Girl Talk

Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Instructions?

The introduction to Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Cookbook says that “Barbie can’t remember when she first fell in love with kitchens. She thinks it all began at the instant her mother allowed her to scrape and lick the cake batter left in the giant yellow mixing bowl.” The imagery makes me wonder if Barbie might be confusing her love of kitchens with her love of cake, but the point is that Barbie was racking up kitchen experience at a very young age, which is obvious from the way that the directions are often written out in her cookbook.

Barbie’s Baked Custard recipe starts by telling us to “scald milk.” That’s something I’ve done a few times before, but it’s not a typical feature of everyday cooking. And many recipes I’ve seen, even the ones from the vintage Good Housekeeping set I’ve been looking through lately, write out more detailed descriptions for that kind of process.

These days a novice cook can poke around online if they need more thorough instructions on scalding milk or to setting up a makeshift double boiler. But the girls who got Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Cookbook back in the 60s didn’t have Google. If they needed help, they were expected (as one early recipe suggests for separating eggs) to ask Mother.

The assumption that any young person has a mother (or another nearby adult) with the time and ability to walk them through kitchen tasks is a solid reminder of the target audience for Barbie products of that era. Barbie’s late-50s image as a teen fashion model was considered too sexy by many parents (unsurprising considering that she was partly inspired by a German doll based on an adult cartoon), so during the next decade Mattel softened the doll’s look and gave Barbie a steady boyfriend, a few family members and a girl-next-door best friend. Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Cookbook was released in 1964, the same year as the first doll for Barbie’s little sister, Skipper, who appears in several of the cookbook’s stories.

With Barbie repositioned as a more stereotypical, but still glamorous, white, middle-class young woman, I guess it makes sense for the writer of her cookbook to assume that it would mostly be used by girls who already had, or at least had access to, a certain level of cooking know-how.

And it’s not as if the recipes are all that difficult to follow. There’s a glossary in the back too, which has a brief entry on scalding should any befuddled aspiring custard cook with no Google (or mother) around remember that the glossary exists. It’s just that even as an experienced home cook, some of these recipes send me looking for clarification. Other recipes are surprisingly time consuming or finicky for a cookbook meant for young people. Barbie absolutely relies on a few convenience-food shortcuts, but for every frozen chow mein or canned biscuit she uses, there’s also a scratch-made marble cake or a dish that will burn almost instantly if you give it a few seconds too long under the broiler.

I haven’t read any other vintage cookbooks for kids, but I did recently pick up a copy of another of Barbie’s cookbooks: Barbie Fun to Cook from 2001. It’s a DK book, so there are photos of every single step. The recipes chosen are a little more basic, and there’s also a reminder for young cooks to get adult supervision whenever they use the stove or touch a knife. And Fun to Cook shows you how to use a heat-safe bowl and saucepan to melt chocolate instead of just assuming that there’s a double boiler in every home. Making something from it would be a very different experience.

While some of the recipes in Easy-As-Pie seem abrupt to me, all of the ones we’ve tried so far have worked. Some were under-seasoned or involved a combination of flavors we didn’t care for, but we haven’t run across the kind of spectacular failures that I half-expected from a fashion doll tie-in cookbook. At least not yet.

My guess is that despite having some real effort put into its recipes, Easy-As-Pie was partly aspirational. The kind of thing a Barbie fan might like because it let them picture themselves as the happy, competent Barbie of its stories rather than the easily overwhelmed Skipper. That sense of “I could be like this” is a common element of a lot of Barbie toys—as well as a lot of today’s glossy, photo-heavy cookbooks.

Recipes

Chopsticks Sandwiches

Chopsticks Sandwiches is probably one of the lowest effort dishes in Barbie’s Easy-as-Pie Cookbook. And let’s just address the name and issues with ‘ethnic’ recipes in vintage cookbooks upfront. Reference to chopsticks aside, this is an American recipe. It comes in the middle of the Sandwiches, Salads, and Snacks chapter, and wisely contains no story vignette or Barbie-based flavor text at all. As a white girl who maybe kind of definitely wore a cheongsam to her senior prom in the 90s, let me tell you. Cultural appropriation does not age well, and naïveté is no excuse for it. I am more than happy to be spared whatever Barbie and Midge might have had to say about Chinese food in 1964. 

I should backtrack and point out that the recipe might have been low effort in Barbie’s day, but it proved challenging in ours, as its main ingredient is frozen chow mein, and that… is not so easy to find it turns out. Both Donna and I were stymied in our early efforts. Still, the recipe appealed to my lazy side, to say nothing of the side of me that thinks that American Chinese food served with butter on a bun sounds … pretty good, actually. (Don’t judge me!)

The internet promised me that the product does still exist, although not in a form Barbie would have recognized, and eventually, I stumbled upon a carton of Tai Pei’s chicken chow mein in the freezer section of my grocery store. Score! (Note: The history of Chinese food in America is a really rich rabbit hole to fall into if you have some free time. You could start here!) I grabbed some hamburger buns and peanuts and was all ready for a delicious* if not culturally authentic lunch. 

*At least, I hoped it would be delicious.

