Monday, October 31, 2011

Praise the Laud!

If  you should find yourself  suffering a spot of the “bloody flux” (dysentery) and you reach the point where your diarrhea is so bad you reasonably expect to die (as 700,000 do each year, according to the World Health Organization), then you ought to have these ingredients on hand to whip up some Laudanum, or as it’s also known, Tincture of Opium. Of course, you’d be long gone by the time it’s fermented for 20 days by the fire, but if you were sensible and knew dysentery was making the rounds, you’d have some already prepared.

But, I hear you scoff, they don’t sell opium at my local pharmacy counter.

Well, you’re not going to the right one. Because Tincture of Opium was marketed and distributed prior to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, it is grandfathered in as and “unapproved” but legal substance. It is still used to wean newborns off drugs received in the womb, and for exceptionally bad cases of the runs.

Laudanum was a very popular drug back in the 1800s, forming the basis of a great many patent medicines whose ingredients could remain a mystery. All that changed in 1906, when new rules made accurate labeling a requirement for sale. Dysentery was also fairly common, given the deplorable state of toilets and lack of hand washing. People relied on laudanum to treat almost anything, which if it failed to actually cure the ailment, certainly assuaged the symptoms (at least temporarily). Because it was a classified as a medicine it was not taxed as an alcoholic beverage, which meant that it was cheaper than a bottle of wine, and thus became the first working class drug.

Like any good drug, however, it was used and abused by everyone. Laudanum addicts could be found everywhere — Mary Todd Lincoln loved the stuff.

This recipe is for Sydenham’s Laudanum, named after the brilliant English physician Thomas Sydenham who compounded it in the 1660s. He was the chap who said “Of all the remedies it has pleased almighty God to give man to relieve his suffering, none is so universal and so efficacious as opium.”

Paracelsus, Badass Extraordinaire
It is still narcotized opium though, which will make you puke your guts out. What you want is de-narcotized, or deodorized opium, which has had the narcotine (a powerful emetic) removed.

As for the other ingredients: “sack” is sherry; and saffron, cream of tartar, cinnamon, cloves and mace can all be found in your supermarket’s spice section.

The word “Laudanum” comes from the Latin laudare — to praise. It was coined by Paracelsus, a Swiss-German alchemist who discovered that opium was best dissolved in alcohol rather than water. Back in the 16th century, it was important to be able to name things well, a task made easier when engaging in neologism meant building words with Latin laced with a generous dose of wit and propriety. His parents must have felt the same way, because his real name was Phillippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

The Compleat Housewife, Eliza Smith, 1742

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stop Whining

Wine: a mysterious and forbidding drink that must be approached with trepidation and reverence, for who knows what horrors might await the unprepared soul who takes a sip!

Wine is complicated, fraught with potential for disaster. What if you choose the wrong one? What if you pick a bad year? What if you can’t get the cork out? How can you tell if it’s gone off? At what temperature do you serve it? How do you store it? Do you have the right glasses? How much should you pour? How do you hold the glass – by the bulb or the stem? What if you don’t like it? Do you have to swirl it around and do that strange mouth-swash thing when you take a sip? Must you describe it with a rarified, codified language that makes no sense? What is a bouquet, and must one also present it to the hostess? Come to think of it, how does one give a bottle of wine? In a paper bag? In a box? In a velvet sheath? And should the hostess open the bottle you bought or one she already has on hand? Why is wine that is actually red in color bad? How come it’s called “red” then, and not “burgundy,” or “claret”? It is? Why is wine that is called “noir” not black then? What wine should you drink with which course? What’s up with those bottles woven in straw, and why did people cram candles in them? Is wine that comes with a screw-top bad? What about plastic corks? Do you have to wear a smoking jacket to enjoy wine? How much is too much? Do people still stomp on grapes with their bare feet to make wine? That’s nasty.

