Cooking From Comics: In the Kitchen with Disney Characters


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When Walt Disney was building his Disneyland empire in California in 1955, there was a growing fascination with all things Disney in post-war Europe, and particularly in Italy. Topolino, or Mickey Mouse, hit it big in Italy. By the 1960’s, a lively series of  paperback bound comics  emerged and were extremely popular.  The comics paralleled a fascination with American culture that was taking hold. Today, tees and sweatshirts and all manner of clothing are festooned with Topolino imagery, and a good number of grown men and women don this attire enthusiastically.  In Italy, Disney is not just for kids.

I have a large collection of  the Italian Disney comics, and I never fail to return from Italy without at least 3 or 4 new issues.  I am addicted. I learned a lot of my Italian and a multitude of colorful idioms from these illustrated books. And it turns out that many Italians learned a lot about “American” cooking from their Disney-Italian comic book characters.  You can thank Donald Duck and his extended family.


A favorite series featured the adventurous tales of  Uncle Scrooge McDuck (Paperone) along with nephew Donald (Papernik) his three nephews (Qui, Quo, and Qua) and Grandmother Elvira known as Nonna Papera (Grandma Duck).  A rather distorted image of American family life was presented in these comics.  Picnics in the park, gold mining in the Rockies, cowboys wrangling cattle in the west, river rafting down the Mississippi, and trips to outer space were family adventure stories in the comics, all bankrolled by Unca Scrooge himself and in pursuit of some thief who was stealing his treasure chest.


Thank goodness for Nonna Papera.  She kept the boys well-fed, the American way. The Italian comic book artists delighted in depicting her beautiful apple pies cooling on her window sill, and even several adventures involved mysteries around who swiped the cooling pastry. Italians  became fascinated with Nona Papera’s beautifully fluted pies–  and her cookies, sandwiches, and picnic fare, too.


According to Barks’ and Rosa’s Who’s Who In Duckburg, “Grandma Duck is in many ways the head of the Duck-family. She is normally the one who arranges the family’s Christmas celebrations and she’s known as an excellent cook with pies as one of many specialities.”  It was Donald’s grandmother who made American pie popular in Italy.


By 1970, a book of her recipes was published under the title Il Manuale di Nonna Papera (The Cookbook of Grandma Duck).  Many  Italian cooks will tell you today that this collection of recipes was their first cookbook and first venture into cooking.   Most of the recipes are an Italian interpretation of American dishes, but in reality, the recipes remain Italian in spirit. Sandwiches (or panini), a Chip and Dale Popcorn recipe, and lots of cakes and pies are included and are featured alongside traditional Italian sweets, finger foods, and several main dishes. Cleverly named, many recipe titles indicate that these are historical recipes handed down to Nonna Papera from very famous people of the past such as Queen Elizabeth or Christopher Columbus (appropriate personages for the settlement of America).


I’m still reading Disney comic books.  I have recently acquired a reprint of Nonna’s recipe book and have yet to try out these “American” recipes. I am sure if I do, I will no doubt improve not only speaking in Italian but also cooking in Italian.  In time, I might even receive that fine compliment about my cooking from an Italian:  “Pareva la torta di Nonna Papera.” (“That looks just like a cake made by Grandma Duck!”)      –MELorden

NOTE:  Click on the sidebar menu under Recipes for more cooking with Disney!

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For a look at what the current world of Disney is offering in Mickey Mouse and Disney Princess cookbooks, check out these souvenir collections on Amazon:

Available Disney Cookbooks from

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The Mother of All Mixers: The Sunbeam Mixmaster


The Mother of All Mixers: The Sunbeam Mixmaster


     In 1950, my mother was a new housewife with no cooking experience but plenty of will to learn.  Rheta had been exiled from her own mother’s kitchen, never taught to cook. On the eve of her wedding, the story goes, my grandmother Lena’s remark to her was: ”You’re so smart? If you can read, you can cook. Go buy a book.”

My newlywed mother took her mother’s advice along with a wedding gift from my uncles and aunts–  the hottest, do-it-all appliance of the day–  the Sunbeam Mixmaster. In time, she would set up a tasteful pink and gray formica kitchen with a chubby Frigidaire and a pushbutton GE stove to complete the suite of modern appliances.  Her Mixmaster model was the Cadillac version, complete with all the bells and whistles.  Unfortunately, its bells hardly ever rang, and its whistles rarely blew.

