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Book Review: The Wonder Bread Cookbook
An Inventive and Unexpected Recipe Collection
Tanya A. Brown

Quick: What is your earliest or fondest memory of Wonder Bread? Mine is of the polka-dotted bracelets and necklaces my mother would cut from the plastic wrappers. I don't remember eating the bread (although I later became fond of squashing it into lumps) but to this day I remember playing with Wonder Bread "jewelry".

My father was famous for budget-stretching measures such as diluting fresh milk with powdered, so buying a name brand like Wonder Bread was a minor luxury in our house. Evidently we weren't alone in our fondness for the extremely squishable loaf; it was and is immensely popular, currently selling more than 127 million loaves per year.

Introduced in 1921, Wonder has been with us more than 85 years. (Amazingly enough, it's still soft and unwrinkled.) In honor of the bread's 85th anniversary, Wonder put out a call for recipes and collected fifty of the best - and in some cases oddest - in "The Wonder Bread Cookbook". The book also includes selected vintage recipes served at the 1934 Chicago World's Fair, a brief history of the noble loaf, and a nostalgic assortment of advertisements.

Having regarded Wonder as fodder only for toast or sandwiches, I was startled to learn of the ways that cooks across the country have been rolling, flattening, grinding and otherwise prodding it into shape. Consider the Bread Ball recipe, which requires removing the crusts from two slices of bread then wadding the bread up into balls. I might have absent-mindedly done this in grade school for its entertainment value, but serving the slightly grimy result up as a snack or light hors d'oeuvre is an act of sheer genius.

Wonder Bread cookiesIf that isn't elegant enough for you, how about another entry in the tortured bread category, Cinnamon Wonder Waffles? Simply by smashing slices into a waffle iron, you too can transform the modest white loaf into a kid-pleasing carrier of butter and sugar! Who flattens Wonder Bread and serves it up as a pie crust, strudel dough or as crepes? People who are desperate, creative or deranged, or perhaps all three at once. When dinner guests are coming and you lack an essential ingredient, it seems, you reach for what is handy: the good old loaf of Wonder. In some cases the substitution was so successful that it became permanent.

The recipes aren't all a result of impromptu substitutions, though. Many are pure comfort food, albeit sometimes of the peculiar variety. For example, there's the Wonder Easter Egg Sandwich, whose filling is comprised of sliced, leftover candy eggs. The recipe's contributor tells us "This sandwich was 'invented' by my father, John E. Addis, when he was a boy. I enjoyed it as a child every Easter and have passed it along to my children. It's a family tradition." And a darned fine one, I think.

Of course, no cookbook about America's iconic white bread would be complete without the Grilled Baloney and Wonder, an updated version of the mayonnaise-slathered sandwich which made America's arteries harden. I could have sworn that there was nothing new that I could possibly learn about burning bologna in a pan, but I was wrong: it seems that the simple addition of a slit makes the bologna lie flat so that it doesn't have to be whacked into submission with a spatula. That knowledge alone is worth the price of the book! No bologna handy? Simply substitute potato chips and you have the Wonder Chip "Wich".

Vintage Wonder Bread adBeyond the humorous and peculiar, there are the recipes which actually sound sort of good to me: Wonder Bread blintzes, parmesan bread sticks, and bread puddings. One of the lessons to take away from this is that Wonder Bread can be anything, from silly to sublime. That's its virtue and its curse, to be so self-effacing and adaptable that it gets doused with soup and thrown in a casserole dish when company's coming.

Those who prefer to keep their bread confined to sandwiches will enjoy the book's history and campy vintage ads. We learn that the colorful dots on the wrapper were inspired by hot air balloons, and that Wonder was the first major brand to distribute sliced bread. Ads are sprinkled throughout the text; the ones depicting the overblown World's Fair-era Wonder bakeries are especially nice.

Wonder Bread may be the iconic "white food", an emblem of American blandness and conformity, but fortifying a popular food with vitamins and minerals made a real contribution to nutrition in the U.S. And that might be the greatest thing since ... well, you know.

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