Peg Bracken

Hate to cook? hate to clean? fear not, you are not alone. Not only that, you haven’t been for some time.

Peg Bracken is perhaps best known (and justifiably so!) for her cookbook, the I Hate to Cook Book, which came out in 1960, although she wrote several later books which are as worth reading. The I Hate to Cook Book came out as things were beginning to come to a head in regards whether women were supposed to find fulfillment in the home and childrearing and only that–Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique came out three years later–and while it’s absolutely true that cooking and cleaning need to be done in every household small or large, I have yet to meet anyone whose childhood dreams of their future career path consisted solely of “housespouse”.

The I Hate to Housekeep Book and I Try to Behave Myself followed close on the cookbook’s heels; both were reasonably popular at the time, though I don’t know how well known either is today, more’s the pity. The world needs more blue-collar middle class pragmatic etiquette guides; Miss Manners is the closest modern equivalent I can think of.

Bracken was, I think, something more of a phenomenon in the 1960’s than now; fifty years on, many of the recipes in the I Hate to Cook Book and housekeeping hints in I Hate to Housekeep Book have been superseded by modern health concerns1 and cleaning supplies. However, women2 are just as likely to hate cooking and housekeeping, not to mention having even less time to actually DO these things, and the books’ very simplicity in their suggestions dodges some of the intervening decades’s improvements. Soap is soap, after all, and a cheese “cream” sauce calling for flour, butter, milk and cheese is as valid today as it was fifty years ago…though I’d possibly add a bit of curry or cayenne to liven it up today. Certainly, her first book the I Hate to Cook Book was reissued a couple of years ago as a (gulp) 50th anniversary version.

Her later books, A Window Over the Sink (memoir) and But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world! (travel) aren’t quite as coherent as her earlier themed books. However, if you like her writing style and are curious to find out more about Bracken herself, I’d wholeheartedly suggest both. Indeed, I appreciate But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world! solely for its suggestion that there are certain incredibly useful phrases which will never appear in your standard travelers’ phrase book, although I’d add “Where’s the bathroom?” to Bracken’s list of essential phrases everyone should know but might have time to seek out in a comprehensive phrase book–she suggested “Does anyone speak English?”, “No, thank you.” and “Go away!”

I’m not quite sure what to suggest to read after this; I haven’t encountered anyone quite as breezy yet pragmatic as Bracken. Certainly no one willing to come out and say “Some of us hate cooking and housecleaning. That’s OK.” It doesn’t make us any less feminine or womanly, any less adored by the men who share our lives3. Peg Bracken’s daughter started a blog on WordPress, though I suspect it was largely to publicize the 50th anniversary publication of the I Hate to Cook Book as it hasn’t been updated in about 18 months; it’s still an amusing glimpse into Bracken’s real life that few of us got.

For those of us who would still rather wrap our hands around a dry martini than a wet flounder at the end of a long day, there is still Peg Bracken’s work.

1sodium in canned soups
2and it is still largely women responsible for cooking and cleaning despite two intervening generations of progress
3I apologize here: I’ve not forgotten all the same-sex relationships out there. It’s just that all the members of those relationships with whom I’m acquainted seem more pragmatic about splitting these duties evenly.


3 thoughts on “Peg Bracken

  1. I’m told that Bracken’s “I didn’t come here to argue” is quite good, although it’s on my list of “I’ll get to its,” not my list of “read it and loved its.”

    Try Jean Kerr’s “Please don’t eat the daisies.” It may not resonate as much with you, since it’s about parenting and not cooking, but it has that same, “Let’s be honest about it, some days this sucks, so let’s laugh about it,” attitude. There is also always Erma Bombeck, aka St. Erma.

  2. i must have read “I didn’t come here to argue” at some point, though I don’t remember it. Etiquette, right? I’ve read several of Kerr’s books, including “Please don’t eat the daisies”, and quite liked them–you’re right that Kerr and Bombeck would make good follow up books if you’ve read Bracken for the text and tone rather than the recipes themselves.

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