Opinion: Cooking up stories


Mary Ellen and I were in the middle of spring cleaning (we do it every three or four years) when I found a book in the storage closet that I thought Mary Ellen could benefit from. I retrieved it from a shelf and placed it on the kitchen counter, as a subtle hint.

“What’s with this, Dick? After 42 years of marriage, I don’t think I need a refresher course. True, I never really enjoyed the process, but I expected you to participate more than you have.”

“Mary Ellen, the book is ‘The Joy of Cooking.’ Not ‘The Joy of Cleaning.’”

Apparently, she inherited this volume from her mother. First published in 1931, this was the l936 release, with 800 pages. It’s actually a collector’s item. I skimmed the pages and was disappointed to discover there were no photos showing what it looks like when recipe steps are followed properly. Does “The Joy of Sex” have photos like that? No clue.

This kitchen essential opens with cocktails. Here’s what the author, Irma Rombauer, wrote: “Cocktails loosen tongues and unbutton reserves of the socially shy … and they should be served the sooner the better.” This is no longer considered good advice — especially if you are a flight attendant.

The poultry and game chapter’s introduction includes: “Draw out the entrails, cut the neck close to the body, remove the windpipe end, then chop off the feet.” As you can tell, this book was a big hit with serial killers.

The fish chapter begins by saying the key to a good dinner party is the proper preparation. I’m not sure whether Irma refers to preparing the fish or the guests, but I’ll be ready, either way: “I hope you enjoy the blowfish, which is poisonous if not cooked properly. Just in case, be advised you might experience violent stomach pain, convulsions and possible death.”

One section references people retiring to the drawing room for dessert. I believe if people are retiring at your party, you should liven things up with a stripper or the Chippendales to celebrate. And what’s a drawing room? The only guy I know personally with one of those is cartoonist Gary Varvel.

Doesn’t this, taken right from the book, sound like it could be the climax scene from the movie “The Thing”? “When it comes to vegetables, cooks often suffer from arrested development, and the result is indescribable, looking like it came from a siege, drained of all life force and surrendered to the inevitable.”

When Irma finished writing the recipes, her husband, Edgar, told her he would taste them all, if she cooked them in alphabetical order, following the index. This was the perfect publicity stunt, he thought, but it was doomed to fail before the very last meal. Edgar, you see, was allergic to zucchini.