Peg Bracken and The I Hate To Cook Book

“Some women, it is said, like to cook.
This book is not for them.”
Peg Bracken

Peg Bracken was a writer most known for The I Hate to Cook Book which made her a celebrity in the 1960s. During the height of her popularity she was a spokesperson for Birds Eye frozen foods while also appearing on television and radio. She hated the growing snobbery in the food world of the late 50s and early 60s. Her cookbook had a “frugal voice” that felt you didn’t need to spend a lot on expensive ingredients to make a good meal. She struck a chord with women by daring to say that cooking three times a day and seven days a week can be a quite a boring chore.

Peg Bracken was born on Febuary 25, 1918 in Filer, Idaho. Her parents eventually moved to Clayton, Missouri where she was raised. In 1940, she graduated with a degree from Antioch College. Through the 1940s and 1950s, she worked as a copywriter for advertising and a freelance writer with stories appearing in most of the major magazines of the day. One of these stories for the Saturday Evening Post is where she found her “voice” that she is most know for. The short story was called My Husband Ought to Fire Me in which it pokes fun at the notion that women homemakers were hailed as skilled professionals in many fields such as business manager, nurse, cleaner and cook. She jokes that she does none of these jobs very well.

The beginnings of the I Hate to Cook Book came from lunches Bracken had with friends, who I read called themselves “The Hags”, who supposedly shared her distaste and boredom for cooking. (Many sources do admit that Bracken had to be somewhat of an accomplished cook to write a cookbook). She said that they decided to “pool our ignorance, tell each other our shabby little secrets, and toss into the pot the recipes we swear by”. Peg Bracken wrote the cookbook for the women who hated to cook and wanted to get out of the kitchen as quick as possible. In the introduction for the cookbook she says that “this book is for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry Martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of a long day”.

When she showed the manuscript for her now famous cookbook to her then husband of the time, author Roderick Lull, he told her that it “stinks”. (Unsurprisingly the marriage ended in divorce.) The cookbook was also rejected by six male editors who felt women didn’t want to read a book that talks bad about cooking because “women regard cooking as sacred”. Eventually a female editor saw the potential and The I Hate to Cook Book was published in 1960 and included illustrations from Hilary Knight of Eloise fame. It went on to sell 3 million copies with Life magazine calling the cookbook “a hilarious primer of instant cooking delicacies such as ‘company carrots’ and ‘painless spinach'”.

In the I Hate to Cook Book, Peg Bracken wanted the reader to feel that they weren’t alone in their apathy for achieving for culinary greatness. She understood the pressure that women’s magazines, advertising and cookbooks put on women to be perfect in the kitchen. Today we can relate to our mothers and grandmothers with our own “Pinterest Perfect” or “Insta Worthy” pressures. Importance was put on tried and true recipes that worked every time and didn’t contain a lot of ingredients though many using convenience products of the day. Oh and every recipe had to be quick to put together. It can cook for 9 hours in the oven for all she cared as long as the hands on time was minimal.

She includes chapter such as Company’s Coming (or your back’s to the wall), Luncheon for the Girls (or wait till you taste Maybelle’s peanut butter aspic) and Last Minute Suppers (or this is the story of your life). She also offers a wealth of advice to help those who hate cooking. In the book she helps navigate the potluck: “Beware of the entree” because it is the most elaborate to make instead volunteer someone else by complimenting a dish they make. In the chapter about having company over to your house she suggests making Irish coffee the dessert because it is a “real triple threat: coffee, dessert, and liqueur all in one” and that she isn’t about to make an elaborate dessert when she is already “up to my hips in Chicken Pilaf and Brussels Sprouts Calypso”.

A New York Times article commemorating Peg Bracken after her death in 2007 said that “Ms. Braken offered at least a taste of liberation – from the oven, the broiler and the stove” three years before Betty Friedan and the women’s movement got started. Anna Hazel in Bon Appetit magazine goes furthering saying that the cook book had Bracken’s commentary about “the rules of entertaining, the language of food and the gender roles imposed on women” and still is quite relevant even today. Peg Bracken went on to write a follow up to The I Hate to Cook Book called The Appendix to the I Hate to Cook Book as well as other books such as I Try to Behave Myself, The I Hate to House Keep Book and The I Hate To Cook Book Almanac. It is no surprise that in 2010 a 50th Anniversary Edition of The I Hate To Cook Book was released.

Collecting Note: Many of Peg Bracken’s cookbooks have UK editions that were published under slightly different names but are the same book. An example of this is The Appendix to the I Hate to Cook Book is called The I Still Hate to Cook Book in the UK.  Every once in a while you will see one of these editions pop up and it is easy to think it is a completely different book.  Also all her books have mass market paperback editions.  Some sellers will just scan the cover which makes it hard to tell if it is hard or soft cover or on some used book sites won’t even have a photograph so make sure you are reading the descriptions in case one or the other is important to you and your collection.


Sources:

Fox, Margalit. Peg Bracken, ‘I Hate to Cook Book’, Dies at 89. New York Times. October 23, 2007.

Hezel, Anna. Why the ‘I Hate to Cook Book’ Stands the Test of Time. Bon Appetit Magazine. April 24, 2017.

Kessler, John. Bracken’s Hating to Cook Book Portion of the Past. Lakeland Ledger. September 27, 2007.

Scherman, David E. Rose Stew to Riches, a Culinary Chronicle. Life Magazine. November 23, 1962.

Shapiro, Laura. Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America. New York: Viking, 2004.

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