Saturday, May 5, 2018

Marzipan and Sexism

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, men were married to their jobs, and women were married to their homes — hence the term “housewife.” A housewife’s job was to manage the running of the household, while a man’s job was to care for his all aspects of his employment. While the woman’s title reflected very directly her place in the larger scheme of things (the wife of the house), her husband (for they, too, were married, but in a different sense) was simply called a “man,” denoting his gender. This was because men did men’s things, like working outside the home, while women were defined by their marital status — which included both marriage to a man and marriage to a home. 

Within the home, a housewife was hoped to be extremely competent at a number of tasks — money management (called, confusingly, “husbandry”), decorating, gardening, cleaning, washing, child-rearing, and cooking. In her home, the housewife was a “cook”; she cooked things. If, however, a man engaged in the same tasks outside the home — at work, say — he was known as a “chef,” which means “chief.” He might also be known by any number of professional titles pertaining to the type of “cooking” he did: baker, butcher, etc.

But if a man attempted to “cook” inside the home, it ceased to be “cooking”; his work with foodstuffs became a “hobby.” The one exception to this was the assumption that the man handled any cooking of meat accomplished outdoors, in which case, he “manned the grill.”

In this 1955 Pathé film featuring a baker named Paul demonstrating how to make the ugliest and least-appetizing cake decorations that humankind has ever been subjected to, we find these distinctions taking pride of place in the narrator’s account, for this activity is for “the housewife, or the man who finds it an intriguing hobby.”


Thursday, April 19, 2018

This Little Piggy…

They say that human flesh tastes like pork.

This is the sort of in-the-field research you always want to farm out to an intern; it is enough to tell them that they are making an important contribution to your work, and that this honor is enough to compensate them for such dreary complaints as long hours, lack of pay, and unpalatable drudgery. This is, after all, what internships were created for. There’s really no need for them to know ALL the details of their duties. Poke that, light this, taste that — it’s all in a day’s work to them.

Think of it this way: you’re feeding them. They should be grateful! Sell the task as a free lunch. Interns jump at that. Label the samples “Mystery Meat” and laugh about how terribly droll you are. Tell them it’s fresh.

Cooking With Kids, Caroline Ackerman, A Gryphon House Book, 1981

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

How To Please Your Man

An old joke says that if you think the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, you’re aiming too high.

If you get this joke, all it really means is that you’ve replaced one horribly sexist mindset for another: the idea that a man’s love can be won by either feeding or fucking him.

In 1962, recipe books and pamphlets still assumed that a woman was doing the cooking, and that her position within the home was secured by her doing so. Maple Leaf Mills, makers of Monarch brand flour, certainly thought so. Their booklet is full of cartoons such as these which leave no doubt about where the woman’s place is.

The Soft Way to Your Husband’s Heart, Maple Leaf Mills, 1962

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Hey Presto!

In 2018, the hot household item that seems to cautious cynics to have regret written all over it is a smart home device — an Echo, Google Home or Alexa to name a few — which is plugged in and responds to your every command and request by controlling other household devices or simply answering your questions. The techno-skeptics say you should be wary of having a device that can listen to your every move and relay it to an outside location; that such openness is fraught with peril.

In 1962, the hot household device that had peril writ large upon it was a Presto Control Master and any of the range of kitchen appliances it plugged into. Whether it be a crockpot, pressure cooker, or griddle, the idea was that in order to operate, you plugged in the control master (which provided the electricity as well as the temperature control) and cooked away. I’m not sure what the selling point was in investing in a range of cooking implements which could only be used one at a time, and were all reliant on that one essential element working properly.

Perhaps the idea was that Presto Industries was selling safety — the freedom from an open cook top or oven, and that all you needed to provide a family meal was a big enough counter. Certainly, the appeal couldn’t have been in eliminating or even alleviating clean-up, because this guide is packed full of maintenance directions as well as recipes.

Or it could be that then, as now, they are selling the idea of control; that dream of automation that takes care of household drudgery such as turning on the TV or cooking a meal. This is a gift for the housewife who has no real control in her life, but who dreams of having a remote control all her own — or at least just a cigarette.

Presto Control Master Appliances Recipe Book, National Presto Industries, 1962

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Slippery Slope

Dear Friend,

It’s 1953, and you’ve just been born. Little do you know that by the time you’re old enough to help Mom in the kitchen it will be 1963, and she will have already begun to supplement the cooking with ready-made and pre-packaged food. By the time you’re old enough to cook by yourself, everything she serves you will have been heated in a microwave oven from frozen. Therefore, the skills she learned from her mother will not be passed down to you. By the time you cook for your own growing family it will be 1983, and you will never have made a pie crust from scratch, let alone breads, cookies, cakes and frosting. My good friend Betty Crocker, who is a for-profit corporation, not a person, will facilitate this slide into ignorance by making it easy to buy all these things from a supermarket shelf. By the time your daughter is old enough to cook for herself, it will be 2003, and she won’t even shop for food, let along ingredients — everything she eats is handed to her through the window of her car. Her grandma will long be dead of heart disease brought about by the clogged arteries she got by eating so many foods made from Spry.

