This was book sale weekend at my favorite used bookstore. Sadly, this weekend’s haul cost me about a buck more than in the past due to their huge price increase last month. Just kidding … thirty-five cents a book on sale weekends is still an incredible deal, it’s just that Quarter Book Sale sounded so good — Thirty-Five-Cent Book Sale doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely.
But I found treasure, literally. The GOLDEN TREASURY OF COOKING, a Better Homes and Gardens publication from 1973. The gleaming golden cover doesn’t photograph well, but, in a bit of irony, bad photography is why I love older BH&G books and this one does not disappoint in that respect.
You see, one common element of most 1950s-1960s-1970s cookbooks is the truly awful food photography. I can not in any way, shape, or form imagine a book editor looking at some of these things and say “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m looking for.” It isn’t just me. James Lileks has created an industry out of making fun of these sorts of photos. I just regret that he got there first. Still, I can not resist picking up a BH&G book from that era. I probably have most of them. It’s like a horrible accident, you don’t want to see it but you can’t help but take a peek. Then another. I’ll laugh out loud in the used bookstore aisle, even if I already have the book.
I mean, look at this Beef Wellington.
Just look at it! Bleh.
Gordon Ramsay, if you’re by some accident reading my blog, I apologize. It isn’t me … it’s in the book. I’m just the messenger, please!
If I were served this in Hell’s Kitchen I would rush over to the window and yell out, “Shut it down!”
Here we have a marvelous example of truly bad food photography. I know what the top picture looks like. What it actually might be, really doesn’t matter, but what the heck? I mean, remember what I said about photo editors? Did they see this? Why didn’t they say, “don’t give me a plate of crap, give me something that looks like food!”
The bottom picture doesn’t fare much better in the imagination. Well, in my imagination it is a group of people in life jackets trying to survive the Titanic and failing.
Oh, one thing this book does is arrange itself chronologically. To that end, as a first in modern (ala’ 1973) cookbooks, is include what amounts to a few centerfolds chronicling the various decades.
I don’t know about you but the last thing I want in a cookbook is an extra-long page slipping out all over my countertop. What were they thinking? Oddly, they are still pretty interesting, like a series of Sgt. Pepper montages. I love the propeller hat in this one … ah, those were the days.
I guess, for me, the most disturbing thing about their food photography is the abusive use of color.
Well, the fanciful pineapple on the ham is pretty bizarre too, but this entire scene is like some strange nightmare.
They often seemed to want to overuse the same colors “Let’s see … we’ve got reddish and brownish food, by golly I guess we need a reddish and brownish background.”
This is so common I’ve included two more examples. ugh.
Then, there are some things that are just bizarre.
What is this … a mound of something? … reminds me of the Blancmange from Monty Python, you know, when they came from the Andromeda Galaxy and sought to take over the world by winning at Wimbledon?
And what on earth are those things sitting in a skillet? Obviously, they are intended to be served in individual skillets.
Do I have to go out and buy four identical skillets now? Is that a thing?
I guess, just maybe, possibly, that is a lemon cake?
Question: do I really want actual lemons on my cake? Inquiring minds want to know!
I’m convinced that these last two food pictures inspired Dr. Suess in Grinch.
This simply HAS to be roast beast … two ways!
Well, the ham is okay, I guess, but I’m not sure what the garnish is. Raw apple with lemon jello?
On top? That has to be the foulest piece of fowl I’ve ever seen. I’m surprised they gave it an honor guard. Or did they? I have no idea whatsoever what those little flowery things between the pseudo tomatoes are.
I’ll close with the classic 1970’s kitchen. They included kitchen shots for each era. I don’t know, maybe we all were on drugs or something. This sort of image comes up from time to time … listen, I lived in the 1970s and even look back on those years with some nostalgia. If my kitchen had looked like this, well … hey, maybe it did and I’ve just blocked it out or something. Although I do kinda like that light fixture …
So, it’s a good sized book, 302 pages with the index. It is much bigger than the themed books BH&G put out in the era, but it is folio sized like them. Lots of laughs all around. Surprisingly, despite the unintended humor of the photography, the recipes in BH&G book aren’t that bad. Most are simple and down to earth, easily approachable. So, this is a double-sided treasure I guess. Well worth the thirty-five cents I paid for it, don’t you think?
In real life, That Crazy Cookbook Guy is writer Thomas Fenske. You can find out more about him and his books at http://thefensk.com