“You now have the finest mixer ever made,” said the manual written by the Sunbeam Home Economics department. The accompanying booklet welcomed home cooks to their “family of nearly five million homemakers” who now were, as owners of this extravagant but necessary device, “saving time and arm-work, and enjoying more delicious foods.”  Claims that “the more you use it the more helpful it will become”  would fall flat in my mother’s kitchen.

In those days, my mom’s cooking repertoire was limited. “I was a creative cook,” she asserts today, decades after her Sunbeam Mixmaster was shoved into the back of a cupboard, first in her home and now in mine.  Her efforts in the kitchen consisted mostly of timid experimentation and moderate success with various jello “salads” and “molds”;  however, her one claim to fame among the Wayne Avenue mah jongg-ers was her Orange Chiffon Cake. And the Sunbeam Mixmaster was the reason why.

The Mixmaster’s design is distinctive.  It is streamlined like the fins on a 1950‘s cadillac, and if it had doors, they would close with the same solid Caddy clunk. It sports a grill like that of a Ford truck– and weighs about as much. Shaped like the fuselage of a WW II Spitfire, the old Sunbeam helped my mom to win the dogfight that she faced in the kitchen when it came to Orange Chiffon Cake. (See recipe below.)

With over fourteen pages in the owner’s guide dedicated to multiple attachments, the booklet reads like a plumber’s manual with illustrations of couplings, joints, screws, and washers. An auxiliary motor drives a meat grinder, food chopper, can opener; a potato peeler, juicer, drink mixer, a knife sharpener, and– I kid you not– a silver polisher and buffer. And did I forget the butter churner, bean slicer, and huller for peas?  The homemaker of the 1950’s obviously had lots of time on her hands to use her time-saving appliances.   A miniature hardware store, this entire collection of geegaws constituted an enormous amount of crap that took up space and was just more mechanical stuff to break.  But it was this cumbersome electric mixer which built my mother’s confidence as a baker. While everyone else’s version of chiffon cake was, according to my mom, wet on the bottom and weeping citrus goo as it collapsed upon slicing, hers remained tight, firm, and dry. ( Dry? That was good? )  It was the one thing that came out well in her Mixmaster, she said.

My mother most certainly never read the first cardinal rule of the Mixmaster manual on page four:   “Do not overbeat.”   Since “more is better” was always one of her key cooking principles, the secret to her “success” was clear. If the recipe called for beating eggs whites for 5 minutes, Rheta, I can assure you, with the help of her fancy Sputnik era machine, beat them longer–  well past the glossy-and-stiff stage into the dry-but-not-separated realm.  Then, with her over-folding and over-baking, the fate of the cake was sealed.  Her orange juice laced chiffon cake may have been springy and held its form, but the women in her mah jongg club were more than likely enjoying a tasteless and arid confection which induced immediate thirst.

Today, Rheta has become a much more sophisticated and skilled cook than she ever was as a mother and housewife, and I am proud of her knowledge and interest in good food. But she still has no use for an electric mixer.   At best, she was more of a social baker who took her turn baking for activities at the synagogue, and I do remember enjoying a good many boxed cakes she beat to death in that mixmaster in honor of each of our birthdays.  I have no memory of ever eating her Orange Chiffon cake.

Rheta’s  Mixmaster just celebrated its 64th birthday last week. I take it out from the bowels of my lower cupboards occasionally for a test drive and just for nostalgic reasons. The smell of the overheating electric motor and bakelite finish are both a memory of my youth and a clear indication that the mixer could use a good overhaul and oil change.  In my childhood, I was not allowed to ever use the mixer. I did sneak using it once to make brownies for my Girl Scout troop and ended up with globs of chocolate batter dotting the kitchen cupboards and ceiling. The strenuous clean up and panic of being found out pretty much cured me of my fascination with the mighty mixer. To this day, I prefer whisks, stainless steel bowls, and wooden spoons.

 Happy 64th Birthday to my mother’s Sunbeam Mixmaster!

I don’t even own a KitchenAid stand mixer, though I am tempted to purchase one as a symbol of my foodie status and as a colorful embellishment to my kitchen countertops. (I’ll take pistachio or a burnt orange, thank you.)

The Good Housekeeping Institute boasted in the Mixmaster manual that “…you can’t overwork the Automatic Mixmaster.”  My mother took to heart the advice of the Sunbeam company in her one and only baking achievement.


 The following recipe is from about 1956.   While chiffon cakes first appeared in the late 20’s, they became all the rage in the 50’s. Recipes were passed around, and that’s where my mother got her recipe.

 The key to a successful chiffon cake is properly beaten egg whites and a correct ratio of liquid to dry ingredients. Baking in an aluminum tube pan in an even baking oven is also going to give the best result.


