"Mad Men" is delicious in so many ways, you might not even notice the food. But characters on the AMC drama, wrapping up its fifth season on Sunday, eat all the time — from Peggy's Chinese carryout in the copywriters' room to the boeuf bourguignon Megan Draper recently whipped up for husband Don.
Two of those keeping an eye on every bite are Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin, who published "The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook" last year and follow the series in their obsessively detailed Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook blog. Gelman and Zheutlin, who are married, tell fans where the Drapers bought the brownies they took to Pete and Trudy's dinner party (Greenberg's on Madison Avenue, where they cost $36 a dozen today) and explained that the "Sno Ball" the copywriters tackled was a Pepsi product similar to today's Icee. They even provide recipes.
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But Gelman and Zheutlin aren't the only ones analyzing "Mad Men" dinner tables. In their "fabulous and opinionated" blog, Tom and Lorenzo break down every episode for style and sustenance. Food-centric sites such as Epicurious.com offer tips on how to entertain à la "Mad Men," and Rick Rodgers and Heather Maclean just published "The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Sixties Cookbook: More than 100 Retro Recipes for the Modern Cook."
The catch — food of the 1960s (currently, "Mad Men" is on the cusp of 1967) can be more fun to talk about than to eat. Women of the era, who still ruled in the kitchen, were newly enchanted by quick tricks dreamed up by food companies and promoted by ad execs like Don Draper. Why make a sauce when canned soup would work perfectly? Why whip cream when you could buy it in a can — or bring home a fake version in a tub? (Cool Whip was about to launch when Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce pitched an ad campaign for it.)
But some 1960s dishes remain nostalgically tasty. Here, we imagine some menus à la "Mad Men," considering what characters might cook for special occasions. Maybe some of these will sustain us in the long wait for Season 6.
MEGAN'S SOPHISTICATED COCKTAIL SOIREE
Megan Draper is young (lots younger than husband Don) and hip (much hipper than Don, too). When she threw a surprise birthday party for him, the food was young and hip, too. In the mid-1960s, America fell in love with the toothpick, so Megan would have speared everything from meatballs to bacon-wrapped chicken livers on toothpicks topped with frills. We also became obsessed with dip in those years, sometimes still called "dunk" at the time, so she surely would have had plenty of bowls of goop, maybe with Utz potato chips for dunking. Recipe • Sweet-and-Sour Party Meatballs
TRUDY'S LUNCHEON FOR THE GIRLS
Adorable Trudy Campbell is a housewife, raising baby daughter Tammy in the suburb of Cos Cob, Conn., while husband Pete takes later and later trains home from the city. What does she do all day? Maybe she has the girls — other women isolated by geography — over for lunch and cards. If so, she might serve lemonade, salted nuts (in those cute individual nut cups) and hearts of palm salad (this is a classic from Sardi's restaurant in New York, but it's just canned hearts of palm and pimiento, dressed with vinaigrette).
For the main course, a layered sandwich, frosted with cream cheese and cut into pastel slices, was a staple of ladies' luncheons in the '60s. Dessert would be brownies (brought home the night before by Pete, if he remembered, from their favorite bakery in the city). Recipe • Stacked Salmon and Egg Salad Sandwich
BETTY'S AGONIZING FAMILY DINNER
Tears will be shed at the Francis table on this night. Starving herself on Weight Watchers, Betty Draper Francis is even angrier at life than usual.
Consider this possible menu: iceberg wedge with Catalina dressing (no dressing for Betty); baked fish (until 1972, Weight Watchers required five fish meals a week, something husband Henry has complained about) and Brussels sprouts (Betty put a single sprout on her meager Thanksgiving plate). For dessert — Jell-O with whipped cream from a can (none for Betty, but she'll guzzle it over the sink later). Recipe • 1960s Catalina Dressing
DINNER TO IMPRESS THE CLIENTS
Meat is the main course of any important 1960s dinner, whether to welcome a husband home from the Army, entertain a husband's colleagues or break big news to your mother. (Peggy chose ham.) But this steak, cooked on the stovetop in '60s style, would impress any important guest, especially when served with au gratin potatoes and creamed spinach, steakhouse style. And don't forget a boozed-up dessert. Recipes • Rib-Eye in the Pan With Butter; Soused Grasshopper Pie