Tuesday, December 13, 2016


With all the cooking for the holidays upon us, it seemed a good time to dig back into my inherited collection of old cookbooks. These are mostly promotional cookbooks meant to get you to cook with the product. Previously we've looked at cookbooks that featured woks and blenders, beans and eggs and pasta, booze and beer and Coca-Cola, and two separate visits to Swanson land. Today, in honor of the recent passing of actress Florence Henderson, we have:

Henderson was a spokeswoman for Wesson oil from 1976 to 1996, according to Wesson's Wikipedia page. You couldn't stop her. She was a lean, mean, oil-selling machine.

My book definitely predates Ms. Henderson's commercials. I am not sure how old it is, but the one address I found on it puts it before the use of the Zip code, which began in 1963. One site that sells old books places the Skillet Cook Book's publication date as 1958, which seems right to me. That would be about the height of your line-drawn cartoon person:

Lookit that chef salt them weiners!

As the Great Lileks points out in his Gallery of Regrettable Food, in which this booklet could find a place, "This may seem curious to modern eyes, but in the Olden Days the word 'glorify' was middle-America breezy slang for 'improve.' It connoted 'jazziness' without any actual jazz involved." Thus:

It's rare to find a word's meaning become more intense over time, but this seems so odd now, glory being a pretty serious thing once again. The dip glory took in the ad man's pool may have dampened it but did not drown it.

The cookbook I have shows signs of love---on some pages. Some pages have been so grease-splattered, lying open on a counter near the sizzling pan, that you have to work to read them. Others look older but unsullied, their recipes never tried.

The book does have some genuine cuisine, vegetable oil not being an ingredient like Velveeta or canned spinach that makes chefs cry. There are recipes for sauces that are the real thing, and simplified exotics like curry and chop suey that look perfectly edible.

The photography in these old cookbooks can always make you flinch, though:

The shrimp are pledging their obedience to Kali; the Swedish meatballs were stabbed to death in the hot tub. The popcorn doesn't give a damn. But isn't that the best skillet for cooking popcorn imaginable?

The worst thing about these old cookbooks, though, is when they didn't have enough money to do all the pages in color:

Now, I happen to like corn fritters quite a bit, but if they looked like that in real life I'd have never managed to get one past my teeth. These look like medical waste. Six tumors removed from Mr. Johnson; hope it hasn't spread to the lymph nodes.

I always go looking for the worst recipe in any cookbook, partly so I can feel all superior. What makes the tuna croquettes below really stand out is not the recipe itself---just canned fish and rice and stuff, nothing awful---but the olive eyes and the parsley tails. Glorified in black-and-white.

Don't get too cocky about the old-time people who ate this stuff; I'll bet you could pull any modern cookbook from the shelf and find something that would bring out the instant sneer in you. At least these fish are kinda cute.

I am not big on frying, so I'm not keen on trying out many of these recipes. There's a certain fear of the overhyped death-dealing qualities of fried foods that lingers---but I'm more bothered by the smell of frying that lingers, and lingers, and lingers, especially in the cold weather when the windows are closed. Should you try any of the recipes I've posted, let me how it went.

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