I Dream Of Jeannie: The Food That Fed The Sitcom's Humour
Image Credit: Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman in I Dream Of Jeannie

BARBARA EDEN turns 92 today, but for scores of ‘90s kids in India who grew up watching reruns of her classic 1960s sitcom I Dream Of Jeannie (alongside Bewitched, of course!) — and audiences across generations in other parts of the world — the actress’ image is eternally cast in the mould of the irrepressible, vivacious, magical protagonist Jeannie.

I Dream of Jeannie aired from 1965 to 1970, revolving around the shenanigans of Jeannie and her ‘master’, a NASA-employed astronaut — and Thoroughly Regular Human — Captain Anthony Nelson (Larry Hagman). Eden’s pink harem pants and short red jacket and veil became a signature Jeannie ‘look’, while the character’s penchant for bringing magic into earthly situations — all accomplished with a determined folding of her arms, a nod and a blink — often led to a comedy of errors. Of course, Jeannie always had good intentions, but with her limited understanding of human affairs, and the need to keep her magical identity under wraps at all costs, the straitlaced Tony had a lot to handle.

Food fit right into this magical, comic world of Jeannie, often as a part of a bizarre set-up. On Barbara Eden’s birthday, we’re doing a quick sampling of some of these morsels across I Dream Of Jeannie’s five seasons.

Guess What Happened on the Way to the Moon? (Season 1, Episode 3)

When Tony and his friend Roger are assigned to undergo a desert survival mission, Jeannie decides to help her master out — despite his obvious reluctance. First, she creates a spring from which Tony can fill his depleted water bottle and quench his thirst. Next, she sets him up in a luxurious tent even as she tends to a campfire and cooking pout just outside, preparing what looks like a comforting broth or soup. Later, she serves him a portion in a bowl, but is made to magick everything back into oblivion by Tony. Roger, meanwhile, is at a loss to understand how Tony has come off the mission in relatively good shape while he had such a tough time of it.

My Master, the Swinging Bachelor (Season 2 Episode 30)

Tony invites Dr Alfed Bellows, his wife, and Roger for a meal at his home, and hires a pretty caterer to prepare and serve a Continental repast. However, miffed at not being among the dinner guests — and believing that Tony is attracted to the caterer — Jeannie interferes with the meal prep. A standout sequence is when Jeannie, who’s made herself tiny enough to hide on a kitchen shelf, kicks cubes of sugar — football-style — into a pot of sauce bubbling on the stove, and causes chaos with her liberal infusion of salt and spices into the other dishes whenever the caterer’s back is turned!

Please Don't Give My Jeannie No More Wine (Season 5 Episode 15)

As dinner parties go, this one — which sees Jeannie and Tony as guests at the Bellows’ home — seems pretty average. Until, the wine that Jeannie’s brought along as a gift for her hosts begins to kick in. This particular vintage has the power to turn the drinker invisible — leading to some classic hijinks as Tony and Jeannie try to pretend that everything is normal with a capital N.

Never Put a Genie on a Budget (Season 5 Episode 14)

When Tony gets his new bride Jeannie to adopt a strict household budget, the timing couldn’t be worse. NASA asks Tony to host a visiting Russian cosmonaut — a Major Gregorian — for a home-cooked dinner. Jeannie, wanting to follow Tony’s instructions to the T, serves the distinguished visitor stale bread! As the men club and pound the rock-like bread, hoping to break off a piece, she presents the next course on a cloche-covered platter. Alas, it merely turns out to be a solitary apple, which she cuts into half and serves Tony and Gregorian.

My Master, The Chili King (Season 5 Episode 26)

Tony’s chili is renowned for being finger-lickin’ good, and when his cousin Arvel comes visiting, he hatches a devious plan to get Jeannie to commercially market the recipe. Jeannie’s on board — but there’s just one hiccough: NASA doesn’t allow its employees to endorse any products. The scene has some pretty scrumptious descriptions of a menu Arvel conceptualises, quite apart from the minutiae of his shady plan.

Jeannie and the Marriage Caper (Season 1 Episode 4)

In an early sequence, when Tony’s fiancee and her father are expected for a meal at his place, Jeannie offers to cook a proper human meal. Cue: burnt food packaging and much worse! Things are made to look civilised just in the nick of time.

Jeannie and the Wild Pipchicks (Season 4 Episode 2)

This episode shunned the usual gimmicks that ensued from Jeannie putting her spin on otherwise everyday situations involving food-and-drink and had an actual magical dish instead: pipchicks. When Jeannie’s mother sends her a batch of her homemade candy — “pipchicks” — Dr Bellows ends up eating one and experiencing its side effect: extraordinary physical strength. He insists that Tony make a new batch for NASA’s dietician to examine. Jeannie persuades her mother to part with the recipe to help Tony, but the new lot of pipchicks have an even stranger impact!