Sunday, November 18, 2007

Farewell to a Flea Market Favorite

I don't do as many yard sales and flea markets as I used to. Spending two weeks clearing out the house my parents lived in for 40+ years saw to that. But when I did spend countless hours pouring over crates of 25¢ records and shelves of musty books (10¢ for paperbacks, 25¢ for hardbacks) there were certain things you were almost assured of seeing at each stop.

In the world of records it was 'Whipped Cream & Other Delights' by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. I don't know if this record sold so many copies because of its erotically-charged cover (a voluptuous model covered in, what else?, whipped cream) or a hit song, but it seemed like everybody – my parents excluded – had a copy. Sorry, my folks were busy cornering the market on Mitch Miller records (I still have a soft spot for 'em) and those Ed Sullivan Broadway show LPs. According to a chronology on this website Alpert sold 13.7 million copies in a 12-month period.

We would always laugh and say it wasn't a true flea market trip until you stumbled upon a copy of this 60s classic of LP design, sometimes finding multiple copies at each and every stop along our route. In fact, the image is so iconic that artists from comedian Pat Cooper to Soul Asylum re-visited the concept for their own records. (For more on 'Whipped Cream' knock-offs check out this blog post.)

On the book side, though, the clear winner was Peg Bracken and 'The I Hate to Cook Book.' Bracken, a Portland copywriter, wrote her best-selling (3 million copies) book back in 1960 and far from telling housewives and amateur cooks to slave away with obscure ingredients and confusing methods she encouraged the use of canned items and the wonders of covering your mistakes with mushroom soup. Think Sandra Lee for the pre-Beatle era.

I saw so many copies of this book over the years that I could spot one on a shelf or in a bin from 30 paces. While most of my cookbooks remain in storage, I'm pretty sure I have two or three copies of Bracken's classic tome thanks to my habit of buying bulk lots over the years.

Sadly, I just found out this morning that Bracken died back in late October. The author solicited friends for recipes and pulled the whole 'I Hate' project together, but found difficulty in securing a publisher for the manuscript. Apparently, publishers regarded cooking as highly serious business and felt women wouldn't take kindly to the flip attitude Bracken brought to the kitchen.

The success of the book led to follow-ups like 'The I Hate to Housekeep Book' (which I've also spotted, though not as frequently as her kitchen classic) and made Bracken an authority of kitchen resourcefulness.

I can't say that I've ever consulted one of her books or made a recipe from its pages, but seeing Bracken's best-seller in a cold thrift store was like running in to an old friend.


John said...

My parents had that Whipped Cream album! Though my young brain interpreted it as shaving cream for some reason, even though it clearly said "Whipped Cream" in fancy, 60's, Laugh-In-type writing.

As for Peggy Bracken: I can't say I'm at all familiar with her. I'll look for her stuff. Looking at the obit from the Seattle Times, she seems different from Sandra Lee - if I can take it at face value that Bracken was witty, which Lee just, well, isn't. Actually, what Peggy wrote looks kind of fun.

I never pass up an opportunity to bash Sandra Lee. I feel kind of mean now.

johnny dollar said...

i love that herb alpert album ~ as a matter of fact, i kept seeing it so much at thrift stores that i started seeing how many i could buy, with a cut-off price of $1. although i haven't bought a copy for about a year, i currently own 50 copies ~ don't know if i should be proud or embarrassed...

Dan said...

I think you should be proud... that's a cool collection. Do you ever get into any of the knock-offs or just the HA version?

Cool blogs, too. I like to know that there are other multi-bloggers out there!

johnny dollar said...

thx... :D

i have the pat cooper and i believe the soul asylum versions. my brother gave me a newspaper clipping of some latin model who had a 'whipped cream' photo shoot as well... i oughta dig that up...