Monday, April 30, 2012

Date Bombs

In case you ever wondered where the Chatroulette cycle would lead, it’s here. In order to protect yourself, good questions to ask your date might be the following:

  • Have you recently purchased a large freezer?

  • Hunting, you say?
  • How many kitchen knives do you own?
  • Do you have experience with chainsaws?
  • Oh yes? Doing what?
  • How long do your dates usually last?
  • Up to six months if properly treated?
  • How do you treat your dates?
  • Butter them up how?
  • Is “Yum” your usual response to a pretty woman?
  • No? “Tasty” is?

If the answers do not satisfy you, consider the date a bomb — before you get roughaged up.

Backpacker’s Cookbook, Margaret Cross and Jean Fiske, 1974

Also from this book: What A Jerk! 

Friday, April 27, 2012


Margeurite Patten, OBE, CBE, has sold 17 million copies of her 170 books, which makes her an astonishingly prolific bestselling author. And yet, she came up with dishes like these Darwin Steaks.

Interestingly, the city of Darwin is located in Australia’s Top End, which is also the name for the part of the animal the top end cut comes from. It’s called top end because it’s at the top and it’s the best bit. Australians might have you believe this too. It would be a crime to mince a really good bit of top end steak for this recipe. The city was named for Charles Darwin, of the Origin of Species fame, because the ship he had sailed on, The Beagle, put ashore there. In those days, it was considered the right thing to do to name a spot after illustrious members of your crew. On general knowledge tests, when asked what The Beagle was, people say “a dog.” This is because people have no love for nautical history. Charles Darwin loved earthworms best of all, and his wife (who was also his first cousin), bore him ten children. Whenever one of them got sick he would fret that it was due to genetic weakness caused by marrying your first cousin. The fittest, however, survived.

Margeurite Patten’s All-Colour Book Of Freezing, 1975

Also from this book: Cheesy Fish

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Brains and Bacon

Disproving the adage that “bacon makes anything better.”

Somehow, the chopped parsley sprinkles don’t seem sufficient to the task of leading you to believe you’re not about to cut into brains cooked in a watery white sauce. Bacon notwithstanding.

The ‘Pyrex’ Book of Regional Cookery, Diana Cameron-Shea, 1977

Also from this book: Have a Heart

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Purple Haze

In 1980, food styling wasn’t so much about the food as it was about composition.

This picture was made at the juncture between the prop-heavy 1970s (following the formula exactly: plated food, raw version of the main ingredient, cruet set and flowers) and the intense close-up of the 1980s (hinted at here in the glistening sharpness of the eggplant stuffing and water bespeckled irises).

This stylist has gone for a purple theme, presumably to match the eggplant, though the use of a sprig of baby’s breath to echo the moistness of the dish below it might be merely accidental.

Budget Saving Meals Cookbook, Donna M. Paananen, 1980

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

All Fired Up

What do you mean you’ve brought a gas grill and dinner’s ready? I’ve spent all day building this enormous fire! I had to cut down half the forest to collect the wood for it and I nearly lost the use of my arms trying to light it using the skills I learned in the Boy Scouts. I would say I’ve done a rather successful job, wouldn’t you? This beast will burn for days! Long after we’ve gone back to the city this sucker will be going strong! You can’t very well toast marshmallows over a gas grill, can you? You could roast an ox on this thing. Spaghetti? That’s not camping food! I was going to actually slay an ox! What is the point of coming out here at all if it isn’t to go back to nature and live as our ancestors did? Pass me a cigarette. This really ticks me off. Let’s take a vote: who’s hungry? Who would rather have some delicious freshly killed ox? It would be worth waiting for. Anyone?

Easy Skillet Meals, Better Homes and Gardens, 1972

Also from this book: Frying Tonight

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Fork In The Road

What makes a fork a fork?

In the 1970s, cutlery designers decided to play with this idea and push it to its limits. At its core, a fork had to have some hint of tines (the spiked bits at the end used for spearing food) and a handle — but apart from that, it was up for grabs. Sometimes forks looked more like pickle spears, with only two or three sharp tines; at others, they were more like spoons, with exaggerated bowls tipped with a jagged edge. Handles, too, were re-defined — either as flat blades or twig-like stalks. A lot of the time, money was saved and color introduced by making handles out of melamine or plastic. It was a confusing time for cutlery.

