I love old cookbooks. Oldish. My favourites being from the 40’s through the 80’s. Depression era ones are also good, but there’s something irresistible about all that apres war poncing about with the discovery of avocados and kebabs and mandarin oranges in syrup; the way corn flakes and potato chips are used as crust, maraschino cherries and olives are tossed onto everything and platters of undercooked hams, shellacked and skewered with slices of tinned pineapple and unripe honeydew melon. Oh the things you can do with tuna! Or, when in doubt, throw some cream or sugar or liquor into whatever you’re making, and while you’re at it have a swig yourself!
A deliciously hideous pseudo-culinary flamboyance that continued for decades, seeming to peter out only with the arrival of celebrity Chefs and food channels and all-of-a-sudden real food from places beyond the British Isles.
There’s something comforting in all that kitsch, all those olives. Takes me back.
Happily, my most recent acquisition, Georgian Bay Gourmet Summer Entertaining, contains all of the above-mentioned in one form or another, plus people are smoking in the accompanying pictures. It not only took me back to an era, its cheerful everyone-must-have-fun bonfires and boating banter delivered me vicariously to some oddly frenetic cottage where placemats and napkins match and an aproned woman in pumps is all Martha in the kitchen morning til night while three year olds play with lawn darts and a guy in a safari jacket swills rum-laced pineapple juice and burns enormous olive-studded hamburgers. The book was published in 1983 when, evidently, no one was eating local or seasonal as any kind of rule. Lots of jellied salads, tinned fruit and things with marshmallows where marshmallows should never be—but as well, many gems, like a tomato and basil soup with gin, frozen watermelon daiquiris, and bits of trivia such as Georgian Bay has 30,000 islands and is the world’s largest fresh water inland bay. And pears—who knew they ripened from the inside out?
One of my favourite items is something called a Disaster, made by putting popsicles and ice cream into a blender til smooth then “pouring into glasses”. Admittedly, I was hot and thirsty while reading the book, which gave Disaster some added appeal. I haven’t tried it yet. Thinking about it now I see how it might be brilliant or… it could live up to its name.
Ah well, if it’s no good I’ll float some marshmallows, add a maraschino cherry or a splash or three of cognac.
Will report once the experiment has been conducted. :)