Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?: American Women and the Kitchen in the Twentieth Century

Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?: American Women and the Kitchen in the Twentieth Century

by Mary Drake McFeely
     
 

In the rural America of the past, a woman's reputation was sometimes made by her cherry pie-or her chocolate layer cake, or her biscuits. As America modernized and as women left the home, entered the paid labor force, and battled their way to success in the professions, mastery of cooking remained an accepted sign that a woman took her gendered responsibilities… See more details below

Overview

In the rural America of the past, a woman's reputation was sometimes made by her cherry pie-or her chocolate layer cake, or her biscuits. As America modernized and as women left the home, entered the paid labor force, and battled their way to success in the professions, mastery of cooking remained an accepted sign that a woman took her gendered responsibilities seriously. Ironically, over the course of the twentieth century, as ready-made foods and kitchen appliances made home cooking less essential and labor-intensive, skill in the kitchen continued to be perceived not only by society but often by women themselves as a measure of a woman's true value.

This book shows how cooking developed and evolved during the twentieth century. From Fannie Farmer to Julia Child, new challenges arose to replace the old. Women found themselves still tied to the kitchen, but for different reasons and with the need to acquire new skills. Instead of simply providing sustenance for the family, they now had to master more complex cooking techniques, the knowledge of "ethnic" cuisines, the science of nutrition, the business of consumerism, and, perhaps most important of all, the art of keeping their husbands and children happy and healthy.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A cursory swipe at the "herstory" of the kitchen—from the days when women put summer fruit on the tin roof of a building for two days in order to make preserves to the advent of the TV chef. McFeely's thesis is that "The woman who has to provide a hot dinner for her husband and family every night is effectively tethered to the stove and limited in how much she can accomplish in the outside world." Whether or not that is true is moot. But she takes us on a whirlwind tour—from the homesteader housewife in the mid-19th century (who kneaded her dough by the sweat of her brow) to the modern homemaker of 1955 (for whom Wonder Bread was a miracle) to the contemporary working woman (whose bread machine will be used, if at all, after a long day at the office). Fanny Farmer, we learn, was the "mother of level measurements," before whose advent a pinch or a dash would have to do. Julia Child brought sophistication to the peons, who had been stirring up tuna noodle casserole in a postwar world where the mixing of packaged food had become an art form. In between came the granola people (and now the bean-sprout contingent). A whole chapter is devoted to the privations of rationing in America, which is somewhat obtuse insofar as there is no corresponding consideration of the far greater hardships endured in wartime Europe. In spite of her classically feminist thesis, McFeely does not discount the social importance of cuisine altogether, and she eventually concludes on a happier note that the one she began with: "Creative cooking can be compatible with creative work. . . .We do not need to lose our kitchens to keep our freedom." Tasty, but somehow unsatisfying.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781558492509
Publisher:
University of Massachusetts Press
Publication date:
08/21/2000
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
6.33(w) x 9.32(h) x 0.84(d)

What People are saying about this

Linda K. Kerber
This book is an easy read-graceful and often witty. I was often charmed and just as often instructed. It is a book that could be used in American studies and women's studies courses, as a route to understanding that activities of daily life that are often treated as unproblematic have social and political histories.
—Linda K. Kerber, author of No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship
Anne L. Bower
This book is an enjoyable excursion, bringing together history, cookery, narra-tive, women's studies, and biography/autobiography in ways that will help readers make new connections and will give them new interests and insights.
—Anne L. Bower, editor of Recipes for Reading: Community Cookbooks, Stories, Histories

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