Bull Cook...and More! by George Herter, original, Vols 1, 2, 3 usually available...other titles, too!
November 13, 2005
[$25, "Bull Cook". I also have copies of Vols. 2 and 3 at $35 ea., a "Housewife" and Catalogs at various prices. See other order buttons far below. NOTE: I also have a damaged-cover copy of Vol. 2 for $20 ea. -- just send a manual PP with a note.]
The full title of this gem is "Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices" by George and Berthe Herter.
This is a scarce, hilarious, sincere, amazing book of food info and lore.
If you think you have cookbooks and don't have this, you don't have nuttin'.
[Update 12/08: The NYT just ran an amusing column on George...and my inventory went out the door that day. Here's a link to it: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/books/review/Collins-t.html?_r=3&scp=1&sq=how%20to%20live%20with%20a%20bitch&st=cse ]
Really, you need all three "Bull Cook" volumes, but the first will do to start.
I keep my eye out for decent copies of the original edition to resell. I'm not into book collecting per se but I'd say that all the copies I sell are "very good" or better. There was an intentionally kitschy paperback put out in the 90's that is sometimes available cheaper, but that's not the one you want. You want the original gold foil hardcover! (Or the yellow-brown cloth---I find some of those, too---what you get is what I have on hand.)
Here's why there's all the fuss. George Herter ran a huge sporting goods store and catalog from the 50's to the 70's (ballpark) in Minnesota. He bought the rights to the Hudson Bay Company (I think). He published a huge yearly catalog full of absolutely every kind of sporting goods and anything else he could get his hands on. His listings were hyperbolic and over-the-top. Everything he sold was the "Model Perfection International" this or that. Nearly all of it carried his own brand name. And his models were indeed rather different than everything out there. It's like he designed his own stuff for every aspect of outdoor sport. And it was generally far cheaper than anything else. Which is why I leaned so hard on it.
Herter's really thrived back when guns could be ordered thru the mail. After the ban on mail-order guns, Herter's started to decline but fought on gamely and really didn't miss a step for many years. Herter had a full line of his own firearms, but I don't know how he sold them after the mail-ban as they weren't available at retail outlets. And I've never seen them reviewed and only very rarely on the vintage market. Yet I did hear they were considered to be pretty good. They are, in a word and in every sense, a curiosity. Many Herter's products were. (And I believe it's proven that the mail-ban on gun buying had zero affect on gun crime---I think it's likely that the mail-ban simply hurt businesses. Pity.)
Herter's catalogs were a yearly cherished item for many. I was one. I pored over every page.
Herter also sold silk and gems and cured salmon and maple syrup.
He designed his own archery bows and line of furbearer traps. ---I used a lot of his products. I couldn't afford others. I was a gung-ho outdoorsman and went thru a lot of equipment. I needed affordable stuff. Herter's filled the bill. For a whole segment of American society, I imagine.
I'm guessing that Herter's was the main catalog for "Fur-Fish-Game" readers. Those periodicals went together in a way. Practical and thrifty and real.
Herter wrote at least a dozen books. He had them mostly printed in shiny-gold hardcover. And he sold them only thru his catalogs.
I have his CATALOG for sale for $25. They're in great shape for mailed ephemera (meaning, covers might have a copule wrinkles). 1972 and 1973 on hand. Approx 350 pp. Click the button below to order and include a note as to which year you'd like...
Once, on a rare family roadtrip, I was age 12 and reading a Herter catalog in the back seat of the car. We were driving thru Minnesota. By accident I looked up and saw the huge 100-foot-tall leaping Musky fish pictured in the catalog as being in front of the Herter store. There it was! The store must be here! I didn't really have a sense of the nation at that time and hadn't really thought about where Herter's was. I about popped my gasket. The next challenge was mentioning this discovery to my dad, who didn't like to stop. I was hyperventilating but tried to slowly mention that in fact we had just driven past...uh...gulp...Herter's...and could we perhaps...turn...around...and, uh, go visit the store? Well, my parents weren't made of ice. They must've noticed me studying the Herter catalog and spending most of my hard-earned cash there (often on large bulk orders I made with friends) and I don't think I had asked for much on that trip (I had also been reading "All Things Great and Small" and "Centennial" in the car, as I recall), so they actually went back to the store! I was awed. I didn't even have to beg. I went into the store and stood and gaped. There it was. All of it. I wandered around, up and down every aisle. It was like a modern-day Cabela's superstore. Only all thrifty and sensible despite its outlandish description system. I don't even know if I bought anything. But I was in heaven for awhile. Heck, I'd even been shooting my Herter bow on that trip---a nice recurve that cost me $25 when all other bows were over $100.
