Every now and then I like to curl up with a nice cup of hot tea and a good cookbook. A cookbook worth reading is a wonderful addition to any kitchen library. A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband (with Bettina’s Best Recipes) qualifies as one of those books, and I’m reading it this month. To be truthful, I’m reading it again.
During the 19-teens, instructional novels became quite popular. These were books that taught you how to do something, but did it within the framework of a story. Thus, while the story entertained you and you found yourself caught in its grip you also learned something. The books tried to walk the fine line between instruction and entertainment. Some succeeded more than others at this task. This cookbook is from that genre.
A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband…
A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, by Louise Bennett Weaver and Helen Cowles LeCron, first appeared in 1917. The story opens as Bettina and her new husband Bob step into their little cottage when they arrive home from their honeymoon. Each short chapter tells something about their first year of marriage. They also conclude with a set of recipes that serve two (or three or more, when Bettina and Bob have guests or she needs planned left-overs.)
Each month begins with a short and somewhat corny little verse. You can smile over them, laugh over them, or groan over them. Your choice.
While the First World War rages somewhere, and deeply affects the lives of readers, the book remains blissfully unaware of such events. Bettina exists in the pre-war world, where she shops carefully for meat and fills her days with decorating the cottage and cooking for small parties. In the course of this first year Bettina throws an informal luncheon party, a Sunday evening tea, a motor picnic, a porch party in the late afternoon, a porch breakfast, and a Sunday dinner for guests. She also hosts a shower for her friend Alice and a good-bye luncheon for another friend. Bettina and Bob host a Halloween party. They host friends for dessert regularly.
So what’s with all this entertaining? Did the authors have nothing to talk about but parties? Actually, not really. Within these 152 chapters the authors lay out, in story form, practically any occasion that a young bride might find herself hosting. Have a friend who’s getting married? Here are two shower menus, dinner menus for both the bridal party and bridesmaids, and an outline for how to gather the bridesmaids for a luncheon after the wedding. This information, and the stories that surround it, makes this a cookbook worth reading.
Recipes for every vintage occasion
Need to serve a somewhat formal dinner? Bettina did that when she made Sunday dinner and she helpfully provides the menu and the recipes for her trip to Aunt Lucy’s for Thanksgiving. She also gives a menu and recipes for Alice and Harry’s bridal dinner, probably the most formal menu in the book.
An interesting point of the book is that all dishes are alcohol-free. The book makes no mention of wine, beer, whiskey, or any other alcohol either as ingredient or beverage. The strongest liquid Bettina serves is coffee, and it seems like none of her friends imbibe either. I expect alcohol-free cookbooks during the 1920s, but A Thousand Ways saw publication a full two years before Prohibition. (Bettina and her friends do drink a lot of coffee! In fact, the only two beverage recipes listed in the index under Drinks are for coffee and hot chocolate.)
Thankfully this book contains a decent index, because if you find yourself immersed in the story you will have no idea where to find the hot chocolate recipe once you’re finished, other than “I think it was somewhere near the beginning.” That is one issue with a cookbook worth reading. Without a good index it becomes hard to find things later.
Similar books by the same author
This was the first Bettina book. Several more followed: A Thousand Ways to Please a Family, When Sue Began to Cook, and Bettina’s Best Desserts, for example. Please a Husband focuses on events like gatherings, informal parties, and unusual occasions –– like fixing dinner from the emergency shelf after you’ve been out all day. Please a Family, on the other hand, concentrates on holidays. This second book covers ice-skating parties, Valentine’s Day, Easter, May Day, summer cooking, Christmas, and New Year’s.
A Thousand Ways to Please A Husband proves more popular today than Please a Family, its sequel. For one thing, the tone of the two books comes across very different. In the first book Bettina can appear a bit bossy. In the second she’s downright insufferable. Which is a shame, because the story holding the second book together is just as cute in its own way as the tale of Bettina and Bob’s first year together.
In my copy of How to Please a Husband, several half-sheets of paper live inside the back cover. These are the names and page numbers of many recipes from the book that I want to try. Some of the recipes from this book are so good that they found their way into our regular family rotation.
If you’ve never experienced a cookbook worth reading, I encourage you to give How to Please a Husband with Bettina’s Best Recipes a try. I re-read it every few years, cover to cover. Sometimes it’s when I need a little encouragement to try new recipes. Usually, though, I find myself reading about Bettina’s adventures when I want to dip into the world of 1917 when cut flowers decorated every nice dining table, automobiles were new, and homemade candy sent through the mail provided an indescribable treat.
Read it for yourself
You can find A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband online at the Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg. If you’d like to try A Thousand Ways to Please a Family as well, you can download it from Google Books. Dover Publications has reprinted it as well, if you’d like a paper copy.