Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Watermelon stew and platter-topped ladies

Cooks in the '60s who were tired of 157 recipes based on canned soup and/or Jell-O might have been pretty excited by today's cookbook:

The New Idea Cookbook (edited by Janet Wood, 1965) brought together 25 cookbooks, many of them for regional or foreign cuisines, and few of them using much convenience food.

Of course, part of the reason I love this cookbook is because there are foods that I have trouble even imagining:

Chungking Watermelon Soup (the "ACC" under the recipe name means it's originally from Mimi Ouei's The Art of Chinese Cooking) is almost enough to make my head asplode. The idea of a two-foot watermelon hollowed out and used as a vessel to hold six kinds of meat and seafood as well as celery, cabbage, onion, mushrooms, and seasonings is amazing enough. 

Then I think about the practicality of it all. If I have an enormous, steaming stew baking away in the oven, I want it to be freaking cold outside. If I have a giant watermelon, it is almost certainly waaay too hot for an oven full of steaming watermelon.

I am just fascinated by this because if you put a million of me in a room for a million years and tasked us with making up new recipes, I don't think one of us would ever have envisioned something even close to Chungking Watermelon Soup.

Another great thing about The New Idea Cookbook is that it captures the voices of the various cookbook authors. This recipe (originally from Mildred O. Knopf's The Perfect Hostess Cookbook) may not be especially groundbreaking...

...but I love the note at the end. Not many cookbooks would try to get away with the arch tone of "It is not necessary to serve these slices on rounds of buttered toast, but if your guests have an aversion to licking their fingers at a formal party, they will appreciate having them served that way." I love that Knopf would write this way AND that Wood didn't excise the personality from this collection.

This recipe (originally from The Master in the Kitchen, by Don Pierce with Charlotte Turgeon) might have the biggest personality of them all, though:

Son-of-a-Bitch Stew is more story than recipe. We definitely get more words about Grandma running her cattle ranch and feeding the cowhands than we do about how to make the stew (which should contain a bottle of corn, rye, and/or rotgut liquor). I'm sure Grandma was "quite a gal!"

I didn't know how to end today's post, so I will close it the same way The New Idea Cookbook ends. Here is a completely unexplained picture of old-fashioned upper class ladies in front of a fountain with platters on their heads. Enjoy!


  1. I love that the son-of-a bitch stew doesn't specify what kind of meat, just red meat. BTW, I personally love it when my dinner guests lick their fingers during a meal

    1. You kind of get the sense that the ingredients don't matter all that much for son-of-a-bitch stew. Grandma was apparently not fussy.

      I'm glad you like finger-licking guests! Being accepting puts social misfits at ease, and we need all the help we can get....

  2. I shudder thinking about stew mixed with a bottle of "rotgut" yes but corn liquor? I don't know how that could be edible!

    1. If it's to feed cowhands, maybe it shouldn't be too edible! Got to keep the costs down.