It was a confusing time for most everything. The sudden desire to re-invent what things looked like and how they functioned extended to just about everything from clothing to architecture. The results can be easily identified today because they have not stood the test of time all that well. This is what happens when you try to fix what ain’t broke — like the design and function of something that time has honed and proved worthwhile — like the basic design of a fork, for example.

It wasn’t until quite recently — the 1800s — that people started using forks rather than the pointed, grabby instruments God gave them, their hands. Cutlers — people who forged blades and cutlery — have been around a lot longer. A cutler was listed on a 1297 tax form in Sheffield, the city that was to become the crucible of the cutlery industry due to its focus on steelmaking and silver plating.

Metal is a good material for a fork. It retains its shape after much use, and retains heat from both the hand and hot food. It is slightly heavy, requiring a practiced dexterity in keeping with its counterpart, the knife. A well-designed fork had a slightly squared handle and flared end, so that it may be securely flipped over to scoop or prod, and sat firmly in the hand. The business end featured four long, curved tines that allowed for deep food penetration as well as handling sauces such that they didn’t pool, or drip through. The proportion of tine to bowl allowed for the lips and tongue to easily remove the food with grace. Importantly, the fork had a pleasing balance if rested on a finger at its crux.

The fork is the most intimate of ergonomically designed instruments — it is meant for the mouth and hand. It is an extension of both the hand and teeth. What happens when a fork drastically changes shape is that it slips from the hand or stabs your lips. It must be handled differently to manage the food.

One of the great chicken-or-egg questions concerning cutlery is whether changes in its design caused food to change, or vice-versa. What is clear is that the kinds of foods people eat today do not require the forks of yesteryear. There is less solid meat to hold in place and cut. People use the side of a fork as a knife because they can; food is softer. The fork’s bowl is larger because more food needs to be scooped.

The apotheosis of the fork’s sad tale ends in the plastic spork, an object whose utter utility transcends its potential beauty. Sporks can be found in school lunch rooms, and are often the only piece of cutlery a child will encounter there, or anywhere else. Often, someone can go for weeks at a time without handling any cutlery at all, because a great deal of the modern diet consists of finger foods — burgers, fries, individual-sized packages and squeezable pouches.

This is not a sign of modernity, but of history. We have returned to the pre-1800s and don’t even know it.

Food Processor Cook Book, Better Homes and Gardens, 1979

Friday, April 20, 2012

420 Roaches

Dude #1: Dude

Dude #2: Yah

Dude #1: You’ll never guess what I found

Dude #2: What

Dude #1: A recipe for roaches, man

Dude #2: That’s wild man

Dude #1: Yeah

Dude #2: Like, cockroaches?

Dude #1: Nah, roaches.

Dude #2: We’re set, man! Never go hungry again, man!

Dude #1: Dude

Dude #2: Yeah

Dude #1: Your hair’s on fire man

Dude #2: Again?

The Cooks and Confectioner’s Dictionary, John Nott, 1773

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bizarre Salad Bazaar

Here’s a list of what not to do to improve a salad.

Give a banana even more surface area with which to react to the air and turn brown by scoring it with a fork.

Mix dark, bitter salad leaves in with your sweet, light leaves, which will confuse people, thinking that some of your salad has started to rot.

Yum — salty onion juice scrapings!

Bananas are very sweet. Olives are not. Do not mix bananas with olives.

Raw cranberries are best cooked.

Everybody loves the surprise of finding bits of grated walnut between their teeth, or under their dentures, especially those with nut allergies. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a bunch of those walnuts whose shells have not come all the way off, providing the extra pleasure of rock-hard granules for added texture.

Do not serve “salad desserts,” even when you want to make your dinner gay.

Many a finger was lost to the careless carving of radish roses.

If your salad looks a bit lackluster, you can easily give it the high-calorie touch by adding nuts and candied fruit.

Banana Salad Bazaar, Meloripe Fruit Company

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pigeon à la Française

First of all, the French would not use anything as common as a pigeon. A pigeon is too large, too uncouth and too urban a wingéd thing for the French to consider it worthy of eating. It is too grey. It’s song is not beautiful. For pigeon, substitute doves. Doves are prettier than their avian cousins and are the subject of poetry. A Frenchman would prefer to ingest a bird associated with love rather than one which besmirches architecture with its excrement.

