We've uncovered a lot of things we just forgot we had - like, I remembered I have a reading cookbook collection. This is in addition to the books I actually cook things from; a reading cookbook is one that I have solely to marvel at, like the stunning A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, which has characters and a plot, and what amazing characters and plot they are. It's mainly about Bettina and Bob. Bettina is the sort of person who can - does! - invite a group of friends over, insist that they hem all her tea towels and iron her linens, and then reward them with a quarter of a piece of white bread thinly spread with mayonnaise and topped with a single pimiento. You think I am kidding, but actually I'm understating it. She makes an entire chocolate cake with a part of a square of baking chocolate as the only source of chocolate flavor. She's constantly stretching meat by adding twice the volume of it in white sauce, thus making a sort of, say, thick tuna soup, which she then jellies. And serves with a pimiento (she has a weird pimiento fixation). She's lauded as frugal, but she may actually cross the line into crazy. Her husband, Bob, is singularly insipid. Also, BB and I think he's fucking his best friend - we think, in fact, that he married Bettina because of a conversation where his boss said, "Bob, people are - starting to talk. Maybe you should find a wife. Someone who doesn't really understand about sex." My point is: I would never, ever, ever make anything Bettina would. But I love this book. (I haven't even touched on the subplots, like Bettina's friend who can't ever remember to use a potholder. These people are special indeed, is my point.)
During the move, we found, and then the earthling explored, a series of cooking booklets I forgot I had. These were put together in the 1950s by some outfit that apparently didn't like food much. And these people were obsessed with Hungarians - it's not just that the only "ethnic" booklet is about Hungarian cooking (featuring recipes that mostly involve taking some cabbage and boiling it, which are apparently the "151 most flavorful Hungarian recipes," in which case I pity the Hungarians), it's that there are Hungarian recipes in the other booklets, too. Some of them seem to be sly digs at Hungarians. (The "gala" cake that Hungarians have only on festive occasions. But, the text seems to suggest, Americans can have it any time, because we are just that awesome! The 1950s were an interesting decade.) It's fabulous.
As the earthling flipped through the books, we did, too, and Best Beloved found a photo (all the photos in these are singularly unappetizing - like, you would never, ever eat anything that looked like that if there were other people's toenails still available - that kind of thing) that had her absolutely RIVETED. "Wow," she said after a long moment. "It's like Cthulhu could arise from this at any minute."
"Don't be silly," I said, taking the book from her, and then I saw it. A sort of black, gleaming, uneven mass with scattered suckers on it. (The text claims they are sliced olives, but I know better.) "You're right," I said. And I couldn't look away. After a minute, I added, "I've looked into this thing too long. Now it's looking into me." I could feel it drawing my soul out of my body, I tell you. I truly wish I had a scanner, so I could unleash this photo on the internet. We'd be knee-deep in Elder Gods by lunchtime.
But even the non-evil photos are worthy of marvel - like, I have never seen a simple chocolate swirl cake with white frosting rendered so revolting; it's like someone frosted it with peppered mayonnaise - and there are also line drawings, which are their own kind of impressive. Like the one for the "Wellesley Fudge Cake," which is adorned with a picture of a devil. I am not surprised, frankly. Those Massachusetts college girls, with their demonic fudge cakes. I know how it is with them. (No, it isn't a devil's food cake. There's another recipe for that; it has a drawing of a girl being chased by a boy holding a snake. I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, cookbook people!)
And the recipes themselves - well, it's very safe to say that I am never going to make any of them, unless of course someone hosts a Horrible Foods of the Twentieth Century potluck, in which case my Hungarian Green Bean Salad and I will be there with bells on. I also have a booklet entitled Creative Ways with Cottage Cheese (and its higher-fat companion, Cooking with Sour Cream and Buttermilk, featuring the most revolting photo of a fish dish I believe I have ever seen). Fear me.
The earthling is particularly fond of the soups booklet, and I'm not sure why. This is a booklet that contains a section called "Jiffy Soups," by which they mean: soup in cans. Seriously. A whole section on mixing cans of soup with other cans of soup. For example, you take a can of tomato soup and mix it with a can of pepper pot soup (Note for people who don't know what this is: you don't want to. Cow stomachs are involved.) and voila! You have tomato pepper pot soup. They suggest, for extra special specialness, that you make your canned soups with milk instead of water. Crazy!
I don't recall my family ever needing a recipe for mixing cans of soups - those nights were "Daddy doesn't feel like cooking, so we're having grilled cheese and soup, and you can mix the kinds if you want to" nights, and everyone rolled her own. (I, myself, do not believe in mixing soups. I was the abstainer in the mixed soups nights. I focused entirely on the grilled cheese, because my father made the best grilled cheese sandwiches in the world.) But apparently the fifties were a time when people didn't feel like they could get wild with canned soup unless they had guidelines.
Of course, this is also the booklet that features a recipe for Citrus Soup that involves taking grapefruit juice, mixing it with orange juice, and (optionally) adding whipped cream on top. In other words, it's a "soup" that is, you know, a beverage. I think they should have called this booklet Remedial Soups.
And I don't want you to think the booklets are my entire reading cookbook collection. No. I have a raw food cookbook that suggests that if we ever need some cruel and unusual punishment in a hurry, switching our prison system to a raw food diet would be the way to go. It features such concepts as "tacos" made entirely of provolone and cucumber. (If you're thinking that you didn't know cheese was allowed in a raw food diet, well, I didn't either. This book also has an entire section of gelatin-based recipes, which is not called Horrible Things in Jelly, for Extra Horror, but should be, so apparently skin and bones cooked in boiling water count as raw.) And a cookbook edited by Anne McCaffrey. And a tofu cookbook that was published back when no one in the US knew exactly what tofu was. (There is a helpful explanation in the introduction. If you read it, it will be some time before you can look directly at a block of tofu.)
If you need frightening recipes, in short, I am here for you. If you need fan fiction recommendations - that's going to be a few weeks.