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Paperback Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century Book

ISBN: 0375756655

ISBN13: 9780375756658

Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century

(Book #24 in the California Studies in Food and Culture Series)

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Format: Paperback

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Book Overview

Depicts the culinary habits of turn-of-the-century women, portraying their passion and idealism, as well as their frequently bizarre and misguided ideas.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

This book

It's a rare book that brings you into the subject deftly, can explain details without getting lost in them, and reserves most judgment until the end, and then provides insightful and thought-provoking commentary. This book is a fascinating exploration of how, in the interests of preserving American cuisine, the home, and women's place in it, home economists came into vogue in the early part of the 20th century, and damn near came close to wrecking everything they set out to save. I love to cook, but among other working moms I'm friends with, I'm the exception. Women either hate cooking, don't mind cooking but don't know what to fix, or just flat out don't know how to cook. An awful lot of my friends rely heavily on fast food or packaged meals on a regular basis to feed their kids. I have long thought that there was a place in the schools for a revival of home economics, done better than what I and my classmates got in 7th grade - one year divided into a semester of sewing (let me tell you, that didn't take - almost no one I can think of sews), 1/2 a semester of cooking, and 1/2 a semester of a combination "household economy" (budgeting, nutrition, etc.) and sex education unit. Our cooking teacher freely admitted she hated cooking (she also wasn't exactly informative in the sex ed component either - her advice was "wait until marriage" and she showed her own childbirth video in class, if you can believe that) and her own distaste for cooking certainly didn't help us learn. By the time I got to high school, home ec was the "easy A" class you only took if you weren't in the college prep track (we had three coursework tracks - college prep, A and B, and home-ec was in the "B", or lowest, track). That meant that myself and my fellow students got through 8th-12th grade, four years of college, and possibly grad school, our 7th grade home ec year was far behind us. I always felt like there had to be a better way to teach people about the necessary life skills of cooking, household management and nutrition - something that would be more practical and stick with people a little better. Now, after reading Perfection Salad, I understand why my home-economics class was so worthless and I've changed my mind about reinstituting home ec into high schools - I think it would be a throwback to some very bad traditions that are better off left in the past. Home economists were responsible for basically enslaving women in their homes - convincing women that the home and the kitchen was the only place they would find moral, religious, or emotional fulfillment; that they had no place in man's world, and that the ills of society (poverty, disease, alcoholism, malnutrition, truancy, delinquency, infidelity, etc.) were due to women's failings to fully embrace their moral duty to keep a clean house and cook "scientific" meals for their family. If you want to know why women got so fed up with being at home - fed up enough that they left their homes for the workplace in

Great research, fascinating topic

This is a "must read" for anyone who fancies themself a chef, professional or home-cook. The writing is fluid and interesting, laid out in a comprehensible and sensible manner, and quite the scholarly document. Even those not intersted in cooking, but enjoy great nostalgia and history will love this book. Highly recommended as a gift where appropriate interest exists.

Fascinating and scholarly read

Foodies and feminists alike should read this book. As part of the Modern Food Library reprints, chosen by Ruth Reichl (who is known for her good taste and her own laudable literary contributions - "Tender at the Bone" and "Comfort Me with Apples"), "Perfection Salad" describes all the elements present at the turn of the century that combined to forever change the way Americans view food. Food, its preparation and presentation became a female obsession in an time where the kitchen was really the only arena in which a woman could rule. The female nutritionists and cooks from that era seemed bent upon exerting control on SOMETHING, and that something turned out to be food - with sometimes terrible consequences. After reading "Perfection Salad", I understood the recipes that my grandmother (born in 1898) and my mother after her learned and served. Don't be frightened by the scholarly look of "Perfection Salad" - there are hilarious nuggets in the text - like color-themed menus (everything green and white, for example), putting everything into gelatin for the sake of "daintiness" (no messy lettuce leaves hanging out of your mouth) and covering absolutely anything and everything with "white sauce". For more laughs, peruse "The Gallery of Regrettable Food" by James Lileks in which he has gathered some of the most revolting-looking photos of the consequences of "Perfection Salad".

Ever wonder where pineapple-marshmallow salad comes from?

This highly readable, beautifully researched book provides a fascinating look into American "cuisine" circa 1850-1920. The Boston Cooking School and other institutions promoted Americanization through cooking conducted on scientific principles, although immigrants proved reluctant to give up their "coarse and unsavory" meals for triumphs of digestibility such as the following, served to President Wilson on his first day in office: "cream of celery soup, fish with white sauce, roast capon with two white vegetables, a fruit salad,and a dessert made with gelatin, custard, and whipped cream"(212). Other triumphs included a salad made of bananas and pimentos bound together with mayonnaise and whipped cream and, later, grapefruit pieces mixed with dessert mints. Often funny and always interesting, this book also helps readers to understand the convenience food mania of the 1950s.

Food for Thought

I found Perfection Salad in a used bookstore in Manhattan ten or twelve years ago. I read it, was fascinated and stirred by its tale of the psychological manipulation of women - particularly, the women who were new immigrants to America at the turn of the century. I loaned the book to someone who never returned it, and have been quoting it -- and longing to re-read it -- ever since. I have just re-ordered the "back in print" edition...Here is what is important about this book: it details an overlooked, but critical, thread in the fabric of family and community life -- a thread that was quietly pulled until the greater tapestry unraveled.
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