Wine in Cooking and Dining, Culinary Arts Institute, 1976

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Very Game

A game is a diversion undertaken for entertainment purposes, sometimes in order to teach a lesson, in which the participant(s) compete using mental and physical skill to reach a goal. A game can also be a con; a swindle. A gamer is one who plays games, or in contemporary parlance, engages in playing screen-based games, with him or herself and/or others. Game describes a target, as in “fair game” who has been selected for some kind of attack. Game is also the name for wild animal protein which requires hunting. Gamey refers to meat that has gone “off” or begun to taint, producing a richer smell and flavor. To be game is to be up for a challenge, especially if it involves a certain amount of personal risk. To endure or proceed gamely is to eschew such risk, often for the good of the group; to be a good sport.

The process of recovering venison which has begun to stink into a palatable meal, and then eating it, perhaps with your family, involves all of the above. It features gamey game being prepared gamely as a game, and consumed by game gamers gamely while engaging in what surely is a game game.

The Compleat Housewife, Eliza Smith, 1742

Friday, October 28, 2011

Not Mastering the Art of French Cooking

 There are many ways to present recipes in cookbooks designed for people who need instructions on how to cook. It’s helpful, say, to provide a list of ingredients up front, and layout the steps clearly so that the harried cook can find their place easily when glancing at the open page while stirring the pot. This book scoffs at all of that. “The secret is in the timing,” the introduction claims. No it isn’t: the secret is in the design.

For a start, this is a paperback. It does not stay open; it’s even hard to crack open when holding with both hands; it would be necessary to break the spine in order to see what lies in the gutter.

The gutter, deep in the fold (the most difficult part of a book to see), is where all the action is: the glorious “Timer” that allegedly provides an easy to follow timeline upon which the book is based. It’s punctual to the minute, as if any individual amateur cook could possibly stick to such regimentation! What would happen if you fell behind?

The text to the side is so small and crammed together that it’s impossible to find your place in a hurry. One side contains so much instruction while the other remains blank.

Finally, at the end, is a menu with a comprehensive list of all that you’ll need: why isn’t this at the front?

Chessy Rayner, New York style icon, was known for her eclectic yet simple design — in fashion and decor. It’s a mystery how she could get this so wrong. 

French Cooking By The Clock, William and Chesbrough Rayner, The New American Library, 1965

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Some recipes have too much information; some, too little.

This one switches between the two. It’s full of adverbs where you need them — you must clean the head “thoroughly,” simmer it “gently,” stir it “constantly,” cool it “slowly” and watch it “carefully” — and rubbish when you really need them.

How should you “separate” the head into halves? With a saw? A cleaver? A machete? Vigorously? Responsibly? Angrily? And how does one take out the eyes and brains? With your fingers? A spoon? A pick? Tongs? Greedily? Delicately? Matter-of-factly?

In a related matter, Scrabble is the most perfect board game yet devised by man. It requires something of beauty to be made from the scraps of alphabet. It should be played mercilessly, competitively, joyously, and often.

Berks County Cook Book, (date unknown)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pacific Rim Job

Captain James Cook once said he wanted to go “farther than any man has been before me, but as far as I think it is possible for a man to go,” a sentiment echoed by an adventurer inspired by him, Captain James T. Kirk, whose mission is: “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

In 1779, the former took this ambition a tad too literally and went, indeed, further than it was possible for him to go. Landing for the second time in Hawaii, where he and his crew had been welcomed as strange white gods, he found to his dismay that the season of worshipping great white gods had passed. Thence followed a classic example of what not to do when one finds oneself on hostile territory: when some of the natives stole a boat, he tried to take their king as hostage, and in doing so, made the fatal mistake of turning his back on the angry hoard. He was swiftly bonked on the head, stabbed, disemboweled, burned, and his bones cleaned for use as relics. 

This put an end to his distinguished career as England’s foremost explorer.