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–Separate the yolks form the whites while the eggs are still cold.

–Cover each bowl of yolks and whites with plastic wrap and bring to room temperature (about 30 minutes).

PREHEAT OVEN to 325º and PREPARE PAN, a 10” tube pan UNGREASED.


–place flour, sugar minus 1/4 cup, baking powder, salt, and orange zest and combine.

–Create a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the egg yolks, oil, orange juice, and vanilla extract and beat until smooth (about a minute). Scrape the sides of the bowl during beating.


–Beat the egg whites until foamy. Then add the cream of tartar.

–Continue beating until soft peaks form.

–Beat in, gradually, the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, until STIFF PEAKS form. (You should be able to invert the mixing bowl and the egg whites will not slip out).

–Then FOLD the beaten egg whites into the first batter gently using a LARGE RUBBER SPATULA.  Fold until just blended. Avoid deflating the batter.


–Lightly drop the filled pan onto the counter to release air bubbles..

–Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until knife or toothpick inserted comes out clean.The cake should spring back upon light compression.

–Remove cake from oven and cool UPSIDE DOWN. (You can suspend the pan on a bottle).

–Cake must COOL COMPLETELY before removing it from pan (1-1/2 hours).

After removing the cake from the pan using a spatula run along the edges, set it on a rack and dust with confectioner’s sugar or drizzle an orange flavored glaze on top.  Serve with ice cream or whipped cream. 

Food of the Fifties

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What? The boss is coming home for dinner?  What’s a happy homemaker to do?

No problem.  With her ideal kitchen now a reality, the housewife of the era could automatically get a fine meal on the table. Any decent suburban kitchen of the 1950′s was stocked to the gills with canned goods, frozen vegetables, boxed magic meal helpers,  fabulous cakes mixes, and instant puddings. Post- war appliances were affordable and stylish, and  consumers were on the march.


Even with her hair still in curlers and the arrival of her husband and boss only a train ride away, the missus could not fail to whip up, on short notice, a quality home cooked meal. And to do so might contribute positively to the success of her husband’s future career.

Her kitchen was a masterpiece of  both modern efficiency and science as well as her haven and jewel. With the modern kitchen the center of her family life and femininity, the wife and homemaker of the 1950′s aspired to be the hostess with the most-est.

ed077399-c2cb-42b6-8de8-d60a1daca291The classic 1950′s kitchen was a housewife’s dream.  If stocked appropriately with the correct inventory and equipment, it became her domestic laboratory.  Correct tools, abundant and available prepared foodstuffs, and a practical outline of directions and cooking procedures meant that all women could feed their family, and be adored for it.  ”If you can read, you can cook,” was the saying. Cooking was first and foremost a practice, not a fine art. Add in a stylish apron, a string of pearls, a few copies of Good Housekeeping, and the Betty Crocker Cook Book, and the good wife and mother served up family happiness on a plate.

Anybody could make a perfect cake.  Take Betty Crocker’s word for it. She ( a totally fictional character and invention of the advertising world) guaranteed a perfect cake every time you baked.

There was a lot of magic that could come out of that well-supplied workspace.  With a simple wave of her wand, the food fairy of the fifties nourished and delighted her family.  This was her special territory in the household; it was the hearth and heart of the home in the most pleasurable of ways, and she ruled the roost.

In the top illustration, a  handsome husband steals his wife’s hot cinnamon buns as she catches him. Demurely bending over the oven door,  she assumes a submissive posture. The image is  rather subliminal and suggests a sexy secret is present between the couple over those soft, yeasty, and fragrant goodies that he desires. 

In the bottom illustration, the women and children in the family are all happily engaged in kitchen activities. They, and the tea kettle, whistle a happy tune while they work in the warm kitchen setting.  Look carefully to the upper left, and you will see father trying to sneak a peek.  Both illustrations suggest that husbands are guests in their wives’  kitchens. Here men are best kept at a distance from the place where all the magic happens and the secrets of good cooking are kept.

If a woman wanted to please her husband, said the advertisers of the day, it was through his stomach. As the primary shopper for food in her stay-at-home role, the budget-wise homemaker took this notion to heart.  The role of  homemaker and the keeping of the kitchen were serious business in the 1950′s.  But, oh so much easier than it was for her poor grandmother.73503_10150290996625051_3348269_n

Canned and packaged and frozen goods took on a renewed enthusiasm after the war.  Peace and prosperity reigned and veiled the atomic threat, but the atomic age also created a strange sense of security for Americans in the 1950′s. In the spirit of “better living through chemistry” (a version of the DuPont corporation slogan), the food industry flourished.  The 50′s saw the arrival of Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines cake mixes, frozen pot pies and TV dinners, and the important science of home economics. Homemakers were moms and wives, but they were savvy, too.  (For a hilarious look back at a strange and hellacious series of 1950′s food photographs, check out this site featuring typical food styling from the period. Prepare yourself for banana and fern green tinted images and cutlets topped with pineapple rings and red maraschino cherry adornment at the Gallery of Regrettable Food.)

