May 15, 2009

STAYABED STEW....a Retro Recipe from 1960's

A Tribute to Peg Bracken

STAYABED STEW by Peg Bracken

(This is for the days when you`re en negligee, en bed, with a murder story and a box of bonbons, or possibly a good case of flu.)

5-6 servings

Mix these things up in a casserole dish that has a tight lid:
2 pounds beef stew meat, cubed
1 can of little tiny peas*
1 cup of sliced carrots*
2 chopped onions
1 teaspoon salt, dash of pepper
1 can cream of tomato soup thinned with 1/2 can water (or celery or mushroom soup thinned likewise)
1 big, raw potato, sliced
Piece of bay leaf*

Put the lid on and put the casserole in a 275 degree oven. Now go back to bed. It will cook happily all by itself and be done in five hours.


*If you don't like this, leave it out.

Incidentally, a word here about herbs and seasonings. These recipes don`t call for anything exotic that you buy a box of, use once, and never again. Curry powder, chili powder, oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram, and bay leaf are about as far out as we get. And if you family says,``What makes it taste so funny, Mommie?`` whenever you use any herbs at all, you can omit them (although if you omit chili from chili or curry from curry, you don`t have much left, and you`d really do better to skip the whole thing).
But as a rule, don't hesitate to cut the amount of a seasoning way down, or leave it out, when it`s one you know you don`t like. This goes for green pepper, pimento, and all that sort of thing, too. (I mention this only because we ladies who hate to cook are easily intimidated by recipes and recipe books, and we wouldn`t dream of substituting or omitting; we just walk past that particular recipe and never go back again.)
We must assert ourselves. I, by way of example, think rosemary is for remembrance, not for cooking, and the amount of rosemary I have omitted from various recipes would make your head swim. The dishes turned out quite all right, too.

Peg Bracken (like Erma Bombeck and other authers) show in a very humourus way how to cook and to clean a house, to behave... to go through life in a down to earth and very funny way...Alissa










Laura Shapiro - Culinary Sanity - Gourmet Magazin Article about Peg
Food was nowhere near the heart of Peg Bracken’s greatness; what she gave the home cook was freedom.
I’ll miss Peg. No, I didn’t know her personally, nor was I ever tempted to try one of the recipes in her masterpiece, “The I Hate to Cook Book,” which came out in 1960. By the time I fell in love with the book, it was some 40 years old; and even I, a pathetically gullible reader of cookbooks, no longer believed a teaspoon of curry powder was going to do anything very positive for canned cream-of-chicken soup. That didn’t matter. Food was nowhere near the heart of Peg Bracken’s greatness. It was freedom—a word she might have piped in frosting across a cake-mix cake, if it weren’t such a ridiculous amount of trouble to start writing on cakes.

Bracken’s target was all the emotional baggage that women dragged into the kitchen with them whenever it was time to cook. Back in the 1940s, when she was starting married life, women who cooked badly and were horribly aware of it had guilt snapping at their heels from breakfast to dinner. To fail at cooking was to fail at femininity, not to mention love, motherhood and the honor of the family. Good cooks had an easier time of it, but by midcentury even they weren’t fully immune, because the very definition of good cooking was always moving just out of reach. No sooner had you mastered pot roast and chocolate cake than seafood tetrazzini and madeleines hovered into view. Only the women who cooked as naturally as they breathed, and liked to confess laughingly that they couldn’t follow a recipe if they tried, lived in that blissful realm beyond the icy grip of inadequacy.

But easy recipes alone were not going to banish guilt and self-loathing. By the time Bracken sat down write a cookbook, easy recipes had been abundant for years without making any discernible headway against kitchen guilt. The food industry was churning them out as automatically as it churned out boxes of instant pudding, and helpless cooks had to look no further than the food section in the daily paper to find detailed instructions for opening two cans of soup and mixing them together. What’s more, it was perfectly okay to cook that way. You could serve a Shanghai Salad made from a can of beansprouts and another of water chestnuts without embarrassment; you could pass around slices of bologna folded like little cornucopias over dabs of cream cheese and call them hors d’oeuvres; you could even mix vanilla ice cream with Grape Nuts and pour over it a sauce made from melted caramels and marshmallows—this was entirely permissible by the standards of the time. But crossing the finish line didn’t mean you felt victorious.

Bracken’s easy recipes were a lot like everyone else’s—except for the writing. She perfected the relaxed voice and style of a genial neighbor to whom humor was a way of life, and she absolutely refused to take cooking seriously. That turned out to make all the difference. The food didn’t have to change; your perspective on life and dinner had to change, and she could make the shackles of guilt fall away just by eyeing them with a dry and relentless skepticism. Feeling like a wastrel because you bought a frozen chicken pie or a box of pie-crust mix? Quit beating yourself up about it. “Maybe you do your own wallpapering, while that lady down the block, who so virtuously rolls her own noodles, pays vast sums to paper hangers. Maybe you make your own clothes, or sell Christmas cards at home, or maybe you’re just plain cute to have around the house.” If you’re hesitating to serve some desperate glop of ground beef topped with corn-muffin mix even to your husband, one quick way to improve it is to haul out a bottle of wine. (Note: this was a genuinely radical suggestion. Nobody had wine for family dinner in 1960, except recent immigrants who still knew how to live). “The sort of wine doesn’t matter too much,” Bracken counselled. “It can be a whimsical little $4.95 bottle or a downright comical 59 cent vintage; it’s the principle of the thing that counts.” And, of course, I can’t overlook what is probably the most beloved instruction all American recipe-writing, from her directions for Skid Road Stroganoff: “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.”

“The I Hate to Cook Book” sold some three million copies, many of them to people like Bracken, who didn’t mind cooking at all but hated the moral, social and culinary commandments that came raining down like arrows when they started to plan a meal. It’s still worth a place on your cookbook shelf. True, the recipes show their age every time canned potatoes or processed cheese make an appearance. But her sense of humor remains beautifully in tune to this day. What’s more, it’s clear today that an honest food-lover is presiding over this book, someone who insists on a real vinaigrette, a decent loaf of French bread, a dash of brandy in the pumpkin pie, and crystallized ginger just about anywhere it will do some good.

Bracken didn’t start a revolution, either in food or in women’s lives, though for sure she could hear both those revolutions rumbling in the distance. What she did manage to establish was a healthy bit of distance between the cook and the meal, the homemaker and the home, the woman and her assigned lot in life. She used wit as if it were a handy screwdriver, gently prying apart two entities that had been clamped together for centuries; and she created a little breathing room. Okay, Brillat-Savarin was right; we are what we eat. But most assuredly, we are not what we cook. For that welcome lesson in culinary sanity, pour a glass of the best you have and offer a toast to Peg.

The Gourmet Magazin

2 comments:

Ms. Yingling said...

Peg Bracken was wonderful. I think I have all of her books, and when the world is too much with me, I read them and feel better. She will be missed, indeed.

Cherry Blossom said...

I am glad you enjoy this!

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