Book Review: 1001 Ways to Please a Husband

I stumbled on this one in a local thrift shop in Idaho, bearing the stamp of the "Cuyahoga County Public Library", and the copyright date 1958.

Apparently, it was a common practice in the first half of the 20th Century to write cookbooks geared specifically towards new brides. Because of this, the book contains basic, useful advice about making good use of the freezer, cooking with cheaper cuts of meat, budgeting and finance advice, and menu planning. Much of this would still be useful today, and I found the freezer section helpful in my ongoing efforts to reduce plastic in my kitchen.

It turns out that Myra Waldo, the author, was well-known at the time for her international cookbooks(even ones on South American and African cuisine), in addition to a successful career as the food consultant for Pan American Airlines.  While I can't find a birth-date for her, the date on the cookbook means that she was definitely at the height of her career, explaining the mix of recipes ranging from new and upcoming(fondue) to classic French, to Victorian foods beginning to disappear(potted meat), in addition to expected 50's fare of biscuit crusts, canned soup casseroles, and various meat-based loaves. All-in-all still healthier then the food served in many modern American homes.

What is even more interesting to me, though, is what her commentary tells the reader about 50's perceptions of a good housewife.  Little fictional diary entries through the book tell the story of the first year of marriage for Peter and Jane, and follow Jane's first efforts at such challenges as cooking on a particularly tight budget and acting as a hostess for girl's luncheons, cocktail parties, and dinners.

This is easily the most fascinating aspect of the book to me. Jane is shallow And officious, convinced of her own irrationality. She gloats when her husband is inept in the kitchen, and seems determined to prove herself better at homemaking then her friends, even occasionally at their expense. Particularly cringe-inducing is her insistence on feeding "exotic" friends dishes from their native lands, as a vehicle to introduce such exotic ideas as pizza and fillet of sole, bonne femme. Thus, the introduction to a Sukiyaki recipe is all about Peach Blossom, the Japanese War Bride who (gasp) speaks perfect English and rushes to obey her spouse's every whim.

A moment of culture shock, indeed. It's easy to forget just how much more acceptance there is now in terms of different ethnicities, interracial marriage, and even something as basic to the "plot" as a woman's ability to run her own life. An excellent reminder that, while the past is fun, I'm fairly sure I wouldn't want to live there...especially when there is still so much room for racism in modern American culture.

Jane, commenting on the meal "her Japanese War Bride" helps prepare;
It was simply delicious, and I don't know where I ever got the idea that Japanese people eat nothing but seaweed soup and raw fish...I had made a chocolate roll for dessert, not knowing whether or not anyone would be able to eat the sukiyaki. But they ate the sukiyaki down to the last spoonful and then proceeded to devour the chocolate roll. P.B. thought the chocolate roll was terrific, and asked me for the recipe. The United Nations? I suppose P.B. and I did our little bit to further international relations in our own quiet way.

A simple but international menu:
Chocolate Roll

My Japanese War Bride Sukiyaki from 1001 Ways to Please a Husband by Myra Waldo, 1958
(for six to eight)

3 onions
1 cup celery
1 cup canned bamboo shoots
1/2 pound mushrooms, or 2 cans, sliced
4 scallions (green onions)
2 pounds sirloin steak
4 tablespoons salad oil
1/2 cup stock or 1/2 boullion cube dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon sherry
1 pound vermicelli or thin noodles, boiled and drained

Sukiyaki is fun to prepare--you can cook it almost as the Japanese do-- at the table in a chafing dish or electric skillet, or on the range in a skillet. Prepare the vegetables early in the day or whenever you have time and wrap them individually in aluminum foil, waxed paper, or Saran wrap. When you're ready to cook it, the entire operation will just take a few minutes.

Slice the onions very thin. Cut the celery in 1-inch lengths. Slice the bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and scallions.

Cut the steak into strips 2 inches long by 1/2 inch wide. Mix the stock, soy sauce, sugar, and sherry in a bowl.

Don't begin to cook the dish more then 15 minutes before you are ready to serve it.

Heat the oil in the utensil of your choice. Place the steak in it, and brown on all sides. Push the meat to one side of the pan and pour half the soy sauce mixture over it. Place the onions and celery in the pan and cook over medium heat for three minutes. Push to one side. Add the bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and remaining soy sauce mixture to the pan and cook 3 minutes, add the scallions and cook 1 minute.

Serve directly from the skillet, or heap the vermicelli on one side of a heated platter, and arrange the sukiyaki in the other.

Chocolate Roll

2 squares(ounces) unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons brewed coffee
4 egg yolks
3/4 cups sugar
6 tablespoons sifted cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 egg whites

Turn on the oven and set at 400 (hot).

Grease a jelly-roll pan (11 x 16 inches) and line with waxed paper. (GGK note: it would be much wiser to do this with parchment paper, as waxed paper is not designed to get hot.)

Combine chocolate and coffee in a cup; place over hot water and let melt.

Beat the egg yolks until light; add the sugar to the yolks, beating well. Sift the combined flour, baking powder, and salt over it, mixing until blended. Stir in the vanilla and chocolate.

Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into the previous mixture thoroughly. Spread evenly in the pan.

Bake 13 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Loosen the bottom by running a spatula under the cake.

Sprinkle a towel with cocoa and turn the cake out onto it. Carefully peel the paper from the cake. Roll up gently in the towel and let cool for one hour. Don't worry if the cake cracks. Unroll and fill with whipped cream, ice cream, or soft custard. Re-roll and serve.


Janet Rudolph said...

What a fabulous post. I collect a lot of these 'odd' cookbooks, too. Yes, the sensibilities were different.. well, I'm being kind. How awful! I post Bakers Chocolate 'story' ads with recipes. Definitely show the same type of thinking.

Jesse (Great Grandmother's Kitchen) said...

Ooo...I'll have to take a look, Janet!

~~louise~~ said...

I must agree with Janet, Jesse. This post is just wonderful! I too have tried to find a birthdate for Myra Waldo to no avail. I think further research is definitely needed. She was quite a person. I have a few of her books but NOT this one which I will now seek out.

Thank you so much for sharing this most interesting info. I really appreciate it and have saved it for future reference!

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