food fashions

Spirit of 1976

My husband brought one cookbook to our marriage: the 1976 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.

I can't tell you how many times I've been tempted, during a house purge, to chuck the thing. It brags inside that "18 million homemakers use this best seller" for its 1500+ "triple-tested" recipes, its lay-flat binder, its tabbed dividers, and so on. And the thing has indeed held up, physically speaking.

Fashions change. Case in point.

But food fashions change, just as clothing fashions and home-decorating fashions do. And, as with those other arenas of life, food fashions in the mid-70s staked out an interesting territory. For one, scores of women had entered the workforce, and convenience became more important than ever. Therefore many recipes in the book call for canned, condensed soup (the ubiquitous "can condensed cream of mushroom" a particular favorite) or "1 envelope cheese sauce mix" or "1 tube refrigerated biscuits, halved." There are recipes for "Luncheon Meat Dinner" and "Tuna Jackstraw Bake." In the latter, every single ingredient comes from a can, right down to the topping-- that other 70s favorite, the "1/4 cup chopped canned pimiento."

And yet. For every woman throwing down the briefcase and reaching for the can opener, there was still one cooking from scratch. She might no longer raise and pluck her own chicken, but she still bought whole chickens at the store and needed to know how to cut them up. How do I know? Because I use the pictures from the Better H & G Cookbook to cut up the whole chickens I get from Skagit River Ranch. I need those "step-by-step" pictures! Yeah, I could look it up online, but I hate dragging my laptop into the kitchen where it might be splattered with chicken guts from my inexpert butchering.

Look at the stains on that page!

Another reason I can't quit this cookbook is its "Creative Uses for Leftovers" page on the Index Tab. What should I do with leftover buttermilk? Cooked chicken? Mashed potatoes? Tell me, Oracle!

When my husband used three precious Skagit egg whites for a meringue, I couldn't bear to toss the rich, golden yolks. They sat in the fridge for a week until I finally cracked BH&G. Bearnaise sauce? No. Hollandaise? Nah. Sauce Moorea? What the heck? But there--last in the list--"Vanilla Pudding." Really? You could make pudding at home, without one of those cute little boxes of sugar, fake color and mystery coagulants? Yes, reader, you can. And, oh my gosh, is homemade pudding ever luscious.

I had some semisweet chocolate squares, so I threw in two ounces.

If you've got two eggs, treat yourself tonight:

Chocolate Pudding (adapted from the 1976 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups milk (I used 1 cup whole, 1 cup 2%)
2 ozs semisweet chocolate
2 slightly beaten egg yolks
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla

In saucepan, blend sugar, cornstarch, and salt; add milk and chocolate. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.

Stir small amount of hot mixture into yolks; return to hot mixture; cook and stir 2 minutes more. Remove from heat; blend in butter and vanilla. Makes 5-6 servings.

You may wonder afterward what to do with the leftover egg whites..? According to my trusty BH&G, Nougat might be in your future.

That, or "Chilled Prune Whip."