Have a nice day!

Aunt Jenny

Home Baking Made Easy For Beginners and Experts, The Lever Brothers Company, 1953

Monday, April 9, 2018


Because nothing screams patriotism like hatchets embedded in cupcakes to recall the evisceration of the landscape and genocide of the Natives who lived in it by white people.

Oh, wait — this is supposed to be Washington’s cherry tree. My bad.

Children’s Parties Card #24 Patriotic Birthday Party, Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library, 1971

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Ides of Salad

Sometimes you want a Caesar Salad, but it’s March, and snowing, and you’re all out of eggs, anchovies, garlic, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, Parmesan, and croutons.

So you have the salad pictured here instead.

Salads For Every Occasion Card #13 Caesar Salad, Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library, 1971

See also: Making A Boob of Yourself

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Pizza Potatoes — For When You Simply Don’t Give A F*ck

The Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library series from 1971 is a plastic time capsule of grotesque food photography.

Their food stylists and photographers never met a dish they didn’t shoot on a table set with a dizzying array of additional food accompaniments or props. A heavy emphasis was placed on hardware: the serving dishes, drinking vessels and various pouring devices which crowded their place settings. The food was never enough to speak for itself, always requiring the elaborate costume such clutter provides to suggest an appeal.

The dishes are always shot from an angle which places the card reader at the table — from a diner’s eye-level. The scenes are brightly, but artificially lit and appear to feature real food with a minimum of styling, which on occasion is sorely missed, such as when an element melts, creating an unappetizing look.

Although each and every card is a brightly colored catastrophe, one recipe distinguishes itself as a close-up which should not have been. In Pizza Potatoes, all we see is a gooey mess in a white bowl, with a curve of red tablecloth beyond it, chosen, clearly, to accent the pepperoni swamped by cheese. The interior of the dish is crusted at the edges and gives the impression of a difficult clean-up.

This is not a dish which lends itself to beauty or detail. With our faces just inches from the rim of the bowl, it feels as if we’re leaning in for a sniff. A swampy morass of melted cheese looks like a greasy heart attack, and there’s no hint of a salad to provide any relief. This is a recipe for pizza toppings on top of potato, after all — all of which come from packages supplied by General Mills.

Budget Casseroles Card #25 Pizza Potatoes, Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library, 1971

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Making A Boob Of Yourself

Margot’s new tits were the only topic of conversation. She’d used part of her divorce settlement to get herself a pair of double-Ds. You couldn’t miss them and that was the point. Wow, you thought, when they entered a room. Just, wow. That’s just the swelling, Margot said.

But they pretty much remained the same size, even six weeks later, when she threw her Boob-Job Pot-Luck. It was part celebration, part a chance for her to show off, and part an advertisement for her plastic surgeon, who promised to be there to answer any questions us ladies might have about joining the Double-D club. I don’t think any of us had any intention of fixing our tits, but who could resist? Her surgeon was rumored to be a real stud.

Most people brought variations on the boob theme: half grapefruits with a maraschino cherry in the center; rounds of bologna with a perky olive each. Someone brought to watermelons. Val brought pears and went around asking people if they got the joke. But Pat’s contribution stole the show: cylindrical blobs of cheese, fruit, sour cream and marshmallow which had been frozen into shape and served on a bed of lettuce with a single raspberry on the top.

When the party started, they sat there on the table hard as rock, which would have posed a problem for anyone brave enough to try to eat one, but once we were in full swing, they’d begin to soften. It was a very warm day. By the time we left, there they sat, each raspberry sitting amid a lumpy puddle of what looked like puke. Not even Pat ate one.

The plastic surgeon was a stud, by the way. Margot ended up marrying him. They divorced when he got caught having an affair with another patient. I’m not sure what Margot looks like today. Neither does Margot.

Salads For Every Occasion Card #5 Frozen Salads, Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library, 1971

See also: The Ides of Salad

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Cocktail Fork Killer

It was the diagram that did it, he said, lighting another cigarette. It was just dinner. It was just Dave and Jenny — nothing special.
            He leaned forward, and hid his face in his hands. You have no idea, he said haltingly, his voice muffled. She pointed to a diagram, for Heaven’s sake. There were so many circles showing where everything had to be. She was insistent.
            He sat up, tipped his ash. His eyes were red.
            Monogrammed napkins. Candles. We were out of candles. I don’t even know what a cocktail fork is.
            Do you know what a cocktail fork is? he asked the detective. Me neither, he reiterated, getting no reply.
            He paused.
            She was all about precision. She followed those books by the letter. The recipes. She didn’t start out that way. We wouldn’t be here if she’d been like that all along. Never would’ve married her. I don’t know what happened.
            He sighed.
            So here we are, the detective said.
            So here we are. The man looked at his blood-spattered sleeve. I couldn’t take it any more, he said. I just snapped.

Poor bastard, the Chief said, watching from behind the glass. The Cocktail Fork Killer. Whatever’s next. At least there’s no kids.

Rumford Common Sense Cook Book, The Department of Home Economics of The Rumford Company, 1930
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