When I was a newlywed in the 1970s, I picked up a copy of You Can Cook for 1 (or Even Two) by Louise Pickoff (Gramercy Publishing, 1961). I’m not sure why I bought it, seeing as how I had a husband to feed, at least in theory. He worked nights and was rarely home for dinner. His favorite meal was a beer and a loaf of rye bread slathered with mayonnaise. No wonder the marriage didn’t last.
Half a century later as I’m researching cooking for one, I remember this book. Could I possibly still have it? I do!
Oh Lord, how things have changed. Pickoff, a businesswoman who passed away in 2000 at age 87, mentions writing this book on a typewriter. As I was writing then, too. She could never have imagined this little hardback book would sell for $864 on Amazon today. I probably paid less than $5.
Inside, Louise also mentions:
- Her standard breakfast is bacon, eggs and toast.
- Under equipment, she says you need a can opener, and “the new electric ones are wonderful.”
- She speaks of double boilers, electric skillets and electric ranges.
- In her measurement chart, she defines a speck (less than 1/8 tsp.) and a pinch (1/4-1/3 tsp.).
- To make fried chicken, dredge it in flour and cook in a cup (!) of shortening in the electric skillet. That’s exactly how my mother did it. It tasted great, but all that fat!
- She speaks of minute steak, soup flakes, and powdered milk.
- She uses cream in almost everything
- She speaks of salad dressing mix. I remember we had a special bottle marked off with lines for oil, vinegar, and the seasonings that came in a packet. The best part was shaking it up and watching the ingredients swirl around like an early-day lava lamp.
- Liver patties
- Breaded veal cutlets
- Canned tuna on toast with homemade white sauce—hello, home economics class.
- Fried bananas rolled in cream, butter and cornflakes
- Onion soup dip—sour cream and soup mix.
- Whiskey balls made with vanilla wafers, Karo syrup, cocoa, pecans and whiskey
- Spanish rice—add tomato sauce to boxed rice.
- Cold meat sandwich—spread with mayonnaise, add meat, tomato slices and pickles.
I tried some of the recipes back in the day and left my reviews:
Individual Meat and Noodle Dish (ground meat, onion, bouillon cubes, noodles, ¼ c. wine): “Not too good” 9-14-78; Chicken in Cream (4 T. fat, minced onion, cream, thyme): Awful! 3-11-75; Canned tuna on toast (white sauce, cheese, spices, canned tuna): Yum! 2-2-79
There are no notations for the period after we got divorced and I truly was living alone, before I met Fred and didn’t need that cookbook anymore. Now that I’m alone again, I wonder if I should try more of these recipes. But there are more bad reviews than good, and the way we eat has changed. Some people just don’t cook anymore. Those who do avoid heavy doses of fat and sugar. Many avoid gluten, dairy, or meat. We worry about toxins coming off plastic containers and nonstick cookware.
We don’t expect to spend so much time in the kitchen, stirring homemade white sauce until it thickens, simmering meat on the stove for an hour when we can have it ready in minutes in a microwave or an Instant Pot. We can find recipes online that knock the socks off anything Louise laboriously typed back in the 60s.
But eating alone is still eating alone, and I like what she says about it: “You can wear what you want, and you can eat what you want . . . Quite often people ask me if I set my table attractively with flowers and candles. I must admit the answer is no. I live in an efficiency apartment, and I eat off the coffee table in the living room. I either put my china on a tray or a place mat. I use chip-free china, and I use silver that I have not used while cooking. In order to save on laundry, I use paper napkins. After watching the commercials on TV, doesn’t everybody? I refuse to comment on my table manners while eating alone. Just use your imagination!”
I may hate her chicken in cream, but Louise sounds like my kind of woman. I do eat at the table—unless there’s something special on TV—with Annie eating out of her bowl on the floor beside me. I get up and down a lot, serving myself from pots on the stove, fetching cookies for the dog, grabbing condiments, silverware and whatever else I forgot. And I read.
What food traditions from your past have drifted away or changed? Do you still cook the way you did in early adulthood? What food did you used to eat all the time that you don’t eat anymore for health or other reasons? For example, I grew up on baloney sandwiches on white bread with potato chips and onion soup dip, washed down with strawberry soda. I never buy any of that now. How about you?