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A feminist can wear an apron

When Peg Bracken authored the best selling I HATE TO COOK BOOK back in 1960, it was undeniably the wife’s job to put a hot meal on the table every night, even if she had her own career or busy life. It didn’t occur to many men back then, including several male editors who passed on publishing Bracken’s book, that women might not actually enjoy this task. Bracken’s attitude was refreshing for her female readers — while the author shared the mindset of the era that this chore was the wife’s burden to shoulder alone, she didn’t pretend to love it. Her sense of humor crackles through the cookbook. She gave handy tips, as well as simple, delicious, satisfying recipes, to other wives struggling to feed their hungry, expectant, not-always-grateful broods. But more importantly, she told her readers not to judge themselves. Not every woman was naturally born to wield a wooden spoon. And as she wrote in the introduction to her seminal book, “It is always nice to know you are not alone.”

I love that line. It’s one of the reasons that Cathleen and I launched Ready, Set…Wife! It’s why an open line of conversation with other women struggling with their own marital roles is so important to us.

Although Peg Bracken passed away in 2007, the 50th anniversary of her cookbook has inspired an updated and revised publication. I was lucky enough to chat with her daughter, Jo Bracken, to discuss her mom’s legacy. The first thing Jo told me is that she’s not a great cook like her mom was. So she’s lucky that her husband is a wiz in the kitchen and does the majority of their cooking. She pointed out that this wouldn’t have been an option for a married woman in the ‘60s when her mom was slaving over a hot stove. “Now we have a choice.” Jo told me.

Peg and Jo Bracken, gone fishin'

Jo mentioned that when she was growing up, she had no idea that cooking was a chore for Peg. She expected her mom to put a hot meal on the table everyday, which her mother always did. And did well. While Jo might not have inherited her mother’s cooking gene, she learned lessons from this powerful woman that she passed on to me during our conversation. Peg taught her daughter that women have to pull their weight more than men do. And that “you can have it all…but you can’t have it all right now.”

Listening to the respect, admiration, and love Jo had…still has…for her mother made me reflect gratefully upon the role my own mother has had in shaping my role as a wife. More than once I got a little misty as I spoke with Jo and was glad we were on the phone so shouldn’t couldn’t see what I sap I am.

While Jo discussed her mom with me, I found myself wishing I could have known Peg in person. She sounded like one sassy, smart, tough cookie: A feminist who proudly wore an apron and took care of her family even while building an admirable career a writer. Jo told me the most valuable thing her mom taught her is that a woman should always be able to support herself. The knowledge that a gal can always depend on herself goes a long way in building her self-respect.

In honor of Peg, I decided to bake up Jo’s favorite recipe in the book, “Selma’s Best Oatmeal Cookies.” I’ve mixed up my batter and it’s chilling in the fridge now. I decided I’d wait to bake them for a couple hours so they’re warm when Jim gets home from work. I’ll take some photos when they come out of the oven. Even the batter smelled heavenly!

Book Giveaway
Would you like to try out some classic 1960’s recipes (updated by Jo so as not to require an extra dose of your cholesterol or blood pressure meds) from the I HATE TO COOK BOOK? We have two copies of the new edition to give away. Just comment on this post and let us know your mom’s most memorable dish served during your childhood (delicious, inedible, or anything in-between). If you don’t have a favorite from your mother, just let us know your favorite meal to cook. One entry per person, please. Contest ends August 5, 2010 at midnight CDT. Winner will be chosen at random.

31 Responsesto “A feminist can wear an apron”

  1. Teri Ward says:

    My Mom’s most memorable dish had to be Tator Tot Casserole. I loved it then and I love it now. It’s my comfort food.

  2. Ronda says:

    My mother was a WONDERFUL cook but I was such a picky eater!! Many a night, she made a complete meal for my dad and brothers and would hand me a plateful of mashed potatoes – which I LOVED!! And I also remember that we had a table for 4 but there were 5 of us – so most nights, she would eat standing at the stove so that one of us kids didn’t have to sit on the uncomfortable wooden stool :) What a WONDERFUL mother I was blessed with!!

