Sunday, June 29, 2008

A tale of two Seventies

In which we resume our occasional series of reviews of out-of-print cookbooks:
New York Entertains
by the Junior League of the City of New York (1974).

How was 1974 for you? What were you into? I wouldn’t be born for another two years, so I have to take the August 1974 issue of Viva magazine at its word:

Viva magazine, August 1974 cover

Women are into:
total feminism
male nudes
pubic hairstyles
hash smuggling
great new fall fashions

I started collecting old issues of Viva after reading this appreciation of it at (no relation), which I urge you to take a look at if you have any interest in magazine publishing, or in a brief period of U.S. history during which even prime-time teevee stars weren't too uptight to pose for photos shoving their hands down the pants of a new friend.

Aside from the fascinating topics listed above, the August 1974 Viva also featured reviews of Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark and Lou Reed’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, an interview with Arianna Huffington, age 24 (then Arianna Stassinopoulos), and a profile of WNEW-FM DJ Alison Steele:

WNEW-FM DJ Alison Steele, Viva magazine, August 1974

“She smokes tiny cigars, dismisses inconsequential people, and embraces maître d’s in restaurants, where she expects the best tables by virtue of her fame. When they are not given to her, she moves to them, glaring at the waiter.” The tiny cigars make it ok somehow, don’t you think? They’re perfect for her.

Meanwhile, the NYC Junior League published a cookbook to raise funds for its "community program." According to their website, their work in the Seventies focused on job training for women inmates, but for some reason the book doesn't even hint that the Upper East Side hostesses who contributed menus for "celebrating after the opera" and "[the] next time your husband asks you to entertain visiting businessmen" would ever have anything to do with Rikers Island jailbirds.

NY Entertains back jacket

A detail from the inside back jacket of New York Entertains
by the Junior League of the City of New York, illustrated by Patricia Whitman.

My readers abroad might not know that in the States, the Junior League has a reputation as being an organization for brittle young socialites wearing pearls, a sense of entitlement, and a terrifying back-stabby gleam in the eyes. In London they might be identified as Sloane rangers, but the British have always allowed their upper classes a bit of kink, whereas Junior League girls are expected to have ice water running through their veins.

It won't be a surprise, then, that in 1974 they favored centerpieces that required a little too much effort.

lemon pyramid

And yet the recipes aren't as WASPy as I expected. Apparently NYC Junior League girls didn't share their New England comrades' affection for potato salad with mayonnaise deluge (and flavorless grocery-brand paprika sprinkled on top, if there was any gathering dust in the summer house cabinet), incompetent drunken clambakes, grilled cheese sandwiches on white bread, and canapés involving Ritz crackers, all washed down with truly grownup-size gin and tonics made with the second-cheapest gin available (often Five O'Clock, quite possibly picked up at the vile state-run liquor stores on I-95 in Vermont on the way to or from Maine).

In Memoirs of a Beatnik, Diane di Prima recalled a WASPy school friend's family she'd met in the early Sixties:

Her parents who had no more money than my own, lived beyond their means in expensive Darien, and shopped in a Gristede's where everything cost three times as much as it did in the local supermarket in Brooklyn, but where Tallulah Bankhead could be seen buying brandied peaches. Tomi's mother Martha was a handsome little woman in her mid-forties, Anglo-Saxon and proper, grim and laconic, a woman who did what was expected of her, and took no pleasure in it. It was a well-known—and frequently discussed—fact within the family circle that she was frigid. Her father was a florid Latin type, half French and half Italian, who drank emotionally, spent too much money, and was openly and despairingly in love with his wife. Their dogs were mangy, but thoroughbred; their heroes F. Scott Fitzgerald and Harry Crosby. Their house was much too small, their barn too big; they read The New Yorker and the Sunday Times, lived on peanut butter sandwiches and scrambled eggs, and drank endless martinis in front of the fireplace in their dark, crowded living room.

One thing we might take from all this is that the classics of WASP gastronomy are fundamentally ill-suited to appear in cook books, and that is because they are embarrassing for several reasons. Stumbling across a recipe for an authentic WASP lunch or cocktail happening in a Junior League fundraiser cook book would be like stumbling across a photo of a grown man in diapers.

So, instead we get modestly stylish suggested menus for structured social occasions: An Easter Luncheon for Six, Derby Day Luncheon for Sixteen, A Theater or Benefit Supper for Twelve, The Bicyclers' Back-pack Picnic for Four.

a committee lunch

The menu for the committee lunch for twelve (i.e., fundraising, but "lovely enough to serve as a bridesmaids' luncheon"): vitello tonnato (veal braised in white wine, with a sauce of Italian tuna, capers, anchovies, mayonnaise and lemon juice), leeks vinaigrette, sesame seed toasts, apricot ice, and chocolate chiffon cookies.

bicyclers' picnic

The menu for the bicyclers' picnic ("Everyone is biking now, more than ever") includes a chilled lemon soup, salad niçoise, sesame bread sticks wrapped in prosciutto, radishes and carrot sticks, and fruit and cheese for dessert.

Sans Souci Lunch for Two

If you are curious about the caviar soufflé from the menu for a sans souci lunch ("simple but chic"), note that it calls for four ounces of caviar to serve two people. Hey, some landlords are ok with you being a month behind.

caviar soufflé

The crêpes Gravetye Manor sound much better: apple, bittersweet chocolate, and cream.

crêpes Gravetye Manor

I was going to try that one, but I ended up making the Dutch apple pancakes instead. Yes, I know the part of the recipe with the instructions has a stain on it. It's not mine.

Dutch apple pancakes 1

Dutch apple pancakes 2

I couldn't bring myself to use 4 tablespoons of butter to sauté the apples so I used about 3, or a little less. That was plenty, even for sautéing in two batches. I used a salted, cultured butter and I added approximately 2 teaspoons of finely chopped fresh rosemary to the cooked apple slices, which I made in advance and set aside in the refrigerator. (If you do the same, take them out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before you are ready to cook the pancakes. The pancakes don't take long to cook, and if the apples are still cold when you begin they might not be heated through by the time the pancakes are done.) Also: I used the lesser quantity of sugar, I added a pinch of fine sea salt to the flour, and I used Negra Modelo beer.

apple pancake cooking

My camera is on strike so we'll have to make do with a couple of hazy iPhone photos.

We ate the pancakes for dinner with tofu sausages on the side. The pancakes were terrific, very light and crisp around the edges. I'll definitely make them again, but next time I'll slice the apples very thin. I sliced them thinner than the recipe calls for and they were still too clunky, which made the pancakes clumsy to flip (too much weight, poorly distributed) and to eat.

apple pancake

I doubt the Viva crowd made pancakes often, unless for a really special morning-after breakfast. One thing everyone could agree on in the Seventies, presumably: the right capes and tweeds can be hot shit.
"great new fall fashions"

cape and tweedy skirt by Luba, Viva magazine, August 1974

Previous posts in this series:
Corinne Griffith's Eggs I Have Known and Mona Bazaar's Cookbook in Solidarity With the Symbionese Liberation Army;

Helen Gurley Brown's The Single Girl's Cookbook


  1. Hey, love your blog! Viva looks perfecto

  2. Ok, /seriously/ I know I just commented but whatever because I'm completely knocked out by the fact that your culinary (and other) reading tastes run so close to mine. Diane diPrima! I adore! And I can't wait for your review of the Overseas Press Club's been a favorite of mine for some years.

    Ok, I will stop geeking out now.

  3. Thanks Abbey & thanks Paula! It's so nice to hear from like-minded people from the internets . . .