Legends & Legacies View More

Her Wit was as Dry as a Martini

Published: 10/20/2011

Originally published October 2007 on Obit-Mag.com.



Peg Bracken (Photo via Facebook)Peg Bracken’s irreverent manifesto/cookbook The I Hate to Cook Book, found an audience with American women suddenly confronted by the post-war culinary arms race. Bracken recalled:

You watch your friends redoing their kitchens and hoarding their pennies for glamorous cooking equipment and new cookbooks called "Eggplant Comes to the Party" or "Let's Waltz Into the Kitchen," and presently you begin to feel un-American.

She responded by writing simple, easy-to-prepare dishes that relied on packaged seasonings like onion soup mix. Her recipes and her written style were irreverent lamentations of the social expectations thrust upon women of the post-war boom years.

Bracken died on October 20, 2007, at the age of 89. Her obituaries all identified the social power of her satiric recipes. Never since Filipo Marinetti’s Futurist Cookbook has a piece of culinary writing had such incisive cultural relevance.

Undoubtedly aware of her advancing pulmonary fibrosis, the Miami Herald published a story more than a week before her death calling her cookbook,

one of the most delightful and influential pieces of food writing of the past 50 years. Bracken's often hilarious commentary about the rules of entertaining, the language of food and the gender roles imposed on women stays fresh. Relevant, even.

Both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times suggested that Bracken’s unconventional cookbook presaged the women’s movement.



The I Hate to Cook BookThe Los Angeles Times asserted that The I Hate to Cook Book, struck a chord with an as-yet-unidentified mass of women emerging from the Eisenhower 1950s who did not regard slaving over a hot stove a feminine virtue. Betty Friedan addressed the same audience a few years later with "The Feminine Mystique" (1963), the landmark feminist treatise that said women were unhappy confined to a strictly domestic role.

Bracken's popularity surged as another culinary star surfaced -- Julia Child, who launched a gastronomic craze in 1961 with "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," co-written with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. Child shared Bracken's irreverence but not her love of shortcuts and recipes so anti-haute as to be named "Fake Hollandaise" and "Spinach Surprise."

The New York Times wrote:

Long before the microwave became a fixture of every home, "The I Hate to Cook Book" was creating a quiet revolution in millions of kitchens in the United States and abroad. Three years before Betty Friedan touched off the modern women’s movement with "The Feminine Mystique," Ms. Bracken offered at least a taste of liberation — from the oven, the broiler and the stove.

"Some women, it is said, like to cook," Ms. Bracken’s book began. "This book is not for them."


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