It’s back, as damned as ever
In 1999 I started writing essays making fun of recipes. With my husband’s help, I posted them on a sub-page of his Web site under the heading Recipes of the Damned. And much to my surprise, I got readers, who enjoyed my barbs at the expense of such morsels as brawn, Mexican spaghetti and shrimp salad surprise.
At the time I was a freshly lapsed vegetarian, and an about-to-lapse doctoral student in Victorian literature. I had spent a fair bit of time researching Victorian attitudes toward women’s eating and toward cookery in general. I had also just tried and given up on the Protein Power diet, one of numerous low-carb-high-protein fad diets that were particularly hot then. As a result, I was as ready to laugh at game dishes and beef marrow as at the inexcusable union of Jell-O and cauliflower. Several weeks of cleaning up bacon grease, eating eggs for breakfast every damn day, and blowing my meager grocery budget on stew beef and hamburger had done very little to stifle a decade’s instinctive response of “eww, meat, gross.”
So I wrote. I hunted out vintage and ephemeral recipes and wrote about them more weeks than not for a little over a year. Then I got a full-time job that I sensed would take up most of my time and mental energy, and put the column on indefinite hiatus. That was six and a half years ago.
I’m still in the same job, and it does take up an astonishing amount of my time and attention. But I have decided that is no excuse. The recipes are still out there.
Even now, years later, I get mail from visitors to the site — some amused, some confused, and some just wanting to know where they can get HyPower canned chili. (Short answer: They don’t make it any more.) I’m still on the alert for disgusting recipes, but I’m no longer as amused by Victorian meat dishes as I used to be. I’m more interested in ridiculing recipes that would be revolting in any era because of fundamentally misguided approaches to ingredient combinations, cooking techniques or shortcuts. Some of these come from older cookbooks or pamphlets, but some are fresh from the pages of today’s coupon circulars and women’s magazines. There are still things you shouldn’t put in Jell-O. (Including, in my view, a spoon.) There are still cookbooks organized around a single ingredient such as pineapple, which yield a few good recipes and a few that are self-evidently the result of crazed desperation, a misguided attempt to have complete chapters for every course no matter how un-dessert-y or un-salad-y the ingredient in question. There are still people who think that Minute Rice is an edible food.
The new blog is going to be a little bit different from the old one. For one thing, it’s actually set up as a blog, complete with the ability to leave comments. I will be moderating comments as long as I decide that’s necessary. But I don’t intend to suppress differing points of view; I just want to maintain a minimum level of civility, so I’ll only be blocking abusive comments and spam. Feel free to trash the recipes, or to criticize my arguments; don’t go trashing me personally or the other participants. And I don’t care to wire money to any strangers overseas, thanks ever so much for asking.
I’ll also be posting more often; I don’t promise daily updates, but I’ll definitely be aiming for a greater frequency than the weekly posts of the old site. Sometimes I’ll do recipe columns (just like the old days!), and sometimes I’ll be reviewing books or discussing things I see in the news or that have otherwise caught my attention. Feel free to send me suggestions for recipes, point me to news stories, or help me in other ways. This damned is your damned too.
So, whether you’re part of the old guard or whether you’ve stumbled upon my attempts at humor for the first time, welcome to the new Recipes of the Damned!