R.I.P. Peg Bracken

I always liked the idea of cooking, but when I was in high school I only knew how to make two things: meatloaf and boxed macaroni and cheese. Then I found Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book on our pantry shelf. As the title suggests, it’s not exactly a cookbook — more of a collection of sardonic bon mots punctuated by occasional recipes. Imagine Fran Lebowitz (another high school favorite of mine) writing a cookbook and you won’t be far off. If you know a slightly disaffected and ironic young person living in their first apartment and subsiding on ramen, Bracken’s book would be the perfect gift.

Peg Bracken died this fall at 89; here’s her obituary from the New York Times.

Apparently my very favorite line from the book is not mine alone, because the obit leads with it:

Start cooking those noodles, first dropping a bouillon cube into the noodle water. Brown the garlic, onion and crumbled beef in the oil. Add the flour, salt, paprika and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink.

This happens to be from my favorite recipe in the book, and indeed the favorite dish of my childhood, Skid Road Stroganoff (called “hamburger stroganoff” around my house.) My father and I didn’t like mushrooms, onions, or parsley, so our version of the dish was little more than hamburger, sour cream, and cream of mushroom soup mixed up in a skillet and poured over egg noodles. I think my mom felt slightly demeaned to be preparing it all the time. But to this day I’d take it over most menu items I encounter.

(In other high school news, I’m listening to Abacab as I write this. Like hamburger stroganoff, it holds up!)

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5 thoughts on “R.I.P. Peg Bracken

  1. Em says:

    What a great story! Cooking is something almost all of us have to do, to acknowledge that it’s not always pure joy is a stroke of genius. I’ll have to look into getting my brother a copy of that book.

    P.S. I still can’t make meatloaf.

  2. Dirty Davey says:

    I was also a Bracken fan back in the day. Although mom certainly liked to cook, someone had given her the book. Mom never used it, but I know I used it once or twice when I was called on to cook an occasional dish for family dinner.

  3. Kathy says:

    Oh, my word. I didn’t know she’d passed! I had another book of hers whose title escapes me… and I loved it. I may still own it — it’d be at my dad’s if I do.

  4. Em says:

    I’d been meaning to mention that I did buy this for my brother for Christmas (I won it on eBay about 20 minutes after I read your post) and it was a big hit, as far as cook books and single twenty something males go.

  5. […] mean beef stroganoff when I was a kid.  Of course, it was “skid road stroganoff” from Peg Bracken’s classic I Hate To Cook Book, friend to working scientists of all genders with small kids and twenty minutes to get dinner on […]

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