Helen Gurley Brown's The Single Girl's Cookbook (Bernard Geis Assoc. 1969) was illustrated by Frank Daniel, who appears to have gone on to illustrate several children's books. Each chapter begins with an illustration of a mod young woman with Twiggy eyelashes, often accompanied by a boyfriend who looks an awful lot like Guy Smiley.
These are, I imagine, the sort of women who were too busy setting their hair and finding husbands to bother reading Betty Friedan. The book is geared towards young women who want to learn to cook not, apparently, because living well is a great pleasure, but because the thought of not being able to compete with other women drives them mad. "Make a lamb stew better than his mother!," HGB promises. "You can, too, because yours won't be so fat." A recipe for boeuf en daube is likewise introduced with the warning that "[t]his stew has undone more men than the Hong Kong virus, only it's a good kind of undoing. It definitely got one girl I know married."
The italics, happily, are not mine. At the start of chaper 1 Brown thanks Margo Rieman, "a cook" who "allowed me to take her wonderful recipes . . . and present them to you in my words, together with a few philosophical thoughts along the way . . . such as, it is better to get hollandaise all over your negligee sleeves than to wear something appropriate to cook in if you are entertaining a man." The words indeed appear to be direct from HGB: loads and loads of flighty italics, flattering addresses to the dear/darling/delightful reader, and uniquely florid hyperbole. I don't mean to grouse about it, though; that's her style and she generally pulls it off.
Well. I do mean to grouse about it a bit, and cringe a bit, but occasionally there's fine advice here:
- "[M]ake friends with a butcher. It's fine to buy your one single-girl lamb chop for Monday's dinner prepackaged from the supermarket, but to cook lyrically for company you need a professional advisor. Most butchers are darlings."
- "[C]heese is chic." HGB's recommendations for cheese, wine and fruit pairings for dessert hold up rather well (e.g., Gorgonzola, pears and Pinot Noir), and for readers stuck in the boonies she directs them to order from Cheese of All Nations (then located on Chambers Street in Manhattan ― the Murray's of its day?) rather than buy processed junk from the local grocery store.
- While serving highballs, "[w]atch out for anybody who demands cream soda or clam juice or some other esoteric beverage. You have a nut on your hands and the next thing you know he'll be running his hands over the bottom of your bathtub to see if it's grit-free, or running his hands over the bottom of you or one of your guests . . . ."
- "Cooking and eating foreign food is the way to great sensuous pleasure with great sensuous men."
In case you might not have guessed, a great many pages in The Single Girl's Cookbook explain what should and should not be served to lovers. There are five chapters of recipes and menus for the five stages of a Cosmo-style love affair, which begins with the-batting-of-eyelashes and smoldering glances but ends in disaster ("You Aren't Lovers Yet," "You're in Love," "He's Acting Funny and You Must Win Him Back," "Enough Already!" and "Goodbye Forever, Thank God! Three Dinners and One Revolting Breakfast"), and countless exhortations throughout the rest of the book. From the brunch chapter:
In addition to Sunday Brunch, we've included recipes for three delicious egg dishes to serve during the week to a friend (there's no need going into what sex and you may not even be sure) who stays overnight. If you're both scooting off to work there wouldn't be time to do one of the fancier brunches, but the quickies are delicious. For the almost overnight guest who gets ravenous at three in the morning, you simply serve one of the breakfasts. It's almost morning anyway. And of course you should never send anyone home drunk. Feed him!
There are also several chapters devoted to more prosaic aspects of single-girl living. What should be simmering when you invite the landlord over to see your leaky pipes or peeling paint? Ideally a "Poor Pitiful Ragout," which "will not only melt the man before your very eyes but establish you as the Brave, Strong, Deserving, and Ingenious Girl you are." (Quaint! Is it true that once upon a time a landlord might be torn away from rolling around in his pile of money and hate mail long enough to actually visit a tenant? Rather than sending a mumbling, fumbling super or his creepy, good-for-nothing brother?)
As for what to serve "When the Relatives Descend," it depends how much you like them. For a favorite aunt, two hors d'oeuvres, a roast leg of lamb, creamed spinach, roasted potatoes, and for dessert, ice cream with toasted coconut and Kahlúa. For an annoying aunt who will tell you that you're too thin, your apartment is garish, and your boyfriend's hair is troubling, "garbanzo dip" (a not-bad-sounding hummus, with plenty of lemon juice, garlic, coriander, mint and parsley), a yogurt dip, a big salad with anchovies, a main course of broiled kidneys with noodles, and a dessert of cheese and apples.
I have not tried any of the recipes in this book yet. There are indeed some dreary 1950's hausfrau recipes here; at least two or three of them feature canned soup, and a recipe for "ecstatic hamburgers" relies on onion soup powder for transcendence. There are, however, plenty of dishes that must have seemed odd at the time but are genuine and honest and could be served today without irony. The menu for a "Summer Feast for Married-Couple Friends" ("Here's a dinner with love and kisses for that wonderful couple who comfort you when sick, entertain you when you're lonely, feed you when you're broke, and take you in on holidays. It's frankly fabulous and they deserve it.") gets off to a rocky start with superfluous curried shrimp puffs, but the rest of the menu is quite edible: vitello tonnato, rice salad, green peppers piedmont (cooked in a slow oven with olive oil, garlic, anchovies and tomatoes), braised vegetables Adriatic (in olive oil), bread sticks, and "melon surprise" (cantaloupe hollowed out and filled with Port; I once had a cavaillon melon prepared this way and it was very, very good). The obligatory recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon (see below) is straightforward and would probably taste pretty good, particularly if you updated it with fresh herbs.
And when you're alone? HBG favors blender concoctions for breakfast (various combinations of fruit, powdered liver and raw eggs) and comforting soups and egg dishes to eat in bed if you're moping about something. There is also a short (two pages) chapter of favorite celebrity eating-alone binges. Lauren Bacall would have "[j]ust pickled artichokes. A girl can't get too many"; Julie Newmar would like a dinner of strawberry ice cream, camembert cheese, fresh French bread, chile con carne, "and for breakfast, fresh Beluga caviar." Carol Channing's answer evokes an era before publicists scrubbed all traces of personality from celebrity babblings; she would opt for an idiosyncratic combination of "sweet, earthy things like roast leg of goat, kasha . . . with goat gravy, baked fresh pears with pear juice, homemade candy made with honey and raw sugar, and fresh-pressed pineapple juice!"
My ideal single-girl dinner consists of cheese and bread (recently a bit of walnut bread and Tomme de Savoie), because I am a magnet for lactarded persons and I will never, ever get enough cheese. I may be cursed, really; my mother was struck with lactose-intolerance after giving birth to me. I lived with a man who was also lactose-intolerance for several years and after I moved out, I had cheese + bread + wine for dinner probably at least two nights per week, and I still think I have catching up to do.