Cook initially named Hawaii the Sandwich Islands, after one of his benefactors, the Earl of Sandwich. Perhaps the Hawaiians were piqued to have their glorious island chain named after such a lowly dish. Perhaps they took him at his name. Hereforth some advice: do not name a place after the way you plan to be eaten by the people living there.

Two hundred years later, insult was added to injury when Homes and Gardens published this recipe for the “delectable” Chicken Aloha. It brings together a vicious combination of cubed chicken, celery, peppers, soy sauce, instant bouillon granules and a can of pineapple pie filling, garnished with parsley and kumquats, all served on a bed of crispy Chow Mein with coconut and slivered almonds on the side.

“Aloha” means love and peace, and is often used as a greeting in Hawaii. Cook met his end on Valentine’s Day. A coincidence?

Meals in Minutes, Better Homes and Gardens, 1973

Also from this book: Planned Overs, Ham Sandwich Deluxe

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fried Brains

— Darling, I’m starving! What’s for dinner?

— Your favorite — brains!

— Oh yummy!

— How would you like them, dear? I have so many recipes I can’t decide.

— You know how I like them: fresh and bleeding.

— I have plenty. I’ve had no trouble getting them since the Apocalypse.

— The butcher we had before was rubbish.

— I know — really chewy, and he kept scratching.

— He left a nasty taste in my mouth.

— His wife was nice. But she's not there. 

— The new butcher is much better.

— Yes, he’s tender and delicious.

— He’ll give you anything you ask for. These brains, for instance. I believe they were his son's.

— Well, that’s jolly nice of him. Sweetheart, gimme a kiss with those lovely lips of yours…

— Here they are, but take them quick; I need my hand to stir the pot.

— Gotcha!

— Here: eat up. A mind's a terrible thing to waste. 

Cooking for Young Homemakers, Culinary Arts Institute, 1948

Also from this book: Roast Opossum, Fried and BakedCrown Roast of FrankfurtersRudolph the Red Nosed Pot Roast

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bomba the Jungle Boy and the Pizza of Death

Bomba the Jungle Boy, a character invented by the Stratemeyer Syndicate (not a crime family) and published under the pseudonym Roy Rockwood (not a gay porno actor), was a direct imitation of Tarzan (of the Apes). Bomba, a white orphan who grows up under the minimal care of a naturalist named Cody Casson (not Wild Bill) in the jungles of South America feels more kinship with his animal friends than his dark-skinned compadres/enemies and longs to discover the story of his English parents. He meets with many adventures along the way with extreme bravery, dressed in his puma  skin tunic and armed with a razor-sharp knife. Eventually he runs out of dangerous situations in the New World so he ends up getting up to much derring-do in Africa instead.

 Bomba doesn’t so much ante-date Tarzan as he pre-dates Elmo (of the urban jungle) in his actions and speech. “Me Tarzan, you Jane” establishes Lord Greystoke’s pidgin English, but at least he speaks in first-person, therefore demonstrating his awareness of personhood. Bomba, by contrast, generally speaks in third-person: “Bomba is glad,” except for when he feels compelled to demonstrate his origins, when his facility with the language improves spectacularly. There is little charm in the appalling racism, but much in the vocabulary of 1929: they are all going “yonder” and “athwart” and express “jubilation.”

Any recreation of Bomba for contemporary readers would do away with the Imperialist liberties, but what would they do with the plot? In the Swamp of Death, Bomba helps some white men find a red flower whose resin is distilled into a clear liquid (heroin!) — an invaluable medicine which helps Casson regain his shattered mind (in order to recall for Bomba his parent’s story). Casson’s injury was caused by shrapnel from an old rifle he was using to kill an anaconda. Any allusion, veiled or otherwise, to WWI is left unmentioned, though it would be clear to Bomba’s readers in 1929.

 A Tarzan-inspired TV series Zim Bomba features a very fit and articulate American man playing the role of Bomba and in no way replicates the books, in which Bomba is a shy English boy who does not speak like a cowboy gangster. As an act of cinematographic homage, Bomba is played by Johnny Sheffield, immediately recognizable as “Boy” from the original Tarzan films.

