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Weekly Alibi Retro Cooking: Recipes for Disaster

By Noah Masterson and Mary Ann McDonald

APRIL 20, 1998: 

Recipes for Disaster

It's amazing what passed for food just 40 years ago. As American cuisine struggled to find its niche, ingredients like potato chips and breakfast cereal became nearly as common as flour and eggs. What better way to study our parents' eating habits than to go to the source? We've unearthed some old cookbooks that will amaze and disgust. Read at your own risk.

--Noah Masterson


Sunday Night Suppers: 161 Chafing Dish and Other Specials
by the Staff Home Economists (Culinary Arts Institute, paper, price unknown)

Published in 1956, this little 68-page wonder offers more disgusting recipes than other cookbooks five times its size. I mean it, man--I'm talkin' puke-city. Most of the recipes can be prepared in a chafing dish--which is like a Bunsen burner-powered double broiler--so that you can amaze and excite your guests by cooking right at the table. The theory behind the "Sunday Night Supper" is that after six days of serious menu labors, the busy housewife is free to experiment on her unsuspecting family with more frivolous dishes prepared in a chafing dish. Yeah, whatever.

If eating the thymus gland or pancreas of a young animal floats your boat, try the recipe for Creamed Sweetbreads on page 12. Just remember to "remove all the tubes and membranes." For other not-readily-identifiable meat products, try the Baked Bologna on page 26. The Most Ridiculous Recipe Award goes to the Southern Oyster Loaf, which is just a loaf of unsliced bread, which you rip the top off of and stuff with oysters. Someone get me a bucket! (NM)


Better Homes & Gardens Barbecue Book
by the editors of Better Homes & Gardens (Meredith, cloth, $3 at a thrift store)

The introduction to the Better Homes & Gardens Barbecue Book instructs us to "shuck off those old worries and start a fire for a fresh-air feast." This fueled my arsonistic tendencies, and I immediately set about looking for a school to burn down. I have since calmed down.

What really drew me to this 1956 cookbook was the pictures. There's nothing like Vaseline to make food glisten, and the photographers at Better Homes & Gardens use that magic substance liberally. The meat shines and the veggies are impossibly bright colors.

The weirdest food items in this book are the shish-kabobs. You can choose from the Picnic Piggies (skewered brown-and-serve sausages, peaches and cherries), the Vagabond Kabobs (skinned bologna on a stick) or the perversely titled Tall-Teen Wienies (split wieners stuffed with processed cheese and wrapped in bacon).

When experimenting with any of these recipes, as with all controlled substances, have an ambulance ready to take you to the emergency room for a stomach pumping or high-powered enema. (NM)


Quick Dishes for the Woman in a Hurry
by Melanie De Proft (Culinary Institute, paper, a quick $1.25)

Great! A cookbook for that night Mr. Right has accepted my dinner invitation. I leaf through to find a down-home meal I can prepare with ingredients I have at home. Mmmm, Tender-Rich Buttermilk Biscuits to start. Hey, this single recipe takes 30 minutes. OK, no bread. Need veggies, though. Shades o' Green Salad? Thirty minutes to prepare as well. How about the entrée? Frilly Frankfurters sound fast, but really take, yep, 30 minutes. Well, maybe just dessert and decaf. Nothing that today's woman would have in her fridge. Let's see, that's 1 1/2 hours of cooking if I serve Prince Charming all the above. Would he be worth it? I suggest reading this book in the tub (I find that the silly illustrations and Technicolor centerfold do nothing to stimulate one's appetite). So go ahead and soak, sip some wine and listen for the ding signaling dinner being done in the microwave oven. (MAM)

--Noah Masterson and MaryAnn McDonald


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