Cooking with Cheese
My parents’ marriage, as seen through a cookbook.
Photos courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens
Photo by Linny Morris
I grew up with many of these cookbooks in our house, and always loved them, particularly when going through that teenage “Isn’t everything retro so kitschy!” phase. My favorite was, and still is, Cooking with Cheese.
In the land of 1960s Better Homes & Gardens, recipes include frozen onion rings, sliced American cheese and vegetables, fresh out of the can. There’s a startling amount of gelatin in this strange world, everything from desserts (“Pineapple in Emerald Wreath”) to savories like “Chicken Buffet Molds” and “Perfection Salad.” And really, what could be more perfect than shredded cabbage and pimentos suspended in tart Jell-O?
In Better Homes & Gardens Land, you use a dotted diagram to plan the proper buffet-line traffic pattern. You put out a relish tray, darn it, possibly with a phallic cucumber display. You whip up a July Jubilee menu to entertain the bridge club at noon. Men do not cook, but occasionally deign to be photographed with meat. I love the gentility of these cookbooks, as frozen in time as the olives suspended in aspic.
These cookbooks are windows into a place and time that happens to be exactly when my parents were first married. Like most children, I wasn’t privy to their marriage before me, but I wasn’t privy to much of their marriage after me, either, as my dad passed away when I was quite young.
But flipping through these cookbooks, I get flashes of 1965. Of copper pots and avocado refrigerators. Red plaid Thermoses. It’s almost like standing in a kitchen I’ve never been in. The cookbooks were all new then and lined up on a shelf.
Did they try this recipe, or that one? Did they really own a chafing dish? Could they possibly have hosted a care-free casserole supper for 24? I just love being there, with them, opening the frozen peas and squinting at the Crab Louis recipe—if only for a moment.
But my favorite cookbook has always been Cooking with Cheese. It's not the fondue recipes, although it's hard to go wrong with those. It's not because of a kitsch factor. I love it because that one has my dad's handwriting in it.