Monday, October 29, 2012

Elemental, dear Watson

Sad, sad enlightened fruit

At the top of many pages in the Earth Water Fire Air cookbook appears an item on a suggested reading list. Here’s the first thing on it: TRIPURA RAHASYA (THE MYSTERY BEYONG THE TRINITY) by Sri Munagala S. Venkataramaiah.

If you think that was the biggest mouthful this book will serve up, you’re wrong. The actual recipes require some heavy-duty chewing. This suggested reading graces a page featuring an “Exotic Green Walnut Salad.” It consists of walnuts, grape juice, and shallots.

The illustrations won’t lighten your mood any either — they’re as cheerful as the one on the cover, only in black and white. The whole fruits and vegetables they portray are bruised, pockmarked, imperfect specimens which sit there in the half light resigned to their fate. They will be eaten soon.

Far out, man.

Earth Air Fire Water, Barbara Friedlander, Collier Books, 1972

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


The Scandinavians have influenced the lives of Westerners in immeasurable ways, most of them having to do with making things yourself. People who play with LEGO as children grow up to assemble furniture from IKEA.

IKEA, the globally ubiquitous home furnishings company, is the world’s third largest consumer of wood, which is surprising, since many people assume that their products are made from Smorgasbord.

The IKEA colors, blue and yellow, are seen on the cover of this book. That’s about the only thing that makes any sense about it. From the Art Deco and early computer-age typefaces to the jellied vegetable concoction bordered by white lines, it epitomizes the kind of random design aesthetic common of 1960’s cookbooks.

Indeed, the other books in the series — introductions to French, Italian and Mexican cooking — all have the same design elements. It doesn't matter where in the world you are, it all looks the same. 

McCall’s Introduction to Scandinavian Cooking, The McCall Publishing Company, 1960

Also from this book: Sardine Rabbit, Crock of Sh*t

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sardine Rabbit

When we use the word “hybrid” today, we’re probably referring to a car that uses both electrical and fossil fuels. But people have been hybridizing things for a very long time — cross breeding plants to produce hardier wheat, or domestic animals to make them meatier or stronger or more easily managed.

Mixing the genes of two very closely related species is one thing — after all, various members of the equine family have been bred for years (the mule, for instance; the result of a male donkey and female horse). But crossing two very different species is a trickier prospect. Not only is it biologically difficult, but ethically questionable too. Still, one could argue that evolution relies on this sort of happy accident in creating new species — the happy part being fertility. Nature abhors not just vacuums, but the inability to reproduce.

The Toast of Botswana. Not actually made of toast. 
The “Toast of Botswana” is just such an unlikely creature. It’s the awkward offspring of the unusual — but naturally occurring — mating of a male sheep with a female goat. Apparently they were penned together, and maybe got a little drunk. Or a lot drunk. I do not think that the tourist board of Botswana is too pleased about the name of this creature. It turned out to be infertile, but didn’t act like it — after mounting everything in sight, its owners finally castrated it to stop it being a nuisance. Clearly a trait it inherited from its father. Just sayin’. They nicknamed it “the rapist.”

Scientists mixing genes in the lab come up with seemingly useless combos in the aid of practicing hybridization: glowing monkeys and square eggs and the like. OK, I’m not sure about the square egg, but the Zebroid exists.

So far, only the Scandinavians have managed to produce a Sardine Rabbit, however. How do you get a sardine and a rabbit (egg dish) to taste good? Add an entire pound of cheese.

McCall’s Introduction to Scandinavian Cooking, The McCall Publishing Company, 1960

Also from this book: Ubiquity, Crock of Sh*t

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dinner For One

Is anything sadder than a recipe book whose title lets you pretend you are in a relationship with a home-making companion, when in fact you live alone, by-passed by the dating scene and left to fend for yourself in the kitchenette of your studio apartment?

Sunset’s Cooking For Two … Or Just For You is just such a book. An introductory pep talk kindly suggests that all the recipes have been devised for single portions, should you want to divide the meal between two days. It’s hard to justify cooking a meal from scratch using fancy ingredients if it’s just to fill the gaping emptiness in your gut, which is another reason why there are so few serious cookbooks for one. We all know that cooking for one leans heavily on the pre-packaged frozen food and tinned soups aisle, with a hefty helping of alcohol in which to drown your lonely heart. This meal will be “portable” (as the Sunset book points out) because it will be eaten from one’s lap in front of the television. Should the impossible happen and you find yourself with a date to entertain, well, you can always cook something for two and forego the leftovers.

This book has plenty of illustrations staging these phantom dates. You can tell they’re fantasies because the humans are always off in the distance, out of focus. The food remains the center of focus and attention, presented with all the trappings of romance (read: candles and flowers). The imaginary dates all look like they didn’t have time to change after leaving the office, and offer seductive come-hither smiles.

How do you get the stuff out of those glasses? 

This is a cruel misrepresentation of actual married life. Seriously, no-one hangs out like that while food is sitting on the table. It’s just bitch-and-moan from the minute you walk in the door, followed by silent chewing while plotting which excuse you’ll use tonight not to have sex.

Cooking For Two …Or Just For You, Lane Publishing Co., 1978

Monday, October 8, 2012

Picnic on Tatooine

It’s a quiet evening on Tatooine. One sun has set, and it’s starting to grow cold. Beru Lars pulls her cloak around her and moves closer to the fire. Her husband, Owen scans the horizon for Tusken raiders, but all appears clear. It’s been days since he last saw their tracks. They’ve had a decent year as moisture farmers and are celebrating with a picnic. Their adopted nephew, Luke Skywalker is fiddling with a piece of machinery. He’s always tinkering. He says one day — one day soon — he’ll leave and explore the universe. Maybe hitch a ride to another planet and find out what his destiny holds for him. His aunt and uncle exchange a silent glance. They’ve done their best, but know they can’t keep him safe forever. Tomorrow, Owen will take Luke with him to buy a couple of droids the Jawa traders have to sell. He hopes that they’ll distract him for a while.

Family Circle Illustrated Library of Cooking, Vol. 1, 1972

Also from this book: Dancing on the Ceiling

Monday, October 1, 2012

Meat Swiss Roll

The Swiss Roll is oddly named because it has nothing in particular to do with the Swiss, per se. But the name persists, as if it imparts some class to the basic jelly roll cake. Even the French call it a “Roulade Suisse,” which is odd, because the French only usually evoke another nation’s name when referring to venereal diseases or compromising sexual encounters and the like.

The basic Swiss (or Jelly) Roll consists of a light Genoise sponge cake which is rolled while hot and left to cool. It is then unrolled, and a filling (cream, butter cream or jam) is spread upon it. This is then rolled up again, creating a whimsical spiral when sliced.

It is highly popular all over the world, with many local varieties making use of ingredients and flavors familiar to their customers, while retaining the basic cake-and-filling formula.

The Sicilians, however, have never taken to this confection. They prefer their Swiss Roll to be made of meat and cheese. Because they are hardcore.

All-Time Favorite Beef Recipes, Better Homes and Gardens, 1977
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