There is a worldwide appetite for weird cookbooks. These books capture our attention in a split second. Who would not browse through a book about the culinary delights of roadkill, cooking with insects, food that is flammable, astronaut meals or dishes to make while stark naked?
A few years ago, AbeBooks ran a customer poll to discover the world’s weirdest cookbook and Manifold Destiny: The One, The Only, Guide To Cooking On Your Car Engine by Bill Scheller and Chris Maynard won. We interviewed Scheller about his book where spark plugs meet roast chicken and the author admitted it was tongue-in-check but also a genuine guide to automotive cooking – for instance, cooking times come in miles and not minutes.
“It’s irreverent but serious too because the recipes do work,” said Bill, a travel writer. “Chris, a photographer, is a friend and we spent time in the kitchen together and we both had dim memories of stories about food being cooked on engines. We tried to lampoon the state of American dining at the time so that meant poking fun at nouvelle cuisine.”
Cooking on engines has actually been around for decades and been used by many long-distance drivers. Manifold Destiny was published in 1989 and somehow was allowed to fall out-of-print, but thankfully it was republished in 2008.
The list of weird cookbooks is substantial. The Roadkill Cookbook has spawned dozens of imitators and sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook (which has the classic cover blurb of “33 ways to cook grasshoppers, ants, water bugs, spiders, centipedes and their kin”) has been selling for more than 20 years. The Star Wars Cookbook was so popular that there was a follow-up – the Star Wars Cookbook II – Darth Malt and More Galactic Recipes.
Some books are simply odd because they take one particular ingredient (such as mayonnaise or ketchup) and go further than they really should. Others have titles that have not aged well over the decades like Leave It To Cook by Time Control. Some are just daft – like Barbara Cartland’s Health Food Cookery Book.
This selection also includes Fanny Hill's Cook Book by Lionel H. Braun & William Adams. But it’s not really weird – Fanny Hill's Cook Book is an amazing example of 1970s smut. Every recipe is a double-entendre joke – for example, the first chapter is called Whores d’Oeuves, so you get the picture. Brian Forbes illustrated the book with memorable images of busty ladies wearing very little. If you were cooking up a storm in 1971, then this cookbook might bring back some nostalgic memories (or you may wish to just forget about that period of your life).