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I Can’t Help Falling in Love With Elvis Cookbooks

During quarantine, an unlikely source of comfort has emerged in my aunt’s collection of Elvis-inspired cookbooks

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No object is immune from Elvis-ification. The king’s face has been plastered on nearly every household item, from pillows to (somehow unironically) toilet paper. For cooking paraphernalia, Graceland offers a collection of kitchen tchotchkes for diehard fans, in addition to the Elvis-themed pot holders, cutting boards, and spoons on Amazon and Etsy. If you want to really bring the king of rock and roll into your kitchen, though, pick up one of the cookbooks. An entire cottage industry of Elvis “themed” cookbooks, most written by his former personal cooks or relatives banking on the Presley last name, popped up decades after Elvis’s death. The titles include The Wonder of You: The Elvis Fans Cookbook (1984) and The Wonder of You Volume II (1986), The Presley Family & Friends Cookbook (1998), The I Love Elvis Cookbook (1998), From Elvis’ Kitchen to Yours (2002), All Cooked Up (2005), The Presley Family Cookbook (2013), and easily the best title, Are You Hungry Tonight? (1992).

I probably listen to Elvis more than the average millennial, but I’m no superfan. Despite that, a copy of that last one sat idle on my kitchen shelf in Brooklyn for years, gifted to me by an aunt who went through “a phase.” But while trapped at my family home in Los Angeles, I have recently found myself drawn to another title my aunt passed on, Fit for a King: The Elvis Presley Cookbook (1992). To cook from the book is to step back into the “simpler time” of midcentury America — or at least, a ’90s author’s vision of that simpler time — one peppered with the feelings that come with a collection of family recipes, foods passed down a few generations with rough instructions and eyeballed measurements. Like the re-surging victory garden trend that has inspired Americans to turn their anxiety into something actionable, it’s one means of comfort.

But, unlike a victory garden, which you probably want to show off on social media, quarantining with Elvis offers the perfect excuse to eat like no one is watching. Like many people, I’m turning to rich food choices for comfort during this crisis, a task made all the easier by Fit for a King. The book reflects Elvis’s notorious appetite and hedonistic taste for fried and sugar-laden treats, and coaxes readers to make heaving dishes like an aggressive grandmother pushing seconds and thirds onto your plate without asking. During everyday life, when chickpeas and roasted veggies rule my diet, it’s hard to justify pouring gravy on breaded salt pork fried in bacon fat. After being cooped up for weeks, though, I say pass the gravy boat.

Fit for a King takes inspiration from descriptions of meals in professional biographies and firsthand accounts from Alvena Roy, the star’s cook for years, who provided some of the recipes. There are six ways to prepare pork chops, nine casseroles, nearly a dozen dips filled with cream cheese and mayo, and a whole lot of bacon and potatoes. A few dishes, like the peanut butter and banana sandwich (listed among the mains and served sans bacon), are drawn from Presley’s regular diet, but many come from one-off anecdotes — a particular Christmas dinner, a wedding feast, the time the Beatles stopped by for a midnight snack ( they supposedly enjoyed chicken livers wrapped in bacon, meatballs, deviled eggs, and fresh crab).

The recipes are less like fine-tuned formulas and more like inspirational starting points, making cooking fun again, even in the middle of a crisis. They tend to be hit or miss (like other Elvis books I’ve come across, Fit for a King tends to emphasize lore over basic cooking logistics). The batter for fried cheese balls, for example, is impossibly gloopy and far too loose to roll in breadcrumbs, but a persistent cook (who rolls and rolls until a ball-ish thing forms) will find the results more consistent and lighter than expected, a perfect treat-yourself snack. Bacon-almond dip (cream cheese, sour cream, crumbled bacon, slivered almonds, scallions, hot sauce) combines the forces of an A-Team of umami flavors, as long as you let it come to room temp (straight out of the fridge, it’s thick enough to break a stalk of celery in half). After trying fried chicken breaded in pancake mix, which creates an incredible shattering crust, I plan to make it that way forever. I may even whip up a peanut butter and banana sandwich again when I need “Love Me Tender”-level comfort.

When health officials are urging everyone to stock enough food for weeks, we should all aspire to a pantry like the one at Graceland. According to Fit for a King, Elvis’s kitchen was well stocked at all times with ground meat, a case each of Pepsi and “orange drinks,” Brown ‘n’ Serve hot rolls, at least six cans of biscuits, hamburger buns, pickles, potatoes, onions, assorted fruit, canned sauerkraut, “wieners,” three bottles of milk and half & half, bacon, banana pudding “to be made each night,” mustard, peanut butter, fresh orange juice, “ingredients for meat loaf and sauce,” brownies, ice cream, shredded coconut, fudge cookies, and gum (“spearmint, Doublemint, Juicy Fruit — three of each”).

The list seems a little too long on sweets and a little too short on alcohol (Elvis preferred milkshakes to booze), and I kindly disagree with Elvis on soda preferences. Otherwise, I love most of these foods: If Elvis came out of hiding wherever he is and joined me under California’s shelter-in-place order, I think we’d ride out the pandemic together with minimal fights in the kitchen.

Still, when shelter-in-place orders are lifted, restaurants reopen to provide customers with their triple-bacon fix, and healthyish home cooking trends spring back to life, it’ll be time for the Elvis cookbooks to go back on the shelf. But for a few months, stuck at home, go ahead and eat like a king.

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