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Retro Barbecue Books for Hep Cats

by Kevin Schoeler

Whenever things get tough we look to the past for a little comfort—especially when it comes to food. It’s easy to appreciate the past—after all, it’s not reality. We can pick and choose the things we liked about bygone times and we can revise what we didn’t like, or forget about those things altogether. Really, would you rather have the preservative-laden, artificially colored and machine-shaped food products in that old TV dinner, or some fabulous fried chicken (organic, of course), horseradish mashed potatoes and a big pot of greens courtesy of your local farmers’ market?

Things are still unsteady. Election year. Iraq. Gas prices. Terrorism. True, the economy is recovering and there are other bright spots, but a little escape is still welcome. That’s why we are shaking things up a bit this month. Here are two books from the Collectors Press Retro Series that had us grilling à la Ward Cleaver (with June whipping up dessert) and doing the hula in front of a table groaning with Pupus and Kalua Pig—Wiki Wiki style.

Retro Barbecue: Tasty Recipes for the Grillin' Guy
by Linda Everett
(Collector's Press, March 2002)

Retro Barbecue: Tasty Recipes for the Grillin’ Guy is an attractive and whimsical grilling book that turns the clock back about fifty years. It is liberally laden with images of postwar outdoor dining-themed photographs, ads, art and plenty of factoids. These attributes alone make for a fun book. But, on a more practical level, the recipes are decent, suggestions are helpful and, overall, it’s easy.

The book’s author, Linda Everett, tinkers with the past and comes back with just beyond one hundred recipes, adapted for the more modern lifestyle. She also supplies general grilling information, cooking times and an equipment list: This book is a cinch for novices. Marinades and sauces carry cutesy names like Pistol Pete’s Marinade or Deeper South Sauce, and chilis come in varieties such as Sunset Boulevard Bowl-of-Red, and Yuppie Cheater Beans (although yuppies were invisible in the day of Ozzie and Harriet). In the “Eat Your Veggies!” chapter, the work is simple—sides such as Dressed-Up Fries in a Pouch and Veggies-on-a-Stick are exactly what you would expect.

Everett includes more than a handful of rib recipes, steak, chicken, pork and, of course, burgers and hot dogs. From plain old burgers to Mustang Roundup Burgers (topped with a homemade bacon and green pepper chile sauce), the food is hard to complicate, but we
raised an eyebrow at Kauai Coast Franks—grilled and then served in a sweet and sour pineapple sauce.

Salads, as expected, are slaws and potato salads, a bean salad, a spinach salad and so on. We loved Yankee Jack’s Macaroni Salad, laden with baby peas, chopped eggs and sweet pickle relish. It tasted just like we remember, maybe even better. There’s a nod to breads and relishes before dessert, where Everett offers treats like Gimme-Another-Slice Apple Pie, and Astoria’s Chocolate Cake—mayonnaise-based and delightfully moist. Tropic-of-Cancer Fruity Dessert is bananas covered with cinnamon, sugar and butter, then grilled in foil packets. Top this with ice cream. Yum! Retro Barbecue is delicious!


Retro Luau: Planning the
Perfect Polynesian Party

by Richard Perry
(Collector's Press, April 2004)

Shifting gears to nostalgia of the Hawaiian sort, Retro Luau: Planning the Perfect Polynesian Party provides enough inspiration and instruction to keep the hula going and mai tais flowing all night long—and there’s plenty of food, too. Richard Perry’s party-planner/cookbook is nearly one hundred food and drink recipes and preparations, wrapped inside a complete luau. Not only do you get pupus like Shrimp Sushi, Macaroni Crab Salad, Lulu Luau Ribs, and Crab Wontons, you’ll also learn how to assemble the appropriate invitations and how to make a lei. Games like Conch Blowing and Coconut Bocce Ball are outlined, but we prefer to stick to the hula and the limbo on such occasions.

Retro Luau has the look of a vintage postcard and the feel and taste of Hawaii circa the 1950s. Like its counterpart, Retro Barbecue, Retro Luau’s looks alone make cooking with this book great fun. And, once again, there’s no shortage of the art and photos that reflect Hawaii on the cusp of tourism in the mid-20th century.

Pupus aplenty also means lots of salads—Mango Fruit Salad, Chilled Soba Salad and Pineapple Chicken Salad. Sunshine Salad is the one you’ve been waiting for, or maybe forgot about: orange gelatin with whipped cream, crushed pineapple and mandarin oranges. Warm Pupus like Waimea Wings and Killer Island Kabobs follow lessons on how to carve a pineapple into a basket, an outrigger, a canoe…but the fun really starts with Cooking A Kalua Pig. This is the real thing: dig a pit, fill with rocks, build a fire, wrap a whole pig in chicken wire, cover with banana leaves, tarp and sand, then cook for ten-plus hours. Serves a bunch—invite over at least 75 carnivores. If hard labor is not your idea of a luau, there’s the Wiki Wiki (Quick) Oven Method, or the Slow Smoker Method; both are more manageable pursuits.

Chips, Dips, and Spreads were no surprise, but also no disappointment: ultra-rich Macadamia Crab Dip, Smoked Salmon Spread, and Cold Shrimp Dip are simple and tasty. Desserts worked well—the Pineapple Upside Down Cake adds pecans; Mango Cheesecake is a tempting venture for another day. Any drink for your next luau or kitschy tropical party is right here. Retro Luau has solid recipes for Rum Punch, Scorpions, and Blue Hawaiis and we had all but forgotten about Grasshoppers until now.

The final analysis? These books are not category killers but they’re friendly, fun and the food is good. They’re uncomplicated, unpretentious and easy to pick up with one hand. The recipes are from scratch and the taste is nostalgic, but fresh. Looks and theme are part of the package here, and retro makes for a great barbecue or luau. Alone or paired, Retro Luau and Retro Barbecue are clever books, smart gifts ideas and the antidote for stressful times.

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(Updated: 06/18/10 SG)

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