Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Summer Rerun: There's Always Room For The Obligatory Pictorial Essay Making Fun of Vintage Cookbooks

I wrote this essay in 2007 and it was published on my blog on August 1st of that year. A couple of days ago a friend asked me about it and when I did some searching in the archives, I noticed that someone in Ohio had recently been seeking this particular post. Hunh. So, anyway, here it is. I don't do reruns often. but this one makes me laugh. I hope you like it.







Everyone else is doing them, why shouldn't I? Maybe because everyone else is doing them? If everyone decided to strip down to their underwear and jump into the Cumberland River, would I do it, too?

The cruel fact is that not only am I caving in to peer pressure, but I am doing so because I am once again my alter-ego, Phlegm Grrl, and cinema-therapy isn't doing the trick. Over the past three days I've wept copiously over "Finding Neverland" ("Kate...Kate...You find happiness with Johnny Depp and drop dead? Where is the satisfaction in that?!?!?!"), "Omhide Poro Poro" ("Taeko...Taeko...You won't be happy until you ditch the cubicle job in Tokyo and stay on the organic soy farm with Hiro. Where is your head? See? They're playing "The Rose" and all the cute little characters are scampering around your feet. It's a sign, Taeko. Go back to Soy Boy!") and the baby penguin that got eaten and his keening parents in the Antarctica section of "Winged Migration"("Bad raptor! You suck! You suck, mean bird!").

I needed some relief. I needed a cheap laugh. So I started looking through the cookbook shelf in the kitchen. All of them had some entertainment value, but the dessert books made some of the biggest leaps from kind of sublimely cool to ridiculous. Here, let me show you what I mean:

This first image is from a 1982 cookbook by Judith Olney called "The Joy of Chocolate".



It's actually a cake with chocolate leaves that were cast from real cabbage. Pretty neat, hunh? Then I flipped through and found this:



Okay, the bag itself, which is made of chocolate cast from a paper bag, is very cool and the fruit looks tasty. Maybe I'm off-base with this, but it seems like the pudding, which looks a tad lumpy and well, poo-shaped, is a bad choice. It turns the whole thing into something a young Jacques Torres might have left on the front porch of a cranky neighbor before ringing the bell and running.

Another example, one that will probably insure that you will never again take anything I write seriously, can be found in the 1983 "Farm Journal's Complete Cake Decorating Book". Actually, there's a lot to love about this book because it's all about pretty, tasty desserts that can be made without having to take months of decorating classes. We're not talking about the stuff you see coming from Texas Culinary Bronwen or Collette. These are the kinds of cakes that would make your mama very happy at the Mother's Day brunch at church.



Then, I moved on a few pages and my evil inner ten-year-old giggled like a fiend over this cake:





I'm sorry. I really am.

No I'm not. It's funny. The only thing that would have made this funnier would be if I'd found it in "Favorite Desserts of Presbyterian Women of Northern Alabama" I've already promised Big Gay Kevin that I'll make one for his bachelor party if he's ever allowed to legally marry.


Of course you know I'm saving the best for last and here it is:





It looks cute and Bradylicious and all, but I have serious doubts that anyone in the General Foods test kitchens really cared whether kids in the late 70s' would want "Amazing Magical Jell-o Desserts". In fact, I think there was a lot of toking and giggling going in in that test kitchen and the result was a book intended for stoners who love to cook when they get the munchies.

Take a look at this:




Would you even think of making this, much less eating it if you weren't in some way impaired?

And this?




It screams, "We were out of spray cheese and Fritos and we ate it and hey, maybe your kid will think it's ice cream and eat it." Come on. Those cones are grounds for a visit from the TBI and Children's Services.


Not everything in this book is bad, but I suspect that the stuff that is fairly decent was probably cannibalized from "General Foods' Presents School Cafeteria Treats For Boys and Girls".

Here is "Ship Ahoy".




And Dr. Cosby is right. You can't go wrong with "Puddin' Pops"!



But what are we to make of this?



Where is ice this color? Love Canal? Chernobyl? Planet Zarquon?

and then there's this:



In the cookbook, it's called a "Banana Wobbler". It looks exactly like one of the things that Stewart From College brought to Beautiful Alice's bachelorette party that caused him to have to write a letter of apology to the groom's mother. But that could be my inner ten-year-old working in overdrive again.

And the holiday recipes in this book...They're the stuff of kiddie nightmares, especially the Easter dishes.



These are not eggs, they're "eggs". That's right, someone at the GF testing kitchen actually cast cloudy gelatin in real eggshells and made those things. Imagine being the kid who finds those at the Annual Easter Egg Hunt. Honestly, if Easter makes you feel this mean, just skip this step and give your kid balut. (Warning: not for the squeamish!)

There was also HeckBunny:



You just know there's some demented Sunday School teacher from Lubbock doing hard time after a suckerware box of those was intercepted by the deacons.

Speaking of evil handiwork, there is a running theme in this book which looks like someone came up with a bright idea and everyone just ran with it. I imagine that person's name was probably Nathan. Nathan had always been the slacker of the GF Test Kitchen Crew. He was nice enough and he always shared the wealth whenever he was holding. As a chef? Well, let's just say that his parents thought a year of culinary school would scare some sense into him after he got kicked out of MIT for earning the nickname "Anything That Moves" and causing his room mate to gibber and drool during Fall midterms.

So here's the scenario: One of the more Type A chefs, we'll call her Denise, approached Nathan and said something to the effect of, "Look, you've been here three years and you haven't come up with anything original. This is easy. It's a gimme. Kids and Jell-o products. Give me something, anything I can use."

So Nathan sighed heavily, disappeared into the walk-in freezer for three hours and came out with this:



To which Denise said, "What the-?"

"It's food and it has a face. Kids love food with faces on it. See? Choo choo! Here comes the jell-o with the face!"

There was a long pause as they thought about this. Then they realized that it was late and it made sense, sort of. So there were lots and lots of foods with faces added to the book:









And there was much rejoicing until everyone remembered that NASA Dave, the government wonk who was there to make food tubes for astronauts, had totally missed the discussion. So they presented him with this:


"Cute face" he said.

"What face?" they all deadpanned and then NASA Dave muttered something about things just not being the same since Nixon stepped down and went home.

And with that, I'm signing off. I want some Jell-o. Their strawberry-kiwi and raspberry flavors are like buttah!


copyright 2007 Jas Faulkner

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