Better Living Through Girls Series Books, Part II: The Nancy Drew Cookbook- Clues to Good Cooking

This week we will continue looking at the non-fiction spin-offs of popular Girls’ Series, with a tie-in to the most famous Girl Detective of all time. Does it make sense to learn how to cook from Nancy Drew? While  “gourmet cook” is listed among her endless personality traits, really isn’t she known more for tooling around in snappy convertibles with her titian locks blowing in the breeze, and you know,  solving mysteries?  

Everything that Cherry Ames got right (from the first person narration in the character’s voice to the topic’s relevance to the series to the illustrative anecdotes featuring supporting characters from the series), Clues to Good Cooking gets wrong. From the boring recipes, to the half-assed effort evident in the included “short story”,  to the stock-photo cover art, this is a book that has only the most tenuous connection to the Nancy Drew series. It is kind of like The Sweet Valley High Guide to Auto Repair. Or Frugal Dressmaking with Tom Swift. 

Speaking of, let’s take a look at that cover:

Do you need ideas for your next candlelight supper with Ned Nickerson? How about a ham steak and four goblets of milk!

The recipes are your basic 1970s fare: canned consommé and fruit cocktail are heavily featured ingredients. And the lack of effort spent naming the recipes is actually somewhat awe-inspiring. How about some Hidden Staircase Biscuits? Or Tolling Bells Tuna Rolls? Bungalow Mystery Salad sounds like it might be edible, but I’m going to have to pass on the Moss-Covered Mansion Fruit Gelatin. As you can see, the ghost writers over at the Stratemeyer Syndicate just grabbed a random title and attached to  a random recipe from the local newspaper’s Ask-It Basket.

And after a point, they just get really lazy and start including recipes for Detective Burgers and Mystery Corn Pudding and CRANBERRY SURPRISE (no explanation as to why it gets the all-caps treatment).

Black Key Mystery Patties, anyone? What if I told you that the mystery was “celery”? How about a Leaning Chimney Cone? Even after reading the recipe I’m unclear on the architectural construction, but involves 12 slices of bologna and 4 cups of radishes. Holy cow, that is a lot of radishes.

And remember: Whistling Bagpipes Crunchies “make nice gifts, too!”

There is also a section of recipes for ever single holiday you can imagine.

St. Patrick’s Day? Celebrate with a Haunted Bridge Log!

The Fourth of July? Old Attic Stuffed Tomatoes for everyone!

Mother’s Day? Whip up a Mysterious Mannequin Casserole for Mom! Wait, isn’t Mrs. Drew deceased before the series begins? That does not bode well for Nancy’s cooking…

Finally, the volume is padded out with an “Album of International Recipes” which don’t even get fancy names. These include English Popovers, French Quiche, Mexican Stew, and Hong Kong Fortune Cookies (not to be confused with those commie cookies the Red Chinese are trying to get you to eat).

But I really want to make something special for my next dinner party. How about Double Jinx Salad? Sounds classy!

4 peeled Bartlett pears, fresh or canned

1 teaspoon mayonnaise

1 cup cottage cheese

Green food coloring

Crisp lettuce leaves

2 green olives

Mix together the mayonnaise, several drops of food coloring, and cottage cheese. Fill the center of each pear half with this mixture. Put the pear halves together to form whole pears; the cheese mixture should hold the halves in place.

Stand the pears upright on lettuce leaves. Place green olive on top of each pear.

Serves 2.

Canned pears filled with green mayonnaise! With an olive on top! (Somehow that is the grossest part. Pears and olives? As the kids say: Barf!)

The book also includes a one-and-a-half page “short story” entitled KITCHEN MYSTERY  in which Nancy solves the case of her neighbor, Mrs. Russo’s,  missing heirloom ring. Mrs. Russo has been cooking all day for her niece’s birthday party. Nancy insists that the ring must have fallen of her finger and into some of the food. Nancy searches through the aspic salad and the cream of mushroom soup before zeroing in on the blueberry muffins. So, Nancy starts busting the muffins in half until she finds the missing ring:

“‘Mrs. Russo, the ring was in a muffin! Your gift is safe!’ As the woman thanked Nancy profusely, the girl added with a smile, ‘How about whipping up another batch of muffins for your party?’”

Yeah, and maybe some more aspic salad and cream of mushroom soup, since Nancy has pawed through those, too.

Good Advice: Actually, the advice on cooking isn’t so much “good” as it is confusing and contradictory:

“Just remember Nancy’s two most important rules: follow the recipe carefully and add that little secret touch of hers. Or think up a mystery ingredient of your own!”

And I think they might have been taking kickbacks from the molasses industry, because everything from milkshakes to Crooked Bannister Corn Bread can be improved by pouring on “healthful blackstrap molasses!”

The Best Thing About This Book: It is exactly the same size and shape as the classic Grosset & Dunlap hard covers, so you can proudly display it with the rest of your collection.

Next Week: Slap some Lisa Frank stickers on your Trapper Keeper, we’re starting our own Baby Sitters Club!

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9 Responses to Better Living Through Girls Series Books, Part II: The Nancy Drew Cookbook- Clues to Good Cooking

  1. I particularly like how the tablecloth matches the food.

  2. Pingback: Better Living Through Girls’ Series Books, Part III: The Baby-Sitters Club Guide to Baby-Sitting | Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989

  3. Pingback: Movie Madness and/or Mania: Nancy Drew… Detective (1938) | Lost Classics of Teen Lit: 1939-1989

  4. Susan says:

    I don’t think Nancy cooked much because Hannah Gruen did it all at home, and when Nancy was away from home she and Bess and George were always stopping into tearooms. (Since I started reading Nancy when I was seven, I was unfamiliar with “tea rooms” and so for a while in my mind this word was pronounced “tear-ooms”! (Google “tearoom Nancy Drew” and you get some charming results!)

    • mondomolly says:

      Oh wow, I love the idea of Nancy Drew themed afternoon tea! Also these menus look a lot better than any of the recipes in the cookbook!

      • Susan says:

        Thanks to you causing me to google this, I feel like whenever we are able to travel again I’ll be on the lookout for Nancy Drew tea opportunities 🙂 !

  5. Kimberly Kovach says:

    Oh my word, this post made me laugh until I CRIED. One Saturday afternoon when I was about seven years old, I had this book checked out from the library and decided to make the Drew’s Onion Special. It was the only recipe I could find all of the ingredients in our house to be able to make it. Which, after reading this post seems like maybe that was a good thing. My mother kind of wanted to die when I asked her to taste test it. I now have my very own discarded library copy of this book that I discovered in the very first school library I worked in! I’m inspired to go back and reread it right now. Genius commentary on the terrible recipes of yesteryear and the laziness of the Stratemeyer syndicate!!!

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