My First Cookbook

by Carolyn Foster Segal

ImageWhen I was very young, one of my favorite books was The Campbell Kids at Home. While it may have lacked the pathos of another favorite on my list, The  Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, I found it equally fascinating. The narrative was slight, no more than a frame story, but I read the recipes over and over again, and I considered it my cookbook.

The Campbell Kids at Home was published in 1954 by Rand McNally; the back cover lists it as one of its “Famous Book-Elf books,” and it was just one of dozens of the Campbell Soup Company’s product tie-ins in the fifties. Part of the post- WW II surge in advertising, the company had already been involved with promotional objects since the start of the 20th century, and you can still send in soup labels in exchange for calendars, bowls, and mugs, although the Kids themselves have slimmed down quite a bit. (The “Kids” always go by this capitalized designation; they have no first names—and they always speak as one.) While I still have the book—my older daughter also went through a period of obsession with it—I destroyed all potential (hefty) re-sale value by inserting my name into the title on the first page. (But isn’t that what we do with books we love? Don’t we want to climb right into them and join in the adventure?)

ImageThe author was Alma S. Lach, whose other books include Cooking a la Cordon Bleu, The Hows and Whys of French Cooking, and The Campbell Kids Have a Party. According to her official web site, Lach was one of the first Americans to hold the highest degree in cooking from the Cordon Bleu School of Cooking, and she was the host of a television cooking show for children that aired in 1955. The illustrations were attributed to the George Schilling Studios; credit should also go to the creator of the Campbell Soup Kids, the artist Grace Drayton.

The nominal plot involves making lunch after a hard morning of playing house. It seems that the Kids’ cheerful mother—she, too, has those iconic cheeks--still has a bit of sewing to do and proposes that they make a meal. The Kids immediately run off to the kitchen, don their “special chef hats,” a detail that I found thrilling, and begin planning the menu:

Soup (of course)
Peanut Butter Sandwiches
(Three Deckers High)
Flagpole Salad
Hot Cocoa

The flagpole salad, which involves a pineapple slice, half of a banana, mayonnaise, and a red gumdrop, never caught on—at least in my house. It didn’t matter: I was swept away by the garnish for the (Campbell’s) tomato soup—shredded parsley and slices of lemon, or as the Kids described it, “a lemon boat in a sea of parsley.” It’s an excellent garnish, one that I still use; also pure poetry.


- Carolyn Foster Segal is an essayist and a professor of English at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, PA, where she teaches courses in creative writing and women's film.

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