Second, the French would not waste a brace of doves by subjecting them to the ignobility of being baked inside a pie, like blackbirds or some hideous piece of game which has been mutilated by an ill-trained hunting dog or blown to bits with a gun. A French goodwife would pluck and roast the doves whole, so that their form may be appreciated by those at table. The French consider the humble pie a culinary gunny-sack, meant merely as a crude container to hide whatever lies within. The average Frenchman has laughed for at least 300 years at the English because of their penchant for pie.

Thirdly, a person of true Gallic blood would rather spill it than use a recipe as a guide to any performance in the kitchen. The French are born with the complete Gastronomique already encoded in their brains the way the English are born with a full set of adult teeth already grossly misshapen buried in their gums. The French reserve the act of reading for noble pursuits such as those afforded by the civil service, whose complex bureaucracy provides all the reading material a man could ever need.

Fourthly, none of these words is in French, rendering it null and void.

Fifthly, this recipe makes no allowance for wine at any point during the preparation, execution or consummation of this dish, and it is therefore an affront to a Frenchman’s palate. The absence of alcohol is a clear sign that this recipe is detrimental to the health of the diner, and therefore very likely poisonous. In a related observation, the recipe ends with pouring some “white thickening sauce” into the pie before serving. There is no mention of enjoying a cigarette before or after serving.

Sixthly, there is no such thing as “white thickening sauce.” The pantheon of exulted chefs de cuisine have long established the basic sauces, and all of them have names. Indeed, no chef worth his whites could possibly get through the first month of culinary school without having committed these sauces to memory through the processes of repetition designed to break a human being’s spirit and thus render him fit for the service line.

Seventhly, “Stew-pan”? “Pye-pan”? Are these akin to “bed-pan”? The French have no such instruments of cookery.

Eighthly, the French Way is not to ruin a perfectly good afternoon which could be spent insulting English tourists at cafés and making love with other people’s spouses by laboring over a complicated dish involving doves and artichokes and veal sweetbreads and the like. The French Way is to have someone else do it and pay them for it.

Ninthly, On the menu it would be listed as Doves A La Mode d’Imbicile Anglais or the like, not “Pigeon Pie.”

Tenthly, a French person would rather order the Bifsteak aux Frites, Merci.

The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary, John Nott, 1773

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Click image to enlarge

Once upon a time there were leftovers. Leftovers consisted of food left over from dinner the night before. Say you’d bought a big piece of meat from the butcher and there was too much to go around. Why? Well, perhaps there weren’t enough people to eat all of it. You’re right, it must have been on a day that Uncle Nate wasn’t over. Yes, if Uncle Nate was there, he’d have eaten it all. But for the sake of argument, let’s say Uncle Nate wasn’t there, so there were leftovers. What’s a butcher? A person who cuts and sells meat. Or perhaps there was leftover fish. Or leftover vegetables. You’d put them in the fridge and make something new with them the next day. Sure, they could just throw them away, but that’s a waste. No, I don’t know what Shrimp Wiggle is. Nope I don’t know what Bean Rarebit is either. Uncle Nate said what? That he had a “Mushroom Dream” once? Don’t listen to Uncle Nate.

The International Cook Book, Margaret Weimer Heywood, 1929

Monday, April 16, 2012

Ham Cabbage Mold

Before the 1890s, the world was entirely black and white and shades of grey. If you wanted to know what something looked like, you had to use your imagination. People had very vivid imaginations, so that was OK. Well, sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes people got it all wrong and lots of folks got killed as a result.

People had no idea what an orange was. They’d ask their grocer for a dimpled fruit yay-big and were handed a melon instead. Or a lemon. That depended on the literacy of one’s grocer, which in the 1890s was iffy at best. The banana was widely thought to be an urban legend until Carmen Miranda rendered all urban legends obsolete. But I digress.

The first color photograph was of a tartan ribbon. The ribbon thought it was posing for a normal black and white portrait and refused to pay. In 1855 a Scottish person named James Clerk Maxwell invented the eyeball by reducing the known universe to red, green and blue. When he mixed them together, he could make every hue there is, but when regular people mix them together all they get is brown. It is not known whether his genius was prompted into being by being hit on the head with an apple or an orange.

People think there are no words that rhyme with orange, but try rhyming anything with apple. People named Hugh are colorblind, a twist of fate they can’t even appreciate. I made that up. There are no people named Hugh.

One hundred years after Maxwell figured the eyeball out, Americans learned to mix anything with lemon Jell-O and set it in a mold to enchant their guests. This lead to the extinction of guests. Hundreds of cookbooks with whole chapters devoted to what to serve unexpected guests had to be torn up and thrown on the fire.

