For even the most diehard fans, it's often difficult to pinpoint exactly why we love Mad Men, perhaps because what sets the show apart is its subtlety. If you've seen even a handful of episodes you know that, like a truly well made Old Fashioned, nothing about it comes on too strong. Instead, Mad Men's seemingly authentic representation of 1960s America stems from its attention to historical detail — in terms of wardrobe, set dressing and cultural references — without ever crossing into kitsch.
The food on the show is no exception. From what Betty Draper serves while entertaining her husband's partners to what's on the menu at the old New York restaurants they haunt, the food and drink on Mad Men adds another layer of cultural nuance to the show. Happily, every canape, chile relleno and deviled egg has been assembled into the The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook — a collection of recipes and historical context for nearly every bite or sip consumed on the show.
The book's creators, cookbook author Judy Gelman and her husband Peter Zheutlin, provide far more than just recipes in this book. Each one's tie to a specific scene in Mad Men is illustrated, as well as the historical context for why that particular dish was popular in mid-century America.
Case in point: why did things like Mai Tais and Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, both of which appear on the show and in the book, gain popularity around this time? As the authors explain in their introduction, America's fascination with the newly-adopted 50th state of Hawaii “translated not just into the hula hoop craze and singer Don Ho's stardom, but the popularity of Polynesian-themed restaurants, cocktails and foods, and we include recipes for several of them.”
When it came to obtaining those recipes, Gelman and Zheutlin maintained a standard of authenticity there as well. To recreate a dish served at a restaurant on the show, they contacted the place to see if they'd oblige, and in most cases they did. For example, in season one, Don Draper and Roger Sterling hit up the Grand Central Oyster Bar and nosh on Oysters Rockerfeller. Despite that the restaurant's recipe for this dish has changed, they were able to drum up the exact version served in 1960, and provide it for the cookbook.
To ensure the dishes cooked in home on the show were also true to the era, Gelman and Zheutlin used popular cookbooks from the 1950s and '60s as a reference. When working on a recipe for Rib Eye in the Pan, which Pete Campbell asks his wife to fix, “we thought a logical cookbook selection for Trudy cooking for her 'ad man' would have been The Madison Avenue Cookbook  by Alan Koehler,” the authors write. Similarly, when Joan Holloway (later Harris) makes a crown roast of pork in her tiny apartment, the authors consulted 1964's The Small Kitchen Cookbook by Nina Mortellito.
If the Mai Tai didn't clue you in, it should be mentioned that this cookbook includes an extensive cocktail section, as well it should, since Mad Men so faithfully celebrates them. Gelman and Zheutlin don't miss any, from the '21' Club vodka gimlet Betty Draper orders (while pregnant, just before sleeping with a stranger in a back room) to the Beverly Hills Hotel Royal Blue Hawaiian Pete Campbell consumes while on a business trip in L.A. — a cocktail the establishment hasn't served since the '60s, but provided a recipe for nonetheless.
As if all this weren't enough to make a solid cookbook, its introduction makes a point to say that all recipes contained within were painstakingly tested — something done less and less frequently today. Like the fashion, and now food, Mad Men has managed to reintroduce, we wouldn't mind if that practice also made a comeback.
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