36-3. Ladies Bridge Lunch: ” . . . is on the downhill chute to extinction” in the 60s

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That’s Peg Bracken writing about ladies lunch. Peg Bracken is a treasure of a food writer–has two books: The I Hate to Cookbook (1960) and Appendix to The I Hate To Cookbook (1966). The exact quote is from the “Luncheon for the Girls”  chapter of the 1960 book.  The full quote reads:  “As to the Ladies Luncheon at Home about the best thing that can be said for it is that–like the whooping crane–it is definitely on the downhill chute to extinction.”

She was predictive when it comes to ladies bridge lunch.  Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was about to be published in 1963 and trigger a movement that eventually led to all that campus turmoil–and incidentally to the virtual end of bridge on campus by the 70s.  There were exceptions of course–bridge  lasted longer in Southern schools and I was surprised to hear from Rachel Marrow (See Blog 35-2) that bridge was still being played at Smith College into the early 80s. But if you accept one critic’s view that it was co-ed dorms that led to the end of bridge . . .  well that would explain Smith. It was, I believe,  still a single-sex school. 

To get back to Bracken–a New York Times’ article about Peg in 2007 by Alex Wichel is properly appreciative of her writing and contribution to food literature. It declares that Peg really enjoyed cooking–just expressing frustration having to do it every day, three times a day.  As to ladies lunch, “few things are as pleasant” said Peg when “held in some neutral corner like . . . the Sherry- Hinterland or at Harry’s Bar & Grill. Better than at home because no one has to jump up and miss the best gossip or “eat anything molded unless they order it.” She took a dim view of congealed salads as Jell-o was sometimes called.

Here’s an example of a ladies lunch menu for someone who hates to cook. 

Cheese-Chicken Soup (2 cans of condensed cream of chicken soup, 1 can of water, 1 1/2 small jars of sharp processed cheese spread heated in a double boiler and served sprinkled with fresh parsley); Celtic Sandwiches (like those she ate in Edinburgh, the kind the Earl of Sandwich probably had in mind of simply slices of chicken on buttered sandwich bread, crusts removed, and cut in three rectangles or four triangles). Dessert is Honeydew Melon with a scoop of lime sherbert followed by Oddments–“a plateful of storebought petit fours or other rich little cakes, or a dish of good chocolates, or a bowl of nuts and raisins, or all three. . . .”  Or skip the dessert and have twice as many oddments.

But if you can buy one of Bracken’s books second-hand, do so! She is funny.  My favorite line of hers is, “Of all my husband’s relatives, I like myself the best.”


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