The Swamp of Death itself refers to a quicksand bog our intrepid hero finds himself embroiled in. It is a mire of unspeakable gloopiness which sucks you in and smothers you to death. As in all epic journeys, it represents an impossible obstacle only a true hero can traverse. Much like this deep pan pizza.

Fabulous Fry Pan Favorites, Patricia Phillips, National Presto Industries, Inc., 1984

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What Pluck!

To pluck is to grab and pull, sometimes sharply (as with eyebrows and tweezers or a chicken being parted from its feathers), sometimes gently (as when withdrawing a dummy from a sleeping infant’s mouth, or pulling music from a stringed instrument). To pluck an object also implies a kind of rescue (as in from a car teetering on the edge of a cliff — or from obscurity).

To have pluck is also to have courage and daring — the kind needed to achieve all of the above acts of plucking. To be described as “plucky” is to be associated with fortuitous nerve, the kind most often attributed to boys who have yet to develop fear.

One needs to be plucky in order to eat pluck — the collective name for a freshly slaughtered animal’s heart, liver, lungs (“lights”) and trachea. Of all the names for offal, pluck is the prettiest and most descriptive, since to retrieve these organs one has to pluck them from the carcass.

In butchery, you can tell someone to “pluck off” and all it means is get to work you lazy sod.

A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes, Charles Elmé Francatelli, 1852

Friday, October 21, 2011

Potty Mouth

Before indoor plumbing afforded most of us proper flushing toilets, people relied on outhouses during the day in which to conduct their business, and the chamber pot at night, when it was dark out, and the threat of being attacked by wolves, bears, raccoons, stray cats, errant moose, mice, snakes, spiders, bats and highwaymen (even in the city) made the thought of roaming too far from the bedroom unappealing.

Far more preferable was to relieve yourself in the company of your siblings or spouse, hoping not to wake them, then storing the used pot back under the bed where it sat the rest of the night waiting to be emptied in the morning. Life smelled different back then, what with the raw sewage and camphorated mothballs.

The chamber pot was designed therefore in the most practical shape possible to “catch and carry.” Made from china with two handles and nicely decorated (if you were rich and had burly maids to lift them) or enameled tin with one handle (if you weren’t), antique chamber pots have become quaint collector’s items.

The trouble is, they look a lot like soup tureens. The difference between them is that usually the tureen has some kind of pedestal or legs to hold it up from the table’s surface to prevent scorching, whereas the chamber pot is less likely to tip over and spill with a wide, flat base.

Dear soup-makers of the world: do not serve your creations in the wrong one. Also, do not sprinkle paprika on avocado soup because it looks like someone in the last stages of tuberculosis coughed on it. Also, refrain from making avocado soup in the first place.

Soup, Salad, Sandwich Cookbook, Ideals Publishing Corp., 1981

Also from this book: One Is Such A Lonely Number, Frosted Sandwich Loaf, Penis Salad

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Depth of Field

Don’t be alarmed! The salad isn’t about to attack, though it seems like it might.

Why is that? You’d probably point to all that lettuce in the background, which seems a trifle unnecessary, narratively speaking. Do we really need to know where the plated salad came from? The ingredients are pretty obvious after all. Clearly, the three-bean salad has been dressed with oil and vinegar from those glassy jugs. Surely it would be enough simply to photograph the plate?

This image is unsettling not because of overdressing on the part of the food stylist (if there was one), but because the photographer doesn’t know how to use a camera.

For a start, the lighting is too harsh; the multi-directional shadows indicate very strong light coming from both the left and right above the table. The glass reflects so much of it that it throws the white balance off, and bleaches out the pale wax beans. All of the colors, in fact, are squashed into a very narrow tonal range; if this was black and white, it would be hard to differentiate anything. Half close your eyes — all you can see is a dark splotch in the middle where the red is.

