Perfection Salad
April 23, 2019 9:56 AM - by Laura Shapiro - Subscribe

Toasted marshmallows stuffed with raisins? Green-and-white luncheons? Chemistry in the kitchen? This entertaining and erudite social history, now in its fourth paperback edition, tells the remarkable story of America's transformation from a nation of honest appetites into an obedient market for instant mashed potatoes. In Perfection Salad, Laura Shapiro investigates a band of passionate but ladylike reformers at the turn of the twentieth century―including Fannie Farmer of the Boston Cooking School―who were determined to modernize the American diet through a "scientific" approach to cooking. Shapiro's fascinating tale shows why we think the way we do about food today.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (4 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is another book which is oft referenced on the Blue so I thought it should have a fanfare post. If you ever cracked an old cookbook and wondered, what is this nonsense? Well. This is this nonsense. "Domestic Science" or "Home Economics" was supposedly an empowering science for women, but it was specifically invented at a time of increased women's mobility and rights, to stick them right back in the kitchen. The true scourge of this "science" was that women interested in Chemistry of Biology would be shunting into Home Ec in college, segregated into cookery rather than science. The results were the American classic horror food we know and cringe at, the jello salads, the marshmallows in everything, food cooked to a theme but not to a taste. There are updated editions and old ones, I have an old copy, and it's still pretty relevant.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:02 AM on April 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Even though I don't cook that much, I'm fascinated by the history of food and home economics that started with reading As Seen On TV, which talks about box cake mixes and paint by number sets and Elvis. It talks about the visual culture of the 1950s and somehow the discussion about adding eggs to the box cake mixes instead of relying on dehydrated egg meaning that housewives felt like they were still "really baking" sent me down a rabbit hole of the history of cookery.

(It also got me reading a very funny cookbook set up like a story of a new housewife setting up her kitchen and learning to cook and to use her new cooker, except it also was unexpectedly very slashy. I need to find that book again.)

I also ended up buying a few Table Talk magazines because I wanted to actually read them. I have scans of them in this Flickr folder if anyone else is interested. (self-link to my Flickr account.)

Shapiro's Something From the Oven is also excellent.
posted by PussKillian at 10:49 AM on April 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yes! This is the book that hooked me on reading culinary nonfiction that wasn’t cookbooks! And I’ve also read the other Shapiro book.
My contribution—Stand Facing The Stove, which is about the mother/daughter who wrote The Joy Of Cooking. Really interesting account of how that classic cookbook was written , published, and revised, the mother/daughter dynamic, and a history of American cooking.
I love reading food essays and books about cooking!
posted by bookmammal at 5:00 PM on April 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is a fantastic book. Without it, I would never understood why the older white women surrounding me seemed to have agreed to make "lady food" without ever wanting to eat very much of it. Chicken salad, canned peach halves with cottage cheese, Jello with mayonnaise -- God have mercy. Now that those ladies have passed away or given over the cooking, everyone has agreed that real Southern cooking is in the soul-food tradition, and nobody has to pretend not to prefer cornbread and pinto beans.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:29 PM on April 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

« Older Supergirl: Crime and Punishmen...   |  The Twilight Zone: A Traveler... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments