You find the strangest things at garage sales. Some are just useless junk, sold for coin. Others are sad, like clearly-loved childhood toys and keepsakes. Sometimes you even find rather personal items. I did see a binder once of recipe cards. They were all hand-written and dated. The penmanship was clear, the cards were neatly arranged, and the binder had the sort of splits and wear one would expect from something much used. The family only wanted 50 cents for it and was emphatic that I had to take the recipes as well as the binder. I thought that very strange, the vehemence with which they pressed the binder upon me, and I thought it still stranger that I heard the seller mutter what could either have been a prayer or a curse my way as I departed. I now understand them all too well, and I am certain that the line between prayers and imprecations may sometimes be blurry for sound reasons.
You see, I had given the recipes only the most cursory of glances, and even at that only the ones towards the front, which seemed of the sort you would find in most any collection — stews, casseroles, sauces, desserts, breads, etc. I did not pay any particular mind to the ingredients called forth, much less to the misbegotten associations, combinations, and indeed thralldom or enslavement of so many unfortunate foods. Contained in those plastic-pocketed pages of 4×6 notecards were what I can only describe as alchemic incantations that, though they might not summon the demons up from hell, might reasonably regurgitate the contents of the digestive tract. You see, I had purchased the cookbook of a madman.
Moreover, the recipe cards were arranged in a chronological sequence of experimental meals, and the author had gone so far as to keep a sort of running diary on the backs of these cards wherein he initially recorded how the food was received, and later how it affected his marriage, his children, and his ever-more-rapidly deteriorating grasp of reality. While I was in no mood to attempt any re-creation of his experiments, I felt strangely compelled to read through the entire saga until it’s rather desperate conclusion. What follows are excerpts of some of the recipe titles and diary entries — for the sake of all I will spare you the recipes themselves and, in any case, the recipe names should convey more than enough of the grotesquerie for you to glean the depths of culinary abuse involved.
November 25, 19XX – Tuna-Noodle Turkey
… and it’s hardly my fault that Eunice bought so many cans of tuna in the first place! I didn’t have time to make the cornbread for the stuffing, all I could find was a box of egg noodles and all this tuna. I don’t see why they complained so much, normally they like tuna just fine. At least Eunice’s mother left early instead of arguing.
December 31, 19XX – Corsu Marzu Salad Dressing
… the suitcase I used, however, is likely done-for. Eunice won’t let me bring it into the house. But I think she’ll forgive me when I demo this recipe next week for XXXXX. They seemed pretty interested when I told them I had the next thing after Bleu Cheese dressing. The kids refused to try it, but then they’ve never liked salads in the first place. Eunice just poked at it all through dinner, insisting that it was “really pungent”. I finally just stared at her until she took a bite. The bite was followed by a shriek, though, and she broke the salad bowl by beating it to death with a flyswatter.
July 22, 19XX – Garlic Wine
I did technically do as she asked, and use her mother’s meatloaf recipe, and her aunt’s green bean recipe, but she didn’t specify the drink, and that was when I sprung it on her. “You remember that month where you made me wear plastic bags over my feet whenever I took my shoes off? Well, now you know why!” I uncorked it and poured her a sample. I was ecstatic at first, thinking her tears were of joy. The stitches on my forehead from the wine glass prove otherwise.
October 31, 19XX – The Everlasting Cod-stopper
I’m really heartsick at the reception this one got. Jr. loved Willy Wonka, and I was certain he’d want a special candy all his own. And I made enough for the whole neighborhood for Halloween. I just they had been more careful in returning them – they could have left them on the front porch instead of piling them in the living room by way of the window. It’ll be a dickens of a time cleaning the glass shards off so I can re-use them with the soup.
February 14, 19XX – Country Fried Eclairs
… so you would think she’d at least show some appreciation of my efforts, and see that I do listen to her! She’s the one who said “I think ranch dressing could improve almost anything” as she practically drowned the Herringburger Helper in it last week, and desserts should not be an exception. I’ll admit that the cod liver oil had enough of an aroma that I should have done the frying outside (the lawsuit and restraining order over the duck incident aside), but I’m still offended that she had to actually cut the things open and inspect them instead of just trying a bite and enjoying them like a normal person. “You filled these with… salad dressing? And what the hell is this on top?” I’m still trying to sponge the Marmite out of my shirt from where they hit me.
March 31, 19XX – Deviled Food Cake
… and so hours of work have been wasted, and she has actually installed a steel door for the kitchen. I didn’t think she’d go that far, how I was supposed to know that everyone at the dinner party was allergic to something I’d used? Explains why they wanted to jump right to desert, at least. I probably should have explained up front, though, that the icing was in fact paprika and garlic flavored, not strawberry, pink color notwithstanding, but they all looked so hungry after skipping the main course of Lutefisk-kebobs and limburger bisque.
May 1, 19XX – Scrambled Eggs
… with the puncture wounds finally healing from where she pinned my hands to the table with fish forks. Everything hinges on this one. She has already changed the locks on the door and sent the kids to her mother’s house. “Just make scrambled eggs for breakfast,” she hissed last night, “like a normal human being. Just try. You used to be able to do it. Do that for me again and maybe I will let you stay.” I asked her “bacon too? toast?” “Fine. But they better be normal too. This is your last chance.” I am so excited about this! I think she’ll love the squid ink jelly on the toast, it looks just like grape. And I’m certain she’ll love the…. [the rest of this card was burned away]
I tried to go back to that house who had sold me the book, to ask after the rest of the story, but by the time I had finished reading through, they had moved. The new owners had no contact information, but they seemed like nice people. I’ve invited them to a dinner party to welcome them to the neighborhood. I have a great dessert idea, and I think they’ll love it.