One of the most popular cookbooks of the 1960s was not enamored of the culinary arts: The I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken.
At Bon Appétit magazine, writer Anna Hezel recently took a look back at the text, published in 1960, a cousin to those “To Hell With Housework” souvenir aprons apparently available at every tourist shop in America in the midcentury. “She loved to poke fun at the joy that women were supposed to prescriptively take in their domestic duties—cooking for their husbands, throwing birthday parties for their children, and hosting potlucks for their neighbors,” the magazine explains.
The I Hate to Cook Book opens with the declaration that, “This book is for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry Martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of a long day,” making it a forerunner of all those Facebook memes and Etsy products declaring mom’s love for wine. She loved mixes and packaged options; her New York Times obituary explained that, “In Ms. Bracken’s culinary canon, ingredients should be cheap, common and above all convenient, ideally frozen or tinned. Canned soups loomed large in her recipes. So did crushed cornflakes, powdered onion soup mix and Spam of the pre-electronic type.” Regarding store-bought cake mixes, Bracken said:
“We don’t get our creative kicks from adding an egg, we get them from painting pictures or bathrooms, or potting geraniums or babies, or writing stories or amendments, or, possibly, engaging in some interesting type of psycho-neuro-chemical research like seeing if, perhaps, we can replace colloids with sulphates. And we simply love ready-mixes.”
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Here she is, after her book blew up, advertising frozen carrots.
Other instructions include, for “Skid Road Stroganoff”: “Brown the garlic, onion, and crumbled beef in the oil. Add the flour, salt, paprika, and mushrooms, stir, and let cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink.”
And for “Afterthought Cookies”: “Should you ever need cookies for children and do not feel up to making any, you can spread confectioners’ sugar moistened with cream and vanilla between graham crackers.”
The book eventually sold three million copies, but the proposal was first “rejected by six different male editors, who all told Bracken that women wouldn’t want to read something that was disparaging towards cooking,” Hezel explains at Bon Appétit. It’s worth noting that Bracken was a copywriter before she wrote the book, which puts a different gloss on things like “Stayabed Stew”—one suspects it may have been more a case of Latetowork Soup. She followed it up with The I Hate to Housekeep Book.
She died in 2007, within a week of the creator of Rice-A-Roni. Read Hezel’s piece here.