Thursday, April 11, 2013

Calling McCall's

One of the benefits of working at Random House was that every June or July we would receive this stapled set of about ten pages with three columns of tiny print, single-spaced and double-sided that looked like the pages of a phone book but the paper wasn't tissue-thin and instead of names, addresses and phone numbers, the listings were of book titles.  

Books, books, and more books — must've been 1000 titles on that list —  the list that was delivered to each and every one of us by the mail guy who came down the aisles with his rolling cart cubicle-by-cubicle and deposited mail onto our desktops.  [I remember the buzz when after much corporate angst and deliberation, finally the first females were hired to do this entry-level job.]  The best part about that list?   You got to choose ten book titles and get them for FREE!  While it wasn't a raise or a cash bonus (we were making about $8 -9,000 a year) it was what we all loved and could never have enough of — BOOKS.  It was the Random House way of saying thank you to its employees and we loved them for it.

Everyone scoured those lists for days and days trying to decide what to get. Circling one, then another, then changing our minds because we'd found something better.  I think they were in alphabetical order and not grouped by genre, so unless you actually knew the book, there was no way to know what was what without looking the title up in the Random House book catalogue.  It was the 70s. IBM Selectric typewriters were the high tech of the day.  No one had a computer so finding information took time. But it was so much fun.  Don't waste any of your choices on paperbacks.  Look for the expensive coffee-table over-sized specialty books that would look great in your apartment.  Find books you could give for gifts.  People poured over those lists the way I imagined children in the 1900s searched through the Sears catalogue for their Christmas and birthday presents.

Step-by-step picture instructions
One book I was sure I wanted was The New McCall's Cook Book. If I was going to have one, it had to be McCall's because it incorporated ten+ "McCall's Cooking School"recipes.  Lifted from their monthly women's magazine, "The Cooking School" featured a step-by-step recipe on a two-page spread with detailed photographs that showed you what you were supposed to be doing. Color photos in a cookbook were a novel feature at the time and a way to hook buyers.

Another marketing stroke of genius was that you could get the NEW McCall's Cook Book in four different colors.  Someone had come up with the idea that women would love to have their cookbook match their kitchen decor so you could get this cookbook in yellow, red, green or blue. Genius! Now at the time I was single, living in an 800-square foot studio apartment with no natural light, but I did have a great little kitchen, with light wood cabinets, Formica countertop, wall-oven and all.  But the kitchen I imagined I would have one day was this very modern red,black and stainless steel kitchen with one of those refrigerators with glass-front see-through doors, and so — the red-covered McCall's cookbook was for me!

Come October — when you least expected it — the mail guy would come, rolling down the aisles with his book cart stacked high with large shrink-wrapped bundles of books. Your list would be on top showing through the plastic.  By then you'd forgotten about the books, forgotten what you'd chosen.  It was this huge exciting gift to unwrap — it was Christmas in October!  

Of all the books I got that way, there is only one that I still have and remember. 
My cookbooks proudly displayed — on the bookcase I designed to fill 3 inches of unused space
behind my kitchen door.  My sweet husband took my sketch and had it built for me as a surprise!

It was and is my go-to cookbook. Though I have cookbooks galore — plus the Internet to search for the millions of recipes available for every possible dish you'd want to make, still that McCall's cookbook never fails me.

The other night when I wanted to make coleslaw (and I am very picky about coleslaw) I searched for an Ina Garten recipe and then a few others but not satisfied, back I went — to my forty-year-old, food-stained, falling apart, red-covers held together with a large rubber band cookbook and happily found two recipes for coleslaw that I combined in a way that suited both my tastes and the ingredients I had on hand.

This coleslaw is going to be a satisfying creamy crunchy complement to those country-style ribs I'm making.    Wanna come for dinner?


  1. Stunned, I have that same cookbook with same need for rubber band. My edition is a first edition from 1963 with a blue cover. It was my mother's, but I used it as soon as it came into our house. And just like you, it is my ultimate #1 go-to guide for favorite recipes that are guaranteed crowd pleasers. Despite all the other cook books I have acquired and adore,this McCalls classic beats them out almost every time. (wow).

    1. WOW is right! Mine is a 1973 edition...thanks for letting me know there's another McCall's lover out there!

  2. Loved the Cookbook and would love to come for dinner! The coleslaw looks terrific!