Sunday, March 30, 2014

Common Cored

The Common Core Standards Initiative, adopted in many states in the last decade, has been criticized for turning formerly simple and well-known approaches to math that have been employed for centuries into Kafkaesque problems whose very existence causes mental anguish among not just the poor students subject to mastering them, but to their hapless parents as well.

Instead of performing a simple arithmetic task — subtraction, say — by subtracting the smaller number from the larger one, students now have to break the numbers up into chunks and draw squares and put them all back together again to produce the answer. It takes far longer, defies logic, and is more likely to result in a wrong answer.

14? Right?

I can speak from personal experience; my fifth-grader, who has a natural affinity for math, can often be found in tears when confronted by the need to do his homework the way the teacher insists, rather than just getting the right answers. I cannot explain to him why he needs to do this. I shrug and we do the problems the old-school way.

In the spirit of the Common Core, I would like to illustrate this with a Glazed Ham Ring from 1969.

Imagine the math problem as a pig. A delicious pig. Think of all the lovely ways you could eat this pig: pork chops; ham; bacon; barbecued ribs; slow roasted shoulder; pulled pork sandwich; sausages; crackling. All are relatively simple in that the pig is broken down into various parts and cooked, and then served. The parts still look like they came from an animal on the serving platter, and indeed, on your plate.

Now imagine taking some of this wonderful pig and grinding some of it into a pink mush. Mix the mush with bread, eggs, and onion. Take this mush and form it into a ring mold. Invert the oiled mold onto a baking tray and bake. Afterwards, cover it in a bright red glaze, and fill the hole in the middle with a mixture of half-peeled potatoes, peas, and cream. Serve with red apples and a generous helping of parsley.

Write a word problem for this pig that takes into account having turned all the ingredients for this dish into spheres. Then, solve the problem, showing your work. Use a #2 pencil.

Congratulations: according to the Common Core, you are now ready to apply your knowledge in the workplace.

Meat Cook Book, Better Homes and Gardens, 1969

Sunday, March 2, 2014



The asparagus spears stared at us intently from their jelly cocoon as we made small talk and sipped aperitifs. I tried to pay attention to the man sitting next to me, who was relating an anecdote about his misbegotten youth — likely the same anecdote he’d been using on unsuspecting dinner table partners for years — perhaps since his youth, which was, it was obvious, at some time in the distant past of the last century.

The asparagus seemed to want to make telepathic contact, to transmit an SOS directly to my brain. Help, they cried piteously. Been boiled. I think my friend is ill. Stuck in aspic. Can’t move.

Something something…Ration books and the War. Something something…Well, you’ll never guess what happened next…Three shillings ha’ppenny.

Save us, they silently screamed. I felt the same way.

I attempted to return their desperate communiqué. Dilemma noted, I thought. Will attempt rescue soon.

The more I stole glances their way, the less they looked like asparagus, and more like the disembodied tentacles of some awful sea creature, or else the severed penises of some exotic South American mammal.

Our hostess clinked her glass, bringing me out of my reverie, and temporarily releasing me from the verbal assault of my gentleman admirer. It was time to begin. I sat, fork poised over the perfectly smooth, glistening surface of my appetizer, aware that every second delayed the heroic rescue I was about to perform.

What if, once freed, the asparagus leaped up from their gelatinous prison, gasping for air and hell-bent on exacting revenge? They stared at me, and I stared back. It was the moment of truth.

“Go on,” I said to my ancient paramour. “I believe we were rudely interrupted.”

Salad Book, Lane Books, 1966

Monday, February 17, 2014

When Pigs Fly

When Pigs Fly

When pigs fly it is said that one ought not to touch
one’s wife’s elbow. One must refrain from
smelling apples and thinking of opera. When pigs fly,
blue is registered by the eye as yellow, etc.

Do not lick postage stamps when pigs fly.
Do not lace your shoes. It is forbidden to be nostalgic
for the days when you were small enough to sit upon
your grandfather’s lap and sniff his beard.

When pigs fly the stars do not align, and drawers
which have never moved will suddenly become
unstuck. Forks must not be used when pigs fly.
Neither agree or disagree with arguments made by children.

If one swears an oath when the pigs fly, it will never
come true. Turn all paintings towards the wall
when pigs fly. Do not look at the sky.
I repeat: do not look at the sky.

