Thanksgiving dinner at my house?

Why, sure. Say, could you bring the rolls? And the cranberries? And the vegetables and mashed potatoes?

Oh, and the turkey and stuffing. And a pumpkin pie would be nice.

Hey, come back here!

Once again, “dinner at Don’s” is doomed. The thing is, I can’t cook. Not a lick. I would if I could, but I can’t.

Not that I haven’t tried … but food entering our kitchen always seems to suffer a mysterious fate. It spoils. It melts. Sometimes it even bursts into unexpected flames.

You’ve heard of folks who “can’t boil water?” That’s me. I tried it once, and ended up scorching the saucepan.

That’s why I’m always a bit jealous of people who can cook, especially when holidays like Thanksgiving roll around. I drown my sorrows paging through vintage homemaking magazines, and there they are: folks just like me, bustling about, putting up their festive holiday décor, and effortlessly preparing meals of mouthwatering magnificence.

The décor items I can handle. The meals? Well. . .

Then one day at a rummage sale, I ran across two resources guaranteed to turn the (kitchen) tables in my favor: the 1959 book, “Entertaining With Betty,” and, from 1971, “Betty’s Recipe Card Library.”

The “Betty” in question? Why, Betty Crocker, of course! If Betty couldn’t transform me from Kitchen Klutz into Chef Boy-Are-Don, then nobody could!

So, I bought them.

In “Entertaining,” Betty gets things off to a cheery start: “Here is a book about hospitality, and how it can be easy and fun.” Sounds encouraging. First, Betty answers a few pesky pre-party-planning inquiries: Question: “Is it all right to invite guests of different political persuasions?” Answer: “It is never amiss to say ‘Joe is working hard on the election – and not for your candidate. But forgive him that, and you’ll enjoy him.’”

Soon though, she gets down to the real meat-and-potatoes of the thing: those recipes! These are divided into numerous helpful categories: “Buffet Dinners;” “House Parties;” “Come By For Dessert and Coffee;” and “Midnight Suppers” (not to be confused with “Stag Parties,” the category that follows it). The recipes seemed straightforward enough, so I decided to give one that Betty lists under “Emergency Meals” a try: “Flaming Chicken.” Ingredients included Bing cherries, Mandarin oranges, butter, and black pepper. Oh, and chicken. Betty’s final instruction: “Brush chicken with 2 tsp. lemon extract, and touch burning match to it.” I did. My “Flaming Chicken” went down in flames.

On to the recipe cards!

Nestled in their very own sturdy hard plastic box (color choices ranged from sunshine yellow to avocado green), the 648 index cards are carefully organized by category. Some categories (“American Classics;” “Seasonal Favorites”) are timeless. Others revel in their 1971 underpinnings. “Men’s Favorites,” for instance: “When he yearns for food like mother used to make, bring on your ‘Chicken Fricassee with Dumplings,’ light as a cloud. If he insists the simple things in life are best, wait till he tastes your ‘Savory Duckling On A Spit!’”

One side of each card provides the recipe, plus novel serving suggestions (for “Tuna Chow Mein Casserole,” “surprise the family with homemade fortune cookies.” Yes, that would be a surprise.) The reverse of each card however, is the real treat. Ready for their closeups are glamour photos of glistening hams and scrumptious shortcakes, sure to prompt even the most inept cook to start pre-heating that oven. So what if you never actually get around to preparing “Peanutty Pork Chops” or “Cherry Pineapple Bologna?” Just looking at the pictures is enough to whet any appetite. As Betty herself put it, “the right kinds of meals can bring a glow to complexions, sheen to hair, health, and good cheer to your whole family’s outlook.” So can thinking about them.

Now, which shall I try first? Hmmm. The “Cherries Jubilee” sure look tasty. And I think there’s flame involved.

Photo Associate: Hank Kuhlmann  

Donald-Brian Johnson is the co-author of numerous books on design and collectibles, including “Postwar Pop,” a collection of his columns. This year, as always, he’ll be heading to Mom’s for Thanksgiving. Sorry, Betty! Please address inquiries to: