Secrets of the M*A*S*H Mess: The Lost Recipes of Private Igorby Jeff Maxwell
Cumberland House 2007
ISBN 978-1888952414268 pages + TV photos and letters
In 1950, a country bumpkin named Igor Straminsky answered his country’s call to duty and, as an unwitting Army private, soon found himself in the most hostile environment that the planet could ever serve up. No, we’re not talking about Korea. We’re talking about the men and women of the 4077th, who queued up three times a day with plastic trays, growling stomachs, and growing suspicions that they’d more likely meet their deaths at the inept hands of their new cook than they ever would in confrontations with the enemy they’d come to fight.
“Dear Ma,” Igor wrote home, “Instead of letting me work at something I’m good at, they’re gonna make me do a job I don’t know anything about! Radar, the company clerk here, told me that he thinks the Army does that on purpose.”
Still, a job was a job and the beleaguered young private wasn’t going to let the ongoing sarcasm of Captain Hawkeye Pierce dampen his spirits.
Hawkeye: “It’s inhuman to serve the same food day after day. The Geneva Convention prohibits the killing of our taste buds.”
Suffice it to say, Igor had plenty of time to hone his craft (such as it was). His stint in a mess tent chef’s hat, in fact, lasted 8 years longer than the actual Korean War. When the hit television series M*A*S*H finally bowed out in 1983, almost 125 million viewers tuned in to say goodbye, the largest audience ever for a TV show.
“Ma! I’m sure you’ve heard the news…IT’S OVER! I’ll probably be home by the time you get this letter but I wanted to write it anyway. I’ll make everybody dinner when I get there but could somebody else please serve it?”
Fortunately, Igor’s efforts to please the palate weren’t left behind on a helicopter pad. His alter ego—Hollywood actor/writer/entrepreneur Jeff Maxwell—has compiled the best of Igor's mess tent magic into a hilarious book entitled “Secrets of the M*A*S*H Mess: The Lost Recipes of Private Igor.”
Testimonial from Colonel Potter: “There seems to be a misconception here—those recipes weren’t lost! We did our best to hide them.”
Within these wacky pages--which are replete with black and white production stills, “dog-tag” quotes, and letters home—the author not only gives us generous dollops of homegrown culinary advice but demonstrates a talent for memorializing his Army experiences and friendships with his own brand of signature recipes:
Hawkeye and Trapper’s Swamp Spaghetti
Winchester’s Upper Crusted Chicken
Hot Lips Tri-Tips
Pork Choppers with Barbeque Sauce
Radar’s Teddy Bear Turkey Loaf
The Colonel’s Kernel Stew
Toasted Tank Tuna
Hunnicut’s Homesick Cookies
Intravenous Drip Dip
Igorism: “Hawkeye told me he went to school for twelve years to be a doctor. I trained in boot camp for eight weeks to become a soldier. It sure takes a lot more time to learn how to save a life than how to end one.”
As clueless as Igor seemed to be whilst unveiling inventive concoctions such as “Cream of Weenie Soup” or “Hot Potato Pucks”, he shows remarkable clarity in laying out instructions that are fun and easy to follow. Whether you’re mustering your troops off to work or school with “Frontline Flapjacks with Chocolate Gravy”, settling in for an evening flick with “Movie Night Popcorn Shrimp,” or dazzling your next book club group with “Forward Marsh Melts”, there’s no denying that Igor knows what it takes to please picky eaters.
Igor: “Peas or carrots, Sir?”Hawkeye: “Oh, a little of each will be fine.”Igor: “Good, because I don’t know which is which.”
He has also included a short section on drinks, including “Pre-Op Novocaine Shake”, “Swamp Swill Martini” and “Suicide is Painless”, the latter popularized in song for both the original film and the TV series.
Testimonial from Hawkeye Pierce: “Can’t wait to try the recipes. There are several people I’m trying to kill.”
In real life, by the way, Maxwell is the inventor/purveyor of a kicky Bloody Mary Mix called Chico Rico™ which won a People’s Preference Award in the 2003 International Zesty Foods Show. The mix, which he describes as “Lip Smackin’ Fire & Spice”, is available at Bristol Farms or through his website at http://www.chicorico.biz/order.html.
While dinner is cooking, TV trivia fans will find themselves well entertained with Maxwell’s behind-the-scenes anecdotes, as well the convoluted journey that took this affable actor from the bowels of the Print Department at 20th Century Fox to stand-up comedy to the elation of playing a character with an actual name on a hit series instead of just a credit as “Soldier 1”. The proliferation of candid shots suggest the slap-dash happiness of an overgrown kid who has not only found himself at the summer camp of a lifetime but in the thick of new friendships destined to last forever.
Hotlips: “I thought you might enjoy being the Charity Officer for me. You’d be so good at it.”BJ: “Oh really?”Hotlips: “You have such a nice smile. Not liking you is the same as not liking a collie.”
Last but not least are the bittersweet tugs of nostalgia which remind us that the 4077th wasn’t just Igor’s family and his home-away-from-home but a weekly part of our own family as well.
“Dear Ma, We all just found out that Colonel Blake gets to go home. Lucky guy—sure wish I was gonna be on the plane with him!”
In the third season finale, "Abyssinia, Henry", marking actor McLean Stevenson’s departure from the cast, viewers will recall the heart-stopping moment when a stunned Radar announced that Colonel Blake’s plane had been shot down en route to Japan. There were no survivors.
It was moments like this that reminded us of what good writing can be. And it’s books like “Secrets of the M*A*S*H Mess” that demonstrate Private Straminsky has a definite calling in top brass cuisine.
Reviewer Christina Hamlett, a former actress and director, is an award winning author and script coverage consultant for the film industry. Her credits to date include 22 books, 118 plays and musicals, 4 optioned feature films, and columns/interviews that appear throughout the world. She and her gourmet chef husband, Mark Webb, reside in Pasadena, California.