by Kate Heyhoe
We all know that Eve gave Adam the apple and together they were banished from the Garden of Eden. But what happened after that? Society was created, that's what, and with it came social mores, mating rituals and cultural institutions. Arguably the single most important universal custom is that of marriage, for it appears in every culture in some form or other for as long as civilization has existed. And marriage, as any father of the bride can attest to, marriage is big business!
When Thomas and I got married, we had already lived together for nearly a decade. And the only reason we got married was to get on the same health insurance policy. Not exactly instilled with the traditional wedding dreams, we opted to avoid the standard white dresses, tuxedoes and lace. On the other hand, we did want some type of event to remember. So we ended up being married in our favorite place: Big Sur, California, standing in the woods on a bridge over a babbling brook, with my mother and two wandering hikers in tie-dyed T-shirts as our witnesses. The ceremony was performed by a Zen Buddhist priestess. She had long gray hair, tightly braided all the way down to her heels, and worked as the local ambulance driver when not performing ceremonies. Afterwards, we adjourned to Nepenthe, the magical restaurant of the area, to watch the sunset, sit by the bonfire and drink J Lohr Chardonnay while listening to young German lads tell stories about the nearby Esalen Institute's all night hot-tubs. But as weddings go, we cheated the system out of thousands of dollars for flowers, registries, invitations, musicians, photographers, and last but not least, caterers.
Besides caterers, the food & cookware industries are some of the biggest long term winners in wedding commerce. Just think about the typical wedding registry items—everything from appliances to zirconium-encrusted picture frames are hot, hot, hot. And this revenue stream on behalf of the bride & groom doesn't stop with the wedding or the honeymoon. Once the happy couple is indeed that—a couple—they enter into a new phase. They are seen commercially as developing profiles of demographic data, complete with household income, potential parents of 2.2 kids, and if they qualify, they become the target audience of merchandisers, realtors, banks, insurance and credit card companies worldwide. Every dollar they spend, every action they take is monitored, recorded, analyzed, sold, distorted and applauded without their even knowing it.
Oddly enough though, it is this behavioral tracking that also acts as a monitor of our culture. And when certain cultural changes are identified, either by personal insight or statistical data, the marketing of products to follow such trends follows swiftly behind.
For example, despite a handful of exceptions, the idea of men as home cooks has not been widely sanctioned in the Western world until recent times. Men who excelled in the kitchen have historically taken the lead as professional chefs, but I don't recall seeing Ward Cleaver or Henry Bumstead happily baking apple pies for the kiddies.
Today, men in the home kitchen are an increasingly comfortable sight and today's bride may be as domestically ignorant or moreso than the stereotyped males of previous generations. Similarly, the dual-income household has stripped away the traditional role of women as the sole food preparer, leaving in the process a group of men who have discovered they actually enjoy cooking and entertaining. with these changes have come the marketing of kitchenware and culinary products to a broader audience of both sexes, much to the delight of the merchandisers and bridal registrars.
Recently, a leading caterer has recognized this trend and written a cookbook of the times, called the The Bride & Groom's First Cookbook. Given her experience in catering thousands of wedding and engagement parties, author Abigail Hirsch probably relied more on her personal experiences and gut than just statistical data in conceiving the book. It is described by the publisher as being directed at young couples whose "sophisticated tastes outdistance their kitchen skills and available time."
The author recognizes that these young couples tend to entertain, and she offers a variety of plans for the newlywed neophytes. She sprinkles in advice on what is actually happening on a social level at such parties, placing them in a context that goes beyond simple recipe and menu fixings. For an apres -ski, or -hiking or -beach party, she says, "There is social movement at this party...guests are busy networking, sharing experiences, and perhaps, are not as attuned to the food. The dozen or so guests you entertain should be served 'pick up' food since the party has now grown and space can be limited." Aha, we realize, she is indeed talking to young persons looking to move up the ladder.
The recipes themselves are complete with a list of kitchenware, prep time, cooking time and do-ahead—what I affectionately refer to as the "no-brainer" approach. Most of the recipes use readily available ingredients and fall within a 30-minute schedule of actual cooking attention; again, she recognizes the value of time for these upwardly mobile couples. Hirsch even identifies menus by $ signs, ranging from inexpensive to expensive, for those newlyweds whose joint incomes are not yet in the six-figure range.
Thankfully, her party plans are mostly practical ones, with a limited amount of the caterer's fixation on cutesy theme foods and decorations. She includes only one of these, which is Halloween based, and which many couples might find just darling. Personally, though, I can't help but envision condos and apartments all over America this Halloween, serving the identical Sorcerer's Cheese Lasagna with the same ghosts, goblins and witches popping out of the same pumpkin centerpiece. Imagine going to five Halloween parties in one night and eating the same food wherever you go—it could happen, you know. That is, if you are twenty-something.
In addition to no-brainer recipes, party plans and the standard list of pantry items, Abigail Hirsch ends her book with a Registry Planner of cookware, appliances and accessories for the newlyweds' starter kitchen. While thorough, it is refreshingly restrained, limiting itself to the basics of what one might need, although I'm not sure three different types of non-stick muffin tins are really a priority for the type of audience she appears to be courting. Instead, give me a hand-blender any day (not on the list), and while she advises that fondue parties are in vogue and lists a fondue set in her Registry Planner, my lifelong experience is that most fondue sets get used once or twice before being pushed to the back of the cabinet. Admittedly, though, these are minor criticisms, and overall the guide is a handy one, following within the no-brainer approach.
As far as the recipes themselves go, try them for yourself. Included below is a selection from The Bride & Groom's First Cookbook. I myself have tried a few of the other recipes and, even though no longer a newlywed, have found them just as appropriate for anyone who has a busy schedule but still insists on eating well. As such, this book has a shelf life that endures beyond the term of the average post-honeymoon bliss, accompanying the couple on their path to becoming a truly valuable "demographic profile."
The Bride & Groom's First Cookbook
Recipes and menus for cooking together in the '90s
by Abigail Kirsch
with Susan M. Greenberg
Illustrations by Stephanie Langley
Reprinted with permission.
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