Today it is as unfathomable for us to consider a world without color photography as it is to imagine eating a ham cabbage mold. Never have so many been so thankful for black and white photography as we are now, right this minute, when we look at the top of this page.

Salad Book, Better Homes and Gardens, 1969

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Heeeeeeeere’s To Nothing!

This is a book for a jolly drunk. The kind of drunk who becomes overly jovial and wants to cheer everyone up by challenging them to games designed to make them feel stupid while affirming their own superiority.

It is not a book for cruel drunks, violent drunks, horny drunks, miserable drunks, hostile drunks, black-out drunks, slutty drunks, chug-a-lug drunks, or penniless drunks.

Be warned: today’s drunk might not have many of the props mentioned within. Cufflinks, for example. An American car in the parking lot. A matchbook. Cigarettes.

Ed McMahon’s Barside Companion, Parthenon Productions, Inc., 1969

Friday, April 13, 2012

My, Chef, What Big Teeth You Have!

Once upon a time (1950), the American male was a pitiful creature who relied utterly upon the fairer sex for all of his nutritional needs. A man could go a whole lifetime being fed by women — first his mother, then his wife, then, perhaps, a nurse. The kitchen was a place of mystery he never ventured into, much like the way the women steered clear of the garage. A man was slave to his wife’s tastes, abilities and appetites — he just handed over his paycheck and hoped for the best. What he wanted was bacon and eggs, steak and BBQ, pie, and drinks — plenty of them. Instead, he got cereal and salad and casseroles and OJ. How could he be expected to perform his vital functions on such paltry fare?

The answer was to encourage men to claim their inner wolf and claim the kitchen as their own territory so that they could dictate what to fill their bellies with. The problem they faced (besides figuring out how to make fire come out of the stove) was that they couldn’t read. Not a single one. Sure, they were semi-literate when it came to manly words, like street signs and instruction manuals, but for the most part, actual reading left them cold. Men, as we all know, prefer the more immediate stimulation of pictures rather than text, and all the cookbooks had a lot of sentences in them.

The authors of A Wolf In Chef’s Clothing came up with the perfect solution: write a cookbook only using pictures! It freed a man from having to calculate what ounces and spoonfuls were by providing handy illustrations. How could it possibly go wrong? Well, for one thing, no man would be caught dead buying a cookbook, so they gave this one a very large alcoholic beverage section, and supplied dating tips alongside the recipes. Even the simplest task could be used to win over a hapless lady — including this charming lass, who has stayed the night at her beau’s abode and is still clad in her stocking and a fancy mule.

I hope she knows that should she decide to stay and become his betrothed, he will be the one doing all the fetching and carrying, baking, broiling and frying. And shopping and washing up. And sweeping, polishing and gardening. And laundry. And howling at the moon.

The New Wolf in Chef’s Clothing , Robert H. Leob, Jr., 1950

Also from this book: Steakmanship

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thomas Kincade: Painter of Cakes

It is generally thought that the late Thomas Kincade called himself the “Painter of Light” because he wanted to steal the reputation of history’s first painter of light, JMW Turner — a connection Kincade was happy to promulgate.

However, it is a little known fact that he came up with the moniker (which he protected with a trademark) after spending his formative years as the “painter of cakes.” Working in frosting and fondant, he developed the skills upon which he built his empire.

Connoisseurs of his work will recognize Kincade’s signature handling of saccharine subject matter and subtle coloring, as well as the realism inherent in his trees and landscape work. It was while working at the bakery that he got the idea of becoming a “chocolate box” painter instead of simply painting chocolates.

Easy Cake Decorating Cookbook, Mildred Brand, 1980

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Murder on the Orient Express

Dear Executives at Chun King Foods

Our graphics department came up with some truly exceptional drawings with which to illustrate your pamphlet, “American Oriental Foods.” I think you’ll agree that they set just the time tone and comply with the average American’s sense of humor. For example: your recipe for Mexicali (which is inspired, by the way). What better than to have a typical Mexican gentleman resting slumped against a wall in a sombrero and bare feet? Your readers will get the message that this recipe is authentic south-of-the-border fare. We even gave him a pointy mustache.

