Saturday, September 25, 2010

The I Hate to Cook Book

I read in July that the I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken is fifty years old this year. To honor the half century, the deceased Ms Bracken's daughter has published a revised and updated version of the very funny commentary on cooking for people who don't enjoy cooking. I haven't seen the update, but I still enjoy the original version.

The original does give some good recipes. What makes it extra good is the non-recipe stuff. Yes, the book tells how to cook with the convenience foods of that era, and yes, I still prefer to cook with minimally processed foods, but the commentary is worth keeping.  It begins with, "Some women, it is said, like to cook. This book is not for them. This book is for those of us who hate to, who have learned, through hard experience, that some activities become no less painful through repetition: childbearing, paying taxes, cooking." (p. ix.)

How about this, from page 113:  "Once, in an elevator enroute to my office, I was eating some spice cookies which I had made from a recipe in my big fat cookbook. I gave one to the Elevator Lady, and she tasted it. 'My,' she said reflectively, 'I can sure make a better spice cooky than that.' So she brought me her recipe, and she was quite right. This is a short, rich, ginger-snap sort of a cooky, and the recipe makes plenty." This is much better than the comments in any version of Joy of Cooking. The cookies are good ones.

Bracken also gives her standards for cookies. The cookie dough that now sells in grocery stores probably hadn't been invented when she wrote this. Her standards appear on page 113. I agree with her on them. "When you hate to cook, you ask a lot of a cooky recipe. It must call for no exotic ingredients. It must be easy. It must not, above all, call for any rolling out and cutting. It must produce extremely good cookies. And quite a lot of them."

She comments about cheese: "Now cheese is something of a yes-and-no proposition. It isn't too trustworthy, because you have to concentrate on it; and when you hate to cook, you don't want to. After you've produced a curdled Welsh Rabbit or a Welsh Rabbit that resembles a sullen puddle of rubber cement, the tendency is to leave cheese severely alone." (p. 22)

The wisdom of the kitchen is in this old book. I stand behind some of her recipes. At the end of the book she gives a lot of household hints "or, What to Do When Your Churn Paddle Sticks". She points out that "...I...feel that I speak with a certain modest authority when I say that most household hints are pretty terrible." (p. 140) Her hints are good.

Maybe it will be worth it to buy the new revised version of the book. A review of it appeared in the media last July.