"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

The original Bad Home Cook: Peg Bracken

by Julie Tilsner on November 26, 2007

in Chew on This

Ihatetocookbook Do you believe in reincarnation? I sort of do. I like the idea of bad guys returning for another life led as a lobster destined to live his last trapped in a restaurant tank. A lot more satisfying than ever-lasting hell and damnation with some guy in a red suit and a pitchfork.

I can’t say I feel the same way about dopplegangers: the idea that we all have a double, another us, running around somewhere on the planet on our dime. It’s a fun idea, sure. But then how do you explain Peg Bracken?

Ruth Eleanor "Peg" Bracken was an American humorist (1918-2007) most famous for her "I Hate to Cook Book," which has sold 3 million copies since it was first issued in 1960. In her disdain for all things domestic, she pre-dated Betty Friedan’s seminal "The Feminine Mystique" by three years, choosing to wrap her uppity-woman subversiveness in light humor.

A snippet from the recipe for "Skid Row Strogenoff," from the "I Hate to Cook Book": Start cooking those noodles, first dropping a bouillon cube into the noodle water. Brown the garlic, onion and crumbled beef in the oil. Add the flour, salt, paprika and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink.

This is my kinda gal. The original Bad Home Cook.

And here I thought I was so original. So while Peg Bracken is not exactly my doppelganger,
there are too many similarities between us not to bitterly regret not
having known a thing about her until her death in October at the age of
89. (I learned about her just recently on Cooked Books, a blog written by a woman with the enviable job of maintaining the culinary collections at the NYC Public Library).

Not only did Bracken skewer domesticity, she also got snarky about
pregnancy and childbearing. Her first book, The "Nine-Months’ Wonder"
dished up her irreverent essays on impending motherhood. She was a
copy-writer. She wrote humor for women’s magazines. She was married
several times. Hated snobbery. Traveled all over. She sounds, from her
obit, like a charming woman who loved life and had decided to live it
well no matter what came along. I wish I’d had the opportunity to meet

One difference: I don’t actually hate to cook. I enjoy cooking. I’m
just not very good at it. Chalk it up to good fortune at having been
born in an era when nobody expects a gal to have any domestic skill at
all. And boy, I never disappoint in this realm.

Oh, and second difference: None of my books
have sold anywhere near three million copies. I’d be delighted to
simply see what a royalty check looks like by the time I’m 89.

The "I Hate to Cook Book" is now, tragically, out of print. But I
intend to find me a copy and try my hand at some of her more famous
recipes. To wit:

Stayabed Stew (from the "I Hate to Cook Book," 1960, by Peg Bracken)

(This is for those days when you’re en negligee, en bed, with a
murder story and a box of chocolates, or possibly a good case of the

Mix these things up in a casserole dish that has a tight lid.

2lbs. stewing beef, cubed
1 can of little tiny peas*
1/2 cupful sliced carrots
2 chopped onions
1/2 t. salt, dash of pepper
1 can cream of tomato soup, thinned with 1/2 can water (or
celery or mushroom soup thinned likewise).
1 big raw potato, sliced
Piece of bay leaf*

Put the lid on and put the casserole in a 275 degree F. oven.

Now go back to bed. It will cook happily all by itself and be done in 5 hours.

One glass of two-buck-Chuck and this is perfect!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

AGT November 28, 2007 at 4:31 pm

Peg Bracken does reverberate like
a ‘bizarro world’ Julie Tilsner; [a ‘la Seinfeld]- – Stayabed stew or Skid Row Stroganoff sound good, (hint-hint)..then I can gawk at ‘you’ while you are dragging on a ciggie, gazing grimly into the sink!


Kelli Johnson December 4, 2007 at 10:17 am

Okay-if I am ever on inside the actors studio I now have an answer for my dream job…culinary collection maintenance worker at the public library. I like quiet, I like cookbooks…
I must have this book! And a good dutch oven with a tight fitting lid. I love to cook, but when I don’t feel like it – these recipes would come in quite handy.


Sally Kelly February 15, 2008 at 7:46 am

People can laugh at the “Stayabed Stew’ way to cook, but in the 60’s with three little kids under 3 and sometimes with all of them sick at the same time, this book and this recipe saved my life. I coould at least know that everyone was going to have a reasonably nutritious meal at the end of the day. I used frozen peas and a combination of beef broth and cream of celery soup though. I would add other veggies too. Its an indestructible recipe….and really quite tasty.


Carol November 15, 2008 at 8:54 pm

My mother used The I Hate to Cook Cookbook and gave me one when I married. I loved it! Dr. Martin’s Mix and Skid Road Stroganoff (which I’m making this week)are still favorites! In fact, I’m looking for her easy onion casserole online right now. Happen to have it handy?


Dr Alice February 10, 2009 at 5:49 pm

Peg Bracken is my hero. My mom had her books and Stayabed Stew was a regular on our table. It’s quite good and you can make it in the crockpot, too. My brother’s MIL makes Dr. Martin’s Mix, which is great, but most of all I just love reading her books.


kentuckyliz January 12, 2010 at 9:50 am

My mom made this stew and I’m making it now. I love it. Easy, and while I am a master baker, a total guru at baking, I can’t cook to save my life or anyone else’s.
This cookbook is like the uncookbook.
The Compleat I Hate To Cook Cookbook (1997) is an expanded version, often available cheaply online. In fact, I just found it for $11 including shipping from Powell’s.
The Elevator Lady Spice Cookies and the chocolate snack cake (mixed in the pan) are very good.
Foodies sneer at soup-mix/canned soup cooking, but for whatever reason, it works. 🙂


Bad Home Cook January 12, 2010 at 10:59 am

Thanks for the comment, Kentuckyliz. I’ve actually been trying to find her original book, with no luck. Apparently it’s hard to find? Funny since it still seems to be so popular. I guess I’ll have to get the updated version. She’s a real kindred spirit. Thanks for reading!


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