February 19, 2013
Is "Bull Cook" the Greatest Cookbook Ever?
By David Draper
Among hunters of a certain age, George Herter is known as something of a mad genius, a marketer of sporting goods who obliterated the line between salesman and showman. Herter’s catalogs from the ’50s and ’60s were held in high regard by sportsmen for their over-the-top descriptions touting Herter’s products as without equal in the world, along with rambling essays covering such diverse topics as how to sharpen a knife to surviving a nuclear winter.
In my formative writing years spent cranking copy for Cabela’s, our then-CEO Dennis Highby, who spent his own formative years working for George Herter, often referred to the Herter’s catalog as the pinnacle of the art. I like to think I have a small thread of that florid style running through me, for better or worse.
In addition to George Herter’s contribution to catalog copywriting, he was also a prolific book author, turning out rambling tomes with brilliant titles such as "How to Get Out of the Rat Race and Live on $10 a Month," "Professional Guide Manual," and, my personal, all-time favorite title (if not actual contents), "How to Live With a Bitch." Of Herter’s books, the only one I actually own is "Bull Cook and Other Authentic and Historical Recipes," gifted to me by outdoor writer Keith “Catfish” Sutton. Catfish is a raconteur in his own right and a man who’s not afraid to cook up such delicacies as raccoon and beaver tail, so he knows a good cookbook when he sees it.
For those of you who haven’t thumbed through a copy of "Bull Cook," you owe it to yourself to dig one up. Every once in a while you’ll stumble across Herter’s books at used bookstores, but Amazon also has collector’s copies if you must have one now. The book runs a shade over 380 pages filled top to bottom with Herter’s signature ramblings covering the gambit of recipes, cooking tips, (dubious) historical facts, and everything from advice on how to buy wieners to the origins of the Hangtown Fry.
Herter and his wife Berthe were consummate travelers in an age when traveling was a luxury, and he relates many anecdotes about dining everywhere from Café du Mond to Ivar’s in Seattle, studding them with “secret” recipes and inside information that Herter delivers in the hushed tones belying the mood of the American people at the height of the Cold War.
Bull Cook is an odd blend of hilarity and head-scratchers, with a gem of a tip that shows up every now and then. I could write for days about some of the highlights, but I’ll leave you with a few of the last lines in the book, listed under the header:
“In Case of a Hydrogen Bomb Attack You Must Know The Ways of the Wilderness to Survive.”
“Have 5 one-pound cans of tobacco. This is your fortune.”