All posts filed under: Food History

Ann Seranne: America’s #1 Expert on Blender Cookery

In 1961, Ann Seranne and Eileen Gaden, both former Gourmet Magazine editors, published The Blender Cookbook to rave reviews. Not at all gimmicky, the cookbook was heralded by Craig Claiborne as an inspired, functional, and welcome resource, penned by “probably the world’s leading authorities on what a blender will and will not do.” Not only the nation’s top blender cookery expert, Seranne wrote more than two dozen cookbooks, published mostly in the 1960s and 1970s. A woman with dual passions, she also bred champion Yorkshire terriers—who ate very well and loved garlic. Her name also buzzed among foodies a few years ago, when Amanda Hesser revived Seranne’s 1966 rib roast of beef recipe in a “recipe redux” in the New York Times. Read more about this lesser known cookbook author in my most recent Zester piece, “How the Blender Was Elevated to a Kitchen Staple,” and enjoy this image gallery, an ode to the humble blender.  

Nika Hazelton’s 1963 Rules for Judging Cookbooks

People buy cookbooks for a variety of reasons. They look pretty on the bookshelf. Even better on the coffee table, depending on the book, a topic of culinary conspicuous consumption I discussed in a round table at the 2013 Cookbook Conference. Cookbooks can be fun to collect. Cookbooks represent skills we hope to learn or wish to have, meals we desire to eat, people we aspire to be. For well known cookbook author and writer Nika (Standen) Hazelton, however, there was only one reason to buy a cookbook: to cook from it, damn it. [I’m not sure if she would approve of such phrasing, but one of her cookbooks was titled, I Cook As I Please, so I might not be too far off.] The author of thirty cookbooks and innumerable articles for major food newspapers and magazines, Hazelton had little patience for those who purchased cookbooks as “escapist literature.” Instead, in a 1963 article in the New York Times, she laid out in black and white exactly how one ought to judge if a cookbook was up to snuff. Check …

Trader Vic: The Man, The Legend, The Gastronomic Enigma

When I first acquired a copy of Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink (1946), I knew it wouldn’t be long before I wrote something about it. There’s a tangible excitement to owning a first edition of something, anything. In an age of inescapable planned obsolescence, it’s mildly thrilling to own something, anything from before 1950. As I flipped through the book’s pages, I couldn’t help but be interested in its recipes for mai tais and mojitos—drinks now so unquestionably commonplace that it’s hard to imagine a time when they once cast an allure of intriguing exoticism. Drinks aside, however, it was Trader Vic himself—San Francisco native, Victor Bergeron Jr.—who enthralled and beguiled me. My most recent piece for Zester Daily, “Trader Vic: The Apostle of Rum and Ready-Prepared Foods,” explores the fact and myth, truth and legend of the man who purportedly invented the mai tai, popularized the margarita and nachos, and introduced American diners to morel mushrooms, sunflower seeds and green peppercorns before most restaurants included them on the menu. Adored by diners and well-respected by food writers and restaurant critics, Bergeron did all this …

Food History Roundup: 6 Posts on 1950s Convenience Cuisine

Titled, “Beef Fizz and Other Strange Recipes from the ’50s-’60s,” my most recent Zester Daily article was published last week, a short piece dedicated to my fascination with mid-century cuisine. Over the summer, I have indulged my mid-century penchant by picking up dozens of vintage cookbooks, including six more just last night! These cookbooks are mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, but some earlier in the twentieth century (I can’t wait to write about The Sunny Side of Life Book, published by the Kellogg Company in 1934) and some later (like Betty Crocker’s Family Dinners In a Hurry, whose fourteenth printing ran in 1980). It’s a borderline reckless hobby, adding more books to an already large collection of literature, public health texts, and food studies books, but I’m sure it’ll provide inspiration for many a blog post. I’ve already written a bit on convenience food, packaged-food cuisine, my love of Laura Shapiro’s Something from the Oven, and what food and cooking meant mid-century. Here’s a quick roundup in roughly chronologically historical order: 1. Wartime, Memorial Day … & Kraft American Cheese? Focusing on …

Archive Adventures #2: Wartime, Memorial Day … & Kraft American Cheese?

With the tagline, “Hanker No More!” this advertisement from my archive adventures at the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History at Duke University celebrates the return of not only America’s World War II heros, but of Kraft cheese products, like Kraft American cheese, Velveeta, and “Old English” Pasteurized Process Cheese, which were rationed on the home front. Ad copy commiserates with America’s housewives: “For a long time during the war, you couldn’t get an ounce of this mellow, smooth-melting cheese; since then a single package has been ‘a find.’” Now, however, the “cheddar goodness you’ve missed so long” has not only returned to supermarket shelves, but “is plentiful.” Furthermore, while an ounce was once impossible to procure, Kraft American cheese could now be purchased in a five-pound loaf or by the half pound (packaged in blue) if preferred. Such linguistic comparisons of weights and measures reveal some evidence of the food industry’s post-war aim to not only find domestic markets for wartime goods, but to increase consumption more generally. Finally, nearly all of the other advertisements that I collected for Kraft cheeses during the …

