What's Cookin'?

I was piling up some cookbooks for next July’s sale and found that, as often happens, they had been piled in the box in no particular order: some were facing up, some down, some were rightside up and some were wrongside up. I could have opened the box at either end and had the same experience. This is a sign that the donor didn’t just take them straight from the shelf and pile them up; they had to be looked at one by one while decisions were made about who made the move to the next apartment and who took a trip to the Newberry Cookbook Adoption Agency.

Two books which were facedown featured pictures of one Mable Hoffman (she spelled it that way), an author with whom I was unfamiliar. Turns out she was another one of those unsung heroes of the twentieth century. She is singlehandedly responsible for millions of newlyweds being given crockpots over the past forty years.

Mable was a home ec major in college, and went to work developing recipes for Sunkist and later for Hunt’s. But her real glory came when a publisher’s daughter got married, was given a slow cooker, and had no idea what to do with it. The publisher went to Mable and said, “There might be a market for a cookbook in this line.”

Not long afterward, the paperback edition of “Crockery Cookery” was at number 1 on the paperback bestseller list, knocking the paperback of “The Joy of Sex” out of first place. More slow cooking cookbooks followed, as Mable tried to cope with finicky eaters who complained that everything tasted the same after an eight hour cooking time. She died at 88 in 2010, leaving a collection of crockpots so large she had lost count.

2010 also marked the special 50th anniversary edition of an entirely different landmark cookbook, whose author had died at 89 just three years earlier. In 1960, her book was a hit in the humor section; its suggestion that a working woman might not have time to spend an hour or two preparing dinner was extremely funny to part of the population.

Half a dozen copies of this classic–Peg Bracken’s “I Hate to Cook Book”–turn up every year at the Book Fair. It was essential to homes where a five minute recipe (this was largely pre-microwave America) could stave off starvation. There were several sequels in the cookbook line, along with “I Hate to Housekeep” and “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World” (which showed she excelled at travel as she did at cooking and cleaning.)

As long as we’re on the theme of non-Julia non-Irma cookbooks, I should like to mention again the largely unsung efforts of Jody Cameron Malis, author of The Office Cookbook, The Supermarket Cookbook, and the Girl Scouts of the USA: The Beginner’s Cookbook. AND, I must add, Buffy’s Cookbook (A Family Affairs tie-in), The Mighty Marvel Superheroes Cookbook, The Newlywed Game Cookbook, and (wait for it) The Dark Shadows Cookbook. I didn’t know vampires or werewolves spent a lot of time in the kitchen, but I find that there is a Count Dracula Cookbook and TWO Twilight Cookbooks (none of these are by Jody Cameron Malis, however; and, by the way, I did not find a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Cookbook.)

This is what book fairs are really for: to remind you a cookbook doesn’t have to say “As Seen On the Food Network”. And you don’t need new gadgets or exotic ingredients: a crockpot, five minutes to fix Stayabed Stew a la Bracken, or…how old was Buffy on Family Affair, anyhow? Eight? If you can’t handle her recipes, have Mrs. Beasley call out for pizza.

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