Friday, June 8, 2012

Mary Meade's Kitchen Companion Review

by Kelly

People give me books all the time, usually with the comment, 'You can have these, as long as I never see them again.' It's almost like they're afraid that I'll sneak back to their homes late at night and leave an unwanted book on their doorstep like a foundling, something that I would never dream of doing. Spare garden produce, like zucchini, maybe, but books, never.

If I kept all the books that came my way I could found my own library. So, instead, I treat them like stray animals, and do my best to find good homes for them. Sometimes, though, I stumble across surprising finds in the boxes and bags, and then I'm rewarded for all that work.

Recently, tucked away in a 'donated' box of books with titles like 'How to Keep a Customer the Southwest Airlines Way' and '50 Things You Should Know about Your Health', I found a book called 'Mary Meade's Kitchen Companion', published in the 1950's.

A cookbook, written in the '50's?? What sage advice could I find inside? So I opened it up to see.

The first chapter was more than I could have hoped for. Entitled 'Atom and Eve', this is where the author (Ruth Church, who was a food editor for the Chicago Tribune for something like 20 years) discusses the glowing future of cuisine, including irradiating food with Gamma Rays to make it last longer (and probably turn it green and angry, like The Hulk), and the electronic range revolution (in pink or blue, no less). She also laments the new wave of convenience foods, including pre-packaged mixes and heat-and-eat foods, and makes a plea for the old 'from scratch' methods, including Grandma's canning of hundreds of quarts of food in the summer months. (Whew!)

She's not sad for long, though, as in the next chapter she's happily outfitting 'Your Dangerous Dream Kitchen' with meat grinders, wall mounted can openers, and food mills, although she takes care to stress how dangerous these new automated devices can be. Sharp objects aren't the only danger in the kitchen, though - there are also insect pests contaminating the food. Unfortunately, the advice on how to deal with ants and the like involves using a mixture of 5% DDT household insecticide or even Chlordane.

Meanwhile, the recipes themselves are also a bit dated, especially those for 'alternative meats' which I will leave to your imagination, but let me say that we aren't talking about chuck roasts or tofu here. There are also some pleasant surprises, though, like a recipe for 'Orange Chiffon Cake' and a mysterious 'Sunshine Cake', mentioned only in passing, apparently as something that every good '50's era housewife knew at birth. There is also an extensive review of 'the new boxed cake mixes', which apparently caused quite a stir (ha) at the time.

By turns hilarious and useful, and written with a self-aware sense of humor, this book is going on my shelf as a 'keeper'. Whenever I'm feeling overwhelmed with housework, I think I'll take a minute to open this book to the section which discusses waxing the kitchen floor and defrosting the refrigerator, and thank my lucky stars that I live in the modern age.

1 comment:

  1. As one who lived in the fifties as well as now, it is a lot easier now.


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