Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century

Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century

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by Laura Shapiro
     
 

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One hundred years ago, Americans were engaged in a widespread social and commercial obsession with food that in many ways parallels the food mania of today. The leading professional cooks of the day were women bent on thoroughly modernizing and taming the American diet. With their scientific cookery, they hoped to convince American women to forget about Mom's apple

Overview

One hundred years ago, Americans were engaged in a widespread social and commercial obsession with food that in many ways parallels the food mania of today. The leading professional cooks of the day were women bent on thoroughly modernizing and taming the American diet. With their scientific cookery, they hoped to convince American women to forget about Mom's apple pie and learn to think of the kitchen as a home laboratory for food production.

Editorial Reviews

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"Q. Are vegetables ever served at a buffet luncheon? A. Yes, indeed...provided they appear in a form which will not look messy on the plate.... Even the plebian baked bean, in dainty individual ramekins with a garnish of fried apple balls and cress, or toasted marshmallows, stuffed with raisins...."

This advice, published in a popular cooking magazine in 1923, illustrates what happened to American cooking when well-meaning cooking teachers took up the domestic science banner, introducing "businesslike principles" to home management.

Laura Shapiro's insightful and amusing social history is full of such anecdotes. She documents the birth of domestic science, the movement that launched a million home economics courses and encouraged the overuse of white sauce, the invention of TV dinners, and the packaging of salads in Jell-O.

She vividly portrays such teachers as Fannie Farmer, "the mother of level measurements," and Ellen Richards and her Woman's Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which taught Hygiene, Bacteriology, Foods, and Laundry Work. Another eminent teacher, Mrs. Lincoln, even devised a special scent-free menu of baked bean soup, dry toast, and stewed raisins for Tuesdays (the day after washday), so that clean clothes would not pick up cooking odors immediately.

As Shapiro sees it, "They chose domesticity as a way of getting out of the house, and food as a means of transcending the body. But they carved out an identity for women so powerful that we're still trying to clamber out of it, and their influence on American cooking was devastating."

Perfection Saladhas been republished as part of the new Modern Library Food series with an introduction by Jane and Michael Stern. (Ginger Curwen)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780805002287
Publisher:
Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
02/29/2000
Pages:
288

Meet the Author

Laura Shapiro was on staff at Newsweek and is a contributor to the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Granta, and Gourmet. She is the author of Julia Child and Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America.

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Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century (Modern Library Food Series) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'One of the major civilizing influences in the American kitchen was widely recognized to be white sauce.' Although you may be inclined to think that a book containing this line would be dull as dish water, this book is actually wonderful, giving great insights into the role of women in late 19th and early 20th century America. Perfection Salad details how, in those years, cooking for a household was beginning the transformation from a labor-intensive, full-time task to one made more efficient by the beginning of modern time-saving conveniences and uniform instruction. Another fascinating aspect examined in this book is the role of food preparation in defining social class. With the establishment of cooking schools in many urban areas, the social elite endeavored to elevate the lower classes through training the women of this class to better feed their families and run their households. The book very nicely illustrates the 'paternalistic' attitude of the upper class toward the lower class, particularly in relation to the immigrants who were packing the slums of the large cities during this time period. The writing is at times a little tedious; so a skimmed some portions of it. But most of it is fascinating, sharing information I have not gotten in my other readings in social history. Even if you are not interested in cooking, you will enjoy Perfection Salad.