From Hardtack to Home Fries: An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals
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by: Barbara Haber
Edition: First Edition
Label: Free Press
Manufacturer: Free Press
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 256
Publication Date: April 02, 2002
Publisher: Free Press
Studio: Free Press
Barbara Haber, one of America's most respected authorities on the history of food, has spent years excavating fascinating stories of the ways in which meals cooked and served by women have shaped American history. As any cook knows, every meal, and every diet, has a story -- whether it relates to presidents and first ladies or to the poorest of urban immigrants. "From Hardtack to Home Fries" brings together the best and most inspiring of those stories, from the 1840s to the present, focusing on a remarkable assembly of little-known or forgotten Americans who determined what our country ate during some of its most trying periods.
Haber's secret weapon is the cookbook. She unearths cookbooks and menus from rich and poor, urban and rural, long-past and near-present and uses them to answer some fascinating puzzles:
- Why was the food in Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt's White House so famously bad? Were they trying to keep guests away, or did they themselves simply lack the taste to realize the truth? It turns out that Eleanor's chef wrote a cookbook, which solves the mystery.
- How did food lure settlers to the hardship of the American West? Englishman Fred Harvey's Harvey Girls tempted them with good food and good women.
- How did cooking keep alive World War II Army and Navy POWs in the Pacific? A remarkable cookbook reveals how recollections of home cooking and cooking resourcefulness helped mend bodies and spirits.
"From Hardtack to Home Fries" uses a light touch to survey a deeply important subject. Women's work and women's roles in America's past have not always been easy to recover. Barbara Haber shows us that a single, ubiquitous, ordinary-yet-extraordinary lens can illuminate a great deal of this other half of our past. Haber includes sample recipes and rich photographs, bringing the food of bygone eras back to life.
"From Hardtack to Home Fries" is a feast, and a delight.
Barbara Haber's fascinating From Hardtack to Home Fries bills itself as "An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals." More exactly, it locates the recurrent intersection of American women's history and culinary practice and shows how one shaped the other. In lively chapters like "Pretty Much of a Muchness: Civil War Nurses and Diet Kitchens" and "The Harvey Girls: Good Women and Good Food Civilize the American West," Haber focuses on the untold female contribution to 19th- and 20th-century food culture, an engrossing story. Readers not only encounter great anecdotes--Civil War nurses guarding barrels of whiskey from thieves, for example, or pioneer chain-restaurateur Fred Harvey's female service corps in action--but discover a hidden American history.
The vividness of the narratives results, largely, from Haber's excerpts of contemporary diaries and memoirs, like that of World War II POW Sarah Vaughan, who was held by the Japanese in Manila. ("There is a great rush for spinach juice," Vaughan reported, "on the days this is served.") In addition, Haber supplies pertinent recipes, like Ella Kellog's Savory Nut Loaf, a chilling example of 19th-century food-reformist fare, and Baked Fudge, the formula of Cleora Butler, whose unsung cookbooks first explored African American food in the Southwest. These documents tell truths as no others can. Haber's final and most personal chapter, "Growing Up with Cookbooks," explores the importance of cookbooks more explicitly, revealing their "intimate power to make connections between people"--to make culture itself. The authors of most of these recipes are women, a fact not lost on Haber, as the delightful Hardtack shows. --Arthur Boehm
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