When we look at things in real life, we can only focus on one thing at a time. The correct ƒ-stop when adjusting a camera lens helps achieve the right depth of field, bringing the object of the photograph into focus, while leaving everything else a blur. The lower the ƒ-stop, he more sharply that object is separated from its background. A high ƒ-stop will bring everything within a visual plane into focus at once, flattening the depth of field. In this photo, the plated lettuce nearest us seems to be the same distance away as the lettuce right at the back. Since they are the same color and texture (with a lot of the same in between), all of it looks like it sits on a vertical, rather than horizontal surface. It is this visual tricky that makes the salad look so aggressive.

Certainly, this photograph was taken with too shallow a depth of field, but that fault has been magnified by the cropping, which leaves no visual free space for our eyes to rest.

The only thing this image ultimately tells us about its subject is volume: there is a lot of three-bean salad. For all we know, the entire tabletop might be covered in it. The farmer might have had to dig deep in his field to grow it all; the photographer should have dug deeper in his.

Quick and Simple Cooking for Two, Wayne Matthews Corporation, 1976

Also from this book: It Was All YellowA Feast For The Eyes

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How (Not) To Make Coffee

— Um, Barista, there’s something wrong with my coffee.

— Sorry Sir — what’s the matter?

— I ordered a coffee.

— Yes Sir — I gave you a coffee.

— But this doesn’t taste like coffee. You must be mistaken.

— A Grande, black, right? To go?

— That’s what I ordered, yes.

— I just brewed that coffee fresh right before I poured it Sir. It should be fine.

— You mean to tell me you made this today?

— Of course.

— But that’s awful. Coffee should be brewed the day before serving. How many times did you brew it?

— The once….

— Exactly! You didn’t boil it three times! No wonder it tastes like shit!

— Sir, there’s no need for profanity.

— This rubbish is what you’d serve a child, not a grown man. I want my money back.

— Very well. Here’s your tuppence ha’penny. Good luck, to you Sir.

A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes, Charles Elmé Francatelli, The Scolar Press, 1852

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Cure For Cancer

Good News! The cure for cancer has been found!

Seeing as a cure was published over 250 years ago, it begs the question: why has the medical establishment been pretending all this time to be working on that very same goal? Answer: the Crustacean Lobby.

Do you really think crabs would just sit back and let themselves be hunted into extinction for the sake of curing cancer? No! Believe me, as soon as word got out about these recipes featuring powdered crab’s claws, and crab eyes they mobilized by organizing Races Against the Cure from one end of the beach to the other.

It was fortunate for them they already had a public relations claw, though to be fair, its campaign against a common name for pubic lice has not gained much ground, and a great deal of energy has been expended in the splintering off of the Lobster contingent, who wanted to devote essential funds towards picketing a famous national restaurant chain.

 A spokes-crab had this to say: “We blame the Babylonians. If they hadn’t named a perfectly innocuous group of stars after us in their damnable zodiac, we would never have been targeted as a cure for cancer. While we sympathize with humans who suffer from this awful disease, we really wish you’d find some other way to rid yourselves of it.”

“Off the record,” he added in hushed tones, “Lobsters would make a pretty good substitute.”

The Compleat Housewife, Eliza Smith, 1742

Monday, October 17, 2011

Protein Health Salad

And the first place prize for “Biggest Tossed Salad” goes to this lovely lady.

“I’m just so thrilled to win!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been trying for years but always fell short. This time I adjusted my recipe and it worked!”

When asked what the secret to her success was, she told us “Well, I just kept adding lettuce. Whereas before, I’d always thought in terms of what I’d feed my family, this time around I went whole-hog and used three whole heads!”

As to her scrumptious-looking extras, she admits they weren’t planned. “I sort of ran out of time, to be honest,” she said. “So I ended up just throwing the mushrooms in whole."The name of her creation is Protein Health Salad. "It sounded catchy and appetizing to me," she noted.

“My husband calls me the world’s biggest tosser as it is, so it’s nice to finally live up to the name!”

