Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Importance of Being Self-Published


I am in full agreement with M. Arcati.  Vintage cookbooks are The Shiznizzle. I too collect them, although I'm far too short on room to be accumulating any more books. Well screw room I say.  I love cookbooks. I've gone through my Popular phase, my Serious Classics phase, my OO that's one I don't have phase, and now I am in my Nutjob phase.*  

The Nutjobs make up a whole niche category of cookbooks written by folks on the margins of sanity, society, and good taste. This category exploded in the 1960s, as you might imagine. My very favorite one is

  Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices, Volume I, by George Leonard Herter.

George Herter was the Baron Munchausen of the cookbook world. If it had not been for self-publishing, this book would never have seen the light of day.  I mean oh holy shit, people, this dude was not just eccentric, and he was not just quirky. 

   He was flaming batshit crazy.

 Bull Cook is best described as a fantasy novel about cooking, fictitious shellfish, The Sheer Gall Of Those Italians Thinking They Own The Tomato, and immanent nuclear war. It is also incredibly, incredibly readable, and I mean this sincerely. He has a very engaging style, and frankly you just can't wait to see what kind of weirdness he's going to come up with next, which helps move things along too.  In fact, do you like to get high and read?  Bull Cook is the exact book you want to be reading. 

I believe this guy really cared about food, and that he must have bothered chefs the wide world over chasing down recipes and techniques. Problem is, you cannot trust any of it. He tells us, for example, to use ANTHACITE FREAKIN COAL in our barbecues. Not charcoal. Never charcoal. Charcoal is dangerous. So yeah, you might be tempted to try this or that, but proceed only after long and careful thought. 

The rule when reading ol' George is:  George Lies A Lot. He perceives the lack of a fact?  He just yanks a 'fact' straight out of his ass.  I get the feeling that he was the kind of man in life that would just say whatever fell out of his mouth and leave you to deal with it. Kind of like L. Ron Hubbard, or Mr. Natural.

There is another argument; that Mr. Herter was just doing the 'wink wink nod nod', engaging in the Manly Art of Bullshit. Sure, it could be so. He might very well have been aiming for that 'hanging out in the duck blind telling dirty jokes, cigar-and-bourbon' kind of tone you'd see in the beer advertising of the day. The guy ran a wildly successful sporting goods operation after all. He marketed to men. Maybe I just don't get it because I wasn't hanging out in the right duck blinds.  

Except for the fact that   he was flaming batshit crazy.

Let's take a quick riffle through the pages of Bull Cook, shall we?

  We are given three paragraphs on How To Make A Peanut Butter Sandwich, and are left with a kitchen in flames and the lingering taste of pickles. 

Another recipe purports to be for something called Beer Coffee, but meanders through Belgian flax exportation, words originating from the French, and how shitty the food is in the Shannon Airport.  

Then we come to the recipe for FRESH WATER OYSTER STEW.  He boils the snot out of these mythical creatures, and then goes on to spend six and a half pages of How Shitty Seattle Seafood Restaurants Are. I don't think he was ever in Seattle. I think he was on another planet entirely smoking crack with Elvis.

 He tells us about the French Pea-Eating Craze of 1696 (?) and how Anthony Van Leeuwenhoek came to invent the dish Fish Anthony, which calls for canned peas and Campbells Cream of Mushroom Soup. 

He makes Coquilles St. Jacques out of empty clamshells and boiled fish, and claims this recipe was invented by St. Jacques himself. 

He speaks of how Ghengis Khan introduced caviar to an unsuspecting Russia. 

I'm sitting here now with the book open at my side and I'm still finding myself drawn off task. I have spent way too much time reading, fact checking, looking up articles and marveling at this man's special brand of lunacy. This is a compelling read, there's no doubt about it. I have said "Oh my God no" so many times the Biker is worried. And yet I'll put the book down and go to type; and a passage will leap up and go for my throat, like 'Salmon Queen Astrid of Belgium' which is made of canned salmon, and "If the Bourbon Street crowd go into a bar and look up from their drinks and do not see, among other things, a couple of well-formed breasts flopping about, the drink doesn't taste just right and they move to another bar."

 I love this book. Pray for me.


Because you suddenly feel a whole-body longing to read the prose of George L. Herter:  The Paris Review - Furious George - The Paris Review  

(You must be checked in, and you can only borrow for an hour at a time) Another George Herter Classic, free to read! George, the housewife : and how to diet and never be hungry : Herter, George Leonard, 1911-1994 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Holy crap you don't have an account at Internet Archive? WHAT ARE YOU THINKING??!? They've got every cookbook in the world on this bitch!!! Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free & Borrowable Books, Movies, Music & Wayback Machine


  1. You describe him as if he were a Roald Dahl character and I love it!

  2. Thank you for the lead, I will report back later.

  3. Thank you for mentioning me that was very kind. I know what you mean with collecting phases but I like to call them Genre.
    I didn't think I have anything in the Nutjob category the closest thing I have is 'The Canable CookBook' by Lionel Miskin.
    'Nutjob' is an area sadly lacking in my collection which I shall have to look into / Shop for. 'Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices, Volume I' is now on my Amazon wish list.

  4. Ok. I LOVE Internet Archive and did a blog post about it earlier this year. Discovering it was a damn revelation to me as far as reading books for free. (I've used the Wayback Machine lots of times over the years before I knew about Open Library).

    I also love vintage cookbooks! Especially the ones from the 60s with hideous gelatine mold recipes! OMG are they crazy sometimes. I'll check out Herter's cookbook here in a minute. I also love Batshit Crazy.

    1. I can't resist any cookery book with photos of hideous gelatine molds. The 60's was another world when it came to food.

  5. You should look up Dylan B Hollis, he’s this wee Gen Z kid who collects old cookbooks and makes the recipes out of them. It’s all American cookbooks and all I can say is the 20th century was a wild time for America. So much gelatine and crushed pineapple, what the heck.

    1. NO SHIT NO SHIT NO SHIT NO SHIT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am there with freakin' BELLS ON. Do check in with a bitch and let me know how it's going why don'tcha?