And we know you’ll love this, given the Oriental theme of the book as a whole: at every opportunity we’ve reminded your readers what this is all about by including Orientals engaged in the things Orientals do — like this happy rickshaw boy with his coolie hat and flip-flops joyfully pulling along a European tourist in front of — get this — a pagoda. For an added touch of veracity we added two birds flying into one another like you see on Chinese plates. We even gave him a pigtail and slanty eyes so you couldn’t mistake his nationality with anyone else.

With regards,
The Stereo-Type Design Co.

American Oriental Foods, Book Production Industries, 1961. 

Also from this book: For Men Only

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Opening Up A Can Of Worms

Because we have become so inured to marketing gimmicks, most Americans think that Chef Boyardee is a brand invented to sell tinned spaghetti products to children. It is not. It is, however just the first of a whole slew of falsehoods the brand is built upon. Here are some of them.


Chef Boyardee did, in fact exist — only his name wasn’t spelled like that. He was Ettore Boiardi, and yes, he was a real chef; he was the head chef at New York’s Plaza Hotel before becoming a personal favorite of President Woodrow Wilson.


That’s Boiardi’s likeness on the cans. He died in 1985.


Chef Boiardi really did invent his product. After opening a restaurant in 1924, he often sold his sauce to customers, a business he expanded by expanding this sideline by opening a factory. He grew his own tomatoes in the basement.


Chef Boiardi, perhaps seasoned by his experience as an immigrant (he arrived at Ellis Island at 16), understood that Americans would find it easier to pronounce his name if it was spelled phonetically. Hence the early version, the hyphenated “Boy-ar-dee.”


Chef Boyardee brand spaghetti and meatballs was not originally marketed to children — it was shipped to troops serving in WW2.


Chef Boiardi sold his brand in 1944 for $6 million. At the time of his death in 1985, it was generating $500 million annually.


Actual pasta with meatballs in tomato sauce is quite nutritious and cheap.


Chef Boyardee brand spaghetti and meatballs is still kinda cheap, but is no longer nutritious. Although today’s cans advertise “Good Stuff Inside” including ½ cup of vegetables per serving, six vitamins and minerals, and protein, reading the label will tell a different story. First, all the figures are for two servings per can. We all know that people eat a whole can. (Even the company acknowledges that kids don’t actually eat a single serving, saying they’ll “come back for seconds.”) Given this, there are 520 calories, nearly half of those from fat. There are a whopping 1500 mgs of sodium, 62% of the daily recommended dose. There are 60 grams of carbs, or a whole fifth of a daily allowance. There are (by my count — the label is confusing) over 30 different ingredients.


Chef Boyardee does NOT “fool your kids,” as their marketing has long claimed. Kids recognize that spaghetti from a can is not the same thing as a home-cooked meal. The idea that “problem eaters” can be persuaded to eat healthy foods if they are disguised as something else sets a poor precedent. Such foods are usually loaded up with sugar and salt, which is like crack for the palate, establishing addictions not only to the blood sugar rush but also to a wildly artificial expectation of taste.


This sundae dish is not filled with an ice cream sundae. Anyone expecting desert will be sorely disappointed. (It does contain seven grams of sugar, however.)

LIFE Magazine, December 17, 1971

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Thelma and Louise

Unbeknownst to most, the original script for Thelma and Louise featured two lovely ladies in the autumn of their youth bickering about the adventures they had stealing automobiles, shooting up honky-tonks and sleeping with handsome strangers.

Difficulties with the script hampered the director, however. For example, both Thelma and Louise were referred to as “the white-haired lady with bat-wing spectacles and a straw bonnet,” making for much confusion. When it came to filming, the actresses were frequently thrown off their game by props which caused them to wander from the script into reminisces of their own.

Here is a still from the time an entire day’s shooting was wasted because the actress playing Thelma kept talking about a gentleman she once robbed while playing golf. He was wearing plus-fours. As you can see, a plate of petit-fours was the likely culprit. Louise, perhaps trying to keep up, entertained her colleague’s banter by interjecting with a story of her own about a time she ended up on all fours while servicing a gas station attendant.

Still more havoc visited filming when it was discovered that one of the ladies had paid a set-hand to spike their floats with rum. Neither would own up to it and became quite belligerent, even threatening to call their SAG rep about inhumane working conditions.

Eventually, the producers decided that they had to start from scratch after watching early footage and saw that Louise had only intermittent control over her teeth. They went with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis instead, but were so distraught by the thought of them turning into their elderly counterparts in sequel after sequel that they drove them off the Grand Canyon and into oblivion.

Home-Style Cooking, Better Homes and Gardens
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