Sunday, September 23, 2012

Can Opener Cooking

American cooks have long been the prey of the food corporations -- starting in the Edwardian era, women's magazines and cookery writers have subtly or not-so-subtly preached the gospel of convenience cooking.  Perhaps the most blatant propaganda came from Poppy Cannon, almost forgotten today but in her time (the two decades following World War II) as well known as Betty Crocker, with the advantage that Cannon was a real person.  In 1952 she wrote The Can Opener Cookbook, which proved so popular that it was followed by The New Can Opener Cookbook and The New New Can Opener Cookbook.

I found a copy of the last-named at a garage sale for fifty cents and it is one of the most depressing things that I have ever read.  It's just so darn....fake.  Cannon presents luscious looking menus with everything coming out of a can or the deep freeze.  Not that there is anything wrong with that but then she follows up with advice on how to present it so that everything looks like it was made from scratch (see below.  I think there's a woman on the Food Network who is her spiritual descendant, Sondra or Sandra or something).

I've got nothing against shortcuts -- I'm not a trained cook, and I use stuff like Bisquick and instant mashed potatoes and frozen spinach myself -- but Cannon carries it to an extreme.  If you're going to take the time to add decorative garnishes and set the table formally, why not take the time to make some honest dishes?  Decent, good-tasting all-American cooking is not rocket science.

So don't waste your time on Cannon.  Go to Michigan State University's website and read Rufus Estes or Angelina Collins instead.

Sherried Mushrooms (from the New New Can Opener Cookbook)

Canned whole mushrooms
Pale dry sherry
Almonds, hazel nuts, cream cheese, Tabasco sauce (optional)

"Drain whole canned mushrooms.  Put them into a small bowl and cover with pale dry sherry.  Leave them in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

At serving time:  Bring out the mushrooms in their bowl of wine, provide your guests with toothpicks, and allow them to spear the mushrooms.

You may also drain the mushrooms and fill each little cup with a bit of salted almond, a hazel nut, or a tiny ball of cream cheese seasoned with salt, freshly ground black pepper, or a few drops of Tabasco."

If you're going to go to all that trouble, why the hell wouldn't you use fresh mushrooms?  Some might argue that in a shopper in the late 50's might not be able to purchase fresh mushrooms, but I would point them to Cannon's recipe for dilled potatoes; butter, fresh dill and canned potatoes.  With the possible exception of some remote parts of Hawaii or Alaska, where in this country can't you find potatoes?


Bunnykins said...

Many years ago, my mother gifted me with a recipe book that was a compilation of recipes put out by food companies over a few decades. Some of them might even have been Poppy's. We tried a couple for fun and found them horrible, inedible, but oddly good looking. Of course, I'm the woman who can't make a cake from a mix, but has no trouble making one from scratch.

AlisonH said...

I have a first edition 1952 Betty Crocker (or Creddy Bocker as we call her at our house) cookbook, the one my mom had. I found it at a garage sale in 1977, when I was about to go off for college, and it looked like it had never been opened. I was told years later it was a coveted collector's item but oh well.

Lots of cake and pie recipes in there, including green tomato pie. I made that one for company once: we lived in NH and the growing season wasn't as long as the tomatoes' growing season. Ergo.

Their ten-year-old son was wolfing down what he thought was apple pie. Till suddenly he saw the seeds. Wait: what IS this?! And then he shoved it away. I don't like tomatoes!

(Green ones have no flavor, so they were doctored like apple pie.)

Anyway, so, thank you Creddy Bocker for that one.