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Pins And Needles: What's Cooking?

"I diversified to tuna and noodle casserole, meat loaf, pea soup and corn chowder, then proceeded to a tomato aspic that quivered with authority, and eventually tackled a turkey. Despite tears and tantrums I learned how to cook...''

Here's a welcome to Gloria MacKay, a sparkling writer who will be regularly contributing columns to Open Writing.

Gloria regularly broadcasts on station KSER-FM 90.7 from Everett in Washington State, USA. She has written a number of books: Throwing Sticks and Skipping Stones, The Cuckoo Can Clean Her Own Clock, Spring Goes Out Like A Lamb. These can be bought on the Net. For details visit http://dlsijpress.com/mackay/

My first cook book was The Homemaker’s Guide to the 1950’s. It was handed out free with the marriage license. I was so eager to start cooking that I skipped the Salute to the Bride, The Message to the Bride, The Tribute to the Bride, the shopping lists, helpful hints and kitchen terms, and went straight for the recipes. I still remember my first attempts: pineapple upside-down cake, brownies and apple crisp. (It’s not my fault the book started out with desserts.)

I diversified to tuna and noodle casserole, meat loaf, pea soup and corn chowder, then proceeded to a tomato aspic that quivered with authority, and eventually tackled a turkey. Despite tears and tantrums I learned how to cook.

As years passed, however, my first cook book ended high on a shelf, displaced by Betty Crocker, Julia Child and a spattered shoe box so full of recipes I couldn’t cook my way to the bottom if I opened a café.

One dreary afternoon, intending “to do something” with the closets and cupboards, I idly began to flip through the pristine pages I never did read. I was stunned. What I had neglected the first time around was now a flashback to America in the 1950’s, an America so condescending to women why would anyone want to go back? I felt like sailing this castaway right through the open door to the garage and into the recycle bin. Better yet, take a match to it, one page at a time except for the date-nut bars. (Did I mention, they’re marvelous?)

First to flambé would be the editor’s Message to the Bride:

“The whole world salutes the little woman who takes the future in her own two hands… and makes a go of matrimony… A good hot breakfast, a well groomed bride, a parting kiss, do much to make a man’s day a successful one and his home a sanctuary. Smiles, good food, a pretty frock, a good dinner well-served, gracious entertaining, thoughtfulness and loyalty are the ruffles you can add to good living.” Not a hint how to make my day a successful one and my home a sanctuary for me.

Sandwiched between Sample Shopping Lists and Hints to Homemakers is a poem — an ode of sorts — to those same damn ruffles.

Life has given each of us
A garment we must wear
And the only protest we can make
Is to add a ruffle here and there.

Who was the editor thinking of, instructing brides that thoughtfulness and loyalty are mere ruffles basted on the hem of good living? She must have been as sappy as syrup and as deep as a pie plate. It fits the job description; this is a cook book, after all.

Once finished with The Message, a compliant bride must still take her etiquette lessons before she does as much as boil water. Introducing Rules of Good Behavior is a quotation from Lady Mendl, whoever that is. “Be pretty if you can, witty if you must, but be agreeable, if it kills you.”

I wonder how many women it has?

As for The Rules themselves?

A lady will endure agonies rather than be rude.
Don’t clasp your hands over your “tummy.”
This pose went out with the horse and buggy.

Keep your hands to yourself.
Do not publicly fondle, poke or nudge.

In passing through a door never let it slam in the face of the person following — friend or foe.

I totally agree not to shut out a friend. But a foe? I don’t know, but I certainly hope I let the door slam.

My favorite cook book today is a tiny volume bound together with bright red yarn. I bought it at one of those artsy crafty gift shops down along the waterfront. I went there with my friend Clarice shortly before she died. Neither one of us had any thought at the time that this was going to occur.

Clarice taught me more about cooking (and life) than any book could. She said do not try out a new recipe in December unless you want to make it a part of your holiday menu for the rest of your life. Your family will insist it’s a Christmas tradition. She said if your only choices (about anything) are none and slim, pick slim. And Clarice said any recipe calling for zucchini would be better off without it, but then what would you do with the zucchini?

Which brings me back to My Homemaker’s Guide of the 1950’s. I would be better without it, but what would I do with the dates and the nuts? You can’t make this kind of cookie with just any old recipe at the bottom of the box. As far as the editor’s message, it is a good reminder not to head for any sanctuary that happens along. It might be for the birds.


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