Wednesday, February 21, 2018

It's the centenary of America's original Domestic Goddess. "Not!" cried Peg Bracken.

Long before Martha Stewart and Ina Garten launched their reign of terror on America, Peg Bracken said to hell with being the perfect home-maker.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Bracken's writing reassured women that they did not have to be perfect to have a happy, well-managed home. Her best-known book is The I Hate to Cook Book, written in 1960. The book came about when she and some other working-women friends "pooled their ignorance" and came up with a core of recipes strong on ease of preparation.

It was followed by The I Hate to Housekeep Book and The Appendix to the I Hate to Cook Book. The two cookbooks were later published together as The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book. All are illustrated with amusing line drawings by Hilary Knight (best known for illustrating Eloise by Kay Thompson).

“Some women, it is said, like to cook," she wrote. This book is not for them.”

The recipes are distinguished by unusual names and peppered with sardonic comments. For example, one recipe is for "Wolfe Eggs," which are for eggs the way the fictional Nero Wolfe would cook them. "Stayabed Stew" could be left to cook by itself and was perfect "for those days when you are en negligee, en bed, with a murder story and a box of bonbons, or possibly a good case of flu"; mashed potatoes topped with cheese and baked in a casserole become "Spuds O'Grotten".

A chapter on vegetables and salads is subtitled "This Side of Beriberi"; her selection of simple family-oriented main dishes is "30 Day-by-Day Entrees, or, The Rock Pile".

The recipes themselves were written in much the same style ("Brown the garlic, onion, and crumbled beef in the oil. Add the flour, salt, paprika, and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink").

Henry Bemis Books is pleased to offer Bracken’s second published work:

Peg Bracken, The I Hate to Cook Book: More Than 180 Quick and Easy Recipes (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1st ed., 1960). LOC #60-10919. Hardcover, 176 pp, unclipped dustjacket showing some wear about the edges. Illustrations by Hilary Knight. Inscribed, a bit half-heartedly, "To Mother- Merry Christmas and happy cooking- Sandy." HBB price: $25 obo.

Born in Idaho, Bracken (1918-2007), graduated from Antioch College in 1940, married, and moved to Portland, Oregon. There she worked in an ad agency with Homer Groening, father of Matt, creator of The Simpsons.

The I Hate To Cook Book was a bestseller, and launched a number of other titles about various aspects of being a less-than-perfect wife and mother, as well as humorous occasional pieces for most of the leading magazines of the 1960s and ‘70s. 

Her New York Times obituary noted, ““The I Hate to Cook Book” was "the perfect accompaniment to the Rice-A-Roni era, ushered in two years earlier. The inventor of Rice-A-Roni, Vincent M. DeDomenico Sr., died on Thursday,” five days before Bracken.

She was married three times and was on the second when she wrote TIHTCB. “(When Ms. Bracken showed Mr. Lull the manuscript, he responded, “It stinks,” and that was more or less the beginning of the end, their daughter, Johanna, said by telephone yesterday”, The Times reported.

As of Bracken’s death,  The I Hate to Cook Book was out of print, “doubtless a casualty of the Age of Arugula.” A fiftieth-anniversary edition was published in 2010.

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