough to entertain guests.
The names of the foods are evocative, too. I want to serve “Filets Buckaroo,” don’t you? Except that they are beef wrapped around a candied pickle, so of course I don’t really. But “Lazy Friday Casserole” with fourteen ingredients sounds appealing if not lazy, and I’d like to invite someone in for Pepperpot Soup.
These books sometimes also have quaint housekeeping advice. The old Betty Crocker Cookbook from the 1950s advises the housewife to lie down on the kitchen floor for a few minutes when she is tired from her labors. We rarely do enough housework nowadays to get tired, which may explain why the idea of lying down on the kitchen floor sounds so … dirty. At least in my kitchen.
The meat cookbook has little advice of this kind, though it does assure us that “every cut and kind of meat contains the same high-quality protein.” It goes on to show us some cuts of meat that are undoubtedly high enough in saturated fat that protein is irrelevant to their nutritional profile, but they didn’t worry about those things in the 1960s. People probably didn’t even have lipid profiles in those days.
Once you have steeped yourself in the history, then you can look for intriguing and unusual recipes.
Frankly, it was all pretty unusual for me. I eat the following cuts of meat: chicken or turkey breast, lean ham, lean beef steak, ground turkey or lean ground beef, and fish. That’s it.
Intriguing? Hmm. Here’s one:
“Cube one 12-oz can luncheon meat; brown the cubes in a little hot fat.
“Combine three slightly beaten eggs, one 1-pound can golden cream-style corn, 1/4 teaspoon salt and dash pepper; add to meat. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, just till the eggs are set. Serve immediately, sprinkled with chopped chives.”
I’m guessing that we are talking about Spam here.
When I was a child, “squaw” was a racist term for a Native American woman, and it is not a word that I would ever say. I figure it is now so entirely meaningless that it no longer matters if we use it, but I apologize on behalf of the book if not.
Or perhaps this one:
“Pigs in Blankets
“Pat out refrigerated biscuits lengthwise. Roll each around a canned Vienna sausage; fasten with toothpick… Bake at 425 degrees about 12 to 15 minutes. Spoon creamed peas over and serve as main course.”
There are normal things: roast turkey, pot roast, grilled steak. But I really liked the Cotto Tree, a bouquet of olives wrapped into flower buds of salami, arranged in a topiary form with lettuce. Somewhat scary, actually.
Last night we went to a very nice party at Janalisa’s. We cooked Hebrew National hot dogs, which were quite good, over a bonfire, and had pleasant conversations while the kids and dogs rampaged around.
The women made a plan to give up sugar. I am never supposed to eat sugar, but I have been, so I am joining in. If you do not get strict about now, it’s easy to have a mad feast season straight through from Hallowe’en till Lent.
Here, courtesy of Dexter, is a list of reasons that you might want to give up sugar, as soon as you polish off the Hallowe’en candy. It may remind you of the list of ailments cured by Amazing Microwater. The other ladies are reading a book called SugarBusters but I already know what not to eat. I just have to do it.
The other event at our house yesterday was some miscreant’s throwing a pumpkin through the back window of #1 son’s car. It makes me feel sick to think of having yet another automotive issue to deal with. #1 son was also troubled by it, of course, not only by having a car full of broken glass and the cost of fixing it looming over him, but by the whole idea of responsibilities. He has so many now, he told me sadly.
Since he has, for the past month or so, done nothing visible but play World of Warcraft, watch old episodes of The Office, hang out with his friends, and attend the occasional class, I was not sure how to comfort him for having so many responsibilities. I suggested that, instead of worrying about these things, he should get a part-time job so he can pay for a new car window and study harder. This, I told him, would leave him less time to brood.
Today we have a marathon of optometrist’s appointments, and then I have book club, and a show tonight. There will be computer work in there somewhere.
If you decide to make Squaw Corn, let me know how it turns out.