Celebrity cookbooks have been created for a number of reasons: publicity, charitable fundraising, etc. Well, I am proud to say that my collection contains two cookbooks that were created for spite.
If you’ve never heard of the great rivalry between The Stag Cook Book: A Man’s Cook Book for Men (Written by Men for Men) and Favorite Recipes of Famous Women then, oh honey, let me take you by the hand and guide you down this glorious Yellow Brick Road of pettiness.
The Stag Cook Book: A Man’s Cook Book for Men (Written by Men for Men) is edited by C. Mac Sheridan and contains recipes from authors, politicians and film stars, which is why I picked it up in the first place. It was published in 1922 with this sniveling dedication from the author:
Oh dear. Didums the mean ladies waff at your din-din? Look, I always try to be nice to new cooks and offer encouragement and confidence-building where I can but anybody who swaggers in and describes their meal as a chef-d’oeuvre deserves what he gets. I imagine that this rant was honed by repeating it constantly at parties and Mr. Sheridan was baffled as to why he never received repeat invitations.
We are promised untold culinary riches in the introduction by Robert H. Davis, who writes like a junior high student with his first thesaurus:
Be not disturbed by occasional jocund phrases in this symposium. Behind them is probably concealed a savory or a flavor. A long paragraph may conclude with full particulars concerning the achitecture (sic) of a gastronomic dream. Turn the pages slowly lest you be overwhelmed by the richness of the menu…
…This inspired tome is the product of cooks who are not afraid to take their own medicine. The names of many of the dishes catalogued herein lies on the tongues of the mob, but the delicacies themselves do not. This book brings within the reach of all opportunities that up to now have been denied them. Given a first class stove, a few simple ingredients and a copy of this book, hunger can be abolished wherever English is read.
I had no idea that it was illegal for a man to own a stove and cooking utensils in 1922. The more you know… Further, I’m fairly certain that hunger was and is a more complicated issue than having recipes tailored to hilariously fragile masculinity.
This incessant boo-hooing is particularly irritating when one considers the context of the time period. Women didn’t learn to cook because they loved it (though many did) but because they generally had no choice in the matter.
He-Man McMacho: Get in the kitchen, women!
Women: Well, since we’re stuck here we may as well master cooking.
He-Man McMacho: Behold, females, I have prepared A BOWL OF CORNFLAKES!
(Women burst into laughter.)
He-Man McMacho: Harpies! Vipers! I’ll show you! I’ll show you all!
I’m sure plenty of men were excellent cooks but, well, women didn’t have as many employment options in the 1920s and middle class women were usually expected, or forced, to quit their jobs and raise families once they married. (Poorer women in the “good old days” kept working outside the home AND took care of domestic duties.) So, yeah, many of them got pretty handy around the old stove. But yes, Mr. Sheridan, please do go on about how you are the real victim.
The whiny pretentiousness of The Stag Cook Book: A Man’s Cook Book for Men (Written by Men for Men) did not go unnoticed by the women of the 1920s and their response was published in 1925. Favorite Recipes of Famous Women included socialites, wives of politicians and industrialists, motion picture actresses and one sheriff. The book includes an introduction by Florence Stratton.
Stratton pretends to be baffled by the hodgepodge of recipes and ingredients in The Stag Cook Book and claims that Thomas Ince’s bizarrely rich recipe killed her dog (she gave it a military funeral) and that Charles Evan Hughes’s recipe for cornbread sent her to the hospital at death’s door. She states that she was instantly cured by simply looking at the collection of recipes compiled for Favorite Recipes of Famous Women. She then banishes men from the kitchen and declares she is turning somersaults in the front yard and weighs two hundred pounds.
It seems that some modern readers take Stratton’s tale of hospitalization at face value but it’s pretty clear that she is engaging in hyperbolic satire the The Stag Cook Book‘s pretentious introduction in a Will Rogers-esque “aw, shucks” manner. And doing an excellent job of it too, I might add. If Mr. Sheridan thought that the feminine sarcasm was bad before, I’m sure he burst a gasket upon reading Ms. Stratton’s response.
The Stag Cook Book: A Man’s Cook Book for Men (Written by Men for Men) makes the claim that it contains culinary treasures, the greatest yet seen on earth, and all thanks to the “blueprint clarity” of its all-male authors. Favorite Recipes of Famous Women claims to cure all disease and turn users into plump, happy acrobats.
One is serious (claims of “jocund phrases” aside), the other is not and I think it’s only fair to judge by these standards.
Mr. Sheridan is quickly betrayed by his own participants. Author Booth Tarkington delivers this deathless recipe:
And writer George Ade declares that scalloped oysters are beyond the cooking talents of any man and must be prepared by a woman. Mr. Sheridan swiftly responded with a hearty “nah-uh!” but one can sense his irritation through the paper.
My personal experience is with Houdini’s deviled eggs. I love deviled eggs but the result of this recipe was so vile that they ended up as bird food and my tastes quipped that I needed to make them disappear. I came down with a cold the next day. I’m not saying the two events are connected but I’m also not saying they AREN’T connected.
Of course, the ladies had their wags as well, such as Zelda Fitzgerald’s “breakfast” recipe, probably the most famous entry in any 1920s celebrity cookbook.
Obviously, Fitzgerald’s recipe is a more successful humor attempt than Tarkington’s, so we’ll give this round to the ladies as well.
On the personal experience front, I have prepared Sheriff Lulu McAulay’s cookies and they are absolutely delicious. Mildly spiced and packed with dried fruit– right up my alley!
And the winner…
The men launched a surprise whine attack but the women countered with a dose of humor and backed it up with some strong recipe skills. This competition was a bloodbath for Sheridan and Company from beginning to end but they brought it on themselves.
If you want to read these books for yourself, you can purchase a copy of The Stag Cookbook here and download a public domain copy here. Favorite Recipes of Famous Women is harder to find, so snap it up if you see it. I am including a link to the product page on Amazon and do watch eBay and Alibris (where I got my copy).
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