In our household, an important part of summer and early fall are trips to the Hollis, NH flea market. Actually three flea markets in one, Hollis has a lot to offer that make it an ideal summer destination: it’s outdoors, it’s in a beautiful location, and they make surprisingly good hot dogs and hamburgers at the White Store.
Generally I’m looking for the same few things when I hit the flea market. Bar ware is always top of the list, of course, although as my collection grows I’m pickier about what I’ll actually buy. I’m currently in the market for a really nice vintage ice-crusher, and I’ve been looking for an exceptional deviled egg plate. And then, there are the cookbooks.
I’m a sucker for a vintage cookbook. There are lots of websites out there exploring how ridiculous and outdated they are, or even testing the recipes against modern tastes, but I genuinely have a love for these books. Yes, partly it’s to laugh about the prodigious use of aspic, or to be horrified by what people thought it was OK to do with hot dogs, but also because they are an amazing historical record. They teach us a lot about what was socially acceptable in a given period, especially for women.
A few weeks ago, at Hollis, we found an entire cache of 50’s and 60’s era cookbooks – for FREE. I did my best to restrain myself and took home only three. The one I want to share with you today, in some ways my favorite, is from 1952. She Cooks to Conquer is definitely an education on the social place of women in the 50’s. As you’ll see, it’s also an amazing example of commercial art.
She Cooks to Conquer, as the name suggests, is written for lady who wishes to capture a man’s heart via his stomach. The book breaks women down into two categories – Eves, who are happily married housewives, and Circes, career gals who still need to snag a man. This book and its pseudo-Greek conceit are for the latter. Please note that the author is a man, the estimable Robert H. Loeb Jr. He is also the author of Wolf in Chef’s clothing, a book for men who wish to seduce women through cooking, and the absolutely amazing title Male Power: The Young Man’s Guide To Good Grooming. Should you find this book in your travels, PLEASE share it with me.
Our friend Bobby writes in a chatty, you-go-girlfriend style, commiserating about the lack of good cookbooks for the single gal and referencing made-up terminology like “feedo.” Though the recipe titles are all related to Greek mythology, they also employ a good deal of high-school level French.
Each chapter is designed to help Circe entrap a mate, with the final chapter, “The Man Who Stayed to Breakfast” emphasizing that said man is staying with the appropriate governmental and religious paperwork in place.
Oh, and it’s a visual cookbook! You don’t need to be confused by too many words, gals!
The illustrations, which are done by a woman, are fabulous. Look at the little angry eggs!
Spending some time with this book it became clear that Mr. Loeb thinks very little of men OR women. Men are babies:
Who need to be ensorcelled to marry you.
And our Circe, this career gal who didn’t have time to learn to cook before, is apparently just waiting for her moment to become an Eve.
What was most interesting to me about this book is that for all that it is not very enlightened about gender roles, it still acknowledged, in 1952, that there were women who were not immediately wives and mothers, who spent some time in the workforce, dating and having fun. Loeb still assumes they’ll be Eves eventually, but I suppose it was a step in the right direction to note Circe’s existence at all.