Those are just a few of the unlikely recipes I found today in an old recipe box from Indiana. Other favorites include Lima Beans Au Gratin, Green Soup Plus, and a recipe attributed to “TV Hour Mag” called Carrot Chowder. Carrot Chowder features the unappetizing combination of one pound ground meat (type of meat unspecified), a lot of water, four cups of grated carrots and four cups of tomato juice. You couldn’t have created something more disturbing had you closed your eyes and dumped the first four things you touched in your refrigerator (make that your fridge after you’d just returned from a six week vacation) into a large soup pot filled with water.
I’ve been meaning to rescue some recipes this week from the many wonderful recipe boxes I’ve been ordering from EBay. But these, it seems to me, should never have been exhumed. Nevertheless, the life of a woman who must have been a spectacularly bad cook interests me very much.
I imagine she was cooking in the 1940s through the 1960s, and that she was not a woman who had decided to liberate herself from the kitchen. At least not overtly. Hers, I think, was more of an underground movement. I have a picture of her: she played a lot of bridge (one of the recipes is scrawled on the back of a contract bridge score card). She’d sit at her kitchen table in the afternoon, blinds drawn, husband at work, children at school, a cigarette in the corner of her mouth, a small glass of some clear, lethal liquid at her elbow. She’d flip through the pages of TV Hour Mag, looking for the profile of her favorite soap opera star. And then she’d pause at the recipe for Carrot Chowder and think to herself, what the hell, why not try something new? Her next thought, barely expressed under the fog of bridge, lethal liquid and soap operas? It’ll serve them right for expecting me to cook all the time
The evidence is that hers was a pretty successful underground movement. Take “Green Soup Plus,” a recipe cut out of a newspaper and billed as “an elegant way to treat soup from the pantry shelf.” Its ingredients, beyond one can of condensed green pea soup, something I didn’t even know existed, are sour cream, curry powder and this shocker: flaked cooked crab. Crab on green pea soup? What an unkind thing to do with a lovely bit of crab. My guess is that it wasn’t a lovely bit of crab, but an old leftover bit of crab cocktail brought home from a restaurant she’d wheedled her surly husband into taking her to. On top of the crab, you are directed to throw some flaked coconut. I suppose you could squint at the dish, and imagine being in the Tonga Room, drinking some kind of drink with an umbrella in it, while you poison your family with a brew of green peas and slightly “off” crab.
I’m only going to talk about one more piece of culinary Semtex this woman created for her family: Lima Beans Au Gratin. She might have thought that calling it Au Gratin would tease them into eating it. And maybe they did. But that must have been the last time they ever asked her to cook for them. Why? In addition to one pound of dried LARGE Lima beans (“cooked,” the recipe says, but without any suggestion of how long or how) there are directions for making a soupy milky mix of butter flour milk and evaporated milk. The whole thing is then topped with a lot of diced pimento and paprika. Clearly, the idea was to hide the badly cooked Limas under something that must have looked like milk stew. The scary bits of pimento? Who knows. Maybe her family liked pimento and seeing it on top of something lured them into plunging their spoons into the milky morass and actually eating those LARGE Limas.
I hope she made it out of Indiana alive and unprosecuted. I’m guessing her life in Indiana did not turn out the way she’d imagined when she agreed to marry Mr. Blender Tuna Mousse. (I haven’t talked about blender tuna mousse for a reason. Were I to describe it, you would dream of it and that wouldn’t be nice.) I’m hoping she ended up in Miami, the place I know she truly wanted to live. In Florida, her hair would always be the color of the sun, her glass always full, the umbrella perched in her drink always open, her television tuned to a lovely soap opera, her feet pedicured and on top of a flowered ottoman, a nice man scheduled to show up every evening at 7:00 with a bouquet of roses and a promise to always, always, always, take her out to dinner. If he knew what was good for him, that is.