Terrible recipes, great jokes

the book:

The I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken

published 1961  chapter 10 Little Kids' Parties


The Hobo Party

This is the best way out of the summer birthday party situation. You advise the mothers to send the children dressed in old clothes. Then you buy a spotted handkerchief for each little guest, put his lunch in it, and tie it to the end of a stick. His lunch could be: three different sandwich triangles, wrapped separately, an apple or a banana, a small chocolate bar, a sealed container of milk, and two straws. You then lead the little horrors, each carrying his bundle, to the park or the zoo for a picnic. (If there’s no park or zoo handy, or no car to ferry them in, let them parade around the block with their bundles and some noisemakers, then have the picnic in the back yard or on the porch.) Bring them into the house last, for the ice cream and cake.

observations: Peg Bracken would never have been decorating cupcakes. She was a great believer in women working, having fun, and living their lives out in the world.  That did not encompass much in the way of cooking, or spending time on housekeeping, and she wrote various books passing on her tips to other women in the 1960s. It would be lovely to report that the recipes in this book are delicious and of great use to modern women, but sadly most of them sound truly revolting. One recipe contains 1 tin of evaporated milk, 2 tins of corn and a tin of tuna, but it has the decency to be called Cancan casserole, and the good thing about the book is that you can read and enjoy it without ever wanting to make most of the food. She is full of good jokes, encouragement, and funny comments.

And, this book contains my favourite line from any recipe or cookbook ever. It comes from the instructions for Skid Road Stroganoff, talking of hobos. Yes it is just as disgusting as it sounds, and yes the ingredients include 2 tins of mushrooms, a tin of chicken soup, and mince. But consider this:

Add the flour, salt, paprika and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink.

You could forgive the woman anything for that.

Links up with: Dressing for a children’s party is important

here, picnicking features here and here.

picture is from George Eastman House, a source of wonderful photos which they kindly have made freely available. It’s an advert for Cream of Wheat.



  1. I have a cookbook - that you gave me, Moira - called Darling, You Shouldn't Have Gone To So Much Trouble. It contains the lines 'If the cook believes her food is good...her confidence will... reassure [her guests]. This is particularly true if on arrival they have been given strong cocktails...' Those were the days!

  2. How does this compare and contrast with the children's party book from Pippa Middleton, that I see being promoted over here in the US?! Love that line about smoking at the sink. Those were the days...

  3. Moira, thanks for linking this in to my new feature. Hope you are having a good week.

  4. I grew up with this cookbooks and its sequel on the shelf in our kitchen. My mother never once succumbed to any recipe that began with "take a can of soup" but there was something fresh and admirable in the attitude.
    I like this quote that turned up when I was searching for her obit: “We don’t get our creative kicks from adding an egg, we get them from painting pictures or bathrooms, or potting geraniums or babies, or writing stories or amendments, or, possibly, engaging in some interesting type of psycho-neurochemical research like seeing if, perhaps, we can replace colloids with sulphates. And we simply love ready-mixes.”
    I grew up not to love ready-mxes but also not to have much ego invested in my ability to make a meal and in recipes tend to favour the shortest distance between two points. Actually, if you want to know who can write a beautiful recipe it is Marina Endicott. Somehow, I expect, you will not be surprised.

    1. No indeed, very ready to believe that Marina gives good recipe! I love Peg Bracken and her attitudes, and I love that quote you found. She was a good feminist, and I can forgive her the recipes because she is such fun. She wrote an etiquette book too, which is hilarious, but also gives really sound advice, and lovely tips on teaching your children manners - I found it very useful, and have used many of her strategies - and I speak as someone who had an etiquette book published myself.

  5. I grew up with this cookbook, and still remember fondly some of my early adventures in the kitchen guided by it. At the time (a child of about 6 to 10), I found everything I cooked from it delicious!

    1. I think I'm probably being a bit unfair above, there were a few things I made that were OK, and they were EASY, which was excellent. Would love to know which ones you cooked....

  6. Once again, an author I love! As you say, it's not for the recipes, it's for her writing. She's just so much fun to read. I own all her books and still reread them while I'm eating for the entertainment value, but also for the practical advice. "Last Minute Suppers" is a great chapter because, as she points out, the Emergency shelf is often the shelf with the fun food, so of course it vanishes before an emergency hits. Therefore, anything on that shelf needs to be boring but useful. Also, never feel guilty about a last-minute supper, because your family will spend a lot less time eating the average meal than you did cooking it.

    Her Appendix to The I Hate To Cook Book is another favorite, and she has a whole chapter on Eating While Alone which I found quite helpful when I started living on my own. It made me feel OK about sticking to a small range of foods in the beginning until I was more used to shopping for myself, and not being one of those gourmet chefs who whips up an incredibly fancy dinner every night and dines by candlelight with dinner music playing. Now, I can do this sometimes when I want to, but I don't feel compelled to put on the dog every evening.


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