  3. Expat Mum says:

    My mom hated to cook and we knew it, therefore there are no legenadary dishes in our family. (Strange really, as her own mother was a great cook and baker.)
    Although I don’t like to cook, I can when I have to. It’s the drudgery of having to come up with meal options that grinds me down. I don’t even have a favorite thing to cook at the moment, but am open to suggestions – particularly if it’s from such a great source as this book! ;-)

  4. AJ says:

    Such an interesting blog today! And, one that I resonate with – it’s my job to do the cooking for my hubby and me. While I don’t dislike cooking, I often wonder how it is that I do all the cooking, while my better half does none. Is it because he hates to cook? Is it becasue I don’t mind it? Or, is it becasue I’m the woman?
    My mom is a great cook, and I think, but I am not sure, that she likes to cook. Some of the time, at least.
    But, she never had a choice. A stay-at-home mom, it was her job to make dinner for all of us, and similar to Jo, I never thought about whether she wanted to do it or not, or if she enjoyed it.
    My favorite of my mom’s cooking is her lasagna, and her rhubarb pie. So good!
    To this day, and I am in my late 30s, at some point around my birthday, we end up at my parents’, and every year this is what she makes. It’s heavenly, and now, I appreciate this meal even more becasue whether she loves making it or not, I know she does it to make me happy.

  5. Sarah says:

    My family had a huge garden, as well as apple, cherry, peach, pear, and plum trees. We harvested all of this wonderful produce and canned, froze, and feasted on it all summer. What delicious meals my mom made from this bounty!
    One thing I’ll always remember is that my mom would make pie crust from scratch and assemble pies with fruit from our orchard. She froze them unbaked for use in the winter. I remember coming in from playing on cold days and smelling an apple pie (my favorite!) baking in the oven.

    Just typing this makes me miss my mom and our home back in Arkansas. She is a truly talented southern cook with hospitality to match!

  6. Pauline says:

    My mum’s most memorable dish was one I never tasted but a story retold in my family many times.

    It was the first dish my mum ever cooked for my dad. Apparently she found out that Dad was missing Nanna’s tripe (having moved to a different city from his parents), so that’s what she decided to make him. But she had no idea how to cook tripe. So she asked the lady who lived in the flat next door. This kind lady gave mum her recipe which included chilli. But apparently didn’t give mum exact measurements. When mum cooked it she tipped in a whole packet of chilli and apparently didn’t taste the dish before she served it. Dad apparently tried to eat it but didn’t get very far.

    Perhaps needless to say, Dad was the main cook in our family while we were growing up. To give Mum her due they, she was the sweets cook, making great cakes, biscuits etc.

  7. Tina Vassil says:

    I consider myself somewhat of a foodie, one of those people addicted to the Food Network. Just the other night my 6 year old son asked me to narrate for the family as if I was running my cooking show just how to make sauteed bananas in an orange reduction! The funny thing is, the food and cooking that I grew up on, while definitely palatable, was not what you would call “adventurous”. I believe the only spices we ever had in our home were salt, pepper and cinnamon. I’m pretty sure, anyways. One of my favorite meals from my childhood was a meal I thought, at the time, was fairly exotic: chicken wings with Ah-So sauce. Sometimes she would vary the meat and do pork chops with the sauce, but mostly it was chicken wings. As an adult, I have to say, I have not eaten a single piece of meat with Ah-So sauce on it!

  8. Clare says:

    When my mom got married the only thing she knew how to make was brownies. They’re still my favorites!

  9. Emma Tucker says:

    My Mums very English version of spaghetti bolognaise is one fond memory. Now living in New Zealand I cook it for my daughter and it is her firm favourite. I am sure she will cook it for any future children with her own little tweaks.

  10. Paula says:

    My mother has produced so many memorable fiascos in the kitchen. She believed that she was a great cook, though. She worked really hard on her baking and became legendary for her chocolate flourless torte, which is delicious. But the stories we continue to tell revolve around her flavorless chicken soup. My stepfather happened to ask her one night if she couldn’t please ask her mother how she made her very delicious chicken soup, and my mother was shocked to find he didn’t like hers. It was literally a chicken boiled and removed, and the hot salty water with islands of chicken fat floating in it served as soup. Beside it would be served the white, dry boiled chicken. No vegetable, no sauce, no seasonings.

    She periodically would make a huge vat of stuffed peppers, and since the pot was too large to fit into the fridge and she didn’t believe in transferring leftovers to other containers, most often, that pot of peppers stayed out day after day, and she simply reheated them every night for dinner. We never wondered if this was how it was done in other people’s homes until my sister brought her fiance over for dinner, and my mother was serving three day old stuffed peppers. That poor guy was on the toilet all night, while we had no ill effects. We call this Mom’s Do It Yourself Innoculation Program. Maybe it’s why we were mostly quite healthy.

    My sisters and brothers and I are all great cooks, and my mother likes to believe it was her influence. Well, it was, but not in the way she thinks. If we wanted to have anything to eat that we liked, we had to cook it ourselves. I was in my 30′s before I realized I didn’t have to make army sized recipes. Did you know you can make 4 stuffed peppers? You don’t have to make 20 gallons at a time!

