Food in Classic Fiction: The Hardy Boys (1927-1979)


Over the weekend, my husband and I were browsing around a great little antiques store and discovered a semi-complete, musty-smelling hardcover set of The Hardy Boys adventures, from a 1960s printing (here's a list of all the titles).  I was delighted, especially since I didn’t have to lug the 30-pound box of mystery novels out to the car myself.

I had a total crush on the Hardy Boys as a kid.  I mean, what’s not to love?  Frank and Joe Hardy are handsome, impeccably dressed (neatly-pressed slacks, collared shirts, and ties), and drive their own motorcycles (safely). They have a vintage motorboat, the Sleuth.  They’re brave, polite, helpful to their father, respectful to their mother, and never swear (the closest they come to using bad language is when they utter quaint exclamations like “Good night!” and “Why, the cheap so-and-so!”).  They seem delighted to attend “Bayport High School" and do their homework, and their chief ambition in life (aside from running their own detective agency like their father does) is to attend university when they graduate.  They have pretty but rather two-dimensional girlfriends, who are patient and understanding (when they get left in a cloud of dust as the boys roar off on their motorcycles to investigate another crime, which is often).  They have a “band of brothers” in town: young men who are all similarly talented, athletic, and own motorcycles, speed boats, and hot rods, and who are always ready to jump into another adventure and help the Hardy Boys catch the bad guys.

Their mother, Mrs. Laura Hardy, has nerves of steel.  She is the utter opposite of the modern “helicopter” parent…the word “overprotective” is not even in her vocabulary.  As her sons (and husband Fenton) get themselves threatened, kidnapped, shot at, knocked unconscious, attacked by wolves, and so on, she continues to smile placidly throughout the entire original series.  That’s a long time to keep it together and still say brightly, “Be safe, dear!” knowing full well that they [probably] won’t be safe at all.

In addition to having a preternaturally calm demeanor, Mrs. Hardy is a darn good cook, always sending the boys on their adventures with delicious, homemade picnic lunches.  Here, then, is a small sampling of the tasty fare Mrs. Hardy prepares for her sleuths:

In The Tower Treasure (1927), we meet Mrs. Hardy, a “petite, pretty woman,” stuffing a large roaster chicken in her well-appointed Bayport kitchen (the author, who I’ll get to in a minute, spends more time describing the Hardy home than he does describing Mother Hardy).  The picnic lunches she packs for the boys and their friends include chicken sandwiches, “thick roast beef sandwiches,” deviled eggs, and homemade cookies.  A pre-sleuthing breakfast, which Mrs. Hardy gets up extra-early to prepare, consists of “hot applesauce, oatmeal, poached eggs on toast, and cocoa.” 

In The Missing Chums (1928), Mrs. Hardy serves the family a “delicious chicken dinner” (chicken seems to be her specialty). By this point, Mother is sharing the kitchen with her cantankerous sister-in-law, “Aunt Gertrude,” who becomes a near-permanent guest at the Hardy Home throughout the rest of the original series.  For breakfast, Mrs. Hardy serves the boys “a stack of steaming, golden-brown pancakes.”  Aunt Gertrude follows her into the dining room with “a block of yellow butter and a tall pitcher of maple syrup.  ‘There are more cakes on the griddle,’ she said. ‘You need your strength!’” 

In The Disappearing Floor (1940), the long-suffering Mrs. Hardy is still doggedly dishing up breakfast, this time “bacon, eggs, and homemade muffins.” 

In The Flickering Torch Mystery (1943) Mrs. Hardy (who never got much in the way of dialog or descriptive adjectives, poor thing) has taken a back seat in her own kitchen.  By now, we witness Aunt Gertrude doing most of the talking (and cooking) for both of them. Aunt Gertrude, a “maiden lady of uncertain years and unpredictable temper,” bakes cookies and serves lunches of roast beef sandwiches and apple pie. Her cookies even win the endorsement of Frank and Joe’s best friend, the food-loving Chet Morton:

When they reached home, they found a visitor in the kitchen.  A fat, red-cheeked, roly-poly youth was sitting beside the table, within convenient reach of a jar of Aunt Gertrude’s cookies.  His mouth was full, and he was munching placidly.  ‘Now these cookies,’ he was saying to the woman, ‘are very like some my grandma baked last year.  She entered them in a contest at the State Fair.’ He took a gingersnap from the jar and examined it critically.  ‘Yes, this looks exactly the same as hers.’  He popped it into his mouth. ‘Tastes the same, too—except that these are better.  Don’t tell my grandma I said that, though,’ he grinned.

In The Mystery of the Spiral Bridge (1966), Mother appears briefly at the beginning of the novel, only to say brilliantly, “I had a strong feeling this case would prove unusually dangerous when Fenton agreed to accept it.”  Hear, hear.  Aunt Gertrude is still commandeering the kitchen and doing (almost) all the talking: “Don’t be late for supper!  she ordered.  ‘We’re having lamb stew and I don’t want it to get cold!’  ‘Aunty,’ Joe said, ‘we’re never late for lamb stew.’”

And there ends my new collection of old Hardy Boys mysteries, but of course Grosset & Dunlap continued the series through 1979, after which point the thread of the story was continued by other publishers through 2005.    

A word about the author, as promised:  Franklin W. Dixon did a whole lot of writing, for being…nobody!  Many different (real) authors wrote under the pen name “Franklin W. Dixon,” among them the Canadian author Leslie McFarlane, who wrote 22 of The Hardy Boys mysteries.  According to Mr. McFarlane’s daughter, he regarded the books as just a way to pay the bills (he made roughly $85 per book during the Depression, to support his family).  Said his daughter, "They'd give him an outline, but to make it palatable, he'd come up with different characters and add color and use large words, and inject his wonderful sense of humour [sic]. And then he'd finish and say, 'I will never write another juvenile book.' But then the bills would pile up and he'd start another."

The Hardy Boys series will wet your appetite for action, adventure, and good, old-fashioned cooking!