Simmer and Sell | Newberry

Simmer and Sell

I like brand name cookbooks. I used to argue this point with the Cookbook Lady, who felt that any book with a recipe in it that began with ! Can of… or 1 Box of…. was not really a cookbook. It was cheating, she thought, if someone did some of the work before you got there. But I was raised in a world of Spam and Velveeta and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, and you never forget your roots. Especially if they’ve been boiled limp and then smothered in Cream of Celery soup.

The older the brand name cookbook the better, of course. Those hundred year-old Crisco cookbooks that are stained and battered and look so pricey (they aren’t, most of them. Crisco knew about marketing from WAY back) are a treasury of recipes, as are the old Jell-0 cookbooks (try to get the ones with Kewpies moving around the congealed salads.) It’s even more fun if it’s Spry (one of Crisco’s leading competitors) or Treet or Prem (Armour and Swift’s answers, respectively, to Spam: both apparently still made, but not visible in my local store.)

I was brought to this study by a pair of bright, shiny brand new cookbooks representing different products, one of which is no longer on the market. (I know I said brand new, but one product has already disappeared in the twenty-five years…wadda ya mean, cookbooks from 1995 aren’t brand new? Ah, there’s mindless prejudice anywhere.)

Both cookbooks do have a sort of a “Why” character about them. That was one of the things the Cookbook Lady had against brand name cuisine: you substitute Our Product for the generic equivalent and, presto, you have an amazing new recipe no one’s ever tasted before. It’s just mindless marketing, she said. I know some other people who were dedicated to Better Living Through Domestic Science, and the healthy results of substituting Quaker Oats for some less healthy product in the recipe: ham hocks, let’s say. It all gets too complex for me.

Anyway, Mrs. Bateman’s Low-Fat Baking Butter Cookbook has much the same slant. This is nearly 200 pages of recipes which are better for you because you substitute Mrs. Bateman’s Baking Butter for the butter or other shortening in a recipe. QVC sold a few hundred thousand of these back in the day, and would also sell you five pound tubs of the Baking Butter. Alas, although you can buy the cookbook practically anywhere, I cannot find a single source for Mrs. Bateman’s Baking Butter. She seems to have been a good soul and a dedicated baker (she does not allow you to put canned fruit in your fruit pies: fresh is always called for in her recipes.) AND she knew we do not live by pastry alone, offering up recipes for marinades and salads, all using Baking Butter in place of oil, or mixing it with cream cheese or condensed milk to reduce the amount of either of those wonderful ingredients…yeah, I agree. Winnie the Pooh didn’t mix his condensed milk with anything low-fat, so why should I?

You can, apparently, make your own baking butter. Mrs. Bateman’s recipe is not available, as far as I can tell, but there are similar substances which involve large amounts of buttermilk. One such recipe says if you don’t want to bother making the stuff yourself, just order from Mrs. Bateman, so I assume buttermilk was her secret as well. So even without her miracle ingredient, you can still make her recipe for chewy caramel popcorn or microwave fudge.

For this other cookbook, the ingredients are still available on your local shelves, despite a number of politicians who would like to see them jettisoned. This is a pristine copy of Cooking with Dr. Pepper and 7-Up, which dates from about the time those two competitors became one. The title is backward: the 7-Up recipes are featured in every chapter, with Dr. Pepper coming along behind. And most of these recipes are also in the Why category. The simple explanation for two-thirds of the book is “Put in this beverage instead of water in the recipe”. Pickled beets, beef stew, onion rings: all of them, all I tell you, become something new and wonderful with a bubbly liquid added.

I have nothing against this sort of cookery (ask anyone who has tried my red Snapper Sauteed in Mountain Dew). And there are a few special recipes harder to make without fizzy soft drinks: This Brandy Slush (which I learned from a sorority girl as Vodka Slush) wouldn’t be the same without the soda pop. I would like to hear from someone who has tried this Dixie Jelly, which is nothing much more or less than jellied Dr. Pepper put up in jars. And I remember fondly hearing about Hot Dr. Pepper from my afternoon kiddie show host in the sixties. (He didn’t mention it was a hangover cure, and neither does this cookbook.)

If you give it time, a brand name cookbook will repay your research, whether it’s a brand new one from the last forty years, or something from the turn of another century.