When I began cooking for myself, someone bought me a subscription for a set of 60 Minute Gourmet recipe cards. Every month twelve cards would arrive, each bearing a new recipe, with each set attempting to maintain a balance between mains, sides, and desserts. I kept them in the complimentary box that shipped with the first installment, but ignored the sorting tabs provided, opting instead to keep the most-used cards at the front.
I learned that the cards reprinted recipes from a New York Times column of the same name, which were also collected in two paperback volumes (now collector’s items). I bought the books, canceled the subscription, and chucked the cards. After all, they had meals that took an entire sixty minutes. Who has time for that? I can barely sit through thirty minutes of Rachel Ray.
I was reminded of the old cards when I unearthed an envelope of recipes cards that She Who Must Be Obeyed had rescued from her mother’s basement. Dating from 1973, The Complete Family Recipe Card™ Series Collection envelope contained a dozen cards with some seriously unappealing photos. While they don’t hold a candle to the culinary outrages documented by James Lileks in his Gallery of Regrettable Food, I scanned them and reproduce them here with a few comments.
The first card, seen above, provides information on the back about How Much Meat To Buy:
Nutrition: To stay healthy, each family member should have a minimum of 4 to 6 ounces of meat or meat alternate daily, which may be served at any meal. However, most people want more.
Individual Appetite: Active men and teen-agers usually desire more meat than children under ten.
Accompaniments: If the meal includes soup and several vegetables, less meat is necessary. Gravy or sauce extends meat flavor, too.
Time Available: Larger cuts take more cooking time, but leftovers may be used another day with little further cooking.
Storage Facilities: If you have a freezer, stock up. Have meat cut in meal-size portions before freezing to hasten thawing time.
However glaringly wrong most of those assumptions might be, that last item predicted the existence of the Belm Utility Research Kitchen Deep Storage Facility. Time travel!
These cards were stored in a box in a cool basement, so we can’t attribute the photographic awfulness to fading or degradation. The food was supposed to look that way. However, despite the snarktastic comments, I want to point out that very few of these recipes use canned ingredients, which, for 1973, is a major achievement. The cards are also organized into categories, which are reproduced on the back of the envelope:
Although I suspect the “International” offerings might be weak, at least they acknowledge the existence of vegetarian fare.
They offered to save you from kitchen drudgery:
The cards presented here were part of Series 5 out of a total of fifteen. If we assume that card 160 (Barley Casserole) was the last in this series, then there were at least 480 cards in the complete set, but more likely double that amount.
And, like every good recipe card collection, it came with file boxes:
This final bit of information also provides a possible explanation for how we came into possession of the cards. Either this set was offered as a free promotion at a local supermarket, or my mother in law bought the set out of curiosity. Not seeing any recipes she liked – and I assure you she never would have cooked any of them – she filed the set away, where it gradualy migrated to the basement and became part of the geologic strata that would eventually be revealed decades later as the result of flooding.
That’s not a bad hypothesis, considering that they’re culinary fossils.