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Food on the Page: Cookbooks and American Culture

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by Megan J. Elias
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Megan J. Elias’s history of American cookbooks is also a tour of ideas that captured national or regional imagination from the nineteenth century forward. A cultural historian with an emphasis on food, Elias devotes the bulk of her study here to the twentieth century. But from the beginning she is alert to both implied and explicit details in the books she covers, noting that they not only prescribe how to cook but also make assumptions about what might be eaten, how easily an ingredient might be found, which implements are taken for granted in the kitchen, and how much time a cook might be willing or able to devote to cooking. Well-known works are frequently cited as examples, but so are those which were representative of their one bright moment: Foods that will Win the War (1918); Frigidaire Frozen Delights (1927); The Beat Generation Cookbook (1961). Readers wedded to the idea that traditional American fare has been relatively static will also learn that many presumably quintessential foods are late arrivals in cookbooks. Compared to apple, for instance, lemon is the all-American pie standard. B-&-W illustrations. Hardcover.

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