When asked what she plans to do with her prize money, she tells us she wants to invest in more dried flowers and the occasional jelly mould. Well done!

Favorite Recipes for Salads, Lane Publishing Co., 1979

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It’s The Real Thing (What Is, Exactly?)

The text above reads:

If sugar is so fattening, how come so many kids are thin?

You’ve probably had people tell you they’re avoiding this or that because it has sugar in it.
         If you want to see how much sense there is to that idea, next time you pass a bunch of kids, take a look. Kids eat and drink more things made with sugar than anybody. But how many fat ones do you see?
       The fact is there’s no such thing as a fattening food, any more than there’s one that can make you thin.
       If you constantly take in more food than your body needs, you’ll probably get fat. If you eat a balanced diet in moderation, you probably won’t.
       When your daughter gets in from a couple of hours of practicing her baton twirling, or your husband’s sagging from finally painting the upstairs bedroom, they’re close to empty on readily available body fuel.
       That’s when eating or drinking something with sugar in it can give you a new supply of body fuel. In not too many minutes, they’ll be ready to go again.
       Sugar has a useful psychological effect, too. The good natural sweetness is like a little reward that promotes a sense of satisfaction and well-being.
       Good nutrition comes form a balanced diet. One that provides the right amounts, and right kinds of protein, vitamins, minerals, fats, and carbohydrates. Sugar is an important carbohydrate. In moderation, sugar has a place in a balanced diet.

Sugar isn’t just good flavor; it’s good food.

*     *     *     *     *

If this sounds familiar, chances are you have seen the Corn Refiner’s Association’s adverts concerning sugar’s replacement: High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), which the corn industry is (unsuccessfully) trying to get the FDA to re-name “corn sugar.” The term “corn sugar,” however, is already in use — as dextrose. The HFCS ads are notorious examples of “badvertising” in that their combined visual, auditory and textual composition are misleading (mostly by omission).

Here’s one ad, and a transcript of it: 

If you’re like me, you care about the food your family eats. I was pretty confused by everything I’d been hearing about High Fructose Corn Syrup. So, I did a little research to find out what independent experts like doctors, dieticians and nutritionists had to say. I learned — whether it’s corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference. Sugar is sugar. And that’s one less thing to worry about.

The key lines here are “whether it’s corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference. Sugar is sugar.” This is patently untrue. It’s not a matter of interpretation; it’s a matter of basic science. What they are playing on is the complicated fact that “sugar” is a catch-all name that actually comprises several different chemical compounds, all of which sweeten in different ways. Fructose and Glucose (the main components of “sugar” and HFCS, but in different percentages) are metabolized, used and stored by the body differently. It’s iffy if your tongue can tell the difference (the popularity of Mexican Coke seems to suggest it can); your pocketbook can certainly tell the difference (the production of HFCS has been subsidized by the US government to the tune of $40 billion since the mid-1990s, and because it is a liquid, it is far easier to transport, thereby passing savings on to you);  and your body can indeed tell the difference (just ask your liver); it’s you whom they hope will remain in the dark.

Here’s another ad by the same folks:

Girl: (Offering ice-pop) You want a bite?
Guy: (Piqued) I thought you loved me.
Girl: (Puzzled) I do: take two bites.
Guy: (Disgusted) It’s got High Fructose Corn Syrup in it.
Girl: (Quizzical) So?
Guy: (Confidentially) Well, you know what they say about it.
Girl: (Shrugs) What?
Guy: (Mystified) That…it’s…um…
Girl: (Smiling) That it’s made from corn? Has the same calories as sugar, Honey, and is fine in moderation?
Guy: (Reassured) You only brought one?
Girl: (Laughs)

It is no accident that she calls him “Honey,” as the corn industry tries hard to align other “natural” sweet substances — maple syrup and honey being the two big ones — with corn syrup as all belonging to one big “natural” ambrosial bounty (cane and beet sugars — sucrose — are the other). While maple syrup and honey are naturally occurring substances which happen to be sweet, corn syrup is not — until it is refined by increasing the ratio of fructose to glucose. Sucrose is a disaccharide, while fructose and glucose are monosaccharides. While sucrose is processed by the pancreas (which produces insulin to balance it), fructose is processed by the liver, which tends to want to store it as fat.

