From Jello Salad to Jackie Kennedy's Juleps
The award-winning cable television series Mad Men is about more than the denizens of New York’s hard-drinking, Madison Avenue advertising culture. It is about America in the 1960s: the fashion, the décor, the mores.
Watching Mad Men, says Judy Gelman, J84, “reminds me of nights we’d sneak halfway down the stairs in our pajamas to take a peek at our parents and their friends enjoying cocktails. I think that’s why so many of us have responded to the show. It’s a secret glimpse into our parents’ lives.”
Gelman has done her part to revive that era with The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook (Smart Pop), written with Peter Zheutlin. She takes us to dinner where Don and Betty Draper dine on turkey tetrazzini and celery stuffed with cream cheese, the bridge nights where Canadian Club whiskey is the beverage of choice and the restaurants and bars where Don and his boss, Roger Sterling, sip martinis and tuck into rare beef.
From cocktails and appetizers to entrées and desserts, each recipe comes straight out of a Mad Men episode. The recipes are authentic, Gelman says, true to the time period.
Recreating the 76 recipes took a lot of homework in front of the TV set, watching and re-watching episodes. Gelman also pored over more than 300 period cookbooks, from Betty Crocker to Better Homes and Gardens, and worked with chefs and bartenders at Don and Roger’s haunts, including Sardi’s and the Grand Central Oyster Bar in Manhattan, to ferret out original recipes. She even went to the Beverly Hills Hotel, where the mad men went on a business trip.
More Ham than Hamm
Gelman, who has written three other cookbooks, including The Book Club Cookbook (Tarcher), says she is a longtime foodie. “It’s always been this way,” she says. “My best friend and I did a cookbook when I was six years old. We mimeographed it.”
So when she watches Mad Men, Gelman says her husband always jokes, “instead of thinking about how handsome lead actor Jon Hamm is, you’re thinking about the ham in the refrigerator.” But the book is more than just recipes. It covers each episode that involves food and drink, exploring culinary history to reveal more about American tastes and culture from the 1960s.
A few samples: When Betty Draper orders avocado and crabmeat from room service the Valentine’s night she and Don spend at the Savoy Plaza Hotel, the dish is a nod to the stuffed avocado and crabmeat mimosas—in French cooking, mimosa means garnished with egg—that Jackie Kennedy served at the White House in 1961 for Pakistan’s president. Betty is watching Jackie give the White House tour on television while she orders.
“The series Mad Men captures the public infatuation with the Kennedys with great authenticity,” Gelman writes, noting that Jackie Kennedy also serves the Pakistani president mint juleps, a drink the wives make in several episodes.
“The early 1960s was also a time when the meat and potatoes dinner was yielding to inspiration from abroad, inspired by chefs such as Julia Child,” she says. Take Betty Draper’s “around the world dinner,” which she prepares for a new client of Don’s. There’s gazpacho from Spain, egg noodles from Germany, wine from France and frosted bottles of Heineken beer from Holland.
On the Hunt—for Recipes
When the wife of ambitious, newly married account executive Pete Campbell calls the office to ask what her husband would like for dinner, he replies without a pause: “Rib eye in the pan with butter.”
“That’s the ’60s for you—your wife calling to see what you’d like for dinner,” Gelman says. “But I had to go searching for the recipe.” She found it in the The Madison Avenue Cook Book, written in 1964 by a retired ad man. “This could have been Pete’s cookbook,” she says.
But as times change, so does what we eat. If you think you are savoring the same oysters Rockefeller that the mad men enjoyed at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, Gelman reports that oysters served today at the Grand Central are quite different. The oysters were originally served right in the pan with a breadcrumb, celery and shallot stuffing with a dash of Worcestershire and Pernod. Today they are served on a bed of creamed spinach and glazed with hollandaise sauce.
And the royal Hawaiian cocktail the TV ad men enjoyed on a business trip to California is no longer served at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s famed Polo Lounge, a hangout for the likes of Dean Martin and the rest of the Rat Pack. Fortunately, Gelman found a beverage supervisor at the lounge who uncovered the recipe in the lounge’s archives for her.
On the other hand, you can definitely relive one Mad moment: Sardi’s Steak Tartar remains unchanged, still prepared tableside as it has been since the 1940s. The 1960s culinary landscape is all there—deviled eggs, pineapple upside-down cake, California onion dip, stuffed crown roast of pork, Sidecars and Bacardi Stingers.
“This is a book of my imagining brought to life,” Gelman says. “What was it like to be in Frank Sinatra’s favorite New York watering hole, P.J. Clarke’s? What did the hearts of palm salad taste like at Sardi’s? Now I think we know.”
Gail Bambrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.