Cleaning Out the Basement–George the Housewife

George the Housewife by George Leonard Herter, Jacques P. Herter and Berthe E. Herter, 1968

George the Housewife by George Leonard Herter, Jacques P. Herter and Berthe E. Herter, 1968

George the Housewife is another book from the lot picked up at Weschler’s auction house; the gold cover caught my eye and the title sold me. My husband, named George, is many things, but not a housewife. This needed to be on our bookshelf.

Between the gold covers is a mass of random information bordering on the bizarre. Herter wrote the book “to honestly help the real housewife, mother and office girl to keep house…”.

Okay–office girls and the assumption that housekeeping is women’s work–we are looking at a period piece and will have to cut this fellow some slack.

Herter sounds as if he is writing from his armageddon-stocked grain silo, taking shots at “newspaper women writers,” New York City (where “the food is very poorly prepared.”), and showering more than once a week. It’s all oddly delightful.

Per wikipedia: “He is best known for his books, which were self-published and sold through his stores [Herter ran a mail order outdoor sports shop that went bankrupt in 1981]. The New York Times describes the Bull Cook series as his “magnum opus”, “a wild mix of recipes, unsourced claims and unhinged philosophy that went through at least 15 editions between 1960 and 1970.”

Herter claims that the Danes, Belgians, and Germans used to be cannibals, that swimming can ruin the complexion of teenage girls, and that slugging Worcestershire sauce will fight alcoholism.

He includes the profoundly unhelpful advice that sprinkling cornstarch on your girdle will help you pull it on, that unrefrigerated food will spoil, that wrinkle removing cream does not remove wrinkles, and that hives are caused by being allergic to something.

In the everything old is new again department, Herter suggests whole milk and fruit acids for the complexion, cauliflower as a substitute for potatoes, and that margarine is no good for you.

Aside from the calcified cultural stance, the book is full of tidbits. Despite his dislike of New York City, Herter includes pages, pictures and qualified paeans to Lindy’s, Toots Shore’s, and the Oyster Bar, repriting their menus and posting detailed comments about their menu items. Mama Leone’s is crowded and noisy, and Zum Zum’s beer is warm and flat. Maybe if you need to venture into enemy territory it’s best to be forewarned. But in fact, the menus of Sardi’s, La Grenouille, the Four Seasons, and more are now historic artifacts.

In true Herter-ian style, the book’s table of contents appears at the end, and rambles from Dandelion Wine to darning stockings, setting a table on a boat, using old nylons as washrags, how to buy bacon, tricks for making pancakes, why to go grocery shopping by yourself…wait a minute… I just realized, this book is the early internet! Random and maybe true, possibly useful, but very interesting.

About Appetite for Books

read, cook, eat, repeat
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