So why not just use honey? Because not all honey is created equal. That’s because two thirds of it contains the same stuff as Equal, the artificial sweetener you see in the white and blue packets on your restaurant table. Commercial honeybees are fed HFCS, which makes its way into the honey. Only honey labeled “raw,” “100% Natural,” or “Organic” is actually pure honey. It’s also worth noting that genuine maple syrup is the only stuff actually made from maple trees. The cheaper kind sold for your pancakes is made almost entirely out of HFCS and flavorings.

While the HFCS industry has received a bad rap in recent years, it is not without cause; since it was introduced into the American diet, obesity rates have skyrocketed. Clearly, obesity has always been a public relations nightmare for sugar producers, as the ad above will testify. And just like their foes the corn industry, they seek to allay the public’s fears by calling for common sense and moderation.

The sugar ad from 1971 features a woman brandishing a cola that is not sweetened with HFCS, as it is today (HFCS was introduced into soft drinks in the US in 1984; a popular and persistent urban myth is that the introduction of “New Coke” in 1985 was engineered to mask the change in flavor). This is not so everywhere; if you like the “Real Thing,” you can buy Mexican Coke, which is still made with actual sugar.

One of the most obviously dated aspects of the sugar ad isn’t the claim that “there’s no such thing as a fattening food” or even that they draw attention to the addictive properties of sucrose due to it’s effect on the brain’s pleasure centers. It’s that they take for granted that kids could not possibly be fat. Indeed, the whole ad hangs on this premise, which sadly would not hold today. They had a point though: kids wouldn’t suffer nearly as many medical problems on sugar-based cola as they do on HFCS-based cola. This generation may have dodged a bullet while they were young, but sure caught it once they grew up.

Also; boys and girls use far less of their limbs to engage in extra-curricular activities today; while in 1971 they might have spent hours twirling batons and playing baseball, now they just use their thumbs to text and play games. Actually, most of us are all just twiddling our thumbs.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Poxy Lady

Nineteenth century cookbooks didn’t just provide a literate wife or housekeeper with recipes for food — they also covered advice for everything you’d need to run a home. This approach didn’t really let up until the 1950s, when women jettisoned themselves from their kitchens into the workforce and fed their family with TV dinners. Such homemaker mavens as Martha Stewart revived the cult of the well-kept hearth with her many books, but steered clear of suggesting remedies for serious illnesses better left to medical professionals.

Not so her sisters of yesteryear: before doctors were as close as your nearest ER, a woman had to be her own triage unit, and her medicine kit consisted of items already on her shelves or in her garden. No seemingly fatal illness was deemed beyond her expertise, no matter how alarmingly contagious.

Small pox (so named to differentiate it from the “great pox,” or syphilis), one of the 18th century’s leading causes of death in Europe,  was eradicated in 1979. Smallpox enters the system via the mouth and first exhibits symptoms similar to a cold, hence this recipe for preventing a sore throat. A recipe for lessening the scars would have proven popular, as the pustules left behind a distinctive de-pigmented pit when they dried up and fell off.

Queen Elizabeth I wore heavy make-up to hide her smallpox scars; Stalin had his erased with photo re-touching. Smallpox was among the viruses chiefly responsible for wiping out great swaths of aboriginal peoples everywhere Europeans found them. 

Happily these are recipes we need never revisit. 

