Peg Bracken, a Portland writer who taught a generation of homemakers how not to cook, died Saturday at age 89.
Bracken was best known for "The I Hate to Cook Book," published in 1960. Bracken threw down the oven mitt to a generation of women who had been taught that their destiny was to be Suzy Homemaker. Her sharp wit and irreverent attitude made the book an immediate sensation. It sold more than 3 million copies.
Bracken unashamedly embraced the then-new convenience foods, mixes and canned foods, with cans of mushroom soup a stalwart to many recipes. But most of all, she was funny.
A sample from her recipe for Skid Road Stroganoff: "Add the flour, salt, paprika and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink."
Although the recipes appear old-fashioned in our arugula-strewn, post-Julia age, there is a streak of sophistication. A recipe for "coupe royale" calls for kirsch, and she champions fruit for dessert. A pea recipe includes lettuce and thyme similar to Julia Child's classic French recipe. Bracken's, however, is for canned peas.
Bracken followed "The I Hate to Cook Book" with eight other books, including "The I Hate to Housekeep Book" and "I Try to Behave Myself," on etiquette, through "On Getting Old for the First Time," published in 1996. She also wrote columns for The Oregonian, the San Francisco Chronicle and Family Circle and articles for diverse publications, including Atlantic Monthly. She wrote a lot of humorous verse, her first love.
After the success of the books, she was a featured guest on national television shows, including "I've Got a Secret," and was in demand on the lecture circuit. She was a television spokeswoman for Birds Eye in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
She was a published writer and career woman before the "I Hate to Cook Book." Among other things, she wrote advertising copy for Jantzen and Pendleton and co-wrote a syndicated cartoon called "Phoebe, Get Your Man" with Homer Groening, the father of "The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening.
But "The I Hate To Cook Book" was written from the standpoint of the homemaker. There was no question in those days that working women were supposed to be responsible for feeding husbands and children.
A group of friends who called themselves the Hags traded complaints and recipes over martinis after work before hauling themselves home to start dinner. Bracken's recipes were notorious for their editorial comments. One of the Hags, Connie McCready, later Portland mayor, twisted Bracken's arm into writing the book and getting it published. It is dedicated to McCready. Bracken's husband at the time, who also was a writer, was famously negative on the project. "It stinks," was his often-quoted encouragement. They divorced a few years later.
Peg Bracken always wanted to be a writer. She was born Feb. 25, 1918, in Filer, Idaho, and raised in Clayton, Mo. She graduated from Antioch College and moved with her husband to Portland in the mid-1940s. She later lived in Bolinas, Calif., and Hawaii before returning to Portland in 1988.
Bracken was married three times before marrying John Ohman in 1991. He survives her.
Also surviving are a daughter, Johanna Bracken; stepdaughter, Ann Fragale; stepsons, Jack Ohman, the Oregonian's editorial cartoonist, and Jim Ohman; and 11 grandchildren.
There will be no service.