When pigs fly, you are temporarily released
from all obligations made to childhood friends
when standing in water. When pigs fly you must
refer to them as “pork birds,” for this is the term

they prefer. The birds will refer to themselves as “fish”
and the fish shall call themselves “Enrico.”
Those named Enrico will refrain from whispering
for the duration of the pig’s flight. When pigs fly

you will forget everything you remembered
about calculus, and if you know nothing of calculus,
you’ll be none the wiser. When pigs fly you will understand
wonder, and peaches, and motorcycles, and snow.

McCall's Book of Marvellous Meats, The McCall Corporation, 1965

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Revenge Salad

Now might I do it pat — while he is chatting;
And now I’ll do it. And so he messes up his pants;
And so I am revenged. That would be just:
I, his virtuous wife, do this cheating villain send
To the laundry.
O, this is silliness, not revenge.
He violated his vows grossly, deliberately;
With deceit on his lips, flushed all May;
And he thought I wouldn’t find him out?
But he bought me jewelry, so it seems
He knows he messed up. Am I then revenged,
To embarrass him at this cookout,
When all our friends will think me mad?
Up, platter, and wait for a crueler time:
When he is drunk asleep, or lost in sports,
Or in the adulterous pleasure of her bed;
Gambling, cussing, or about some act
He shouldn’t be doing;
Then trip him, that his ass may land in salad,
And wreck his mood, as dark and black
As our marriage. My mother-in-law arrives:
This dilly-dallying but prolongs my plans.

(Mrs. Hamlet)

Fast Meals Cookbook, Rockville House Publishers, 1972

Saturday, January 11, 2014

When The Wheels Fall Off

Sell the horse, she says. Sell the horse! You want to keep fit, sell the horse. So I sell the horse. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Horses are expensive, she says, rubbing her fingers together. Horses eat, need the vet, need shoes. I need shoes, she says, lifting one foot onto the table. Horses are old-fashioned, she says, and goes back to her magazine. So I sell the horse.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And then she said burn the cart. Burn the cart! After all, she reasoned — without a horse, how can you pull a cart? You want to keep warm, burn the cart. There is plenty of firewood in a cart. It was the middle of winter, and snow lay thick on the ground. It seemed like a good idea. So I burn the cart.

Of course, in the winter you can use the sled. The sled is designed to go easy on snow.

In the summer, not so much.

Still, I’m fit. It’s one foot in front of the other all day long pulling this sled across the pasture while the cows look on. I know what they’re thinking: they’re thinking here I am wearing a fine brass bell doing nothing but sunning myself all day and there he goes, wearing a funny hat, dragging cheese back to his fat wife.

The Cooking of Germany, Time-Life Books, 1969

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Child Model Speaks

Yes, I was a child model. I did all sorts — clothing catalogues, TV spots, book covers. My Mom took me to all the shoots and they saved the money I earned for a college education. Well, that was the idea; that’s what I was always told. As it turns out, when I turned 18, there wasn’t anything left. My Dad had used it all to pay bills. I think my Mom wanted to be a model herself. You know; same old story. I loved it, actually, because it meant getting out of school. It was my “job.” I thought it was pretty cool. It was easy work, let’s face it.

Ah yes — the Fast Fixin’ Kids’ Recipes, that one was memorable. I did a bunch of stuff for Better Homes and Gardens. They wanted to be “multi-cultural” and all that, so they hired kids who all looked real different. This kid on the cover with me was a sweetheart. He just giggled and smiled. Honestly, I think he was on something — cold medicine or something, Some Moms did that to keep their kids obedient — pliable, you know. Would just smile and smile and do whatever they were asked then fall asleep.

The photographer for this book got some terrible shots. Real clunkers — kids with their eyes closed, weird facial expressions, etc. In one picture a boy dressed up as a cowboy was literally crying when the shot was taken — and they used it! He looked just miserable, my God.

They had this enormous cookie made in the shape of a bear, covered with frosting. This one girl had to pretend to eat it. She was a trooper. She threw up constantly. Her Mom said it was nerves, but it was because she nibbled the entire time.

I’ve got this gape-mouthed, wide-eyed look going. I’m staring at a burger, or was supposed to. In fact, they took this picture when I was looking at the hand puppet the photographer was waving. They do that, in kid’s shoots, to produce the kind of expressions they want. Well, you don’t want to know what he was doing with that puppet.

