Be Careful Where You Point Your Finger
A friend of my family once lamented that no one invited him or his wife for dinner. “We’d eat their hot dogs, you know,” Jim said, with just a slight smile, more sad than smirking. He didn’t mean anything nasty by saying that, he truly meant that no one needed to feel like they had to create the same kinds of meals as he and his wife fixed for their guests.
He just wanted someone to feed him. And hot dogs were OK by him.
I thought of Jim yesterday when someone accused me of being a food snob. Wrongly.
And hot dogs played a role.
The catalyst for the dissing — a 1969 Weight Watchers recipe for Crown Roast of Frankfurters, complete with faded illustration — truthfully looked very unappetizing, part of the problem due to the colors of the photograph. Food photography has developed a lot from the early days of Gourmet magazine and all the company-sponsored booklets extolling this or that convenience product.
“A crown roast of wieners is an ideal solution for guest
problems when the budget is low.”
The dish in question is simple enough: frankfurters propped up with toothpicks, displayed to resemble the more expensive and traditional crown roast of pork. Instructions include filling the center with cabbage.
I will admit it: the idea of this recipe makes me laugh, it is so pretentious, in a way that a real crown roast of pork is not. My detractor stated that the people who used this recipe were poor, that she’d made this for her family, and that food snobbery has no place when it comes to recipes like this. It, in her opinion, amounted to making fun of what people choose to eat, not a nice thing to do.
The original recipe appeared during the Great Depression, in Ruth Berolzheimer’s The United States Regional Cookbook in 1939. Weight Watchers co-opted it, why I do not know, given that it is hardly weight-loss-inducing.
An accusation of food snobbery must be made carefully, for in most cases it is not actually food snobbery, but a sense of humor that offends the finger pointer. Yes, Crown Roast of Frankfurters is inventive.
It is also funny, funny in the same way that smiley face pancakes are amusing.
But this recipe is the product of busy home economists tasked with finding ways to provide ideas for cheap meals. It is such an incredulous treatment of a very common and — at the time — cheap product. Nowadays hot dogs cost nearly as much as a pound of beef, somewhere around $5.00.
The fledgling food industry that grew out of the new technology of the 20th century and the demands of World War II wanted to sell their products. So they hired home economists and chemists like Ruth Berolzheimer to concoct recipes using these products. Some of the dishes seem so absurd to us in these days of extreme freshness; for example, check out “21 Truly Upsetting Vintage Recipes.” These recipes fall into the catagory of aspirational dishes, a term describing the yearning of people to achieve the status of people at a higher economic level.
Absurd. That’s the best word for Crown Roast of Frankfurters. After all, hot dogs simply cooked with sauerkraut or cabbage, with none of the fancy stuff, taste pretty darn good.