Richard Nixon: Cookbook Connoisseur, Fan of Sophie Leavitt’s ‘Penny Pincher’s Cook Book’
While the Washington Post is poised to revel in the 40th anniversary of its administration-toppling Watergate investigation, we here at HOH would prefer to reflect on the positive things President Richard Milhous Nixon brought to the table.
An appreciation of cheap eats, for one.
These days, no one thinks twice about having the White House weigh in on what’s on their plate because first lady Michelle Obama has made it her mission to keep nutrition and healthful dining in the public consciousness. One could argue that Nixon helped plant the seed for sustaining a public discourse on maximizing hard earned food dollars by standing firmly behind author Sophie Leavitt’s “Penny Pincher’s Cook Book.”
The 1971 book — which this reporter just happened to stumble upon while poking around one of those “take a book, leave a book” bins in Old Town Alexandria — encourages would-be cooks not only to adopt frugality, but to embrace it as a source of inspiration. “Top quality and high price don’t always go together,” Leavitt counsels amidst sundry tips on repurposing cooked vegetables (she offers 13 recommendations for leftovers) and making the most of variety meats. (“Chicken giblets make a fine fricassee.”)
The collection of recipes is a snapshot of the time. Craving something savory? Help yourself to a slow-cooked pot roast flanked by thick, rich gravy and oniony dumplings.
Prefer to dazzle folks with a colorful dessert? A wiggly-jiggly carrot-pineapple mold (is there anything orange Jell-O can’t improve?) would undoubtedly be the talk of that next garden party.
And, of course, there’s practical advice — like how to dress up all that tripe (batter fry it!) our polyester-clad ancestors inexplicably had laying around.
Her soup-to-nuts approach to cost-effective shopping, cooking and dining (she churned out similarly themed follow-ups in 1975 and 1980) earned Leavitt the admiration not only of the doomed occupant of the Oval Office, but also those within the public policy sphere.
“Her extraordinarily useful book should do much to improve the state of health and nutrition of our disadvantaged fellow citizens,” Jean Mayer, then-chairman of the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health hailed in the glowing introduction to Leavitt’s inaugural effort.
Leavitt, meanwhile, makes no bones about recognizing those who helped her realize her creative vision — a cheering section that, oddly enough, includes the late Rep. George A. Goodling.
“Heartfelt thanks to my dearest friend Anna Olinger and to Congressman Goodling, who are always available to lend an ear,” Leavitt tucked into her acknowledgements page.
Here’s hoping the Pennsylvania Republican at least got a home-cooked meal out of the arrangement.