    If she’d had the slightest encouragement in her youth, she would have gone into business and probably never raised a family. As it was, she believed her only destiny was to get married and raise children. She hated that job, and we all knew it.

  11. susan says:

    My favorite meal growing up was “Lazy Lasagna” courtesy of my mother. It was delicious and the name descriptive of our family’s dynamic.

  12. Amelia says:

    My mother was a good cook and a wonderful baker. She gave away homemade bread and cookies as love and encouragement. Now that I am a mother, I recognize that her more infamous meals sprang from the need to make us(seven of us) dinner, night after thankless night. Her “7 layer dinner” fed us, much to our dismay. It was an easier version of the New England Boiled dinner, which I’m pretty sure is just throwing food into a pot of hot water. Carrots, cabbage, a meat, potatoes–no idea what the other three layers were, but they weren’t spices or anything with flavor. Pour water over all and bake until mush. Oh we hated that, but now I can see her point–it was easy, she could make it ahead & set the automatic oven and forget about it. Who cared if no one liked it? We ate rather than go hungry, and some of the time, the person in charge of meal planning has to use that knowledge to their advantage.

  13. I could think of a lot of “memorable” things from childhood, from cow’s tongue (jeez, we seemed to have that a lot!), to classic meatloaf, to chow mein (from the can, of course), to spaghetti & chili & lasagne; and we always colored eggs at easter and always cut out sugar cookies at Christmas – my mom was playing the role she was assigned (she also was both a boy scout leader and a brownie/girl scout leader!).

    However, to me the MOST memorable thing she did and still does, is canning; she makes jellies and – the top seller in our family – zucchini relish, still. My dad planted a much-too-big garden this year and she keeps telling me of all the piles of veggies sitting all over the counters all the time; they volunteer at a food pantry once a week and give away a lot of whatever fresh they have (isn’t it cool for folks to get fresh veggies at a food pantry?).

    Besides that, my mom is always telling me how much she hates to cook now, and never knows what to make. (I love to cook – probably b/c I don’t have to do it for three kids – it’s just me & my hubby – and we spend some good money on more wholesome, organic groceries than my parents could ever have afforded). I think it was a chore then but she had to do it (along with making four sack lunches everyday!!!!!), and now it just continues to be a chore, even though it’s just her and my dad. She’s done with it, and though she makes things regularly, they eat out pretty regularly, too. Mostly, she seems to make desserts for church get-togethers.

    I love when I can cook something more special (time-consuming, too, of course) and she can just sit back and have the plate brought to her (it’s infrequent b/c we don’t live close, but I enjoy doing this small thing for her when I can).

  14. Sarah says:

    My mom isn’t a very good cook (she even had Peg Bracken’s book, but never cooked from it). But, I did like the Chef Boyardee pizza she made. It’s in a box and contains crust, sauce, and dried cheese. She added hamburger and mozarella. Not bad!

  15. M says:

    My mom’s chicken and dumplings was and still is to die for. Flat-rolled dumplings in rich chicken broth, shredded chicken soaking it all up. And on the side, cucumbers and onions in vinegar. Mmmmmmmm. Nothing says home like those chicken and dumplings. I’ve learned how to make them, but they’re a ton a work!

  16. BikiniBy30 says:

    Fried Squash. Hands down.

    It was the 80s, The Fry Daddy was all the rage, and we had squash in the garden. It was sliced into disks, dipped in egg, coated in cornmeal, fried, and salted. Delicious? Heck yes? Healthy? Heck no.

  17. Yulia says:

    My mom made lots of traditional Ukrainian dishes when we were growing up. My favorite was “kholodets”–meat set in aspic. It was disgusting-looking and took hours to make, but the final product was wonderfully cold and flavorful. We ate it with plain boiled potatoes and pickled cucumbers. Delicious–but not a dish for those who hate to cook!

  18. Marianne says:

    My mom had a lot of delicious recipes. But, the one that has been on my mind lately is her tuna casserole. It was simply canned tuna, Minute Rice, cream of mushroom soup, mixed together and topped with Cheddar cheese.

    This is not a dish anyone I know would make: Where are the fresh herbs? heirloom tomatoes? grass-fed beef?

    But, it was delicious.