Archive Adventures #1: The Oh-So-Glamorous World of Velveeta & Cheez Whiz

Telling the story of how the food industry won over (albeit not immediately) the hearts and kitchens of America’s housewives, Laura Shapiro‘s Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America (2004) is hands down one of my favorite food history texts. I very truly geeked out when she signed my copy at the Siting Julia symposium in 2012. As “deliciously readable” as The New York Times Book Review claims it to be, this delightful book demonstrates how in the years following World War II, the food industry, women’s magazines, and the press alike attempted to sell housewives on convenience food products, emphasizing the technological wonderment and time saving attributes of frozen vegetables, canned meats, and complete frozen meals. I got a taste of this myself when I was researching the marketing of Kraft food products in the archives at the Hartman Center at Duke University last month. But first, let’s talk a little history. Despite the industry’s best efforts, food technology at first failed to capture housewives’ hearts or stomachs. Women who had utilized processed foods during wartime rationing did not desire to do so when …

From Domestic Space to Status Symbol: A Kitchen History Photo Essay

Later this week, I’ll be discussing not only trophy kitchens, but also the phenomenon of ornamental trophy cookbooks at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference. Just as I’ve explored the phenomenon of expensively outfitted kitchens that are then rarely used for cooking, the panel, “Cookbooks as Works of Art and Status Objects,” will explore cookbooks (such as Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook and Heston Blumenthal’s The Big Fat Duck Cookbook) that may find themselves more at home as coffee table art books than functional tools in the kitchen. And so on that note, please enjoy this photo essay of the evolution of the twenty-first-century trophy kitchen. UPDATE: Some content from this post appears in my article, “Not Just for Cooking Anymore: Exploring the Twenty-First Century Trophy Kitchen,” published in the Graduate Journal of Food Studies, Winter 2014, pages 1-8! Nancy Carlisle and Melinda Talbot Nasardinov straightforwardly define the kitchen in America’s Kitchens as: the domestic space where food is prepared…primarily an indoor space, the place where people go to chop, mix, roast, boil, and bake. Indeed, for hundreds of …

What’s Your Food Culture Type: June Cleaver or Hippie?

How Americans cook and eat is only in part about food. Much more of the story is told by the contextual details of the time. For example, the postwar era of the 1950s, crystalized in the pop culture image of June Cleaver, was characterized by marked changes in American life: more women entered the workforce; the middle class grew; car and home ownership increased; and the food industry, centralized by World War II, sought a civilian market for processed foods. Because of the amalgamative effect of these factors, packaged-food cuisine, such as the can-opener cooking proffered by Poppy Cannon, became popular. Following this decade of rapid consumerism and processed foods, a subset of Americans in the 1960s and 1970s — hippies! — viewed food in a reactionary way to those who came before them. Opposed to the high-speed and time-obsessed American lifestyle — not to mention panicked by war, conflict, and imminent ecological demise — the counterculture expressed their worldviews, like the 1950s generation before them, through food, adopting a distinctly anti-modern perspective. Today’s food views build upon the undulating …

Curating an Online Food Exhibit: “Making the Modern American Food System”

After studying the food views of second-wave feminists, the cuisines of the counterculture and the 1950s, and the foodways of turn-of-the century immigrants, Dr. Warren Belasco’s U.S. Food History course turned to specific histories of the industrial food system—from the Dust Bowl to the industrialization of milk production to the rise and triumph of refrigeration. At each stage, we pondered how these events, people, and institutions contributed to both America’s abundant, cheap food supply and the distancing of Americans from traditional food knowledge. The course culminated in our final project assignment: creating an online food exhibit dedicated to the creation of the modern American food system. And so I invite you to visit my online exhibit, “Making the Modern American Food System.”

Got Milk? Well, You Might Find 19th Century Politics in Your Glass

Marked with a logo depicting rolling green hills and blue skies, Garelick Farms dairy products are found in grocery stores across New England. Their “Dairy Pure” milk commercial often appears on television during the day while I work and study from my home in Brookline, Massachusetts. From its very name, Dairy Pure, this brand of milk promotes itself as a safe and perfect food. The commercial’s language and imagery are particularly interesting when analyzed alongside E. Melanie DuPuis’ Nature’s Perfect Food: How Milk Became America’s Drink. DuPuis tells the nineteenth-century story of how milk was transformed in the American conscious from a poison to a universally and naturally necessary, perfect food. The present day marketing for Dairy Pure milk also works to assuage fears about milk’s safety and promote milk’s place in the lives of mothers and children. DuPuis describes the high infant mortality rates of mid-nineteenth century America, which stirred many milk reformers into action. Increasing urbanization had caused changes in societal expectations and cultural norms for middle class women, as well as increased …

