It’s no secret to my friends that I love a good novelty cookbook. I own official cookbooks for properties I don’t actually like, indeed at least one I actively dislike, because it happens to be an excellent cookbook. I’m wondering if this was instilled in me in childhood, when my parents bought me my very first novelty cookbook at Disneyland—which also turned out to be a pretty decent cookbook, come to that, especially for a five-year-old.
Honestly, Disney does a fine novelty cookbook, and I’m not sure they get enough credit for that. Obviously, my collection includes any number of kids’ cookbooks, as many novelty cookbooks are of children’s properties. A lot of the time, you get a lot of “mix this box of stuff with this can of stuff” sort of thing. And while I don’t always mind that—we eat a lot of convenience foods around here, because I have mobility problems and mental health issues and am not always up too cooking—it is a little disheartening when you think about kids growing up thinking that’s all there is to knowing how to cook.
One of my Disney cookbooks is explicitly a children’s cookbook—it says “recipes for kids” on the cover—and teaches kids how to bake bread from scratch. There are reasons it’s not actually the baguette it claims to be; for one thing, it doesn’t teach about steaming the bread as it bakes. That said, you know, it’s not the only yeast recipe in the book, not the only Disney children’s cookbook with yeast recipes in it. These are cookbooks that assume you can be young enough for a children’s cookbook and still capable of doing serious cooking.
And, okay, the recipes get themed. I have a Princess and the Frog-themed one called Tiana’s Cookbook, and some of the recipes are named for characters so obscure that I need the book’s little blurb to remind me who they are. (“The short-order cook at the diner where Tiana works” is an awfully obscure character, let’s be real.) But while it may not be completely authentic New Orleans cuisine, it does have recipes for such foods as jambalaya and red beans and rice, not to mention beignets, of course—the last with a stern reminder in the instructions to get an adult to help you fry them. And my broader Disney Princess one includes several Chinese food recipes (more likely Chinese-American, I grant you) to celebrate Mulan.
There are also adult ones, like the one a friend has (that I do not yet) that’s recipes from the parks themselves. I have a book that’s a history of Walt’s relationship with food that includes older recipes, ones from decades past. I have a copy of the Disney cookbook my mom used to own, which is deeply ’70s, down to its earth-toned pages. One place Disney merchandises well and always has is by understanding that Disney fans can have interests broader than Disney that they’re legitimately very good at, so you get things like complicated counted cross stitch kits and, yes, cookbooks that assume you know how to deep fry.
Did Disney really do all that much for my love of cooking? I’m honestly not sure; there are a lot of factors. My dad died when I was six, and my mom got pneumonia three winters in a row after that—so it was cook or starve. But I enjoy cooking to this day; I don’t just treat it as a necessity. And my word but my novelty cookbook shelf has a lot of books on it, not all from Disney properties. Though now I’m thinking about it, an MCU cookbook or a Pixar one would be a lot of fun.