"The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book," Peg Bracken

Pros: Hilarious; easy; simple
Cons: Calls for some outdated ingredients; not all of the recipes are terrific
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

First published 9/18/2000

A long time ago my stepmother gave me a copy of “The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book,” by Peg Bracken. I was puzzled. I certainly don’t hate to cook, and I’m not one of those people who only makes recipes out of “meals in minutes” cookbooks. I couldn’t see why I’d use this cookbook.

“Bastard Barbecue”

Then I was bored while planning a meal one week, and I opened the book up. I found “Bastard Barbecue,” a chicken recipe. Including ingredients the entire recipe is four lines long. Really. Honest-and-for-true. It’s one of four recipes on the page, and this isn’t a large book with huge pages. If you go easy on the garlic salt (too salty) it’s a rather delicious recipe, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t really like chicken all that much.

A Fun Read

Obviously, this isn’t gourmet food; it isn’t meant to outdo a fancy restaurant. But the food is good, the recipes are remarkably simple and easy, and Ms. Bracken’s sense of humor is riotously funny. For example, chapter 8 is entitled, “The Daily Anticlimax.” Ms. Bracken tells us, “These recipes have all been reluctantly tested, and somewhat more cheerfully approved, by women who hate to cook.”

This is one of the few cookbooks I have where I’ll cheerfully sit down to read all the non-recipe bits. I try not to quote entire paragraphs from cookbooks all that often, but I can’t help it this time:

Actually, your cooking is a personal thing, like your sex life, and it shouldn’t be the subject of general conversation. But women who love to cook often love to talk about it, too, and if you’re going to make any sort of show, there are several points to keep in mind…don’t say “onions.” Say “shallots,” even though you wouldn’t know one if you saw one.

With this book, you’ll even be able to fake being a cook without needing to learn all the messy in-between stuff. This stuff is so funny you’ll be reading passages out loud to your spouse.

What the Book Covers

In here you’ll find, as I mentioned above, how to talk like you know how to cook. There’s a chapter on cooking for one – something that more cookbooks could stand to cover. Then you’ll find “Canapes and Heartburn Specials, or Who Started this Business?” Then there’s “Day-by-Day Entrees,” “The Leftover, or Every Family Needs a Dog,” and “The Regional or Foreign Specialty, or I Guess You Always Lose a Little in the Translation.”

There is, of course, “The Daily Anticlimax,” “Vegetables, Salads, Salad Dressings, or This Side of Beriberi,” “Spuds and Other Starches or Ballast is a Girl’s Best Friend,” “Luncheon for the Girls,” “Company’s Coming or Your Back’s to the Wall,” “Can’t We Take Them Out to Dinner or No – Not Always,” and so on. It even covers potluck suppers, last-minute dinners, picnics, desserts (“…or People are too Fat Anyway”), and kids’ parties.

You can probably tell from some of the wordings that this book has been around in one form or another for a while. The first copyright date is in 1960, but it keeps getting re-released due to excessive popularity.

The Recipes

There’s a bit of everything in here. “Old Stony-Lonesome’s Seafood Newburg,” “Cheese and Wine Bake,” “Sweep Steak,” “Skid Row Stroganoff,” “I Hate to Cookies,” “Shuttemup Cookies,” “Elevator Lady Spice Cookies,” “Virginia Peanut Soup,” “Phoebe’s Chicken Tarragon,” “Guest Sprouts,” “Green Pancakes (pronounced Frittaten),” “Ragtime Tuna,” “Kahlua Cream,” and “Famous Old Scripture Cake,” to name just a very few. There are 271 pages of recipes. It’s a hardback book, but small enough that it has the same problems with laying open that small softcovers have. You’ll need something to prop it with.

To Leave You With…

From the “Introduction to the Introduction:”

When they informed me that twenty-five years have elapsed since “The I Hate to Cook Book” appeared, I was astonished. Only think! Twenty-five long years, some longer than others. Well, some of them shorter than others too, come to think of it. But anyway, twenty-five of them, all kinds, and it just goes to show you what can happen when you’re not paying attention.

In other words, buy this book. It makes a hilarious read, no matter what your cooking experience and tastes.

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