The I Hate to Cook Book

I don’t know where I originally found my tiny 60s paperback edition of The I Hate to Cook Book, but I thought it wonderful. It wasn’t just a collection of (outdated) recipes to make getting dinner on the table easier — it was a glimpse into a whole ‘nother culture.

Peg Bracken was part of a world where women, no matter what else they did — she worked in advertising — were also expected to take care of the home and cook dinner every night. In this book, she treated this duty as a task to get through efficiently and with a minimum of fuss, instead of beating oneself up to achieve pretty, underappreciated dishes night after night. Her message was that you didn’t have to want to be a perfect housewife or cook, and that was okay, that there were other women who felt the same way. In amongst the recipes was a good deal of subtly feminist humor.

Her dishes were simple and fast, many depending on canned cream of mushroom soup. And they demonstrated just what ingredients were supermarket common in the mid-60s, and what techniques were standard. It was eye-opening, a journey into another world I’d only seen on sitcoms.

(There is one short section I’m still conflicted about, though, where she advises lying to your husband about whether you’ve made something yourself because “marriage is sometimes a rough game.” Then I found out she was married four times, and I ignore that piece.)

Imagine my surprise to discover, while browsing a terrific local bookstore on vacation, that the book had been recently reissued in a lovely hardcover. This 50th Anniversary Edition has been “updated and revised”, but that means only this:

  • Two recipes are gone, for things no one today would make anyway: cream puffs filled with dip, and two kinds of canned plums with ginger. (I don’t know where I’d find canned plums, anyway, let alone both damson and greengage.)
  • The mention of canned Welsh Rabbit has turned into a quick recipe to make your own.
  • All references to chicken or beef consomme are now chicken or beef broth, and the refrigerated jellied consomme soup mention is gone.
  • The can and package sizes have been tweaked to reflect modern-day standards.
  • “Raw” rice is now referred to as “uncooked”.

There’s also a new foreword by Peg’s daughter Jo (which turns out to stand for Johanna!) that shares some memories of her mother.

The first chapter gets right to the reader’s needs, providing 30 basic entrees, enough casseroles to cover a month of dinners. Bracken admits that some are simple, some are even dull, but they’ll get you through the month. (Assuming you have an oven and don’t mind cooking with onion-soup mix or canned mushrooms or lots of cream or butter.) The most complicated parts I found were making a cream sauce — which turns out to be flour and butter with some liquid — or using a double boiler, and that’s not hard, just old-fashioned. Recipe times range from 30 minutes of cooking to one odd bean dish that takes six hours.

Additional chapters cover leftovers (although who cooks lamb these days, let alone worries what to do with it after?), vegetables (which consist mostly of carrots, beets, green beans, onions, and spinach; I love that this chapter begins with a recipe for an easy cheese sauce to cover them up), and starches (potato/rice). Then she starts getting into the social events of her era: The potluck. The company dinner party. The ladies’ luncheon. The cocktail party nibbles. The children’s birthday party.

This book is highly readable as much for its humor as its recipes, although I’m going to try some, if only so I can say that I’ve made something called Clam Whiffle.

3 Responses to “The I Hate to Cook Book”

  1. David Oakes Says:

    I discovered Bracken as a college student shopping in used bookstores. It was second only to “Cooking for Two” in the “It’s 3am and I need to start dinner” category.

  2. Brigid Says:

    We had all these books when I was growing up, and Bracken also had a monthly column in one of the women’s magazinesâ��either Family Circle or Women’s Dayâ��that my mom used to get. I loved Bracken’s sophisticated tone, and while I didn’t get a lot of her references (Tales of Hoffman, La Strada, the Rh factor), they stuck with me, and whenever I hear one of them, I think of her. The only recipe I ever tried was something like The Old Standby, which is pork chops and rice cooked together with peppers and onions. It’s actually quite good and easy to make.

    Annie Lamott has a funny passage in one of her novels about Chicken Rice Roger (the chicken analog of that dish) and how all the working women started making it all the time, which caused their husbands to leave them.

  3. Johanna Says:

    I can see how they’d get tiring after a while — there’s only so often you can have a meat cooked in rice and cream of mushroom soup, after all — but it is such a memorable time capsule! Thanks for sharing those references.




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