Monday, February 21, 2011

The Ultimate Wisdom of the I Hate to Cook Book

For Christmas, knowing that I'm a sucker for cookbooks from the golden age of canned vegetables, Cooper's mom gave me the reissued version of the mid-century classic, The I Hate to Cook Book. A 50th anniversary edition of the book was issued in 2010, complete with a little perspective from the author's daughter, including this:
The I Hate to Cook Book was born from a group of professional women who would have been much happier sipping martinis with thier husbands than spending the cocktail hour in the kitchen, slaving over a hot stove. These friends decided to share their pain (and surefire recipes) with the hope that they could get back at least a portion of that cocktail hour (and keep their families from going on strike at the same time).
This simple little passage gave me a whole lot of new insight into my own cooking personality. I like to cook, of course, and I used to like nothing better than to spend hours in the kitchen, putting together elaborate meals for friends. As I get older, though, I realize that I'd, also, prefer not to miss any of that cocktail hour. If we've got friends over, I want to be with them, not confined to the kitchen, cooking for them.

It also gave me more than a little insight into my family's cooking tradition. My mom's a good cook, but I didn't exactly grow up making pasta from scratch in our kitchen. Neither did she. In fact, my grandmother is a perfect example of the ladies for whom the book was originally written. She loved to entertain, and she is great to go out to dinner with, but she has never understood why my mom or I might actually want to cook dinner. You should see the look on her face if she finds out one of us got a new kitchen tool for Christmas or a birthday. She doesn't even consider them actual gifts.

It's easy to see now, though, that she's just a product of her time. Like my mom, with her Julia Child books, were a product of hers, and I, with my combination of French Laundry and Barefoot Contessa, am a product of mine.

But back to the book. I'd be remiss if I didn't share at least one recipe because, though I can identify with the women the book was originally written for, I cannot identify with their taste buds. Consider the clam whiffle. No, really - think hard about whether you'd eat this:

3-4 servings

(A whiffle is a souffle that any fool can make. This is a dandy recipe for those days when you've just had your teeth pulled. It has a nice delicate flavor, too, and it doesn't call for anything you're not apt to have around, except the clams. You can even skip the green pepper.)

12 soda crackers (the ordinary 2-inch by 2-inch kind)
1 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter
6.5-ounce can minced clams, drained
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped green pepper
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
dash of salt, pepper
2 eggs, beaten together

Soak the crumbled crackers in the milk for a few minutes. Then add everything else, eggs last. Pour it all into a greased casserol, and bake it in a 350 degree oven for forty-five minutes, uncovered.

That's it. Is it simple? Yes. Quick? Totally. And does the mere thought of it turn my stomach? Absolutely. A good reminder that I'm glad I was born right when I was.


Erin said...

The trend you're observing probably also has something to do with how houses are designed today versus 50 years ago. Older houses tend to lack open floor plans and have small enclosed kitchens, whereas today, people see the kitchen as the central open space, thus allowing cocktail hour to happen there as opposed to the living room. I guess it's kind of a which came first situation, but something to think about.

Kit Pollard said...

I actually almost wrote something about open kitchens in that post. My guess would be that architects started designing for the "modern family" which included a wife who didn't want to be tucked away, and no servants - so it was the behavior that came first.

But yeah, it's definitely connected.


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