When is a Duck not a Duck ?

We’ve all heard the expression, “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it must be a duck”. So, when is a duck not a duck? When it’s a lamb! In “Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book”, published by P.F. Collier & Son Corp., in 1943, there are several “mock recipes”. “Mock Duck” had no duck in it but was, instead, a shoulder of lamb tied up in ‘mock duck form’, with the shank as the bill. “Mock Duck” according to the “Pictorial Review Cook Book”, published in New York in 1933, featured not lamb, but flank steak with apple stuffing, rolled and tied up.

Even Betty Crocker, in “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book”, published more or less continuously since 1950, featured a small illustration with the recipe for “Mock Duck”, suggesting it was a “Happy substitution for a holiday bird”.

Mock Duck Recipe from Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook

Mock Duck Recipe from Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook

So, what’s the story with ‘mock’ foods? I delved into some of my plethora of cookbooks to seek out answers.

If you grew up when I did (no hints), your mother probably made Ritz Mock Apple Pie from the recipe on the back of the box, with Ritz crackers from Nabisco. Cinnamon, lemon juice, butter, sugar and 36 Ritz crackers were the fundamentals for a pie that allegedly tasted like apple pie, without the fuss of peeling, coring and slicing a bunch of apples. I did not have very discerning taste buds at the time, but it still didn’t taste like apple pie to me.

Ritz Cracker Box

Ritz Cracker Box

Although I can’t be certain of prices at the time, I found some “average” prices for food items, on the Internet. In 1960, the “average” price of apples was $.16 per pound ($0.01 per ounce). Ritz Crackers, on the other hand might have averaged $.32 a box, which was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 7.5 ounces per box, putting Ritz Crackers at $0.04 per ounce. So, financially speaking, it was more expensive to use Ritz Crackers and make a fake apple pie, than it was to use real apples and make real apple pie. Penny pinching did not seem to be the reason for our mothers to make Ritz Mock Apple Pie. Marion Cunningham, in “The Fannie Farmer Baking Book”, 1992, includes a recipe for “Mock Apple Pie or Soda-Cracker Pie”, which she says antedates the Civil War. She tries to convince us that the filling really does resemble apple slices. That may be true, but does it taste like apples?

Also in “Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book” is “Mock Pate de Foie Gras”, made with chicken livers, salt pork, mayonnaise and onion juice. “Mock St. Germain Soup” featured lean salt pork (is there such a thing?), condensed pea soup and some bouillon. “Mock Geese” was really thin slices of pork tenderloin with a slice of apple and half a prune on top, then rolled and tied. Another recipe for “Mock Goose” I located in “National Modern Home Cookery”, published in 1936 in London. It too, featured lamb (actually a leg of mutton).

I was really having trouble figuring out what “Mock Oysters” would consist of: eggs, cream, butter, flour, cooked corn scraped from the cob and dropped by spoonfuls onto a griddle to form “…oyster-sized fritters”. “National Modern Home Cookery” also had a similar recipe for “Mock Oysters”. I guess the “mock” part is not to fool the eater, but to resemble the shape of an oyster.

Earlier than “Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book”, “A Years Dinners” by May Little, published in London around 1910 featured a recipe for “Mock Game”. Somehow, out of beefsteak, a couple of rashers of bacon, vinegar, onion, capers, lemon rind and red-currant jelly, “Mock Game” would appear on the table.

What would you guess to be the main ingredient in “Mock Pigeon Pie” Dove? Sparrow? Crow? (well, we’ve all eaten crow at some point in our lives!) How about Pork chops, seasonings and sugar, onions, covered with puff paste? No pigeons were harmed in the making.

“Mock Mayonnaise” is featured in the “Home Comfort Cook Book”, published by the Wrought Iron Range Co. of St. Louis, about 1933. The constituents were milk, butter, eggs, sugar, vinegar, flour and salt. The recipe indicates that, while not “true mayonnaise”, it might be used in an emergency, as a substitute. What “emergency” might require a hurried batch of mock mayo? I should point out that on the preceding page of the cookbook is a recipe for “True Mayonnaise”.

