The I Hate To Cook Book

I'm a big cookbook reader. I know many of you probably join me in the habit of curling up in bed with a good cookbook. You read the little headnotes, scan the ingredients, make mental notes of the clever little twists to the recipe or improvements that you'd likely make. For people like us, glossy photographs aren't terribly important... the words are where the magic is. You're probably a Cook's Illustrated fan like myself, enjoying the little Wall Street Journal-type hand renderings that make it feel like, well, like a journal instead of a magazine. I've spent hours sitting cross-legged in the Faulk Central Library's cookbook aisle and wandered aimlessly among the culinary shelves in Book People during perfectly beautiful afternoons. I seek out the prosaic cookbooks like Larousse, which is nothing more than an encyclopedia of tiny essays instead of recipes. I feel like I'm well-acquainted with the food literature canon, and yet...

I never knew about Peg Bracken until this week's New York Times article about her classic, out-of-print, I Hate To Cook Book from 1960. Perhaps some of you have it on your shelves, or maybe have spied it among your mother's or grandmother's cookbook collection. Her story is one of a quiet revolutionary, someone who simply imbued her efforts with her honest spirit and accidentally documented a significant cultural moment... all in a simple cookbook. From a time when there were no internet-based Soup Peddlers roving the neighborhoods, no prepared foods bars at the supermarkets grinning with the fresh promise of canned and frozen foods, and a barely nascent sense of gender equality, her cookbook was a thumb in the eye of the establishment. The I Hate To Cook Book was the disgruntled housewife's private comic relief. Peg Bracken was an accidental hero, but of course she was wily enough to parlay her brand-self into a bit of a franchise, including the I Hate To Housekeep Book and I Try To Behave Myself. Her recipe for 'Skid Road Stroganoff' read, "...let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink." her 'Aggression Cookies' called for "vigorous kneading, perfect for channeling some energies away from throwing bricks." She offered helpful entertaining advice: "If you find you are serving the same thing too often to the same people, then invite someone else instead. It is much easier to change your friends than your recipes." She passed away in October. Let me know if you have a copy handy.