In the 70's two things killed Herter's, as I recall. First, was debt---the same thing that got most of America's family farms at the time. Second was George getting busted for importing banned fly-tying feathers. He wouldn't plea bargain so the Feds gleefully brought down one of America's all-time best companies.
I've heard that George's wife, Berthe, is still alive and doing fine, still a traveler. She is co-author on most of these books. I think someone should do a biography of the Herters while some of those who know the tale are still with us. I'd do it, if I could get my own book-production system in good shape.
[Update 6/07: a lady who was a neighbor of theirs emailed me to say that Mrs. Herter is still fine and that George was an amazing and colorful person and well-worth a biography---she said I should've asked for him that day we stopped by his store; she remembered her teenage brother buying his first shotgun there and George came over to their house later and said he hadn't gotten the right one and took him back to the store for a personal fitting. She also mentioned that the bankruptcy occurred after he'd gotten older and had sold out, although the feather incident didn't help any. I really should follow up further on this bio idea...]
Now we come to the Herter books. Several of his books are famous (the Professional Guide book) or infamous ("How to Live with a Bitch" ---that is, a dog) or just surprising (a book on raising kids, one on candy-making, on taxidermy, on fly-tying, on escaping from the rat race). But his star is "Bull Cook." His titles are all winsome to read and highly collectible, but "Bull" is the place to start.
"Bull Cook," volume 1, is a 6"x9" hardcover about 350 pages long. It has a Table of Contents at the back instead of an Index, and no Index. It's organized somewhat by topic and is full of recipes and declarations about every kind of food. There are also histories of many recipes and great restaurants. There are quite a few photos from the 50's showing Berthe Herter in swanky lounges. George was a partying friend of Hemingway's (anonymously---he was concerned about his privacy). The writing style is a bit confident and he never attributes his outlandish assertions to any sources. For instance, he gives us a direct-quotes history of the Margarita drink, which involves a hooker and some gunfighters in the 1800's---so there ya have it: he was there or knew someone who was. He also gives many standard-seeming recipes as being related to personages of classic importance. I enjoyed making his Eggs Mendel, after the guy who invented genetics---it's cottage cheese stirred into eggs as you fry them, as I recall. I like George's confidence and I always go to him for my history. His approach is as good as any, in my view---the modern academic approach taking out all the fun. I'll stick with George. He'll be my primary source. Not a bad cocktail party source, anyway, for recipe expounding.
Collecting a self-published book is a nice piece of transgression in the book scene, I think. Herter is an insider-find kind of writer. I doubt his work was ever reviewed due to his independence. Yet I recall him writing that his books sold in the hundreds of thousands over the years thru his catalogs. Heck, I don't think that even his outdoor wares were considered as existing according to outdoor media---I doubt ol' George advertised much (at all?). Herter books and catalogs are a nice case history of the split reality of our societ about what is publicly admitted to exist and what really exists. Herter rocked.
Whew---so there ya have it---my take on the Herter phenomenon. Get yours today. I usually have a few in stock.
George the Housewife
I have one of these in stock. It's like a distillation of "BC" vols. 1 & 2 with home-ec thrown in. $30. It's in mint shape, approx 200 pp. Click the button below to order...
Volume 2 of "Bull Cook": Plus Famous Restaurants and Nightclubs of the World
In glancing thru the extra-thick Vol. 2, I see much coverage of fancy restaurants from the 50's in addition to lots of recipes, histories and more of what's in vol. 1. Amazing menu repro's. Man, they knew how to have a good time back then. I think this volume would give a good feel for the restaurants of that time. Includes some material on topless clubs and repro's of nude paintings thinly disguised as art history. There's also a bit of explanation about the problems with evolution... Very rare. Comes in at least two variants, 580 pages and 732 pages [I now also have a paperback! If you want it, it's just $30...send me an email]. I don't know the content difference between the two! I consider them interchangeable. $35. [TWO AVAILABLE as of 3/10.] [I also have a "second"-rate copy with its cover broken at the hinge, $20 -- send a manual PP payment with a note if you want it.]
"Bull Cook" Volume 3
Thinner, at 280 pages, but even rarer than #2. $35.
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