Seriously, look at that cover. Why would anyone look like that over a burger? Was it made of gold? No. Mostly it was made of glue and lacquer and all the shit they put on the food to make it look fresh. The food never smelled like food, you know — it smelled like fumes; chemical fumes. You never wanted to lean in too close.

Fast Fixin’ Kids’ Recipes, Better Homes and Gardens, 1988

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Indies

Food looks good on plates that are white and blue. Why? Because food usually comes in colors other than white or blue. You want to see what’s on the plate (hence it cannot be too dark), and you don’t want your plate color to clash with, or — heaven forbid — render unappetizing, your food.


This is why dinnerware with a delicate blue pattern on white has always been popular. Think Willow pattern: an ancient love story played out at every setting.

Old British Castles

Johnson Brothers, the venerable English china company, produced iconic dinnerware until being folded into a larger china conglomerate operating out of China. Old British Castles and Devon Cottage will bring back happy memories for many nostalgic for home cooking — but my favorite has always been Indies, a wistfully floral design that screams 1970s. It has long been discontinued, though a thriving market can be found for it at online auction sites.

Devon Cottage

This book, unappetizing in every other way, nevertheless features Indies plates on its cover. Perhaps they served as a small measure of aesthetic comfort for those subjected to the recipes inside.

Such lovely plates might be cold comfort, however, to those fasting; there is an entire chapter in this book dedicated to not eating. There’s even a recipe for raw rice — “particularly for purging intestinal parasites.”

The Brown Rice Cookbook: Delicious Wholesome Macrobiotic Recipes, Craig & Ann Sams, 1983

Saturday, January 4, 2014


Here in America, we usually buy our chickens denuded of feathers, head, feet, and guts. Many people are too young to have ever had to catch and pluck their poultry.

But chicken feet are a delicacy in many parts of the world.

Looks like chicken feet

 In China, for example, they are called “phoenix claws,” which sounds more exotic than “chicken feet.”

Looks like chicken feet also

In South Africa they are called “walkie-talkies,” because they are served with head, heart, intestines and giblets.

Looks like chicken feet too

In the Philippines, they are called “adidas,” after the running shoes.

The Thrift Cook Book, Marion Harris Neil, 1919

Friday, January 3, 2014

Good Night, Cooper Black

Cooper Black is a font designed by Oswald Bruce Cooper in 1921 for the Barnhart Brothers & Spindler type foundry.

You are very familiar with it because you see it everywhere — or used to. It is characterized by big, bouncy, thick black curves. There are no straight lines; it looks inflated. See how the bases of the feet on this H dip slightly below the line — this makes it feel to your eye as if the letter is subject to gravity and has weight.

Because of its easily-readable, simplistic curves, Cooper Black suggests to us happiness; innocence; safety. It is the basis of the EasyGroup conglomerate’s corporate identity; white Cooper Black lettering on orange or vice-versa. The idea behind the entire brand is that anything you choose to do with any of its many branches is “easy.” Cooper Black is therefore the perfect face for it.

Better Homes and Gardens was clearly banking on this same idea rubbing off on its readers during the 1980s — especially when it came to cookbooks dedicated to children’s food.

Only they didn’t actually use Cooper Black; they used a knock-off. They did use it throughout the books, though, in different weights. This recipe for Good-Night Cocoa gives you three weights and an italic.

What it doesn’t give you is a good cup of cocoa.

Fast-Fixin' Kids' Recipes, Better Homes and Gardens, 1988

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Robot Rounds

In 1986, cookbooks still advised busy Moms to bake hot pockets and pop tarts in an actual oven. Sure, they suggested using ready-made pastry, but that’s all. This recipe for Robot Rounds even requires brushing on an egg wash before baking.

It assumes readers will know what an egg wash is.

It mentions using the “tines of a fork” with which to seal the edges. This book appeared at the exact point in history when “tines” could be mentioned in a recipe illustrated with flying robot homemade hot pockets.

The microwave had not yet made enough of an inroad to kitchens to build a zappable after school snack industry. It’s years away from envisioning squeezable yogurt tubes and cereal bars and a generation who don’t even know how to use a knife and fork because all they eat is food that doesn’t require any.

Kids’ Lunches, Better Homes and Gardens, 1986
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