Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the minds behind Penthouse magazine decided to write a cookbook? You probably haven’t, but in 1970 they actually did. And it gets dark. Very, very dark.
Fair warning — this post is probably a tad more explicit than what you usually encounter on a cooking blog.
Fanny Hill’s Cook Book, authored by Lionel H. Braun and William Adams, and illustrated by long-time Penthouse cartoonist Brian Forbes, was published by 1970s erotica clearinghouse The Odyssey Press, a division of Penthouse International. It’s a thin little volume consisting of around 130 pages of recipes decorated with erotic black and white line drawings.
The motivation behind Fanny Hill’s Cook Book may well have been the ongoing rivalry between Playboy and Penthouse, a rivalry so real that it even has its own wikipedia page.
Playboy’s cultural cachet was well established by 1970, and the brand of conspicuous consumerism and exactingly constructed sophistication that Playboy created around itself leads naturally into aspirational guides to gourmet cooking. The Playboy bachelor was intended to be just the sort of man who could effortlessly whip together a chateaubriand for his companion of that evening before inviting her back to his satin-sheeted, rotating bed with built-in Hi-Fi.
Playboy had already published cocktail recipe books and other lifestyle guides by the time 1970 rolled around, and, as far as Penthouse editor Bob Guccione was concerned, anything that Playboy could do, Penthouse could do better and with more pubic hair showing.
But in the case of Penthouse, with its rougher edges and target market of the less discriminating masturbator, a gourmet lifestyle guide seems like a less logical step in brand extension. Which could be why we have Fanny Hill’s Cookbook and not The Penthouse Cookbook. Guccione rarely missed a trick, and even he must have realized that the initial reaction of most home chefs to the idea of The Penthouse Cookbook would be “eww.”
But in every other way, Fanny Hill’s Cook Book goes after Playboy in exactly the same way that Penthouse went after everything Playboy did, by thumbing its nose at pretentions of worldly sophistication and doubling down on the lewdness. Which, when you’re writing a cookbook, can take things in some very odd directions.
The book starts off with a section called — not a typo — “Whore’s d’Oeuvres”, featuring recipes with such lively titles as “Dildoughs with Warts in Hot Lips”, and “Climax Pudding”, which pretty much sets the tone for the entire work. Indeed, after you’ve flipped through pages of “Fellatio Mignon” and “Asso Bucco”, coming to the closing section entitled “Drinks” is almost something of a let down. It’s slightly baffling that the minds that gave us “Cunnilinguini” must have looked at the word “Cocktails” and though “Nope – no material there.”
The whole book is constructed not so much in innuendo or double entendre, but in a voice of demented erotomania. For instance, we have this excerpt from the instructions for a recipe for a deboned, sausage-stuffed chicken called “Fowling your Nest”:
Take a plump female chick, old enough not to go to pieces while you’re getting her hot. A 5 lb. roaster will do you nicely. Roast in oven (standard means of roasting 5 lb. chicken). Then let her cool out for the next encounter.
Now. Turn her on her belly and breasts, and slit her where she lays! Make your own tiny hole and dip your sharp boning blade down the centre of her back. Scrape meat from her loving carcass with your blade, always working towards her plump white breasts.
Reserve her liver and the small tender meat that clings to your boner.
Apart from the instructions being, in terms of actual cooking technique, nonsense — surely the time to clean the chicken and presumably remove the liver is before roasting? — there’s also the highly unsettling experience of reading this recipe and thinking “Wait a minute, did this book just tell me to rape a chicken?” Again, eww.
Sexual politics are no stranger to cookbooks. It would be easy to construct an entire social history of women’s roles in domestic and commercial life in the 20th century from cookbooks alone. These books are, after all, precise instructions for expectations of the appropriateness of foods in social situations, of opening your home to the non-domestic spheres, and even of what shapes women’s bodies were expected to be.
So when looking at cookbooks as maps to dominant cultural expectation of the times, it’s a little disturbing to open these pages and be reminded of what a gigantic patriarchal free-for-all the seventies actually were.
Take this bit from a recipe for cheese-filled hot dogs named — shudder — “Hot Bitch in a Blanket”:
The next time you want to wag a little tail and put something long and hot in an oven, do it dog fashion. For certain pedigreed bitches no only love to lick the hand that breeds them, but will also chew the bone you throw to them.
It’s the perfect way to serve hot dogs if you’re taking your daughter on a picnic with Roman Polanski.
Fanny Hill’s Cook Book opens up a deeply disturbing world of rape fantasies and sexual coercion that was the now unimaginable cultural norm of the early seventies. It’s a book filled with visions of women not just being consumed, but being dismembered, seasoned, roasted and consumed, because they like it like that. It’s a cookbook that casually strolls down some very dark and disturbing psychological paths, which is not necessarily what you want in a cookbook.
The book would be completely irredeemable if it weren’t for Forbes illustrations, which are technically masterful and genuinely witty and playful in a way which stands in strange opposition to the general tone of the book. Overall, it’s a book which seems to come from that deep, dark, key-party holding part of the seventies. It seems like this would be the only cookbook on Travis Bickle’s kitchen shelf.
Not that it’s easy to image anyone actually preparing the recipes in Fanny Hill’s Cook Book. There’s an editorial incoherence to the book, with recipes involving some fairly advanced technique standing side by side with some recipes that more or less involve just opening a can. A good portion of the recipes also seem to have started from a pornographic title and worked backwards from there to justify the title’s existence — how else can you explain a prune juice and vodka cocktail called a “Prune Tang”?
Fanny Hill’s Cook Book may well be unique in the world of food writing. I’ve surely never run across anything else quite like it, and I even more surely hope no else has, either. It’s a little curiosity that, with it’s Deep Throat style prose and copious illustrations, very few of which show actual food, seems aimed less at men who are interested in cooking than those who are simply looking to make their own sauce. Eww.