Saturday, November 8, 2014

A dissertation on menus

Browsing through my copy of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook (edited by Dorothy B. Marsh, 1963), I spotted a section called "Family Meals" that lists dozens of suggested menus. A lot of them have pretty straightforward concepts ("We Love Meat Loaf" or "Spaghetti Supper"), but others were more, shall we say, interesting.

You know I'm a little obsessed with the politics of old cookbooks. (Could I have a more obscure interest? Maybe I should study the political and psychological underpinnings of the varying ideas about gluten and its merits over the past 75 years as my next project. That would really interest ... me. And maybe one other person.)

But anyway, occasionally a menu would surprise me.

I wouldn't expect a '60s cookbook to have a menu for a bachelor at all, considering the usual assumption that women cooked. If I'd had to guess what the menu would recommend, I would have chosen the stereotypical "man food"-- steak, baked potato with lots of butter and sour cream, maybe some green beans for balance, and a big slice of apple pie. Instead, this is a soup and salad menu, closed with a fruit tart. It could almost be a ladies' luncheon menu if it just used food coloring to dye something pink!

Mostly, though, the choices were depressingly unsurprising. The "Cooking for Two" section always seems like it HAS TO validate that it's okay to cook for only two. The titles give an excuse, suggesting a big date, or, for the older set:

Everyone has kids, and everyone has to find new menus once they move out. I'm not sure what makes this particular menu the right choice now that the kids are gone. Maybe the fillets are more expensive than one would want to feed children? Maybe the kids would get too much of a sugar rush from TWO desserts, so it's best to reserve them for the grownups? (Maybe it's just because sherbet is a required dessert once the kids leave?)

I thought maybe the "Chinese Cauliflower" would be considered a little too sophisticated for children's palates, so I looked it up and found this:

I'm not sure what makes creamed cauliflower with a sprinkle of paprika either Chinese or too sophisticated for children, but if you figure it out, let me know.

Most depressingly, I found a "fun" menu in the casual racism department:

Okay, wigwam sandwiches could be fun and maybe teach a little something about architecture. "Big-Chief Soup" inches closer to being condescending while pretending admiration, but "Squaw-Berry Shortcake"? That makes "Big-Chief Soup" sound nearly respectable in comparison. I guess we're just lucky this menu didn't feature "Scalped Potatoes."

Up next: A couple menus that make me question the food more than the politics. I know. That's what (all three of) my readers really come here for. Thanks for your patience with my obsessions.


  1. I am very relieved this cookbook has no illustrations. Can imagine what Big-Chief Soup would look like?

    1. What, you don't want to see little popcorn rafts in a bloody tomato lake? (Those would be some seriously odd textures, too.)