All posts tagged: cookbooks

Teaching Food Studies, Cookbooks & Writing

How do cookbooks speak? What stories do they tell—and whose? What do cookbooks reveal about power and how it operates? How do cookbooks communicate and construct gender? These are some of the questions my students and I have pondered lately in our course “Food and Gender in U.S. Popular Culture” at Brown University. For our first assignment, students analyzed how cookbooks prescribe and transgress conventional gender roles. A uniquely interdisciplinary field, food studies scholarship often employs various methods, but the close reading of cookbooks is one method that approaches universality. Perhaps that’s part of why I’ve written on them so often (like here, here, and here). I’m working with a thoughtful and engaged group of 20 mostly first- and second-year students. While most had read and used cookbooks for cooking, few had previously considered them as elements of popular culture, as valuable historical evidence, as prescriptive literature that shape notions of gender, or as sources in which the so-often-silenced voices of women and people of color can be heard. In an effort to fully scaffold and support our work with cookbooks, we first did some reading. …

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 …

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 …

3 Posts to Toast Julia Child’s 102nd Birthday

Today would have been Julia Child’s 102nd birthday and with her towering height, booming voice, vivacious personality, and insatiable appetite for food, eating, cooking, and learning new things, we can be sure she would have celebrated in style. As a graduate of the MLA in Gastronomy Program at Boston University—the program co-founded by Julia Child with Jacques Pépin to secure a place in higher education for the serious study of food—I share with my BU colleagues a borderline-cult-like love for all things Julia. I celebrated this week by finally reading Laura Shapiro’s biography of Julia Child, which is a petite book that perfectly captures the stages of Julia Child’s life, love, and career. I also spent some time writing an article for Zester Daily, comparing Julia’s advice on wine to that offered by other cookbooks published around the same time. One of the things I most love about Julia is how she expects, encourages, and supports readers to rise to the challenge, whether it be mastering French cuisine or perfectly pairing wines. Like any good teacher, her own love for learning …

Defining American Food in ‘The Saturday Evening Post All-American Cookbook’

If you ever want to strike up a passionate food debate, just toss out the the question, “What is American food?” While you’ll hear the unenlightened decree with disdain that the United States has no food culture, the answer is far more nuanced. Like jazz and blues music, some argue that barbecue is a unique American cultural food product, one that loudly communicates a multiethnic history and both local and regional identity. Others will insist that the food traditions of New England form the culinary roots of American cuisine.[1] Others will point to McDonalds and other fast food joints known for selling burgers and fries as quintessentially American in taste, presentation, and capitalistic expansionism.[2] Still others will argue that the continually simmering melting pot[3] of American citizens ensures that all food served within U.S. borders in some way represents, absorbs, and communicates American food culture. These disparate points of view are portrayed in different ways in The Saturday Evening Post All-American Cookbook. Published in 1976, filled with reproductions of the Post’s covers and advertisements, and made up …

Cooking Up a Storm at the 2013 Cookbook Conference

The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference in New York City drew an eclectic mix of culinary scholars; food studies academics; food writers and bloggers; food photographers and stylists; cookbook writers, editors and publishers; chefs; and those hoping to become any of the above. I participated in the panel, “Cookbooks as Works of Art and Status Objects,” which explored the slew of elaborate and expensive cookbooks that have come out recently that function as coffee table books more so than cookbooks. Examples include: The French Laundry Cookbook, The Big Fat Duck Cookbook, Alinea, Eleven Madison Park, NOMA, and Modernist Cuisine. The panel also featured Kim Beeman, Jane Black, Sarah Cohn, and Anne McBride, each of us bringing a different perspective to the nature and meaning of these cookbooks. I discussed these cookbooks as extensions of the trophy kitchen, given their ornamental nature and status-making potential. I also attended several other panels, which I summarize in this post. I have captured what I found to be the most tantalizing sound bites from panelists, but I have by no means provided an …

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 …

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 …

Chicken Fricassee Face-Off: 18th Century Haute Cuisine versus 1950s Can-Opener Cooking

When I was a graduate student in the Boston University Gastronomy program, Ken Albala assigned an intriguing final exam question in the course “A Survey of Food History:” to compare and contrast two Chicken Fricassée recipes. While it may appear at first glance that Francois Massialot’s recipe, “Poulets en Fricasée au Vin de Champagn” from Le Nouveau Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois (1748), is the culinary superior of Poppy Cannon’s “Chicken with White Wine and White Grapes” from The Can-Opener Cookbook (1953), such an assumption ignores the complexity of each recipe as a unique product of a particular time and place. As Anne Bower contends, a cookbook can be read as a “fragmented autobiography” (Bower 1997: 32) that reveals unique details not only of the author’s experience, but also those of his or her time. Cannon’s recipe in particular fulfills Bower’s assertion that the main theme of cookbooks is the “breaking of silence” (1997: 46-47), as it reveals the struggles and desires of the 1950s American housewife. Examples of Period Food Trends First published in 1691 and in revised additions throughout the early eighteenth …

The Woman Suffrage Cookbook of 1886: Culinary Evidence of Women Finding a New Voice

The Woman Suffrage Cookbook (1886), edited by Mrs. Hattie A. Burr, was created as a fundraising tool for Massachusetts suffragists, but it also provided a powerful new voice. It communicated with women of all classes in the common language of the cookbook about not only food and domesticity, but also the radical cause of women’s right to vote. The Woman Suffrage Cookbook also tracks changing cooking practices in the United States in the late nineteenth century, changes that mirrored larger transitions in society. The growing forces of industrialization, urbanization, and a variety of social movements—among them women’s suffrage—swept the nation, forever molding her into a new shape. This cookbook demonstrates the changes impacting women’s domestic and civic life at the time by documenting the transformation taking place within her kitchen. The Cookbook The cookbook begins: “This little volume is sent out with an important mission,” which we can assume has scope beyond “cookery, housekeeping, and the care of the sick” given when and why it was published. The Woman Suffrage Cookbook is the oldest fundraising cookbook in support of women’s suffrage. It …

Cooking a Sixteenth Century Meal Brings Food History to Life

As students in Dr. Ken Albala’s Survey of Food History class, we were overjoyed that the Food and the City Conference brought him to Boston not only to deliver the conference keynote, but to allow us the opportunity to meet him in person and cook together a sixteenth century meal. From our course lectures, we had learned that throughout history, specific ingredients have served as markers of social class that exude distinction. The most prestigious ingredients were often rare, expensive, and fashionable among the upper class at a certain time in a particular place. Rarity, cost, and fashion were unstable factors, however, meaning that the symbolic potential of ingredients evolved over time. The existence and expansion of trade networks, and globalization more generally, also played a significant role in specific ingredients securing elite status, while others did not. Trends and fashion made certain ingredients signs of social distinction. The variables of rarity and cost influenced trends, which tended to occur in cyclical and reactionary patterns. Culinary fashions changed for a variety of reasons, among them political, economic, cultural, and even due …