No longer were the days of rationing sugar, eggs, and flour forcing Americans to sacrifice personal conveniences for the military.  Cars and appliances were in demand.  Other raw materials, metals and synthetics, were available for consumers to use.  Marriage and birth rates skyrocketed as did housing as a result.  The family unit in suburbia was the target of industry and advertising, and much of the market was the homemaker and her hungry family.



Silk stockings were no longer rationed and the 100% silk material called chiffon became all the rage.  The length of dresses fell, too.  Soon chiffon cakes and pies became very popular.  A chiffon cake was a fluffy cake that got its poof from stiffly beaten egg whites combined with vegetable oil, flour, baking powder, eggs, and sugar. A version of a one crust refrigerator pie , chiffon pies were made of beaten egg whites and gelatins.  Flavorings for chiffon cakes and pies were often fruits such as strawberry, lemon, or orange, and chocolate was a favorite, too.    For 1950′s confections, taste in fashion informed taste in food.

(See OTK Home Page article :  The Mother of All Mixers: The Sunbeam Mixmaster for Rheta’s Orange Chiffon Cake recipe)

Men, too, had a special role when it came to cooking in the form of the charcoal grill.   Without a fire pit of some sort, the suburban backyard seemed incomplete.  The man of the house could go primal over a smoking grill while discussing the latest anti-communist beliefs and enjoying a few beers.  Burgers, hot, dogs, corn on the cob, and kebabs were all the rage, thanks to the booming agra-business of the day.  Perhaps it was the post-war return from the Pacific islands where  the boys had enjoyed pig roasts and tropical fruits that inspired both the grilling mania and the cocktail party with Tiki drinks sporting little umbrellas. At any rate,  a man who could cook over a raging fire might just help his family survive an atomic apocalypse. The bar-b-que was one of  those 50′s fads that lasted and only got better over time. BBQ and the fine art of grilling has never been more popular in American society than today.

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Today we also celebrate another larger-than-life food style of the era in contemporary and nostalgic re-interpretations of the comfort food dishes found in the highway diner– burgers, fries, mile-high pies, chile, mac and cheese, and meatloaf with mashed spuds.  It was the growing automobile culture and imminent interstate highway system which spawned all manner of road food and drive-ins.  Rock and rollers in their souped up jalopies enjoyed sock hops under the lights of the local shake shacks. Most of these drive-in dishes remain distinctly American and have never waned in popularity.  But mom’s broiled Spam kebabs with pineapple, green peppers, sweet soy and honey sauce, and maraschino cherries have pretty much gone the way of the dining dinosaur, and all those casseroles made with cans of cream of this-and-that Campbell’s Soup may only occasionally surface at church suppers.

Convenience foods and deconstructed and reconstituted packaged meals are still,  unfortunately, de rigueur in areas of the modern diet.The 1950′s are hardly a faded memory when it comes to the major transformations that took place in the production and sale of food since the end of World War II. We are still feeling their effects in our health and diet.  What has changed  most significantly, however, are the expectations for the Happy Homemaker and her role in the kitchen.

In the life of the mid-century American housewife,  whenever the boss came home for dinner unexpectedly, the smart homemaker of the day was expected to design, plan, and execute an impressive dinner. Push a button here, turn a knob there,  or open a package and follow directions. She had only to then set the table, put on some lipstick, ice the glasses–  and remember to take the curlers out of her hair before the guest of honor arrived.        –MELorden

Cowboy Cooking



Ahh. Nothing like sitting around the campfire under a starry night. You lean up against your saddle, take out your mess kit, and pony up to the old chuck wagon on your tired, bowed legs. You give Cookie a smirk and receive your reward for a rough and tumble day of cow punching–  a rusty ladle of  beans.  Yessiree.

When your team of cattle drovers reaches the nearest town, the cook visits the general store to load up on big burlap bags of more beans, coffee, sugar, flour, and of course, whiskey– the staples of the cowboy diet.  Shades of Blazing Saddles, Rawhide, and John Ford westerns?  Since this image of cowboy fare  is both comical and romanticized, let’s take a look at what really constituted cowboy grub.


