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

Monday, April 2, 2018

An International Incident

In order to make the World Cake for this children’s party, you’re going to need to start well ahead of time and have all your wits about you to avoid World War III.

First, you need to buy two round baking dishes. Sorry: first you need to source two round baking dishes and then figure out how to buy them. Good luck with that.

Next, you have to arrange the initiations. This involves creating  circular invites with plenty of precise instructions. You must “ask each child to dress in the costume of a special country or be ready to tell about one.” Realizing immediately that this proposition is likely to result in the faux pas of two or more children arriving dressed or prepared to tell about the same country, the good folks at Betty Crocker then advise: “it is a good idea to assign countries to the children to avoid duplication.” At this point you must get down on your knees and thank your lucky stars that Betty Crocker does not have a say in International Relations. They don’t even use the phrase “good idea” ironically.

At this point, before you’ve written out those invites, you must sit down and think about which child will represent which country. How ethnographically or politically correct are you going to be? And if you assign the ancestral home of one child, but an utterly alien one to another, what message will that send? What if some kid doesn’t want to be Zimbabwe? And if you avoid this problem by assigning each child random countries, how are they going to know what to wear?

This is when you break open that bottle of Scotch, because you’ve belatedly realized that costumes can’t be assigned to countries, as if countries were singular culturally heterogeneous and sported a “costume.” Come to think of it, how will the whole “tell about it” option go down? Will those party-goers dressed normally be forced to recite facts and figures about their assigned country before they’re allowed in? What if they haven’t done their homework? Pour yourself another glass: you’ve just realized you assigned homework as a condition of attending your kid’s party. You have utterly failed at parenting.

However, you’ve bought the two round baking dishes and cut out 12 globe-shaped invites, so you’re committed. There’s no way out. You consider the games suggestion: “hold a mini-Olympics” and remembered that one of the guests has a broken leg and another has asthma. The “shoe-kicking contest” they also suggest is out then, whatever that entailed.

You decide, three drinks in, to forego the whole United Nations parade, and just focus on the cake, and send out the invites and go to bed.

On the day of the party, you make the cake (not that hard, as it turns out), but discover, to your horror, that you have no idea how to draw an outline of the continents in chocolate icing piped from an envelope onto a spherical cake. You have a hard enough time doing this with a pencil on paper. There is no room for error. Can you pipe and consult a map at the same time? Can you stop the icing from oozing out of the envelope while you do so?

You decide to make the best of a bad situation by disguising the truth of your incompetence by decorating the entire cake in squiggles instead.

You console yourself with the thought that no-one will care.

Children’s Parties Card #6 Far Away Places, Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library, 1971

See Also: A SNAFU In The Jungle, Raggedy Ann Revisited, Horrorscope

Saturday, March 31, 2018


It had begun innocently enough: Henry’s Mom and Dad welcomed the guests and the parents dropping them off only stayed long enough to find out when to return to pick them up. The kids rushed in bearing their gifts, which were placed on a side table in the hall. Henry, who’d been waiting all day for the festivities to begin, grinned from ear-to-ear as he proudly showed off his new bike. It was purple, and had a banana seat and ape hanger handlebars with streamers.

But once everyone had arrived, Henry’s Mom (she said to call her Doreen) gathered everyone into the living room den and had them take off their shoes and sit in a circle on the shag carpet. Henry’s Dad (he said to call him Frank) turned down the lights and drew the curtains, so there was a lot of chatter, because this could only promise a really exciting game. Doreen put some music on the hi-fi, but it wasn’t party music; it was all sort of swirly. Frank plugged in a lava lamp and took his tie off. “Is everyone ready to learn what their futures hold?” Doreen asked, and all the boys shouted their assent.

