We’ve been cleaning the basement (someone else’s) and among the stacks of dusty ashtrays and rusted tools, I occasionally find a cookbook. These two are from Better Homes & Gardens’ Cooking Arts Library, monthly offerings of kodachrome deliciousness.
It’s easy to make fun of these books, with dishes like the off-putting Frank and Corn Crown, instruction on how to make radish roses, and desserts like Heavenly Hawaiian Cream—a blend of pineapple, maraschino cherries, marshmallows, and coconut that makes by teeth hurt just thinking about it.
But there is some real cooking in these books.
The Barbecue Book includes a guide to a dessert cheese plate, offers directions and illustrations to truss a turkey for a spit, and maps pork, lamb, and beef cuts for the grill. And really, given all the bluster and gimmickry around barbeque these days who are we to snark about Kau-Kau Kabobs, Paul Bunyanburgers, and Powwow Sandwiches.
The chapter on Variety Meats starts slow with liver, but ramps up to kidney, oxtail, stuffed beef heart, and deep fried brains. Today that recipe would be presented as a gross-out, or as a weekend-absorbing French marathon, or re-conceived as a cute Halloween confection.
And there are some really good tips here. Slip the just-cooked burgers into a hot mixture of melted butter and Worcestershire sauce to keep them warm and savory before they hit the buns.
And let the diners dress them with mustard, ketchup, or a mix of finely chopped lettuce, tomato, onion, green pepper, and celery. I’m a former Girl Scout, and have some campfire cred, but I never thought to make Hobo Popcorn—wrapped in foil and popped on hot coals.
Same goes for the Meat Cook Book. It’s thesis, “Meat makes the meal,” is out of style in these days of vegan, vegetarian sustainable eating. A Cheeseburger Pie—in a short crust and topped with melted cheese has an American century charm (or perhaps it’s a Food Channel challenge), but I want to be invited when someone takes on a Inland-Style Clambake.
In these books, there is no pursuit of authenticity. Italian Spaghetti Toss is made with frozen broccoli. Polynesian pineapple rules, and kabobs are are unsullied by tahini or garlic and oregano. They are instead, fun, almost graphic skewers that your guests assemble–an event.
What’s real is the paradise of the American backyard–green, clean, and orderly. Dad at the grill, aproned Mom ready with the salads, Bud and Sis happily waiting for their hot dogs. Or the suburban sophistication of chafing dish suppers for the grown-ups, served a in faux-rustic setting. It’s a time as long past as Marie Antoinette at the Petit Trianon, playing dress-up milkmaid. Let them eat hot dogs!