Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives through the Cookbooks They Wrote

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Some people think that a cookbook is just a collection of recipes for dishes that feed the body. In Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives through the Cookbooks They Wrote, Janet Theophano shows that cookbooks provide food for the mind and the soul as well. Looking beyond the ingredients and instructions, she shows how women have used cookbooks to assert their individuality, develop their minds, and structure their lives. Beginning in the seventeenth century and moving up through the present day, Theophano reads ...

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Overview

Some people think that a cookbook is just a collection of recipes for dishes that feed the body. In Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives through the Cookbooks They Wrote, Janet Theophano shows that cookbooks provide food for the mind and the soul as well. Looking beyond the ingredients and instructions, she shows how women have used cookbooks to assert their individuality, develop their minds, and structure their lives. Beginning in the seventeenth century and moving up through the present day, Theophano reads between the lines of recipes for dandelion wine, "Queen of Puddings," and half-pound cake to capture the stories and voices of these remarkable women.The selection of books looked at is enticing and wide-ranging. Theophano begins with seventeenth-century English estate housekeeping books that served as both cookbooks and reading primers so that women could educate themselves during long hours in the kitchen. She looks at A Date with a Dish, a classic African American cookbook that reveals the roots of many traditional American dishes, and she brings to life a 1950s cookbook written specifically for Americans by a Chinese émigré and transcribed into English by her daughter. Finally, Theophano looks at the contemporary cookbooks of Lynne Rosetto Kaspar, Madeleine Kamman, and Alice Waters to illustrate the sophistication and political activism present in modern cookbook writing. Janet Theophano harvests the rich history of cookbook writing to show how much more can be learned from a recipe than how to make a casserole, roast a chicken, or bake a cake. We discover that women's writings about food reveal—and revel in—the details of theirlives, families, and the cultures they help to shape.

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Editorial Reviews

Francine Prose
An engrossing study of how individual women and entire communities have...expressed themselves through culinary instruction both formal and funky.
Elle
Publishers Weekly
Theophano, a folklorist teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, attempts to show that cookbooks can "dramatically expand and enrich our understanding of women's lives." Her discussion covers a select group of English and American cookbooks from the 17th century to the mid-20th, including many she found in antiquarian book shops and archives. Some of them do say a lot about women and their worlds for example, a 17th-century English receipt book where the writer lists all her worldly possessions, or the 19th-century recipe book containing lists of servants' tasks. In A Date with a Dish, published in 1948, the cooking editor of Ebony magazine pays homage to her cultural heritage. In Memory's Kitchen, written by Jewish women interned in Theresienstadt during the Holocaust and published in 1996, contains Central European recipes that represent a "lost world and its flavors." A number of cookbooks are included because their owners used them as scrapbooks, annotating the recipes and placing newspaper clippings, favorite poems, biblical verses and handwritten notes between the leaves, but here Theophano can only speculate, for the information about the cooks is often very limited and not particularly revealing of their social and cultural worlds. While the book is painstakingly researched, with copious footnotes and an extensive bibliography, its title promises more than it delivers. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Theophano (folklore and religious studies, Univ. of Pennsylvania) here examines British and American cookbooks written from the 17th to the mid-20th centuries. While she is careful not to read too much into the historical context of these cookbooks or in the marginal notes she found in them, Theophano suggests a number of themes. For instance, the collecting of recipes helped maintain a sense of community and helped preserve a religious or ethnic group's history. Some cookbooks revealed the lives of the women who wrote them through the notes, poetry, or letters found inside. Cookbooks encouraged female literacy and authorship and offered social instruction in household management. Still others contained social and political commentary. This work is not a comprehensive history of cookbooks but rather a charming series of observations on women authors and users and the times in which they lived. Suitable for academic women's studies collections and for supplementing public library cookbook collections. (Index not seen.) Patrica A. Beaber, Coll. of New Jersey Lib., Ewing Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312233785
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 2/9/2002
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

Janet Theopano is a leading social historian and Associate Director of the College of General Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She writes widely on food and foodways in American life.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
Ch. 1 Cookbooks as Communities 11
Ch. 2 Cookbooks as Collective Memory and Identity 49
Ch. 3 Lineage and Legacies 85
Ch. 4 Cookbooks as Autobiography 117
Ch. 5 Cookbooks, Literacy, and Domesticity 155
Ch. 6 Becoming an Author: Cookbooks and Conduct 189
Ch. 7 Recipe and Household Literature as Social and Political Commentary 227
Epilogue 269
Notes 281
Bibliography 323
Index 351
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2002

    A CUT above the rest!!

    The way she depicts the life of living in that house is great. The book was a big eye opener.

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