Curating the History of Freshness

In Fresh: A Perishable History, Susanne Freidberg chronicles the fascinating history of how refrigeration expanded the reach of the industrial food system, forever altering not only the world’s food supply, but also how consumers view freshness and conceptualize its meaning. She tells this story through a series of mini-histories focusing on specific foods: beef, eggs, fruit, vegetables, milk, and fish. In doing so, she reveals the many meanings of “fresh,” five of which are discussed in the following five images. 1. The Refrigerator Consumers once got along without refrigeration, shopping frequently and preserving food by canning, drying, and pickling. In fact, consumers were at first wary of refrigeration, though World War I marked a turning point. While meat and wheat were shipped to the warfront, American civilians were encouraged to consume fresh foods, unsuitable for shipment to soldiers. Consuming fresh produce, eggs, and dairy products were considered acts of both patriotism (as seen in this WWI food poster) and scientifically based health promotion, confirming the new place of these foods in the American diet and the role …

The Dust Bowl Isn’t Over -OR- How the iPhone Could Save American Agriculture

Many Americans view the Dust Bowl of the 1930s as merely a historical event, a long ago environmental and agricultural trauma that, along with the Great Depression, stains our collective history, but will never occur again. Such a point of view, however, is not only revisionist, but highly inaccurate. The determinants of the Dust Bowl are not isolated to the 1930s, nor are its effects secluded to the American plains. In Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (1979), Donald Worster posits that a combination of factors not only caused the Dust Bowl, but continue to derail agriculture worldwide: American values run amuck, capitalism ruling without restraint, farming taken over by business, and unstable agricultural policy hastily enacted. Worster argues that the Dust Bowl, as well as subsequent agricultural issues, are rooted in American values and unrestrained capitalism. Fueled by the sprit of Manifest Destiny, the desire for endless opportunity, and the promise of plenty, farmers during the Dust Bowl era exploited the land to the fullest extent possible, employing every available technology to ensure …

“It’s Always Summer-time in Your Kitchen:” Food Safety as Depicted in Home Refrigerator Advertising in the Interwar Years

What follows is an expanded abstract for the paper, “‘It’s Always Summer-time in Your Kitchen:’ Food Safety as Depicted in Home Refrigerator Advertising in the Interwar Years.”  Americans currently live in an age when food safety scares are headline news and an issue of concern for consumers. Take for example the ever-expanding peanut butter salmonella recall. While foodborne illness is a product of a long and complex food supply chain, its effects are often experienced in domestic environments of food consumption, such as the home kitchen. In fact, the evolution of the modern kitchen sits within a larger historical narrative of consumer food safety. Consider the home refrigerator, for example. Several scholars herald household refrigeration as one of the most important food safety achievements of the twentieth century (CDC 1999: 906; FPT 2011: 132; Roberts 2001: 29). Perhaps not coincidentally, the rise in home refrigerator ownership was coupled with, and fueled by, fervent consumer messaging from refrigerator marketers and home economics specialists alike. In his analysis, Peter Grahame argues that there is great variance among the content of …

Curating the History of American Convenience Cuisine

In the years following World War II, the United States took on a new shape and so did the way Americans ate. The 1950s witnessed the rise of “packaged-food cuisine,” a dietary change and gastronomic phenomenon that had as much to do with the postwar military industrial complex, women’s issues, and class-consciousness, as it did with food. This selection of five images explores these themes, using convenience food as a lens to explore the socio-cultural context of the 1950s. 1. The Evolution of Betty Crocker, 1921 – Present Created in 1921, the name and face of Betty Crocker has appeared in American grocery store aisles, pantries, and cookbooks for more than 90 years. Betty Crocker was developed as a “live trademark” by Marjorie Child Husted for Washburn Crosby, the company that made Gold Medal flour and would become General Mills. The Betty Crocker character formed bonds between customers and brands at a time when convenience cuisine was in its infancy, but primed to grow quickly. A combination of fantasy and reality, Betty Crocker was an instructor …

Seven Simply Smashing Food Exhibits: No Tickets, Shoes, or Shirts Required

One of my favorite things on a weekend afternoon, a weekday evening—well, we can go ahead and say just about anytime—is to spend a few glorious hours of levity and escape at a museum. I’m lucky to live in Boston where world-class museums abound as plentifully as colleges and universities, but sometimes, I hear you, we get busy and don’t make it out the door to enjoy the many intriguing exhibits on display. Here you’ll find seven excellent online food museum exhibits that you can visit anytime you like from your computer—and in your pajamas if you so desire. There are likely many more delightful virtual expos, but these seven, listed in no particular order, can be a very filling place to start… 1. Julia Child’s Kitchen Even if you aren’t in Washington D.C. you can peek in the drawers and cupboards of Julia Child’s kitchen, view selected culinary objects, and peruse an interactive timeline that chronicles her love of cooking. Exhibit by the Smithsonian, National Museum of American History 2. War-Era Food Posters Check out …