More Like Spam

This is a goulash of a cookbook, consisting of beef, potatoes, grapes, kumquats and an old boot found by the side of the road.

Emyl Jenkins, whose previous experience with cooking appear to be derived from books on antiques, celebrating Christmas and gracious living, Southern style, seems to be setting herself up as a Southern-fried Martha Stewart. But “From Storebought to Homemade” sometimes promises one thing and delivers another. It offers “fabulous food in minutes,” but contains recipes that take an hour to cook. It promises cooking with convenience foods, but there are recipes that contain none.

What’s most bizarre are Jenkins’ wide-ranging assumptions about what we-all — yes, 30 years in the South has affected my speech patterns — are doing in our kitchens. “Somewhere along the way,” she writes, “we seem to have forgotten that it’s okay to use store-bought products to cook up delicious meals.” Which, I guess, explains all those untouched frozen dinners icing over in the grocer’s freezer cases.

Somewhere, Jenkins must have decided that we grocery shop by putting on a blindfold. “Everyone is so anxious to cook everything from scratch that we’ve turned out a generation of frustrated cooks.” Reading this, I realized nothing less than a Messianic vision: a whole generation of men and women, unhappily chopping cilantro, basting London broil and rolling out our own pasta in abject misery. Cooks of the world unite! Jenkins shouts. You have nothing to lose but your Calphalon cookware.

Her solution? Convenience foods. With the zeal of a convert, she offers nothing less than a three-page list of what you can find on the shelves if you’d only open your eyes: create-a-meals, ready-to-serve sauces, packets of seasonings. Why, she writes, there’s even Welch’s grape juice, available “preblended.” She leads us over to the produce aisle to show us salad fixings, pre-washed, pre-chopped and already bagged. She suggests that we buy our mashed potatoes already cooked, and raid the salad bar for chopped celery. While her ideas are sound, it surely must have occurred to participants in life’s rat race to buy that slab of frozen lasagna, that bag of chopped lettuce and a box of ice cream to make a complete meal.

As for the recipes, there are 200 of them, most of them printed one to a page, with plenty of room for spot illustrations and bits of trivia and suggestions. Most of them seem to be culled from the standard cookbooks, the Junior League productions, or from Emyl’s friends. It’s a mixed bag: For every extensive recipe for a Brunswick Stew, there’s a page devoted to Frozen Oranges, Flan (buy it ready made, serve with berries and whipped cream), and grits. Name dropping abounds, whether the author’s friends, writers or celebrities. She even titles one recipe “Lynda Bird Johnson Robb’s Hot Spinach Casserole.” The name-dropping could be excused if they were followed with interesting anecdotes, but it mostly consists of stories puffing the savoriness or ease of preparation of the recipes. Relax, Emyl, if they’re reading this far, you’ve already made the sale.

If you’re looking for fast and easy recipes, Peg Bracken’s “The Complete I Hate to Cook Book,” contains far more recipes and is far more entertainingly written. Compared to that classic, “From Storebought to Homemade” is mostly filler.