Not Just for Laughs: Parody Recipes in Four Community Cookbooks

By Dutch, Jennifer Rachel | Western Folklore, Summer/Fall 2018 | Go to article overview

Not Just for Laughs: Parody Recipes in Four Community Cookbooks


Dutch, Jennifer Rachel, Western Folklore


Sandwiched between the hardcover cookbooks with glossy pictures of delectable looking desserts and dinners, a dog-eared, soft-covered recipe collection with a fragile-looking plastic spine sits on the kitchen bookshelf beside the stove. This unassuming little volume, A Book of Favorite Recipes: Compiled by the Lacey Township PTA and the Cookbook Committee (1986), is a classic example of a community cookbook assembled to raise funds for a local school group. With over 230 pages of recipes ranging from appetizers to desserts and every course in between, the cookbook shows a wide assortment of choices from the everyday "Fabulous Meat Loaf' to the swanky "Oysters Rockefeller," from the banal "Macaroni and Cheese" to the "exotic" "Shanghai Chicken Wings," from the deceptively delicious "Fudge Brownies" to the outrageously disgusting "Frosted Lime Salad" (a mysterious mixture of lime gelatin, crushed pineapple, celery and pimento with a "frosting" made of cream cheese and mayonnaise)-the recipes are a cross-section of late-twentieth century American cooking. There's the "Inside-Out Chocolate Cake"-an unbelievably rich and gooey dessert perfect for every special occasion (the frequency of the recipe's preparation is attested to by the multiple hued chocolate stains nearly obliterating the surrounding recipes). There's also a "Lemon Chicken" recipe that results in chicken so sour that the dish might be considered inedible by anyone who does not want to experience a mouth-puckering meal.

Amidst a variety of classic recipes with humorous names like "Ice-Box Cake" and "Monkey Bread," a recipe for "Aspirin Cake" appears to fit perfectly within the community cookbook's dessert section. However, "Aspirin Cake" will never actually be made because "Aspirin Cake" is not a recipe, it is a joke-a joke recipe. According to the unnamed writer all the cook needs to do to make "Aspirin Cake" is:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Turn down TV Remove toys from counter top.

Measure 2 cups of flour. Get baking powder. Remove Benjamin's hands from fl our.

Pour flour, baking powder and salt into sifter.

Vacuum mixture off the kitchen floor (Benjamin spilled).

Beat an egg. Answer the phone. Separate egg and warm baby Adam's bottle.

Help Mary fi gure out new math problem (the old reliable way).

Grease pan. salesman at door.

Take ¼ inch of salt from greased pan and look for Benjamin.

Put mess in wastebasket. Dishes in dishwasher. Call the bakery.

TAKE AN ASPIRIN!!!!!!" (Lacey Township Elementary PTA 1986:145)

This vignette of frustrated domesticity is not intended to yield a cake; it is supposed to lead to the reader's laughter. However, it also piques curiosity. If the purpose of this community cookbook was to raise money for a serious cause-in this case the PTA- why include this less-than-serious anecdote? Jokes in community cookbooks are more than just asides; they are an identifiable form of folk humor. Just as knock-knock jokes or riddles are told again and again, joke recipes pop up in community cookbooks across generations and from different regions of the United States. And, just like jokes, riddles, and other forms of folk humor, joke recipes can provoke more than just chuckles. These seemingly silly recipes serve as a powerful tool for shaping and sharing the community's identity for members and outsiders alike.

Folklorists have studied many aspects of folk humor (Watts 2007). Topics have included various joke types such as dirty jokes (Legman 2006) and practical jokes (Tallman 1974; Marsh 2015); how jokes are transmitted, whether orally (Bronner 1984), on paper via Xerox machine or fax (Preston 1974), or over the internet (Blank 2013); and the way that joke cycles demonstrate repetition and variation in how jokes are told across time and place (Dundes 1979). As these studies show, jokes reveal a lot of important information about community, identity, and society (Oring 1992). …

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