The I hate to cook book

When I stumbled on The I hate to cook book in my library’s e-book app, I had to loan it. I mean, that title! How come it’s still available as an e-book when it was first published in 1960 (Yes, that is 63 years ago!!)? And my personal curiosity: what would the book be like? Could I find a few recipes that inspire me or teach me something new? 

Overall, the allure of The I hate to cook book is in the stance that you shouldn’t take cooking – and following recipes, I would like to add – all too seriously. If you like to read cookbooks, you might like it, as it’s written in a fun style. I approached it with an anthropological and historical interest in cooking, to understand where cooking in America is coming from. And to be honest, I don’t think Peg Bracken really hates to cook, therefor she knows just too much about it and spikes the book with real cooking advice.

Can you learn to cook from a cookbook?

Hallo, I’m chef Edie and I surrounded myself with cookbooks when I was learning to cook. You see most of them on the bookshelves behind me.

I still like to read cookbooks. For inspiration. To pick up a new trick. And to stay up to date with what’s hot and happening. The last few years, more and more cookbooks want to teach you how to cook. But is that possible? Can you learn to cook from a cookbook? That’s what I will explore in this series of blog posts.

Feel free to use the comment section to tell me what you liked/disliked about the book, or if you have any cookbook requests for me to study.

chef and cooking coach Edie Dourleijn in front of her cookbooks

The book in short

The book is funny. Multiple times I smiled at what Peg Bracken (1918-2007) wrote. I loved: “At the very least, [this] can be done so far ahead of time that you’ve forgotten the pain of it.” The cookbooks is no nonsense and the recipes are straightforward, not long essays. “Just toss these things together” seems to be author Peg Bracken’s adagio.

What can you expect?

If you don’t like to cook but are expected to put some sort of freshly cooked food on the table every night, you can resort to this book. Well, if the kind of dishes appeal to you. It did to people in the American 1960s, and this cookbook changed Peg Bracken’s career from copywriter to writer and TV personality. There are a lot of casseroles, made with even more cans of condensed soups and I started to wonder if the cream cheese industry secretly sponsored this book. Otherwise it would have been the Parmesan industry. Everything is cooked in butter, as olive oil wasn’t yet a thing. Oh, and cigarettes and ashtrays are mentioned ;-).

What I like about this book

The I hate to cook book gives me a great insight in what cooking in the American 1960s could have been like. How depended people already were on the food industry with their canned mushrooms, potatoes, onions and loooots of uses for condensed soups. It made me realize where American home cooks are coming from and how come the role of fresh vegetables still is minor in the minds of most home cooks.

When I came to California and started teaching home cooks, my biggest surprise was how few people actually know and cook with vegetables. Over time I realized that they simply are not considered part of a main course – which often only is a starch and protein. In every cookbook and on every restaurant menu, vegetables are (just?) a side. And that’s peg Bracken’s stand too: “Vegetables simply don’t taste as good as most other things do. And there isn’t a single vegetable, hot or cold, that stands on its own two feet the way a ripe peach does, or a strawberry.” In the book, a lot of vegetables come from cans. I mean, I didn’t even know that potatoes and onions were (are still?) available in a can.

Growing up on the Dutch Holy Trinity of Potato – Veg – Meat dinners, vegetables were always intrinsically part of my plate. It was not a separate decision to make, if we would eat any (fresh) veg. There always was a vegetable, period. And still is. More often than not I start fantasizing about my dinner with a vegetable in mind.

What I don’t like about this book

All the cans*, especially the condensed soups. Too many casseroles (Although I’m the first to agree that I didn’t grow up on them to really understand their lure.) The side role for vegetables. And how leftovers are treated.

According to Peg Bracken, they are to be tossed as no one wants them the next day anyway. Ouch, that’s not something I could go with now we have to be so much more careful about what we consume and throw out. On the other hand: most dishes in this book probably would need some sort of an upgrade to be any good the next day anyways. I think even the dog, that Peg Bracken advises you to get in the chapter on leftovers, might not want them.

* Not to bash all cans. Canned tomato, fish, beans and legumes are perfectly fine to use in my book.

Can you learn to cook from The I hate to cook book?

My answer is not a hard no, surprisingly. Yes, the bulk of the recipes are about tossing things together. On one hand it expects some knowledge or at least confidence in the the kitchen: “devil the yolks as you customarily do—with mayonnaise, mustard, sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper”. Or to sauté the ground beef as you usually do.

And in a few occasions I see Peg Bracken state something I haven’t  seen a lot in other cookbooks, and that is that you can cook things at various temperatures, just what would work best for you. She says on a pot roast “bake it at 300˚ for three hours or 200˚ for nine hours, it really doesn’t matter” or on a baked potato: “Also, it is easy to bake a potato, because you just scrub it and butter it and put it in the oven, where it will bake from 350˚ to 475˚, depending on what else is in there.”

And on seasoning or leaving out ingredients: “But as a rule, don’t hesitate to cut the amount of a seasoning way down, or leave it out, when it’s one you know you don’t like. This goes for green pepper, pimento, and all that sort of thing, too. (I mention this only because we ladies who hate to cook are easily intimidated by recipes and recipe books, and we wouldn’t dream of substituting or omitting; we just walk past that particular recipe and never go back again.)” Really helpful stuff here!

What will I cook from the book?

There are a few recipes in the book that look ‘normal’ enough to me, like a spaghetti with canned tomato sauce and canned tuna (see Italian tuna) and you can learn how to make your own croutons. But I already know how to make them. I do am curious for her fake Hollandaise and would like to try out the combination of caraway seeds in crab cakes.

Have you cooked or learned something from The I hate to cook book? Let me know in the comments below what you think of this book.

Book details

The I hate to cook book: More Than 180 Quick and Easy Recipes
By: Peg Bracken
First published: 1960
Version I read: digital copy, 2010, edited and revised by Jo Bracken (daughter)

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