When you hear about a product being recalled by the manufacturer, it typically is a device with a defective part, a toy that is a choking hazard, or food that has become contaminated. How often have you heard of a book being recalled? What if we told you it happened because of the risks of explosion?
In November 1977, Random House released Woman’s Day Crockery Cuisine. It was a cookbook containing numerous recipes to be made in a crockpot.
Pages 230 and 231 featured a recipe for “Silky Caramel Slices.” The recipe was described as “a remarkable sweet, super-rich and exotic. No one will ever guess its origins.”
What no one would have guessed was that it was a recipe for disaster. The instructions called for the cook to put an unopened can of condensed milk in the crock, “Cover and cook 4 hours on High.” If you followed those instructions, you would, indeed, get something remarkable and exotic, but not in any way you would expect. About two hours after completing these steps, the can would blow up, sending the glass shards of the crockpot cover all over your kitchen.
The problem arose from omitting an important step in the recipe. You are also supposed to add water to surround the can. Without this crucial step, the superheated condensed milk becomes over-pressurized, and what should have been a sweet snack turns into an injury-laden nightmare.
Six months after the book’s release, Random House heard from a startled cook who fortunately was in another room when her crockpot blew to smithereens. After a hurried investigation, the publishing company issued a special bulletin under the heading: “URGENT NEWS: PUBLIC HAZARD WARNING.”
“The condensed milk can could explode and scatter the lid and liner of the crockery cooker,” the bulletin warned. “Random House urges that the recipe be obliterated with crayon or black-ink marker. It will be omitted from the book in any future reprints.”
The company issued a recall of the cookbook, resulting in the first —and thus far only — time a cookbook was recalled due to the risk that one of the recipes “could cause a serious explosion.”
The May 25, 1978, Chicago Tribune included an article about the recall. Marilynn Marter wrote, “The conditions that have made this underground recipe successful and therefore popular, especially with children, are water and temperature. By being heated in boiling water, the temperature of the can and milk do not exceed the boiling point. After a few hours of this, the sugared milk turns to a caramel pudding. In the Crockpot, however, especially without water, the temperature can build up rather like a pressure cooker. That was the most immediate cause of the problem.”
We have read this paragraph several times, and we’re still unclear about what the writer meant when she said the recipe was popular “especially with children.” Is it the resultant caramel pudding when things go well, or was she suggesting that Chicago children took special delight in being able to create improvised explosive devices in their own homes? Either way, it might behoove Random House to include a few words in all of its cookbooks about the need for adult supervision in the kitchen.
We have been unable to find the original recipe for the Silky Caramel Slices, but with a little bit of sleuthing, we think we have come up with something pretty close to what was intended. In any event, it sure sounds good. We reprint it here in its non-explosive form.
And by the way… Parents, please keep an eye on your kids, particularly if you live in Chicago.
NON-EXPLOSIVE SILKY CARAMEL SLICES
Condensed milk caramel
2 cans sweetened condensed milk in slow cooker covered in water for 5-8 hours on LOW depending on your slow cooker. Then cool for a few hours afterwards.
1 cup of plain flour
1/2 cup brown sugar & desiccated coconut
1/2 cup melted butter
Combine Base ingredients to form a crumbly mix. Press into lined tray. Bake for 15 – 20 mins till golden brown at 180 degrees.
While the Base is in the oven, warm contents of the 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk in a saucepan until runny enough to pour.
Pour over Base. Return to oven for 15 minutes.
Allow to cool to room temperature. May put in freezer for 30 minutes to speed this step.
Melt 2 blocks of chocolate and pour over top. Spread evenly and chill in refrigerator until firm.
Report any incidents of explosions to appropriate authorities. Otherwise, enjoy.