Irreverent Cookbook Author Peg Bracken Dies

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Peg Bracken, author of The I Hate to Cook Book, died this past week at the age of 89. Published in 1960, the book was filled with easy short-cut recipes and Bracken's own sardonic sense of humor. Coming at the end of the Eisenhower '50s, the book helped reshape the idea of a woman's role in the household. Here, a reprise a 1999 interview with Bracken.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Peg Bracken, author of the irreverent "I Hate to Cook Book" died this past week at the age of 89.

First published in 1960, the book set a subversive tone from its opening lines: Some women, it has said, like to cook. this is book is not for them.

In the era of father knows best and Ozzie and Harriet, Peg Bracken's book of short-cut recipes was a breath of caustic fresh air that was a precursor of sorts to the women's liberation movement.

Peg Bracken appeared on this program in 1999 and remembered how the book grew out of a lunchtime talk with some of her friends.

Ms. PEG BRACKEN (Author, "I Hate to Cook Book"): We all had to go home and cook dinner for our husbands that night, of course, and I was really tired of what I had been cooking so we pulled our ignorance and they gave me things that they actually did cook and could depend on. And so that was the genesis of the whole thing. And then I told my agent about it, and he showed it around and six male editors turned it down because they said that women regarded cooking as rather scared and they didn't want to see it kicked around. And it took a women editor at Harcourt to think, hey, this is what we need.

HANSEN: Does it surprise you that the books has lasted this long and then a best-seller for this long?

Ms. BRACKEN: Yes it - well, it certainly does, my gracious. I though maybe my mother would buy a copy if she were in a generous mood and possibly a couple of friends, but I certainly never thought that it would sell a millions of copies than it has.

HANSEN: It seems to me that at that time, in the early 1960s, it was the time of Camelot and the Kennedys were in the White House and the first lady was bringing all this French food and people becoming aware of it, and everyone was getting very sort of precise and wonderful and so forth about the food. Is your book, in some way, a reaction to that - the pressure?

Ms. BRACKEN: To be fancier than you really are?

HANSEN: Yeah.

Ms. BRACKEN: It certainly was. The trouble was that they were not truthful. All of the Gourmet magazine and the - a whole line of food and all the rest of them would try to make it sound so simple, when in reality it wasn't.

HANSEN: You know you look in, like, in Gourmet magazine or some of the food and wine magazines, which I love to look at. But you look at the ingredients and always, there's this one ingredient that you have to buy that you never ever, ever have to buy again.

Ms. BRACKEN: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRACKEN: You are so right.

HANSEN: And it's some - obscure with the asterisk, you know, on the recipe that will - can be found in specialty stores.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRACKEN: Yes, I have a little box of turmeric in - on my spice shelf that I used once and I think that was about 14 years ago. Well, you know what spices cost these days, and I'm sure the stuff is no good now, but I kind of hate to throw it away.

HANSEN: You know you've written only nine books over the years, your most recent one in print is on getting old for the first time. And I think it's interesting that, you know, I'm speaking to you and you're 80 years old now but in the "I Hate to Cook Book" you actually wrote: I know an elderly lady whose breakfast is whole wheat, toast, bacon and coffee; whose lunch is a vitamin pill with a Metrical chaser - Metrical was a, sort of, like the Slim-Fast of the '60s; and whose dinner is an old-fashioned and something frozen. She's the healthiest elderly lady you'll ever saw. I happen to know because she's my mother.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRACKEN: Yep, that was ma.

HANSEN: So what do you eat everyday now?

Ms. BRACKEN: I start with four donut holes because I just love donut holes, warmed up a trifle and a glass of a - a big glass of skim milk and a glass of orange juice. And then for lunch, I like a glass of wine and a soft boiled egg. And for dinner, I just hope that my husband will take me out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRACKEN: Which he often does.

HANSEN: You do leave notes for him on the refrigerator: eat out tonight?

Ms. BRACKEN: Yup.

HANSEN: Peg Bracken, she wrote the "I Hate to Cook Book" and she died last weekend at the age of 89.

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