Monday, April 12, 2010

Old Book Review

It seems like everyone and their neighbors from the Czech Republic do Book and Movie Reviews of new and upcoming items on their blogs. Guess what folks -- I'm doing an OLD book, what now?

The book that I'm reviewing is the 1924 edition of "Physical Culture Cook Book". According to Wikipedia, "Physical culture is a term applied to health and strength training regimens, particularly those that originated during the 19th century. During the mid-late 20th century, the term "physical culture" became largely outmoded in most English-speaking countries, being replaced by terms such as "physical education", "fitness training" or simply "exercise"." This book is of a two part culmination of the magazine named after the movement.

Look at the lovely picture of the author! He looks much crazier, less sexy in the picture of "Our Author" in my book.

So, with no further ado, I present: "Physical Culture Cook Book" by Bernarr Macfadden (Author of "Macfadden's Encyclopedia of Physical Culture," Eating for Health and Strength," "Strengthening the Eyes," "Hair Culture," "Manhood and Marriage," "The Miracle of Milk" and other works on Health and Sex) [N.B. -- capitalization upon sex the choice of the editor or author :-P]


One of the points that Macfadden mentions early in the book is that he merely calls this a cook book because it is a familiar term, not that it would be a typical cook book (of the time) (1). He spends the first 120 or so pages proselytizing about such diverse topics as: why you shouldn't use spices, how awesome raw diets are, and about these Cool New Discoveries: Vitamins. He is also a supporter of chewing everything -- even such things as soup, gruel and juice. Some of his points are very interesting, and all of it has the flavor of KNOWING how perfectly "scientific" one is being, as well as being so terribly dated.

Yet, a lot of what he says is being said time and again. "Eat whole grains over denatured white flour", "eat less meat", etc. But, some of it is just wrong. For example, the author claims that some bodies just digest better than others -- and that this explains weight disparities (2).

He also offers ways to judge quality food over bad, labor saving options, ways to set a table so that it is both simple and attractive (he's a fan of flowers), and a brief description of methods of cooking. When reading this type of book, I always feel that the author just likes to hear themselves talk, and they'd probably not be a guest I'd make the mistake of inviting to dinner twice.

However accurate or inaccurate his sermons are, they are entertaining. And that brings us to the "meat" of the book: the actual recipes.

The recipes in the book appear to be fairly straightforward, and simple. The author offers no pretense otherwise. He wrote the book as a reaction to the over-done Victorian-into-Gilded Age eating and entertaining styles. Each section offers a little description of the food to be covered, and goes into recipes. For simple ones, the recipe is in paragraph form; for more complex, the ingredients are before, with the instructions in paragraph form.

Overall, I would not consider it a bad $9 spent (a local used book store -- the book is not in great condition). His actual instruction is more entertaining than informative as it is so dated -- as some of his suggestions were to fast for 2 or 3 weeks until appetite returns, I would fear for someone's safety if they were following too closely to his words.

The recipes I would consider basic and hearty enough to merit it being given to a beginner, or someone starting out who wants a basic "kitchen bible". BF and I are constantly at war over our OWN preferences for "kitchen bible" [I like Fanny Farmer, he likes Joy of Cooking], but this covers enough territory to make it worthwhile. The only thing I would be leery of giving to a beginner is such fun instructions as "Bake in a medium hot oven for 30 minutes". If the person I was to give this to already had an idea of how to cook, but merely needed reference often -- this would be an excellent choice.

Overall usability: A-
Beginner's usability: C
Accuracy in statements: C-

A fun read! I always enjoy old cookbooks -- especially the "scientific" ones like this one and my second edition Boston School of Cooking (a.k.a. Fanny Farmer).

(1) "In the recipes of this book you will find many dishes that are composed partly or wholly of uncooked foods. The name 'Cook Book' is thus not wholly accurate, the more exact title would be 'Food Preparation Book'; however, we use the more familiar term." (41)

(2) "Some people are naturally small eaters. Sometimes they are above the normal in weight. It is because of good assimilation. You may find others who are below weight, and yet eat more food than those who are heavier in proportion to their height. They do not digest what they eat." (24)

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