Tell someone you’re writing a cookbook designed to take readers back to the 1960s and you’ll get questions such as these:
“Will you include a recipe for jello mold?”
“Do you have Grasshopper pie?”
“How about a tuna noodle casserole made with canned soup?”
“How many recipes involve Spam?”
But when you read The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook you’ll find that the answers to these questions are, “no, no, no and none.” True, there are no recipes in the book that call for goat cheese, wasabi or balsamic reductions, either. And, certainly there was some pretty tacky food that was popular in the 1960s. But there was a lot of fine food, too, even if some of it isn’t as ubiquitous today as it once was.
We didn’t set out to simply compile recipes from the 1960s in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook; the foods had to be featured in Mad Men, served in the restaurants and bars featured in the show, or have some other close connection to the storylines. We also wanted to ensure 1960s authenticity which is why we never settled only for updated recipes for, say, Waldorf Salad or Oysters Rockefeller, though we sometimes included both the old and the new. We worked with chefs, bartenders and restaurant owners to dish up the recipes used in their establishments in the early 1960s, when Don Draper and Roger Sterling might have walked through the door.
Our quest for authenticity took us deep into the shelves of special cookbook collections and to the pages of magazines and newspapers of the time. Sometimes it was obvious which cookbooks to turn to: on her kitchen counter Betty Draper kept copies of The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, the so-called “Red Plaid,” and Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook. But we dug deeper, in some cases into Julia Child’s personal cookbook collection now held at Radcliffe College’s Schlesinger Library. Holding a cookbook in which Julia Child had inscribed her name is simply a thrilling experience. Sometimes you never know what might fall out of an old cookbook: a handwritten family recipe for scalloped potatoes, or an old Frito’s “Party Games of the Stars” pamphlet featuring Art Linkletter.
We consulted cookbooks by the pre-eminent food writers and chefs of the time: Child along with James Beard, Clementine Paddleford, and Craig Claiborne. Old copies of
Life magazine, Gourmet and Woman’s Day, to name a few, also delivered insight into food trends and recipes for canapés, eggnog, and a Bacardi Rum Frappè. Then there were the truly quirky cookbooks we gleefully stumbled upon which were reflective of the times, books such as Poppy Cannon’s New Can Opener Cookbook, a cookbook built around a new utensil of convenience (others were specific to the electric skillet or the blender), and Nina Mortellito’s Small Kitchen Cookbook which showed urban dwellers, such as Joan Holloway, how to make big meals in their tiny apartment kitchens. (In Season 3, Episode 3, “My Old Kentucky Home,” Joan prepares a crown roast in her tiny kitchen.) Betty Draper was insecure about her culinary skills so Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Bookwas a logical place to hunt for recipes and it was there that we found a Turkey Tetrazzini recipe we adapted for our book. Why Turkey Tetrazzini? In Season 1, Episode 9 (“Shoot”), Betty reveals her doubts about her cooking
skills as she serves Don Turkey Tetrazzini for dinner one night. At times we felt like culinary anthropologists, or at least sleuths, as we tried to track down recipes that were both authentic to the time period and connected to Mad Men.
So, no to jello mold — yes to Hearts of Palm Salad, Devlled Eggs and Beef Wellington. And is this retro-food tasty? It all disappeared quickly at cocktail and dinner parties where our friends tasted many of the recipes in our book. But there was one part of the1960s social scene we avoided like the plague: there was no smoking.