Doreen sat down in the circle criss-cross-apple-sauce style and put her hands on her knees with her fingers pinched together, and asked everyone to do the same. There was some giggling, but they did it. Doreen started swaying a little, and then opened her eyes wide and said “Eric!” Eric grinned as his friends on either side poked him.
            “Eric!” Doreen continued, “You enjoy sports! You’re going to play baseball and make it to the major leagues!”
            Eric approved of this future wholeheartedly.
            Next, Doreen shifted and closed her eyes and opened them again and pointed to Peter, who hoped she’d predict he’d become an astronaut, like he hoped.
            “Peter!” she called, “You are into math and have a feel for calculations! You’re going to work at a big tax corporation as one of their accountants!”
            Peter looked dejected.
            “And you’re going to have a really nice car!” Doreen added. This softened the blow.
            “Me next, me next!” the boys shouted excitedly. Doreen moved again, closed her eyes, and opened them on Buddy.
            “Buddy!” she cried. Buddy hopped up and down on his behind awaiting his fate.
            “Buddy — I have bad news for you,” Doreen said. “You will be tempted by the dark side, and lead a life of crime.”
            “What?” Buddy exclaimed, but Doreen had moved on. The boys jostled, uneasy at this sudden turn in events, but expecting it to work out in the end.
            “Alex!” Doreen went on. “Alex, you will be a very successful businessman!” The boys cheered. “You will live in a huge mansion and marry a beautiful woman!” The boys roared. “But it won’t last!”
            Alex deflated. “It’s OK, nudged Ian, sitting next to him, “it isn’t real.”
            Doreen focused her attention on Boris, who stared back silently. “Boris!” She hesitated. “Boris! Your birth mother says she’s sorry, and regrets what she did. She wants me to tell you to avoid the evils of alcohol!”
            “Birth mother?” Boris said. The boys sat transfixed.
            Just as Doreen was about to reveal the fortune of another boy, Frank, who’d been smoking quietly in the corner, interrupted his wife by asking if anybody would like to loosen up a little, to which the party-goers responded gratefully. As they clambered up from the circle, Frank put some new music on the hi-fi and announced it was getting awfully hot in there. Doreen agreed, and started unbuttoning her blouse.
            “It’s the Age of Aquarius!” Frank shouted gleefully.
            At first, the boys were leaping about to the music, but as Henry’s parents began disrobing, the merriment came to an abrupt halt. Henry himself was missing. He must have slipped out.
            “That’s better,” Doreen announced as the last of her clothes came off, as if completely oblivious to the mortified stillness around her.
            “Come on, everybody,” Frank urged, pulling his pants down.

The boys rushed for the door, getting jammed in their rush to escape.
            “Where’s Henry?” Eric cried in a panic.
            They found him in the kitchen staring at his birthday cake. It was bright yellow, with the signs of the zodiac piped around the edge in yellow icing. The center held a sun made out of candy corn.
            “What’s wrong with your Mom and Dad?” Buddy cried.
            “What did she mean, my ‘birth mother’?” Boris kept repeating.

But Henry just sat there looking at his cake.
            “I hate candy corn,” he said. “How come she knows about everyone else but me?”


Children’s Parties Card #5 Age of Aquarius, Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library, 1971

See Also: An International Incident, Raggedy Ann Revisited, A SNAFU In The Jungle

Friday, March 30, 2018

Raggedy Ann Revisited

“Do you remember Denise’s Mom?”
            “Who can forget?”
            “What about that time she invited us all over for a tea party and served us margaritas?”
            “How old were we — six?”
            “That lady was broken. I mean, she tried, but come on — you can’t give kids hard liquor!”
            “So check what I found the other day at a yard sale. A set of Betty Crocker recipe cards from 1971.”
            “My Mom used to have one of those too!”
            “So I’m going through the cards for fun, because these recipes are whack — and look what I found.”
            “Rag Doll Tea Party. Sweet Jesus — that’s what she served us!”
            “I know, right? Because what little kid expects to be served a salad instead of cookies and lemonade?”
            “Ooh — lettuce! Celery! Raisins!”
            “What’s the hair made out of?”
            “Cheese. Is that a boiled egg for the head?”
            “No — it’s a marshmallow. I remember it being egg, though. Oh my God.”
            “No — I mean Oh my God, I just figured it out.”
             “The margaritas. She read it wrong. They were supposed to be meringues. They’re called ‘Marguerites.’”
            “How can you get that wrong?”
            “Girlfriend, everything about this is wrong. You need a cocktail to get through it. She was doing us a favor.”

Children’s Parties Card #15 Rag Doll Tea Party, Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library, 1971

See Also: An International Incident, Horrorscope, A SNAFU In The Jungle

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A SNAFU in the Jungle

Nac uoy ared shit? Fo erousc ton.

That’s because in English, we have spelling. Spelling, a thing that schools seem to think is the key to your future success as a human being, is all about putting the letters in the right order. Only sadists and serial killers mix the letters up to hide the message they’re sending — probably just to give themselves more time to commit whatever heinous act they get off on.

On a related note, some mothers take birthday parties a little too seriously. They forget that the only reason little Susie wants a party is so that she can play the Queen Bee and decide which of her classmates she’s going to invite or leave out in the cold as a crystal-clear message they’ve been shunned. The only reason the other kids go is to get high on sugar and run around for two hours and see what presents the other kids brought, hoping that theirs is the best.

The actual details don’t matter, so long as there is cake.

The one thing you want to avoid in planning a child’s birthday party is having it resemble school. This party game devised by the sinister and tortured souls at Betty Crocker hits all the marks:

            involves spelling difficult words 3
            requires writing 3
            is timed 3
            is judged 3
            only exists to kill time 3
            provides ample opportunity for humiliation 3

And to put the icing on the cake, as it were, let’s look closely at what they consider a “jungle” animal:

lion, elephant, monkey, peacock, flamingo, rhinoceros, tiger, bear, hippopotamus, seal, llama, giraffe, kangaroo, penguin.

Penguin, FFS.

This situation is NOT normal — it is all f*cked up.

Children’s Parties Card #3 African Safari, Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library, 1971

See Also: Raggedy Ann Revisited, An International Incident, Horrorscope
Pin It