Scholars in fields like culinary history and food studies are working alongside a thriving community of food professionals and amateurs, all of whom find cookbooks an invaluable window into daily life in yesterday's kitchens. They were using food as a way to escape. It wasn't so long ago that many serious scholars turned their noses up at cookbooks.
When the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study , which focuses on women's history, received a trove of 1, volumes in , some feminists on staff accepted the gift only begrudgingly, protesting that they wanted nothing to do with such stereotypically feminine ephemera. We want to get out of the kitchen.
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At the time, the way cookbooks offer historians a rare glimpse into both aspiration and daily practice was only just becoming clear. Consider how Martha Stewart, say, offers both practical advice and fantasies of a more glamorous life.
Similarly, old cookbooks hint at how American families actually lived—the tools they had available, the ingredients they favored—and what they valued, be it frugality or fanciness. Research into culinary history began to take off in the s, and the last decade or so has brought a wave of new research into cookbooks. Specialized projects including Feeding America, an effort to digitize a trove of historic American cookbooks, have made many old texts widely available.
These resources are being used by scholars interested in what happens when cultures urbanize, why we believe certain foods are good or bad for us, agricultural history, attitudes toward colonialism, how the poor eat compared to the rich, and beyond.
Child, Julia, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Helen Zoe Veit, a historian at Michigan State University, says that in the early s, when she began working on her dissertation on American eating habits during World War I, she was a little embarrassed about it. She's no longer worried. Veit is now working on a book on children's food and editing a forthcoming series called "American Food in History," which incorporates selections from historic cookbooks.
The first volume, to be published next year, focuses on the Civil War era—and the cookbooks of that period showed her something unexpected.
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It's hard for us to imagine how technologically advanced the military tactics of the Civil War felt to midth-century Americans, she says; the sudden profusion of recipes with titles like "Old Times Johnny Cake" indicates an otherwise nearly undetectable anxiety. They were using food as a way to escape, as a coping mechanism, or just a form of comfort. If cookbooks give historians insight into cultural moods, they also help trace conversations and public arguments, especially those conducted by women, who traditionally had few such outlets.
Many 19th-century cookbooks interspersed recipes with household hints and civic appeals; Massachusetts reformer Lydia Maria Child's "Frugal Housewife" advised, "There is no subject so much connected with individual happiness and national prosperity as the education of daughters. Jan Longone, a pioneering cookbook collector whose stash forms the basis of a culinary archive at the University of Michigan, curated a exhibit of 19th- and 20th-century "charity cookbooks" that women produced to raise funds for causes including suffrage, education, temperance, and a huge variety of local causes.
These books provide a map to the movements championed by women's groups. Beyond that, they offer glimpses at the language and logic with which women made political appeals to one another. Early suffrage cookbooks, for example, took pains to reassure women that promoting suffrage didn't mean abandoning femininity.
Martha Washington Cake, Dutch Tea Room
An holiday cookbook published in Illinois included recipes and menus interspersed with gentle wishes "that you may enjoy the good things made from the foregoing recipes and that the sentiments found herein will convince you that the ballot would broaden your usefulness and be a protection and safeguard. A suffrage cookbook from Washington was dedicated "to the first woman who realized that half of the human race were not getting a square deal. In the midth century, American society began to develop the stereotype that women preferred different kinds of foods than men.
The obvious advantage of all-female lunches was that women could partake of what they actually liked to eat. The tea rooms became a place not just for socializing but for politics including suffrage and prohibition.
Omnivore Books on Food Antiquarian
Marguerite Schertl e was a tea room waitress for nearly 80 years. Schertle passed away in at years old. In he stopped by with his family but the place was too crowded so they went to the Rennert instead. Cole and her husband passed away in and , respectively. An October Baltimore Sun article claimed the great fire in February brought enterprising women to open lunch rooms.
The cake is actually a predecessor to Boston Creme Pie, with a custard filling and minus the chocolate topping. At that price, I could go for a tea room lunch. Myself and most dainty ladies would be quick to notice that it leaves more money and appetite for a burger and a beer for dinner. Male accompaniment optional, thanks. Beat yolks then add the sugar.
Fold in stiffly beaten whites, then gently fold in flour, stirring as little as possible. Bake in one cake tin. Scald the milk.