Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Food: Recipes, cookbook reviews, food notes, and restaurant reviews. Unless otherwise noted, I have personally tried each recipe that gets its own page, but not necessarily recipes listed as part of a cookbook review.

Mimsy Review: Saucepans and the Single Girl

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, September 29, 2002

Review of Saucepans and the Single Girl, with a recipe for Lobster Thermidor.

AuthorsJinx Kragen, Judy Perry
PublisherFawcett Crest
Length176 pages
Book Rating4

Earlier I wrote about a wonderful cookbook for bachelors called Life, Loves, and Meat Loaf. More specifically, the book was for “the bachelor-minded male,” the kind of man who prefers not to marry out of necessity, just because he doesn’t personally know how to cook his own meals and take care of himself. “Saucepans and the Single Girl” attacks the problem from the other end: the “career girl” who is looking to capture that bachelor-minded male. The back cover tells us that if we just start reading (and cooking the “bachelor-bait recipes” from) this book, “we’ll bet you won’t even get to finish this book—until after the honeymoon.” It also quotes the Chicago Daily News (best known in my quote file for its editorial support of Mussolini) as calling it a cookbook “with the emphasis on practicality.”

“TV dinners or hearty bowls of soup were enough to fill our inner needs, but entertaining caused us many a migraine. We had had visions of divine BBD&O men and intimate little dinners complete with candlelight and wine, but it wasn’t long before we realized that it would take more than a fallen soufflé or a sticky fondue to give us the bravado one needs to entertain with ease and rakish glamour.”

These books are pure gender wars. Neither side has much appreciation for the other. Randall writes that “Cooking is infinite. Only women cooks are finite.” They lack the arrogance necessary to innovate, and must follow menus slavishly. They’re handy to have around, however, because they make good dish washers. Kragen and Perry write that “it’s easy enough to delude a male Saturday dinner guest into believing that he has discovered a real jewel of a gourmet” and that “each wily man, though he tries valiantly to pass himself off as a unique individual, is actually just a member of an easily-defined type. And for each category of men there is a perfect menu.”

Score one for the Bachelor Gourmet.

The difference between the two books is even more apparent when it comes to salads. “Saucepans” recommends: “get yourself a favorite salad and serve it over and over again to your guests… A large repertoire of salads doesn’t do anyone any good.” The Barefoot Gourmet has an entire chapter on salads laying out the basic salad dressing, the basic salad, and their myriad variations. From the base come so many variations that “The Barefoot Gourmet Finds It Unnecessary, and Perhaps Impossible, Ever To Duplicate One Of His Tasty Salad Dressings.”

The barefoot gourmet’s goal is eating well in good company. The single girl’s goal is to kick out her girlfriends and no longer be single.

The two books were published about the same time: 1964 for “Life, Loves, and Meatloaf”, and 1965 for “Saucepans and the Single Girl”. They both have a decidedly fifties feel to them, and both take place in California. Since both discuss past events in the lives of the authors, the events themselves must have happened in the late fifties, very early sixties (Kragen and Perry date their book’s anecdotes from three years previous). Carl Randall’s “Life, Loves, and Meatloaf” is dedicated to his father: “When I am 78 I hope to have his appreciation for a bird, a bottle, and a woman.” Kragen and Perry dedicate their book to their husbands: “For Ken, who yielded to Stroganoff, and for Jack, who succumbed to Lasagna.”

Ah, that stroganoff. In “Life, Loves, and Meatloaf” Randall describes the “awakening” of the man in the culinary trap of the “woman on the prowl for a meal ticket”. He has been treated to a few steak dinners already, and begins to remember that steak dinners are expensive. He almost never had one at home, and even at the “neighborhood greasy spoon” they are not cheap. How does this woman who works in the company typing pool afford it? He slowly comes to the conclusion that “the initial cost may be hers, but the upkeep will be his.”

The woman on the prowl sees the danger signals. So she prepares beef stroganoff, which she claims to be “one of countless cheaply-prepared taste treats in her considerable culinary repertoire. The tip off to a desperate, and therefore dangerous, female is that she uses a tenderloin cut in her stroganoff.” What is a “tenderloin” cut? “filet mignon, New York, sirloin… I consider the top sirloin the best cut in Southern California markets.”

