Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Self-delusion in all its glory

As the heat index begins to rival the number of cookbooks in my collection (Who am I kidding? My house would burn down if it were really THAT hot out. Just play along with my introduction, will you?), I thought it was time to dig out "The No Cooking Cookbook" (Lillian Langseth-Christensen, 1962).

This cookbook promises "maximum pleasure and minimum effort." The pictures on the cover-- a whole pineapple to be carved up and cored, a big stock pot full of something simmering, a whole lobster to cook, cut apart, shell, etc.-- suggest that the author is just a bit delusional about her recipes.

A quick check inside the book suggests that yes, this is the case. Take something that should be easy, like chips and dip.

You could just put in the minimum effort like the cover suggests-- stir together the dip, put it on the table with a pile of potato chips, and let everybody dig in. That would apparently be a little too easy, though, as you apparently have to mix the ingredients, mince up some water cress, spread "only medium-sized potato chips" carefully with the mix, and then dust the finished product with the cress. (After all, what are chips if they're not dusted with minced cress?) What an easy, laid-back recipe!

Sometimes I wonder about Langseth-Christensen's ideas about word meanings. Take "raw," for example:

Raw Soup starts out with canned beets-- certainly not raw!-- and tomato juice-- extremely unlikely to be raw. While the home cook is probably not the one who cooked them, they're still cooked, so either "raw" had a different meaning in the '60s, or the cooking step didn't count if somebody else did it.

The section that struck me as most delusional might be the chapter on chicken. It starts out with this introduction:

Pay special attention to those last two sentences. For one thing, her recipes do not "call for 'One can chicken combined with one can mushrooms and one tablespoon chopped parsley.'"

Nope. They might call for ...

...1-1/2 cups canned chicken and a can of mushrooms with Parmesan instead of parsley...

...or 2 cups of canned chicken and a can of sliced mushrooms with jarred macaroni...

...or 1-1/2 cups of canned chicken with a can each of rice and mushrooms...

...or canned chicken and chicken liver pate with a can of mushrooms. (It even has the parsley!) I think when the author said her recipes would not be "One can chicken combined with one can mushrooms and one tablespoon chopped parsley," she meant that literally. A lot of recipes call for canned chicken and canned mushrooms with a garnish, but none of the recipes is exactly the one she disavowed in the introduction! They all call for something more than just the canned chicken-mushroom-garnish combo.

The other highly questionable line is that the "main course ... can never take more than about 20 minutes to prepare." If that's the case, I have a hard time explaining this:

Is anyone really going to carve the breasts into supremes, put them on ham spread with goose liver pate, coat with a thin layer of "gelatine," chilling and repeating "until Supremes are beautifully coated" in less than 20 minutes (especially considering that the gelatine has to be kept over tepid water to prevent it from setting-)? Cold Chicken Jeanette is just one more example of how deeply deluded Langseth-Christensen seems about the nature of her cookbook....

Now, I'm off to organize my own cookbooks. No, I'm really going to do it this time. Just as soon as I buy some more bookshelves... and get them put together... and ... hey, wait! I don't think I've featured anything from the Dinner Party Cookbook I just found when I was moving this stack. It won't hurt to flip through for just a couple minutes. Right?


  1. Wow, this book really runs the spectrum from low end junk food to fancy pate. Wow! The cover is devine, by the way! I love how the cook is getting a little tipsy from her martini

  2. I've never seen a lot of those ingredients in cans.

    1. Yeah. I was really floored by the concept of canned pasta without sauce. A lot of the others (like canned wild rice) are rare now, but I don't know if anybody makes canned plain pasta anymore.