The Compleat Housewife, Eliza Smith, 1742

Friday, October 14, 2011

Crown Roast of Frankfurters

Some people just have no respect for the ancient institution of the monarchy. In the mid 1600s for example, an English bloke named Oliver Cromwell decided enough was enough, and took up arms against the royalists who, under Charles I had begun to wear enormous wigs and lacy doubloons and attended the theater all the time. He was so angry about this that he had Charles’s head lopped off. His son (the future Charles II — you can see where this is going…) high-tailed it to France to escape all the beheadings and such. (Good move.)

Cromwell was a rather persistent chap and melted down all of the crown jewels for good measure. As Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, he also conquered Scotland and Ireland, just in case, and systematically slaughtered all the Catholics he found there. The Welsh were too fierce and unintelligible to risk going to war against. Power to the People! 

Eventually God must have decided he liked the monarchy better, so he had them return to power shortly after Cromwell’s death. Still, this was not enough to satisfy a public too long deprived from the wigs and theater and such, so they had him executed posthumously, you know, just in case. Two and a half years after he was buried in Westminster Abbey, Cromwell’s dead body was disinterred, hung from chains and his head also lopped off. Oh the irony. As a deterrent to anyone else with a fancy to overthrow the prevailing government, his head was impaled on a spike and displayed outside Westminster Hall for 24 years. After a while it probably resembled a coconut and wasn’t as much fun for tourists to have their photograph taken with. His coconut was bought and sold over the intervening years until it was eventually buried again in 1960 (a full decade after the book this recipe comes from was published).

Cromwell’s Puritan spirit is clearly at work in the genius who devised this crown roast of wieners, the very epitome of a humble Everyman’s version of the real thing made from the ribs of a tasty beast. Chances are no-one will mention the discrepancy while they endure the brief period of humorlessness waiting for the good old days of heathen debauchery to return to the dining table. And their heads. 

Good times, good times.

Cooking for Young Homemakers, Culinary Arts Institute, 1950

Also from this book: Fried Brains, Fried and Baked, Roast OpossumRudolph the Red Nosed Pot Roast

Thursday, October 13, 2011

You Say Carat; I Say Carrot (Let's Call The Whole Thing Off)

How About A 24-Carrot Necklace?

Don’t do it, dude. Girlfriend is going to be pissed as hell if you try to slip a root vegetable ring on her finger after you propose. Things are going to get nasty if you get down on one knee, pop the question, trick her into saying “Yes!” then pull out this rubbish. Trust me, she will be able to tell the difference between a ring made from a “trifaceted chunk of avocado seed, sanded and lacquered, on a circlet of sweet potato” and an actual diamond solitaire engagement ring. Made out of metal and precious stones. That comes in a velvet-lined ring box. Preferably pale blue in color. With “Tiffany & Co.” embossed on it.

 No matter how nice your fiancée is (or was), she will not accept your excuse about being broke-ass broke and having to “be creative.” She might even play along to humor you, but watch your back.

This can go two ways: either she'll tell everyone you ever knew or ever hope to meet (after she drops your cheap sorry ass like a hot potato) what a douche you are so that you become the laughing stock of your worst nightmares, or she will actually marry you and you’ll be stuck with a woman whose standards are so low she won’t get up off her lazy ass to take the trash out of the trailer. She will cease giving a toss about her appearance, put on 200lbs, and continue to wear dried vegetable “jewelry” in public, rendering it impossible for you to leave the house. Either way, you will end up a lonely, frustrated recluse with no hope of ever having sex again.

If you doubt this, just look at the model’s expression. That’s not a smile; that’s a grimace. If you look into her eyes you can see her taking mental note to fire her agent, like, yesterday.

Note how the text plays fast and loose with archeological processes that take millions of years to accomplish: “You cut the vegetables, then let them dry into fascinating semiprecious stones.” If it were that easy, the Petrified Forest National Park wouldn’t have to keep posting signs warning visitors not to steal the gravel. That used to be wood, y’all!

What is saddest of all is that in 1972, Women’s Day thought this was a good use of their readership’s time and energy. According to one of the many cigarette ads in its pages is the perfect back-handed response to this drivel: “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

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