Food in the funny pages

Vintage cookbooks and comics show us Schulz preferred things simple and sweet.|

When I learned The Press Democrat was working on this special section to celebrate what would have been Charles Schulz’s 100th birthday, I immediately pulled out two vintage “Peanuts” cookbooks I picked up at a yard sale a few years ago.

What, I wondered, would these cookbooks tell us about Schulz and his appetite? As it turns out, he had quite a lot to say about food. He used the “Peanuts” gang as his proxy to communicate both his likes and dislikes, and the cookbook he authorized provides a glimpse of foods and tastes of a bygone era.

The “Peanuts Cook Book” and “Peanuts Lunch Bag Cook Book” published in 1969 and 1970 respectively, contain comics from Schulz and recipes from June Dutton that often reflect the content of the strip on the opposite page.

One thing that’s not in any of the recipes? Coconut. Goodness, no.

“‘Peanuts’ reflects Charles Schulz absolutely in all aspects, including in food,” Schulz Museum curator Benjamin Clark wrote in an email. “All the characters hate (emphasis his) coconut because Schulz hated coconut.”

But mostly, the strips tell us the things Schulz was fond of, like English muffins spread with grape jelly, a common breakfast he enjoyed at the Warm Puppy Cafe at the Redwood Ice Arena; or root beer, the favored pre-flight drink of Snoopy’s alt-ego, the Red Baron.

The “Peanuts” gang’s brown bag lunches were often fodder for Schulz, so the “Peanuts Lunch Bag Cook Book” is devoted almost solely to sandwiches, salads and sweet treats that travel well. There are six iterations of tuna salad in the book, one that includes pineapple and water chestnuts, another with scallions and sweet-pickle relish.

A tuna sandwich was most certainly a common lunch for Schulz and is a permanent fixture on the Warm Puppy Cafe menu as Sparky’s Favorite, served with a crisp dill pickle on the side.

Hot cocoa is also always on the menu at the Warm Puppy cafe, too, with several versions, including the Linus Van Pelt, blanketed in marshmallows, another of Schulz’s favorite treats.They were mentioned in at least a few dozen strips, usually roasted over a campfire, sometimes eaten straight out of the bag. Dutton includes a recipe for them in her book.

Fluffy white sweets, particularly the alchemy of egg whites and sugar, were a theme for Schulz, especially angel food cake with seven-minute frosting. According to a Charles M. Schulz Museum Facebook post, in 1969 a woman named Harriet Crossland started bringing this particular cake to the staff at the ice arena.

Schulz was so enamored by this dessert, he named one of Woodstock’s friends Harriet and she made her debut as one of Snoopy’s Beagle Scouts in 1980. He allowed her to join the all-male troop because she brought along angel food cake with seven-minute frosting. Later that same year, one strip gives the recipe for the frosting.

Another of those lighter-than-air egg-and-sugar concoctions is divinity, a candy mentioned in at least a couple of cartoons and featured in the “Peanuts Cook Book.” This meringue-like sweet, sometimes with added nuts or dried fruit, was popular at Christmastime in the South and in the Midwest, where Schulz grew up. It’s all but unheard of these days, unless there’s a great aunt still spry enough to make what she assures you is a cherished family recipe.

Mostly though, the foods Schulz singled out in his strips are a reminder of the classics: the reliability of a peanut butter sandwich in a lunch bag, the joy of an ice cream cone, even the ease and comfort of a simple piece of toast with butter, a regularly recurring repast of the “Peanuts” gang.

In all their simplicity and sweetness, they’re a reflection of the innocence and earnestness of childhood Schulz captured in the funny pages daily for decades.

You can reach staff writer Jennifer Graue at jennifer.graue@pressdemocrat.com

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