Peg Bracken, Cookbook Rebel, Dead At 89

Macadamia Fudge Torte, 2-26-96
While James Beard and Julia Child were steering American women through the finer points of how to cook, Peg Bracken, author of the "I Hate to Cook Book" made her mark by teaching them how not to.

She died Saturday at age 89, family members said. No cause of death was immediately available.

The book appeared in 1960 and sold more than 3 million copies intended for working women who had had it up to here with the notion that their destiny was to stand by the stove and be the then-ideal June Cleaver wife.

She adored the new convenience foods, mixes and canned foods and discovered that a can of mushroom soup could cover many sins.

And she was funny.

Consider her recipe for Skid Road Stroganoff:

"Add the flour, salt, paprika and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink."

But there was sophistication there as well.

A recipe for "coupe royale" calls for kirsch, and she championed fruit for dessert. A pea recipe includes lettuce and thyme similar to Julia Child's classic French recipe, but Bracken's peas were canned.

The book was followed by "The I Hate to Housekeep Book" and "I Try to Behave Myself," on etiquette. There were others.

She wrote columns for The Oregonian, where her obituary appeared Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle and Family Circle and articles for publications including Atlantic Monthly. She wrote a lot of humorous verse, her first love.

She was a featured guest on national television shows, including "I've Got a Secret," and was in demand on the lecture circuit. She was a television spokeswoman for Birds Eye frozen (of course) foods in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Before the "I Hate to Cook" success she wrote advertising copy and co-wrote a syndicated cartoon called "Phoebe, Get Your Man" with Homer Groening, the father of "The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening.

"The I Hate To Cook Book" challenged the notion that working women also were supposed to be unreasonably responsible for feeding husbands and children.

A group of friends who called themselves the Hags traded complaints and recipes over martinis after work, then headed home to the stove.

One of the Hags, former Portland Mayor Connie McCready, convinced her to write the book, which she dedicated it to McCready.

Bracken's then-husband, also a writer, was not enthusiastic.

"It stinks" he said.

They divorced.

Bracken always wanted to be a writer. She was born Feb. 25, 1918, in Filer, Idaho, and raised in Clayton, Mo. She graduated from Antioch College and moved with her husband to Portland in the mid-1940s. She later lived in Bolinas, Calif., and Hawaii before returning to Portland in 1988.

Her fourth husband, John Ohman whom she married in 1991, survives her as do a daughter, Johanna Bracken; stepdaughter, Ann Fragale; stepsons, Jack Ohman, The Oregonian's editorial cartoonist, and Jim Ohman plus 11 grandchildren.

There will be no service.