Macho Cooking From the Past

Cook like a man? What else is new?

Cook like a man from the 20th century.

Esquire's Eat Like a Man, which was named one of the six best new cookbooks of 2011 by, er, Esquire, purports to be "The only cookbook a man will ever need." Based on the monthly column of the same name and bearing the shared bylines of Esquire editors David Granger and Ryan d'Agostino and TV personality and chef Tom Colicchio, and including contributions from folks like Mario Batali, John Besh, Eric Ripert, and the decidedly unmanly Suzanne Goin, it is an enjoyable compendium of mostly hearty food. That doesn't necessarily mean proletarian stuff, though. Sure, Harold Dieterle's chicken parm hero is here, but so is Daniel Boulud's scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, caviar, and potatoes.

Cookbooks for men, however, are nothing new, andI thought it might be interesting to take a look at some earlier masculine-themed culinary works. Consider, for example, The Stag at Ease by show-business writer Marian Squire, published by The Caxton Printers, Ltd. in Caldwell, Idaho, in 1938. Stag is a compendium of two-fisted recipes from such virile celebrities of an earlier time as Charlie Chaplin (steak and kidney pie); boxer Jack Dempsey ("baked macaroni with plenty of cheese"); legendary journalist, author, and "Sage of Baltimore" H.L. Mencken (deviled crabs, "An excellent picnic treat — if you go in for that sort of thing"); race car driver Barney Oldfield (deep-fried marrow bones and "cannibal sandwiches," i.e., "large slabs of raw hamburger supporting slices of raw onion, slung between two slices of bread"); cowboy star William S. Hart (cold roast beef with horseradish); and even President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose White House chef supplied a recipe for scrambled eggs "as the President likes them cooked" (which was simply scrambled with butter and "milk, cream, or water").

The Gentleman's Companion by Charles H. Baker, Jr., published by Crown in New York in 1946, is a two-volume affair, one volume "Being an Exotic Cookery Book", the other "Being an Exotic Drinking Book." We'll leave the latter for another time, though Baker's defense of alcoholic indulgence is eloquent: "We are still heartily of the opinion that decent libation supports as many million lives as it threatens; donates pleasure and sparkle to more lives than it shadows; inspires more brilliance in the world of art, music, letters, and common ordinary intelligent conversation, than it dims."

Baker was a salesman, freelance writer, and small-magazine editor who married a mining heiress and subsequently lived very well, traveling, building elaborate homes in Coconut Grove and Naples, Florida, and reportedly drinking with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. His prose is richly ornamented, and he has fun with his recipe titles. One is called A Fairly Fancy yet Easy, Russian Way of Frying Smelts which Will Be a Delight to the Eye & a Fillip to the Jaded Palate; another is Small Birds of a Mixed Bag Variety, in the Italian Manner, Discovered during a Visit in Capri not so Long ago; still another, which sounds like something you might find on the menu at the Inn at Little Washington, is billed as Virginia Peanut Fed Ham in a Fragrant Chemise of Brown Sugar, Honey & Spice, Garbed in a Pastry Jacket, and Baked in Native Scuppernong Wine, à la JAVA HEAD. Silliness aside, the book really is an astonishingly wide-ranging compendium of recipes, including everything from rijstafel (in Javanese style and also as a "Simple Routine for Americans") to cherries Killarney style to Mallorcan almond soup to Peking style fried lamb. Each recipe, Baker promises, is "Beloved & Notable in its Place."

A Man's Cookbook by the celebrated Parisian chef and restaurateur Raymond Oliver (who ran Le Grand Véfour for many years) is another kettle of fish. Published by Doubleday & Co. in New York in 1961, this is a fairly elementary but serious basic French cookbook. Oliver apparently assumes that the reader will be macho enough to deal with daunting foodstuffs and capable enough to figure out how to cook them with minimal hand-holding. Tête de mouton (sheep's head)? "A sheepshead should be split in two and grilled. Prepared in this way, it makes a particularly succulent dish." Take that, Rachael Ray.