You have to pause and wonder about the origin of some recipes. Ok, I can imagine how some of them came about – I can picture myself making a chocolate cake and suddenly realizing I don’t have enough eggs and oil. I might think, hmmm, mayonnaise is made up of oil and eggs – I wonder if I can just substitute half a cup of mayo for the missing egg and oil – and voila! Chocolate mayonnaise cake has been created.
And in case you are wondering, the recipe is very good. Equally delicious are chocolate mayonnaise cookies, made with a chocolate cake mix. I used to take them to work and was almost embarrassed to divulge the recipe. What could be easier? Chocolate cake mix, some mayonnaise and one or two other ingredients. No one seems to know who first created this cake – I’ve read that it was created during WW2 or, conversely, during the Depression.
But sauerkraut cake? Somehow I just can’t fathom the lady of the kitchen thinking gee, I don’t have any coconut for my coconut cake – maybe I’ll just open up a can of sauerkraut, rinse it off and no one will know that it isn’t coconut. I, for one, wouldn’t ever risk ruining a recipe I had already started, with an ingredient that is so totally off the wall. (I’ve been assured that sauerkraut cake is actually very good!) and what about Avocado cake and pinto bean cake? What were those culinary artists thinking of, anyway?
You have to wonder about tomato soup cake (granted, it’s delicious—I HAVE made that one—but who was the first person to THINK about adding it to cake batter? Was it somebody at the Campbell Soup kitchen or a housewife with too much time on her hands?
There are a lot of these off-the-wall recipes. Enough that in 1977, a local (Los Angeles) radio show host, Geoff Edwards, of KMPC, put together a cookbook of wacky recipes. He titled it “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDNG COOKBOOK” and listeners sent him their favorite wacky recipes. All of the above were included—although I have seen them all elsewhere. There is even an “authentic” recipe for Stuffed Roast Camel. Geoff says its sometimes served at Bedouin weddings. Ew, ew…..that ranks right up there with Spam a la king…
Who makes up these things? Sylvia Longren mentions quite a few in her book FASHIONABLE FOOD (published by MacMillan in 1995). You have to wonder how (or why) anyone would come up with Banana and Popcorn Salad or Tang Pie (although I have to admit, I knew quite a few people—generally under the age of 12—who actually did like TANG. I know I did, before I was 12. (Curious, I Googled “TANG” and found it is still being manufactured. The packaging has been updated).
As for tomato soup cake, aka Mystery Cake, this appears to have originated in the 1920s, when cooking with condensed soups became popular. Mystery Cake was usually topped off with Philadelphia cream cheese frosting and we all have to admit, that’s a pretty good frosting (I like it best on a carrot cake—oops, another one of those who-thought-of-it-first creations). And it begs the question, which came first – Mystery Cake with condensed tomato soup, or frosting made with cream cheese. Sort of a which came first, the chicken or the egg?
And haven’t we all become accustomed to carrot cake or zucchini cake or bread? Don’t you ever wonder whose idea it was to toss these things into cake batter in the first place? I can remember a time when I shied away from zucchini cake and zucchini bread—that was before we took up gardening and discovered how zucchini can take over a backyard garden and your life. You have to do SOMETHING with all those squashes – friends and neighbors will only take so many of them. One of my favorites, I confess, is a chocolate zucchini cake—it is SO good and oh-so-moist. And a couple of weeks ago, when my sister brought me (yet another) zucchini from her garden, I made a zucchini/walnut/pineapple bread following the Cliff House restaurant recipe.
Do you suppose that the lady of the kitchen thinking, well, carrot and zucchini worked pretty well in cake, decided to try red beets and came up with Harvard Beet Spice cake? Or was it just some exhausted mother, tired of trying to talk her children into eating their veggies? I know how that can go. I raised four picky eaters. I often resorted to subterfuge. I dearly loved a fish almondine recipe that my penpal Betsy, in Michigan, once sent to me. No one in my house would eat almonds (or any other kind of nuts) in a “food dish” so I blended the almonds with bread crumbs and used it as a topping over the fish. They never knew.
If you have some wacky recipes, feel free to send them to me – I’d be happy to learn about some more wacky recipes.
“You’ve got to be Kidding Cookbook” by Geoff Edwards is available on both Amazon.com and Alibris.com , very close in price at either web site (3.50 – 3.68)
Fashionable Food is available on Amazon.com at .92c and up for a pre-owned copy or $14.94 for a new copy.