Few of us have probably had ready access to turtles for turtle soup, thus “Imitation Mock-Turtle Soup” is found in “Cookery Illustrated and Household Management”, published in London around 1936 and edited by Elizabeth Craig. The turtle substitute is meat stock (some cookbooks specific a calves head!), with various spices, flour, etc. Forcemeat balls are made of butter, flour and breadcrumbs, fried briefly and dumped into the soup. This recipe is really a mock-up of a mock soup, being “Imitation Mock” soup. The Campbell Soup Company once produced canned mock turtle soup made of calf’s head. Not sure where that one went.

Campbell's Mock Turtle Soup Can

Campbell’s Mock Turtle Soup Can

Ever had chicken salad without chicken? Well, according to the “Pictorial Review Cook Book”, of 1933, you could just use veal and pork instead for “Mock Chicken Salad”. You could also have “Mock Indian Pudding” (it had no real Indians). And, if real lobster was too pricey at the time, you could squeak by with “Mock Lobster Salad”, made with cold boiled halibut. Not unlike the pseudo-crab we find in frozen blocks at the grocery store these days, or served at sushi restaurants.

“The Good Housekeeping Cook Book”, edited by Dorothy Marsh, and published in 1949 features “Mock Salmon Salad”. You couldn’t make more of a mockery of salmon than this recipe does: the ingredients are carrots, walnuts, green pepper, pickle relish, scallions, sugar, salt, pepper, lemon juice and mayo! In 1963, in her cookbook, “Martha Dixon’s Copper Kettle Cook Book”, the author also has a recipe for “Mock Chicken”, once again, with slices of steak, ground veal, ground pork and spices.

Then there is “City Chicken”, which typically uses scraps of various meats to simulate a chicken drumstick around a skewer of some sort. During the Depression, in many parts of the country pork was much cheaper than chicken, especially in cities, which were far removed from rural poultry farms, thus it became known as “City Chicken”.

I still cannot grasp how crackers can taste like apples, how ground pork and veal can taste like chicken, and how lamb can taste like duck. Do carrots, walnuts and pickle relish really resemble salmon to the taste buds? Did they think we wouldn’t notice? Were our taste receptors so bad? Perhaps the authors of these recipes were mocking the eaters by trying to see if they could ascertain the contents of the dish. Undoubtedly, many “mock” recipes reflect shortages (such as during wartime, which seems to be all the time), economic crises (which also seems to be all the time), access to rural markets, etc.

The bottom line is let the eater beware: what is on your plate may not be all it’s quacked up to be.

About vintagecookbookery

Cookbook lover and collector with a burgeoning collection of cookbooks. Reading and researching food trends, history of cooking techniques and technological advances in cooking, what we eat and why and cookbooks as reflectors of cultures is a fascination for me. As of November 7th, 2013, I hold the current Guinness World Record title for the largest collection of cookbooks: 2,970 at the official count on July 14th, 2013 (applaud now, thank you very much!) The current (unofficial) number is now 6,500. What next? More shelves?
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4 Responses to When is a Duck not a Duck ?

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  2. Ladyfair says:

    What an interesting post, I ended up here because I wanted to know more about mock duck. I once watched a documentary about war time rationing and it explained some mock dishes were merely intended to look like the animal and not taste that way. It’s more of a decorative thing I guess. Still, many of the recipes you mentioned sound gross, why not enjoy pork as pork and Ritz crackers with cheese?

  3. My brother recommended I might like this web site. He was entirely right. This post actually made my day. You cann’t imagine just how much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

  4. trkingmomoe says:

    Thanks for reading my recipes on City Chicken. Actually it is quite good. Oh and chicken don’t have much flavor any more because of the way they are raised now.

    Corn oysters are still being made in the south. My father loved them and would ask them to be made for dinner. The name for the fried corn patties goes all the way back to the civil war. Soldiers made them out of dried corn that they soaked. Canned oysters was a staple in the soldiers rations. So they just called the corn patties oysters too.

    Poultry was very expensive for people to by and so cooks who could not afford that would get creative for special occasion. They bought and cooked what they could afford. You didn’t run to the store when you ran out of things. so you learned to substitute.

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