Most common wisdom has it that during the 50's and early 60's married women were brainwashed sheep, content to cook dinner, clean house, and bear children, uninterested in much else. Such people have never encountered Peg Bracken, who, in the most unliberated year of 1960, wrote "The I Hate to Cook Book".

Anyone looking for advice in this book on how to cap your husband and run away to a separatist lesbian collective will be disappointed. (Her response would be that you'd still have to cook, in any case.) So will people who dote on Martha Stewart's artful suggestions to serve sushi-cut white grapefruit with blueberry dipping sauce on a charming cut-glass plate as an appetizer for broiled salmon with cilantro, or for that matter, people who can't stomach the idea of doing more than tossing a microwave dinner in the oven. But it will give you advice on how to cook for any (American) occasion, from daily family dinnners to chic midnight suppers, interspersed with literate, witty, comments.

Bracken's attitude is treat housewives as complex, intelligent people, who have lives of their own, but are also obligated by marriage, motherhood, and community to do a certain amount of cooking. Her target audience has lunch with the girls at least once a month, has at least one child in the house, is involved with a club or other community activity, engages in an artistic and/or academic pastime or career, and is either out on the town or at a cocktail party every other week at the least. Most of these activities, moreover, call for (at least some) cooking, from "can I bring something?" to a full-dress dinner party with drinks before and coffee and dessert afterwards, served to an often critical audience of family, friends, and neighbors, who have come to expect home-style (or at least moderately interesting) food. Compounding the problem, she acknowleges, are women's magazines who palm off doctored photographs of food prepared by a team of experts as a standard to which home cooks must attain, condescending food companies who treat women as gullible children, easily seduced into buying "instant" and "ready-to-eat" products (that are anything but) at a sharply higher price, and mainstream cookbook editors, who often assume that everyone is as knowlegable and enthusiastic a cook as they are. Her parodies of James Beard: "combine two delectable canned fruits, such as Bing cherries and peaches, add a dash of sherry, and top with a puff of ready-whipped cream" (an ad-hoc dessert) and and "garnish with crispy bacon curls" (meaning "top with bacon") are well worth the price of the book. Certainly not June Cleaver material, this, even if it's not exactly sticking it to the Man! Given all these limitations, her recipes are tasty, easy to prepare, and call for little more skill than chopping an onion or making rice, and few ingredients unavailable in a well-stocked American supermarket.

If the world were anything like what gender feminists would like to have it, this book would have been quietly buried in a small-time publisher's slush pile, privately printed, and only seeing the light of day somewhen in the early 70's, when the author would be discovered guzzling gin South of Market, muttering imprecations against the patriarchy. As it was, it was a smash hit, with women sending in their own recipes, launching two sequels, on housekeeping and etiquette respectively, and landing her a plush job as columnist in one of the magazines she so effectively skewered in her book. She also wrote a follow-up to her original success, which covered such useful knowlege as cooking for singles, picnics, and regional specialties. By the mid-Seventies, the cooking and housekeeping scene had become so complex she created a stable of characters -- Aunt Henry Macadangdang (staunch wife-and-mother...say it with a Bush family accent), Stella Trowbridge Hinkey (consumer advocate and home economist), Albert Wooky (newspaperman and gourmet, inventor of "Wookiee cookies"), One-Hoss Shay (bachelor and boozehound), and Shirley Shimmelfarber (free spirited bohiemian), among a host of others, to carry her through the "I Hate to Cook Almanack".

Now past eighty, she's still writing. Her latest book is "On Growing Old for the First Time." Let it not be her last! ;p:Apparentlz, it was. She died in 2007.

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