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Recipes

Barbie’s Baked Custard

It’s been a busy few weeks around here, and halfway through planning the big batch of freezer meals that my husband and I made over the weekend, I realized that I hadn’t started a post yet. I was also low on pretty much everything other than basic pantry staples. Thankfully when I cracked open Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Cookbook to look for something to make, there it was: Baked Custard. A relatively quick prep dish that would work with the few ingredients I had on hand. Read on for the recipe…

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Recipes

Brandied Apple Sauce

My apple sauce recipe is neither easy nor Barbie-inspired, but it IS full of booze and butter, and that makes it worth a mention, right? It also provides a nice counterpoint to Barbie’s stovetop and Donna’s pressure cooker in that it is baked in the oven. 

It comes from Volume 11 of the Short Stack series of zine style cookbooks. Each book in the series is about fifty pages long, devoted to a different single ingredient, and bound in textured paper printed with original artwork. (They are gorgeous, and I am obsessed with them. I display mine facing out, as if I lived in a store and needed to merchandise my home.) Volume 11: Apples by Andrea Albin is one of my favorites in the collection, and probably the one I reference most often for actual cooking (Chicken apple meatballs with aggrodolce? Pork chops with apple-beet-horseradish compote? Yes, please.)

Albin’s applesauce is made with apple brandy and butter. I halve her recommended amount of apples … but not the brandy. So my apple sauce is pretty boozy and plenty buttery too. If you’d like to do a more sedate version, use 5 lb of apples, a half cup of sugar, and 4 tbsp butter.

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Recipes

Pressure Cooker Applesauce

When I tried the applesauce recipe from Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Cookbook, I kept thinking that my usual pressure cooker applesauce was more hands-off and predictable. It also cooks up faster.

The disadvantage of the pressure cooker method is that you need a pressure cooker, but if you’ve got that covered (or if you’ve considering picking one up and want a delicious, apple-flavored excuse), then read on!

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Girl Talk

Pause

We’ve decided to pause our posting schedule this week in deference to the current political climate. Or, as Donna put it, because maybe posting about apples is fucking weird right now. 


As white women we believe in the importance of listening to people of color and of practicing anti-racism. We don’t get everything right, but we push ourselves to learn, and when we know better, we try to do better. We support the Black Lives Matter movement and encourage all of our readers to act to end racial injustice.

Recipes

Barbie’s Easy Homemade Applesauce

I’m a big fan of homemade applesauce.

I practically lived on the jarred stuff as a kid, but after years of inching back from processed food, it tastes too sweet to me now. So once a month or so I break out my electric pressure cooker, grab a bag of apples, and pressure cook my way to apple heaven. Barbie’s stovetop method is a little more hands-on. It’s still pretty easy though, and it works with fewer apples.

To find out how Barbie does it, read on.

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Recipes

Spicy Meatloaf, or Cold Meatloaf Sandwich, the Long Way

I love a meatloaf, and Barbie’s meatloaf, while not prepared My Way, seemed like it had potential. It has salami in it. Salami. In a meatloaf. Interesting. Better than peas anyway. (Barbie’s tuna salad has peas in it. Ew.. I’m hoping Donna will take that one.)

Unfortunately, perhaps because I already have an internalized meatloaf recipe in my weeknight dinner rotation, I played really fast and loose with Barbie’s perimeters, which is why I wound up having to make the recipe twice in order to get anything close to presentable. 

Warning: This post will go on and on and on and on. I really love meatloaf. And apparently I have a lot to say about it.

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Cooking

Quarantine Pasta

I’ve been making a lot of quarantine pasta lately. And yeah, I always make a lot of pasta, mostly because it’s a versatile way to throw a bunch of flavors I love into a single dish. In recent weeks I haven’t bothered to plan out what kind of pasta I’ll be making though.

The grocery stores in our area always have plenty of food, but since they rarely have everything on my list, my mid-February habit of “I’m going to make this meal and buy those ingredients” doesn’t work very well. Instead I think about the overall type of sauce that would suit the things I already have on hand or managed to grab during my weekly shopping trip. It’s a more improvisational process that’s easy enough to change up if I find myself with unexpected leftovers or produce that’s going off faster than expected. And since it’s different than how I usually plan meals, I keep thinking of it as quarantine pasta.

To keep myself from just grabbing the same handful of stuff every week, I put together some lists of ingredients that work well with tomato sauce, olive oil, or pesto pasta. So read on if you want a few too many tips to Choose Your Own Pasta Adventures.

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Recipes

Berry Milk Punch

This post was written prior to Covid-19 and social distancing, back when Donna and I could get together for cooking dates. In the absence of bars, I have upped my cocktail game, so I’m drinking well these days. But this post reminds me that good friends make even terrible drinks go down well. I don’t know when we’ll be able to get back to that kind of thing, but I’ll make sure to appreciate it when we do.


In Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia Project, I’m pretty sure there comes a point when her friends and blog readers give her permission to skip all of the aspics in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I wish we had a similar crowd letting us off the hook for the variety of milk punches in Barbie’s chapter “MMMNN! Is for Milk and Other Marvels.”

Julie didn’t back down from her meat jellos, and we wouldn’t wimp out either, but man. It would be tempting. 

Milk punch. Milk. Punch. Milk and punch. Milk and pineapple; milk and orange juice; milk and strawberry jelly AND red food coloring…

Wasn’t milk and orange juice what Wynona Ryder was going to use to make Heather Chandler throw up before Christian Slater swapped her glass for Drain-o? 

There’s milk and orange juice in today’s recipe. Just saying.

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