Country bookshops and second-hand stores. They get me every time. I’m the one flicking through the old cookbooks, rattling through kitchenware and cutlery, looking for anything that speaks of the yesteryear when time seemed slower and a little more genteel. Sometimes I find things. Sometimes I don’t.
The National Library of Australia tells me Cooking for Bachelors (1959) by Ted Moloney & George Molnar is pretty hard to get your hands on. With Molnar’s somewhat risque cartoons peppered through the text, and Moloney’s recurring references to the clique Sydney restaurant circuit and social circles, I’m reminded of how progressive the mid to late 1950’s and early 60’s were for developing socialisation and the food movement. I’m taken back to black and white reruns of Doris Day and Rock Hudson/Cary Grant. Now they were romantic comedies.
Cooking for Bachelors offers me advice right from the point of my boy first leaving home. In the preface, the ‘Letter to Mother‘, I am reminded that ‘It’s a natural urge for a young man to want to spend part of his life, wedged between his mother’s cooking and his future bride’s, as a bachelor. Hence the scarcity of bachelor flats in King’s Cross and St Kilda.’
Cooking for Bachelors assures me this will ‘lead him to an interest in the type of girl every mother approves of… a girl who is interested in cooking.’ In the meantime, my bachelor will need to feed himself and remind himself of the etiquette he learned from his ever loving mother.
We begin with the Elementary Techniques. (I love that a subscription to the Herald is number one in the purchase of necessary instruments. Moloney goes on to explain why: the bad press notices in The Telegraph simply won’t do).
Our bachelor learns to ‘earn a reputation’ (let’s assume as a reasonable cook!), tackle soups and savouries, ‘many of us remember the great Sydney hostess, her most formal dinners, as we formed up two by two with our lady on our arm and walked slowly to dinner. Those days are gone. You need to know a spoon works more efficiently than a fork for soup, especially when consuming a TV dinner’ and manage vegetables ‘…a vegetable is not a fruit. Neither are you’. Sauces and seafoods have dedicated chapters ‘…steaming… in the colander place your fish (cleaned). When fish is tender take it out. Taste it. Now throw it away. It’s horrible. Most fish is’ before leaping into full elements of entrees, meats and casseroles, finally triumphing in the fanfare for quenelles, which are every bachelors secret weapon.
Quenelles might sound scary. But the bachelor is reminded to ‘think of the triumph for yourself, the very real pleasure for the guests when served this Lucullen entree which they would not have experienced since their gourmet tour of Europe’. Once conquering the Quenelle, our bachelor works through managing pancakes before jumping head first into Filet de Boef with truffles. Although, if that’s too daunting, there is a nice recipe for corned beef and carrots as a fallback.
The bachelor is reminded of modern social graces. When inviting friends over after a party, ‘open a bottle of red wine… put some flamenco on the new stereophonic and let yourself go. Chop up anything which the wailing, clapping flamenco inspires’ . Or perhaps a light supper with a female from the office? ‘break an egg into a pot of scalding hot soup, cream or consomme at the very last minute. A poached egg turns a bowl of soup into a satisfying casual meal which should appeal to career girls who may be reducing’.
Finally, there are Graduation Exercises. Menus set by Tony Gemenis (Prunier’s, Double Bay); Chales Fourcade (Normandie, Sydney); Mr Luigi of the famous Quo Vadis, and my favourite, from Miss Margaret Fulton, Chief Home Economist at the J. Walter company, herself.
I’m thinking of cooking my way through Cooking for Bachelors. I’m considering the primary lesson dishes for home, the exercises as dinner parties. I may have to pass on the use of the recommended aluminium saucepans, estimate the weight of a thrupence worth of flour, and make a few substitutions (can you even buy blue boxes of Kraft Swiss cheese anymore?), but I think it would be a fine way of teaching my teen of what to expect in his bachelor years.
And choosing my audience to sample the pâté de foi gras stuffed profiteroles and iced sliced pineapple sprinkled with white Curaçao could be fun.