Thursday, July 21, 2016

Book Review: Cook Book

Title: Cook Book: Favorite Recipes from Our Best Cooks (on the cover) or A Book of Favorite Recipes compiled by Lee Hospital Auxiliary of Lee County, Virginia (on the flyleaf)

Author: Sandra W. Montgomery

Date: 1979

Publisher: Circulation Service / S.W. Montgomery

ISBN: none

Length: 122 pages

Quote: “We hope that everyone has as much fun using it as we have had putting it together” (referring to this book).

This is a one-time offer, Gentle Readers. Cook Book was one of those cookbooks that are compiled by members of a small organization and sold as fundraisers for the organization. Various printing services put the books together, with boilerplate including everything from Tables of Weights & Measures to First Aid Tips and even, in this book, “Where to Look in the Bible” for texts relevant to certain situations. The boilerplate pages are professionally printed, in fancy fonts and, in this book, in blue ink. Then the actual recipes appear as they were typed by the compilers of the cookbook. Such books are always souvenirs of times, places, and people, although some of them contain some egregious mistakes.

No mistake: in 1979 hospital employees really did share recipes for, and prepare, serve, and eat, things like “Olive Cheese Tidbits” made by mashing cheddar cheese up with more salt and more butter and wrapping it around olives. Most of the recipes in this book are reasonably healthy, but they do date back to a time when people who counted fat grams, carbs, or anything else—except during periodic “low-calorie diets”—were considered “health food freaks.” Correcting imbalances was up to the “normal” cook’s intuition, and etiquette demanded that guests eat whatever the cook served and act as if they liked it even if it made them sick, too.

Cookbooks like this one were also the home of the ordinary recipe with the goofy name: “Sawdust Salad” (a layered jello mold), “Impossible Pie” (one of those “dump” dessert recipes that form layers as they bake), “Bully Pudding” (a doughy or “puddingy” cake that probably dates back to the Theodore Roosevelt era when “bully” was slang for “excellent”). Some of the odd-sounding names in this book, however, mean what they say: “Steam Cake” is steamed in cylinders rather than baked in flat pans, “Beef in the Coals” is grilled on coals, and “Coca-Cola Salad” is a jello mold made with you-know-what as the cold liquid. (Several recipes in this book feature soda pop, candy bars, jello and other low-status junkfood. At the time it was trendy.)

A certain imbalance is even built into these recipes. What a reader unfamiliar with my cultural heritage might not guess, reading this book, is that the “special recipes” cooks wrote down and shared were primarily for side dishes served on special occasions. Nobody bothered to share recipes for the things these people ate, and set before their children, every day. Meat? You baked it, fried it, or boiled it until it was done, ate some of it at once, froze the rest and sliced off bits to put in sandwiches. Sandwich bread came from the grocery store, pre-sliced. Vegetables could be either baked, fried, boiled, or heated up from a can (a “can” might be either a glass jar, if the veg were canned at home, or a metal “tin,” if not), or just eaten raw. Fruit was likely to be eaten raw. A collection of recipes would therefore lean heavily toward desserts, jello molds, and bizarre “salads.” Why bother to write down “Slice or break green beans until you have about a cup per person, boil in the smallest possible amount of water until tender, and serve with salt”? I doubt that these cooks imagined anybody who could read a cookbook needing to be told how to bake a potato (although, in fact, different methods were used), or even how to bake basic Southern-style cornbread (stir together self-rising cornmeal and milk, buttermilk, or water, as you preferred, to the right consistency, dump into a hot iron pan, and bake in a hot oven until done). If prodded to write down those recipes they might have added, “Pour water over ice to fill glass.”

So, this is not the basic cookbook a beginner might need. If you want to cook something a proud “career homemaker” of the 1970s would have served to impress fashionably lowbrow, kitchen-knowledgeable friends, this is your reference book. And goodness gracious, in spite of the high fat content of several recipes—or do I mean because these recipes are so far out of fashion at the moment?—some of the results will taste good.

In moderation, of course. Extreme moderation. If you gain weight easily, you might want to bear Jill Conner Browne’s advice about this kind of recipes in mind at all times: Do not actually eat these things. Serve them to your not-very-best friends, so at least you look a little less flabby than they do.

In order to include an Amazon link with this review of a book that's not sold on Amazon, I'll add this lovely image, which was what Amazon offered when I searched for "cook book lee county regional." (I can sell this one, too.)