“Saucepans and the Single Girl” also contains a recipe for stroganoff. It calls for “1 pound top sirloin cut in 1/2 inch strips.” I’d “score two” for the Barefoot Gourmet, but this is a recipe for “the man in the grey flannel leaderhosen”, that is, a world-traveler. I don’t think the “Single Girl” is supposed to be interested in the “Barefoot Gourmet”.

“Saucepans and the Single Girl” is all the more amazing for my having finally read Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex”, also written in the fifties. In “The Second Sex”, de Beauvoir talks about how the working woman, especially those in business (usually the typing pool or as a secretary) is shackled by her own expectations of herself. Chief among these are concerns for appearance: spending so much extra time making herself up, and so much extra money on clothing and such. “Saucepans” is written for those on a budget, because “most career girls are on strict monthly budgets ($200 for clothes, $20 for taxis, $30 for hairdresser, $50 for rent, $10 for food)”. I don’t think I have ever, since I started renting in the eighties, spent four times as much on clothing as on rent.

Nothing sends a girl into a tizzy as fast as the realization that she must cook dinner for a man.

Remember, you’re not cooking so they’ll like the food. You’re cooking so they’ll like you. The food isn’t what you’re selling. You are what you’re selling. For the Man in a Brooks Brothers Suit, for example, “if you can cook without tripping over it, by all means wear your chic-est hostess skirt. This is known as packaging the product.”

I really have no idea if these recipes are any good. Most of them call for pre-packaged products. The garlic bread section provides three recipes: two for giving out if anyone is gauche enough to ask for the recipe; the third is the one you are expected to use, and it involves buying the garlic sauce in a jar (they probably didn’t have pre-made garlic bread in the supermarket back then). Recipe for wild rice: drain juice from canned wild rice and heat with lots of butter. (I didn’t know they even sold rice in a can.)

As one reviewer on Usenet wrote, “I can’t believe they wrote this in my lifetime.” The book is dedicated to “Ken, who yielded to Beef Stroganoff” (Ken should have read “The Barefoot Gourmet”) and to “Jack, who succumbed to Lasagna”. Yielded? Succumbed? According to the dust jacket version (I don’t have it, so this is only hearsay), “Ken” is Ken Kragen, at the time the manager of the Smothers Brothers and future producer of the “We Are The World” pityfest. Jinx Kragen later wrote for “That Girl” and appears to still be a food author, as “Jinx Morgan”. If so, she is no longer married to the man who yielded to stroganoff. He probably discovered that you don’t save a whole lot of money if you use top sirloin. Or he discovered that it’s easier to hire a cook than to marry one. Must have put a damper on the sales of their 1968 cookbook, “How to Keep Him (After You’ve Caught Him)”. (If anyone can confirm or disfirm any of this conjecture, please let me know. It’s really too good to be true; I’m sure Jinx and husband Ken are living happily ever after somewhere in the midwest eating top sirloin stroganoff every week.)

Lobster Thermidor

  • three 8-ounce frozen rock lobster tails,
  • boiling salted water,
  • 3 tblsp butter or margarine,
  • 2 tblsp flour,
  • pinch nutmeg,
  • paprika,
  • ½ tsp salt,
  • 1½ tblsp sherry,
  • 1 cup light cream,
  • ¼ cup grated cheddar cheese.
  1. “Early in the morning while you’re hanging your hair out to dry,” boil tails in salted water for three minutes longer than the ounce weight of the largest tail.
  2. Drain and cool.
  3. Snip thin underside membrane and remove meat.
  4. Cut meat into chunks.
  5. Wash shells.
  6. Refrigerate.
  7. An hour before serving, melt butter in double boiler, stir in flur, nutmeg, dash of paprika, salt, sherry.
  8. Slowly add cream, stirring constantly.
  9. Add lobster.
  10. Cook over hot water, stirring occasionally, till just thickened.
  11. Fill shells with lobster mix.
  12. Sprinkle with cheese and lightly with paprika.
  13. Heat broiler for 10 minutes.
  14. Arrange lobsters in foil-lined pan and broil until just golden on top.
  15. Arrange on serving platter around center of curried rice.

Saucepans and the Single Girl

Jinx Kragen, Judy Perry

My cost: $2.95

Recommendation: Special Interests Only

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