  19. ellenpie says:

    Luckily I am blessed with a mom who is an awesome cook. My favorite favorite thing she makes (among other things) has to be her stuffing for Thanksgiving. It SERIOUSLY rocks, makes the entire dinner. One year I arrived at her house on Wed before Thansksgiving to be told “Well. We made a few changes this year, decided to try out a new stuffing recipe…” I was crestfallen, and did not bother to hide my disappointment. When she didn’t like the new stuffing I said “HA! See! You’re messing with tradition and it’s WRONG!” (Robyn knows my mother and can, I am sure, imagine the eyeroll I received in response). Another year I stood over her to watch her make the stuffing – this recipe exists entirely in her head, and if you ask her what goes in she says “oh, you know, a little of this, a little of that”. While I’m hovering she says “What are you doing, I need a little room to work here” – and I replied “Just learning by osmosis, you know… for one day…” and she smirked and said “When I’m dead???” Well yeah! Like I’m gonna make that stuffing before then, when the best version of it is produced every year by mom’s loving, capable hands?

    And the best part? I told my dad about the stuffing change-up the year that happened. Now, my parents have been divorced for over thirty years, but even he looked shocked and said “Really? She CHANGED the stuffing? I KNOW that stuffing – it’s great – my uncle’s recipe!”

    So my mother’s cooking coup de grace is a stuffing recipe from her ex-husband’s family. She has adapted it, of course, but it’s essentially intact as it was when my dad was growing up. And yes, her current husband loves it too! :-)

    • ellenpie says:

      ps: coup de grace is the wrong phrase word I think – but I can’t think of the word I want! You know what I mean though… Piece de resistance!!!! woo hoooooo! that’s it!!! must review my French phrases! :)

  20. Betty says:

    Let’s all talk about my mom’s CHEESE POTATOES. And notice I did not call them cheesY potatoes. There is a difference.
    Boil and grate 10 large potatoes. Fry an onion in a stick of butter (that was a bit hard to type!), add sour cream, grated sharp cheddar cheese, a little salt and pepper and bake for 45 minutes.
    I have never been able to find this exact recipe anywhere, but you can be guaranteed the cheese potatoes appear on the table during every family get together!

  21. robyn says:

    My mom hated cooking. She wished we were like the dog, so she could just scoop out food into a dish every night. It’s no wonder that I have an issue with eating. I have to say that I liked her pot roast enough that she kindly made it every time I came home from college. She also has a cheezy potato side dish that has become a staple at meals with my in-laws at holiday time.

  22. fd says:

    My mother cooked occasionally at the weekend and sort-of during her summer vacation from work (our housekeeper/nanny and our dad did the cooking). Usually he meal preparation in chopped raw vegetables and store bought cooked ham and cheese slices and some fruit. Not quite cooking, but actually rather lovely when it was hot…
    My favourite of her two or three weekend dishes was: scrambled eggs. She still makes the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had. I’m a much better cook than her, and enjoy it much more, but I cannot reproduce her scrambled eggs no matter how many times I watch her do it. Strangely, she hasn’t eaten an egg herself since she was in her teens!
    You’ve got me thinking though… is it true that a woman should always be able (is that the distinction? be able rather than actually do it) to support herself? I thought one of the possible benefits of a good marriage/partnership is that they can support each other if one decides to change career or gets fired or indeed becomes an unpaid child/family carer and has a loss of capacity to fully support themselves in that time.

  23. sara says:

    my mom used to make sloppy joes with Cream of Chicken soup and ground beef. Eeek.

  24. Melissa H. says:

    My Mom had a rotation of about 15 dishes she knew how to cook well. I was not a picky eater, and in turn, quite the chubby child.

    I loved my Mom’s beef stroganoff. I’ve never tried to recreate it for my family for two reasons: 1. fear of being unsuccessful, and 2. my Mom claims she doesn’t have a recipe and cannot explain how she makes it-she just knows how, she says. The creamy mushroom sauce was delicious and the meat was always tender and cooked perfectly. She served it over curly egg noodles. Top the meal off with boiled artichokes with mayonnaise to dip and we were set!

  25. Jen B says:

    Of all my mom’s meals, I’d have to say her homemade Macaroni and Cheese was my fav! Especially the crispy topping! hmmmmm

  26. Celena says:

    My favorite dish from my childhood would have to be either homemade donuts or fried spam.

    I remember spending all day frying up the donuts and eating them fresh out of the oil. SO TASTY!

    Mum would fry the spam in a pan and then drizzle it with honey. It sounds gross but I remember it with fondly. I don’t know if I dare even try to serve it to my husband!

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  28. sararuss says:

    My Mom is a great cook. One of my favorite was stuffed shells. Stuffed Shells and spinach rolls. YUM.

  29. Barbie says:

    My mom would make mock chicken legs, which were delish, but to this day am still unsure what the mock chicken legs were made of and why real chicken legs couldn’t have been used.

  30. Kimia says:

    favorite recipe as a child? oh man. her creme caramel was out of control delicious.

  31. Barbara says:

    My favorite dish from my childhood would have to be Fettuccine with ragù!
    Thanks for the chance!

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