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OP: The I Hate to Cook Book

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by Peg Bracken

Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1960. Hardcover. Near Fine in Very Good jacket. Later printing.

Frequently we encounter that desperate person who knows exactly what book they want but can’t remember the name of the author or the title of the book. They say that the cover was green—or maybe yellow—and it had a good recipe for chicken in it. And we’ll try—we really will—to find that book, to discover some hint at what it might be. 

But when the person says the book is peppered with comments like,“—let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink,” we know it can only be Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book (1960).

Though born in Missouri, Ruth Eleanor "Peg" Bracken (1918–2007) spent a good deal of her freelance copywriting career in Portland, Oregon, the birthplace of her near-contemporary James Beard, who once called her “the enemy camp.” Bracken was a woman truly of her time, rejecting any notion that she ought to be laboring over an elaborate meal rather than enjoying a strong drink or, truly, anything else. The I Hate to Cook Book was published three years before The Feminine Mystique, after all, and had sold 3 million copies by the time of Bracken’s death. 

The recipes, gathered from a luncheon group of women known as The Hags, rarely contain more than six ingredients and emphasize easy preparation and any corner-cutting that facilitates a minimum of time spent in the kitchen. You’ll find such gems as idiot onions, afterthought cookies, hushkabobs (“so-called because the family isn’t supposed to know it’s that old Sunday roast still following them around”), fake hollandaise, and hellzapoppin cheese rice.

Bracken generously offers helpful tips, too, like this one for making croutons: “you might as well stand right there and shake the pan, because those bread squares would just as soon burn as look at you.” Or this suggestion for hootenhollery whisky cake: “First, take the whisky out of the cupboard, and have a small snort for medicinal purposes.”

The prose is laced with such elegant snark and ennui that one can’t help but laugh out loud. It is truly a shame she isn’t alive today, as she would assuredly be a bold online persona. Even if you never cook from the book, you will find plenty of joy within. 

Sharing the good humor, we offer here a later printing, Near Fine, with the original blue jacket in Very Good condition. The jacket shows some chipping and closed tears, but no paperloss infringes on the cover illustrated by Hilary Knight, best known for his work on the Eloise series. The 50th anniversary edition with a new introduction by Peg Bracken’s daughter, Jo, is also available here.

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