A thousand ways to please a husband

Sadie Stein in The Paris Review:

ThousandcoverMany people engage in dubious experimentation in their youth. Some get involved with intravenous drugs. Others sleep with problematic men. A few tattoo their faces. I, for my part, went on a spree when I was nineteen of cooking exclusively from a 1917-era cookbook. The book, A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband (with Bettina’s Best Recipes), might sound vaguely titillating. It’s not. ATWtPaH, by Louise Bennett Weaver and Helen Cowles LeCron, is the story of Bettina and Bob’s first year of marriage. The fictional, surnameless couple, who populate a series of domestic vignettes (with menus and recipes), seems to live on the outskirts of an anonymous American city where Bob does … well, some kind of office job. It’s 1917, but apparently no need at all to mention the War. My copy is a yellow hardcover I acquired at a long-ago church sale; it’s illustrated liberally with images of mischievous chef-cupids and periodic thumbnail sketches of the newlyweds. By the time we meet the pair, on their first night in their brand-new, cozy brown bungalow, the honeymoon is over—literally. When the happy-go-lucky Bob suggests dinner out, after they disembark from the train, he’s treated to the following:

“I’m ashamed of you! We’ll take the first car for home—a streetcar, not a taxi! Our extravagant days are over, and the time has come to show you that Bettina knows how to keep house!” Home again, and swathed in a trim percale apron, Bettina turns to her “Emergency Shelf,” which will become a recurring character, along with the word “economical,” her energy-efficient fireless cooker (a slow cooker of sorts), and the budget notebook that is her preferred topic of dinner-table conversation. “That was fun,” Bob says of the day they assembled the shelf. “Yes, and work, too,” said Bettina, “but I’m glad we did it. Do you remember how much I saved by getting things in dozen and half-dozen lots? And Mother showed me how much better it was to buy the larger sizes in bottled things, because in buying the smaller bottles you spend most of your money for the glass. Now that you have to pay my bills, Bob, you’ll be glad that I know these things.” In case you’re wondering, that evening Bob sat down to:

Creamed Tuna on Toast Strips
Canned Peas with Butter Sauce
Rolls Butter
Strawberry Preserves
Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows

More here. (Note: For my own favorite Uber Chef and dear friend Elatia Harris with love)