I have a cookbook given me by my grandmother about 15 years ago. At the time, she’d had the book for nearly 50 years. This puts the printing date sometime in the 1940s. This book is a treasure-trove of information. You can find any basic recipe for all-American food you could ever want. Whole chapters have titles like “The Preserving Contest at the State Fair" and "Salad Bowl Supper on Country Club Terrace" and "Midnight Raiding of the Refrigerator" and "Making the Kentucky Burgoo."
For the curious: Listed under the sub-heading of Vegetable Chowders, a "Burgoo for Small Parties" first requires making a broth using 2 pounds pork shank, 2 pounds veal shank, 2 pounds beef shank, 2 pounds breast of lamb, 1/4 pound salt pork, and 1 4-pound fat hen. If you know a small party of vegetarians you want to delight, let me know and I'll send you the full recipe.
There is a multi-page blueprint entitled “Father Carves the Fowl” that teaches one how to carve any piece of meat imaginable, at the table, with elegance. It’s the only part of the book devoted to the man of the house. Fortunately, there is a parallel blueprint section for Mother on “How to Embroider Table Linens.”
There are no directions for keeping one’s aprons clean, but plenty of fabulous line drawings that show you what Mother is supposed to look like around the house…in her shiny black pumps, seamed stockings, and neatly frilled cocktail aprons. I have a particular fondness for the one of these illustrations that shows what happens when Father tries to insinuate himself into the kitchen and Junior cannot be controlled from “helping.”
Fortunately, Mother is able to put things to rights. Everything in its proper place.
While many of the recipes are failsafe (if you like to eat kidney), the advice is…well…a bit past June Cleaver. To wit:
The clever hostess keeps her dining room and its appointments perpetually well groomed and always ready for the guest who just drops in. There should never be any feeling of a flurried rush to put things in order. The fragrance of well prepared food should not be mingled unpleasantly with the strong odor of furniture polish.
Another clever solution is plastic bags, which can be quickly filled with mountains of misplaced stuff and shoved under the bed. This does result in a feeling of flurried rush, however, when that unexpected guest wearing the “I’m Here For Dinner Unannounced” placard on his head starts up the front walk.
If your front walk is less than 40 feet long, there’s simply no time to whip out the Pledge and thereby ruin the glorious aroma of dinner when “IHFDU” drops by. Therefore you will automatically be spared that embarrassment. Or, if you own furniture that cannot be polished—things made from pressed board or high-tech plastics—then the fragrance of well-prepared food will always stand all on its own. Except for the strong chemical smell that leaches out of such furniture for the first few months you own it. There’s not much way around this. It’s touch-and-go whether you can pretend to be not home when “IHFDU” rings the bell. After all, who is not at home at dinnertime? At least your organza aprons are always clean.
Sometimes I have such a hard time containing my joy that I break out my furniture polish and go to town on the dining room antiques. This does prevent the unpleasantly strong odor from later mingling with the fragrance of my well prepared
chicken nuggets foods.
A good lunch is fresh. Your score is zero if you make up sandwiches the night before.
Your score is 700 if you never make up sandwiches at all. Your score is negative 68 if you cleaned the lunchbox with Pledge before packing whatever you did pack.
Perhaps my favorite bit of this book is the blueprint with detailed directions on “How to Build a Root Cellar.” Because of course in addition to making State Fair prize-winning jams, and polishing the furniture every morning, and joyfully reorganizing the fridge daily while the kids nap, and always having on a crisp white apron, the modern housekeeper will need to dig her own root cellar. In pumps and seamed stockings, no doubt.
But she will be so cheerful a hard worker about it in this time of having enough, this time that so vividly remembers rations and Fathers off at war, that it will be difficult to hate her for her perfection. Or for the rhymed couplets that accompany the grainy, ill-lit, almost indiscernible black-and-white photos that fill her cookbook, supposedly enticing one to cook . . . whatever-it-is.
A meat ring with
an array of sauces
Makes us soon forget