Monday, May 14, 2012

Cruising My Bookshelf: One of the Worst Cookbooks I Own

Just got back from a fun but exhausting mini-vacation with the kids, and I don't have the energy for any exotic cooking today. So, let's talk about my bookshelf. Well, my cookbook-filled bookcase. My husband and I are serious book-a-holics so this is by no means the ONLY bookcase in my house, but it is the only one completely filled with cookbooks.

Since I have a difficult time getting rid of books, I probably have pretty much every cookbook I've ever purchased, with the lone exception of the copy of The Joy of Cooking which I left in France at the end of my junior year abroad. My backpack was already a whopping 40 kilos, and I didn't need to add the weight of a cookbook. My cookbooks range from some vintage cookbooks I bought for fun, to oddball cookbooks I bought for research interests, to standards, to some high-end cookbooks which I use less for cooking and more for recreational purposes (i.e. "Damn, that looks good. Too bad I don't have three days and $100 to make it.").

While I have yet to finish my saga of how I learned to cook, let me be clear that I am a decent home cook but have no formal training. Most of the learning I have done has been some basics from my mom, additional techniques from watching various good cooks make really good home cooked food from many countries, wayyyyyyy to much time spent reading cookbooks and food blogs and watching cooking shows, and a lot of trial and error. I think it would be fun to take some cooking classes, but I am not one of those people who has a secret desire to quit my job, go to culinary school and then open my own restaurant. First of all, I actually enjoy my career already and second I have enough self-awareness to know that I am a fat middle-aged woman who does not have enough talent, desire or stamina to enter the culinary world. All of this is to say that I have some cookbooks which I purchased before I knew how to evaluate a good cookbook from a bad one.

Falling into this category is a book by Kaye Johns called A Pinch of This and a Dash of That published in 1988, and probably purchased by me in 1988. This is not a widely known cookbook--a Google search turns up a few stray used copies for sale on eBay. I also just Googled Kaye Johns--apparently she and her husband have since started a Christian ministry involving making videos. From what I can tell, she is a good Christian woman from Texas who had her own radio show wherein she recounted touching stories about cooking and her family.

The cookbook contains recipes ranging from not-very-exciting-but-probably-tastes-pretty-good to very strange indeed. Now, here are the reactions from my two personalities:

Anthropologist/Folklorist: How interesting. Given what I know about popular recipes published for women from the 20s through the early 60s, I recognize the sometimes surprising use of gelatin, the use of canned and dried ingredients, and the emphasis on dishes which could be made relatively quickly. She probably learned to cook from her mom and from 4-H and home ec classes as a child and teenager. She's appealing to her primary audience, middle-class homemakers in the south and west.

Just me, the cook: Holy crap! Where on earth did she come up with some of THESE? Here's a few examples...
Peanut Cheese Ball
1/3 cup chopped peanuts
1/3 cup stuffed green olives
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1/2 jar (2.5-oz.) dried beef, chopped finely
Thoroughly mix peanuts and olives with cream cheese; shape into a ball. Spread dried beef on a sheet of waxed paper; roll cheese ball in it, pressing slightly so it will stick. Serve with an unsalted or bland cracker.

Zingy Tomato Salad
1 small pkg. cherry gelatin (four-serving size)
1 cup boiling water
1 can (16-oz.) sliced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup sour cream
Dissolve gelatin in boiling water; add tomatoes and pour into a mold. Refrigerate until set. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

Open-Faced Peanut Butter Sandwich
1 slice toast
Chunky Peanut Butter
Favorite jam or jelly
1 slice Swiss cheese
Spread toast with peanut butter, then jelly. Top with slice of Swiss cheese and broil until cheese melts.

Rich Creamed Eggs
6 eggs, hard-cooked and peeled
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/3 cup mayonnaise
Parsley, chopped
Hard cook the eggs and peel. While they are still hot, slice them in half lengthwise and place them in a pretty dish. Mix soup and mayonnaise together and heat carefully; do not boil. Spoon sauce over eggs, sprinkle with parsley and stir.

I'm not sure what prompted me to hold on to this cookbook for the last 25 years. For a long time, it was kind of like watching a train wreck. Horrifying, but tough to look away. Now that I understand the historical context a bit better, I think of it as an interesting, if slightly gross, historical document. Just one of the many exciting cookbooks to be found on my bookshelf!


  1. "My husband and I are serious book-a-holics..." I have never read a more understated comment in my life.

    1. I have to admit, I'm weirdly tempted to try out the creamed eggs. If they do end up tasting as horrific as they look, I shall blame you entirely.

    2. Mark-- Just as long as you don't sue me for food poisoning.

      Vic--Sad, but true.

  2. We call that "church food". Thankfully my MiL while being a pastor's wife does not make church food like that! Ewwwe!

  3. Made the creamed egg tonight. Not nearly so horrific as one might imagine!

    1. Oh my God. You're braver than I am! Kudos for being adventurous.