Guarding the larder

Cowboy is a catch-all term for those nomadic workhands who herded cattle across the plains of the American west during the mid to late 19th century.  Cattle herding and driving, however, had its American roots among the Irish in Boston in the early 1700′s and then in the grazing culture of the South before it moved westward onto the Great Plains. Cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia certainly enjoyed their cuts of beef as drovers brought cattle to slaughter in the mid-Atlantic states (Weaver, America Eats).  Following  the US government’s mandate to exterminate both Indians and the buffalo after the Civil War, the practice of raising and breeding cattle blossomed along with the conquest of the western plains.  Cattle ranching and husbandry were considered a superior pursuit compared to the hunting and gathering life ways of the indigenous peoples. Infamous cowtowns like Abilene, Wichita, Omaha and Chisolm  through which Texas herders drove their Longhorns emerged. By the mid- 1880′s,  6 million head of cattle  were driven north by cowhands to the railroad hubs en route to Chicago’s  slaughterhouses  (Civetello, Cuisine and Culture).   As the desire for cheap beef grew, laborers on horseback were in great demand.

The cowboy diet was the fare of the working man.  No filet mignon for him.  For the hardscrabble cowboy, the number one concern was a full stomach for the 2 to 5 month drive.  Like most nomads, cowboys carried a lot of their foodstuffs with them in the form of dehydrated beef (jerky) and hardtack, or they were scavengers on the trail. In fact, beef was generally not the central focus since its value was in its sale, and when served, it was often in the form of a stew composed of the less pricey cuts and odd bits– or the “chuck”.

The name “Chuck” derived from 17th Century England…meat merchants who referred to their lower priced goods as “Chuck”.  By the 18th Century, the term “chuck” was communicated towards good hearty food. (Chuckwagon Cooking: History, web)

And it wasn’t until after the Civil War, in 1866, that a clever cattleman by the name of Charles Goodnight transformed an old surplus army wagon into a rolling pantry.  With the addition of a hinged door that flipped into a table, some drawers and shelves inside the wagon bed for canned goods (like tomatoes and peaches for vitamin C to fight scurvy), and a storage boot for pots and pans, the chuck wagon was born. The manufacturer was Studebaker, and the company went on to produce several more sophisticated models.  Who knew that the workhorse larder for the cowpoke was the ancestor of  the four-door sedans of  the mid-twentieth century American family? After the creation of the chuck wagon, cowboys ate measurably better.

Want to learn how to cook like a modern cowboy?  You can go to camp and learn how.  Check out the Kent Rollins’ Dutch Oven Cooking School:

What was the typical day for the chuck wagon master like?  He didn’t just cook.  He cut hair, nursed wounds, did mechanical repairs,and managed accounts along with preparing and rationing  foods: grinding coffee, making biscuits, tending the sourdough starter, and carving the salt pork. His tasks included setting up camp, tending the fire,  preparing meals using dutch ovens and skillets, and cleaning up..  He was paid well for it–  significantly more than the cowboys.

Fresh eggs or vegetables sometimes would be available as the trail boss [would] authorize trading a steer with some farmer along the trail drive… the daily norm was dried pork, beans and bread with the choice of water or coffee to drink. (Chuckwagon Cooking: History, web)


Because the cowboy population was made up of many immigrant cultures, their food reflected the combined and often looked-down-upon culinary habits of the Irish, African, South American, Chinese, and Spanish cultures. Chile was the go-to spice for Cookie. Today when you encounter cookbooks that contain old-timey , genu-ine cowboy recipes, they often reflect the influences of these various cuisines.  You might find some great recipes for Rocky Mountain Oysters (bulls testicles), Sancocho de Cola de Res (Ox tail stew), and all manner of corn biscuits and tortilla-based fare, and the ubiquitous frijoles– yes, beans.

Beware cookbooks that hail authentic cowboy meals in the form of a cast iron skillet Chicken Cordon Bleau or Chicken & Cheese Chimichangas because the real cowboys were having none of that.  Funny now to see how these delicacies rustled up in an old cast iron dutch oven or skillet are considered authentic and iconic cuisine.

Maybe that miserable meal of beans and burnt coffee isn’t so far off the mark after all.  The chuck wagon master probably slept with his Remington by his side many a night after the last tin cup and spider were washed and stored.              –MELorden


Time to saddle-up and get out the old skillet and give these cowboy victuals a try.  They are sure to put hair on your chest.

For a selection of reinterpreted cowboy recipes, see:  

For a look at the more realistic and dismal side of cowboy fare, see: