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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mystery Meat


 Curiously, the publishers of The Leisure Living Guide to Slow Cooking have failed to identify any of the photos in their book. The pictures do not even correspond with the recipes on the opposing pages. This one, for example, faces a recipe for Knockwurst and Cabbage and one for Ham and Corn Casserole, both of which it most certainly is not a depiction.

Perhaps this has something to do with where they got their photos. Of those with a credit, half are courtesy of Planters Peanut Oil and half  The Pan American Coffee Bureau. None of the recipes contain either peanut oil or coffee.

It seems the generic foods photos were chosen to display the charming garnishes that accompany each dish. This hunk of mystery meat (is it still raw?) shares space with a fruit plate of grapes, strawberries and kumquats. After all, nothing makes fruit more appealing than when it has been smeared with meaty grease. Or blood.

Today’s food photography is designed to bring out the particular nature of the food; the tiny beads of caramelized sugar on the powdery surface of a meringue for example, shot in clear light with a really good lens, much of the meringue a blur — because the important part of the appeal is the suggestion of the explosion of flavor in those polished beads, and the crunch they offer against the pillowy melty softness of the fragile meringue shell. That’s all the photo needs to capture.

In MCMLXXV (which someone — we suggest the librarian — has helpfully deciphered in miniscule pencil as 1975) however, things were different. The important part was to shoot the food in an idealized serving setting. Thus each dish is served on the best or most modern china, on tables laid with cloth, extravagant silverware, cocktails, vases of flowers, and often, dessert and condiments too. These pictures sell the idea of glamorized hostessing rather than actual food.

Hence photographs of unidentified meat in promotional shots for an after-dinner beverage or cooking oil.

What any of this has to do with “Leisure Living” is anybody’s guess. One would assume this would call for fast food, not slow cooking.

The Leisure Living Guide to Slow Cooking, Books For Leisure Living, Inc., 1975

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