Resource Spotlight: The Stag Cookbook with Recipes from Chicago Mayor “Big Bill” Thompson, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Houdini, President Warren G. Harding, Chick Evans, and many more!

cover with stag cookbook

The front page of The Stag Cook Book

Today’s Spotlight Resource post features recipes “by men and for men”—but in this case, the contributors are a veritable who’s who of the 1920s. Famous film stars, scientists, sportsmen, politicians, explorers, and many more sent in recipes for this book. Some recipes are funny, some are odd, and some even sound pretty damn good…but all of them are interesting!

According to blogger MicheleAnna Jordan over at The Press DemocratThe Stag Cook Book was written by men who wanted to escape the domestic tyranny of their wives, who were pushing a new kind of “lifeless palate” on their husbands: one which put the “virtues of nutrition” over the virtues of taste. According to her, this cookbook was a “wry rebellion” against the new kind of eating, and the tone of the book’s writing reflects this. Not only are many recipes pretty basic (fit for men who, at the time, were more likely to leave the cooking to their wives or cooks), but most of them are written in a conversational tone that’s often quite funny. Take, for example, Rube Goldberg’s (yes, this guy) description of how he imagines hash is made:

First the father must eat a big lunch, the mother must fill herself up on cake in the afternoon and the children must have spoiled stomachs. This condition of affairs ruins the evening meal completely and there is plenty of meat left over for hash the next day.

The cook takes the beef or veal or whatever it is and throws it into the electric fan. The flying bits of meat are caught on ping pong rackets by experts and knocked back into a pot that contains a large quantity of mashed potatoes. Then the fire is lighted and the cook can go out to an afternoon movie.(Stag Cook Book, p. 113)

Other funny recipes include Booth Tarkington‘s (yes, the same man who won a Pulitzer for The Magnificent Andersons) recipe for cornflakes, which really isn’t a recipe so much as an admittance of abject failure. Try this the next time you have a bowl of cornflakes:

My favorite dish is corn flakes.  They should be placed in a saucer or hollow dish, then lifted in both hands and rolled for a moment, then dropped back into the dish.  After that an indefinite quantity of cream should be poured upon them.  They should be eaten with a spoon.  I don’t know how to prepare anything else for the table.(Stag Cook Book, p. 97)

Some contributors offer a completely different way of approaching cooking directions—ones that have nothing to do with cooking. Wladyslaw T. Benda, the Polish American illustrator, painter, and designer who was famous for making eerily lifelike stage masks, tells the would be cook that he will “find a practical use for the geometry of your school days” when you use the “axioms of Euclid” to properly make Polish dumplings.(Stag Cook Book, p. 114)

I am not kidding:

benda euclid pg fig 1

Later on he discusses folding the dumpling edges “along the hypotenuse.” Seriously. Stag Cook Book, p. 114

Sometimes the contributors themselves are stranger than their recipes. Millionaire explorer  Captain Edward A. Salisbury contributed a number of decent recipes for spaghetti, eggs, various fish, venison, geese, ducks, mayonnaise, partridge, beans, Italian rice, and steak sauce, none of which contain human flesh…which is odd, considering he was famous at the time for making documentaries about cannibalism ;). A frequent contributor to National Geographic, he also became famous for a series of films which documented tribal traditions regarding cannibalism among the South Sea Pacific Islanders: Gow the Head Hunter, Gow the Killer, and so on. Strangely enough, his filming crew for this film contained Merian C. Cooper, who went on to direct King Kong (1933) not long afterward.

Other recipes just sound bizarre. Spiced grapes (from New England, apparently?), fried elderberry blossoms, and tomato wiggle are all candidates for strangest recipe in the book.

The most interesting recipes, however, are the ones sent in by famous individuals.  As I said earlier, this book is a bit of a who’s who of the 1920s, with famous men from all walks of life offering favorite recipes.  Here’s one to wet your appetite. I’ve included a list of other famous recipe-writers below for your perusal.

~*~

Mayor William “Big Bill” Thompson Tells You How to Make Roast Beef

Acting as mayor from 1915 to 1923 and again from 1927 to 1931, William “Big Bill” Thompson was quite the character—and widely considered the most corrupt and crazy mayor Chicago ever had. Whether he was ranting about how he was going to “punch King George in the nose,” telling reporters how he was going on an expedition for “tree-climbing fish” in the South Seas, or holding a debate between two live rats (not kidding), Thompson was always good for a laugh—though some say that his crazy antics were simply a smokescreen for a careful politician. When The Stag Cook Book was written, Thompson was in the middle of his first run as Mayor of Chicago. He was elected again in 1927, thanks, in a large part, to Al Capone’s campaign support—financial and otherwise. He gave up the mayoral race in 1931, however, when he was soundly beaten by Anton Cermak.

Apparently, Thompson loved “Roast Beef, rare, or a good American sirloin steak. Here is how he suggests it should be prepared:

“BIG BILL” THOMPSON’S ROAST BEEF SUGGESTIONS:

  1. Stand your roast on two or three thin slices of bacon—not too fat.
  2. On top of the roast lay three or four thin slices of lemon—particularly if you like the outside cut.
  3. If your steak looks a bit fresh rub with lemon juice (both sides) and allow to stand for several hours before broiling or frying. Don’t be frightened if it turns a bit black—be glad.
  4. Pan may be rubbed with garlic.
  5. Steaks should be thick, particularly if you broil. (Stag Cook Book, p. 96)

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More Famous People and Their Recipes:

President Warren G. Harding tells you how to make waffles. Apparently, his favorite topping for them was “creamed chipped beef.”

Golfer Chick Evans show you how to “play cream tomato” soup “right around the kitchen course in par.”

Magician Harry Houdini reveals his secrets on how to make scalloped mushrooms and deviled eggs.

Comedian and director Charlie Chaplin tells you how to make—and “EAT”—a steak and kidney pie.

Actor Douglas Fairbanks offers a recipe for bread tart.

Singer and entertainer Eddie Cantor shares his deep, abiding love for roast beef, plus a killer recipe for horseradish sauce.

~*~

No matter what you choose, however, The Stag Cook Book is bound to be an entertaining read. As blogger Jordan says, it really is a “gastronomic treasure”—so go check it out now! 🙂

~*~

Where to Find The Stag Cook Book:

The entire scanned book is available here at HathiTrust Digital Library. The table of contents starts here.

If you feel the need, however, you can also buy it in print form here on Amazon!

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About lupachi1927

My name's Megan. I'm a writer with an interest in history. While I might not be a real historian, I'm a very thorough researcher! :) This blog is my place to post about all the interesting historical tidbits I find that can't use in the novel I'm working on, which takes place in Chicago in 1927.
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3 Responses to Resource Spotlight: The Stag Cookbook with Recipes from Chicago Mayor “Big Bill” Thompson, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Houdini, President Warren G. Harding, Chick Evans, and many more!

  1. jazzfeathers says:

    That sounds quite an unusual book. I don’t believe for a moment those men really cooked those things 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Resource Spotlight: The Stag Cookbook Revisited | A Smile And A Gun

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