Thursday, May 26, 2005

Something from the Oven:Book Review


Recently I was at a library book sale and as usual I scanned for hidden treasure among the cookbooks. Browsing cookbooks is nothing short of a history lesson. Here's what I found, as men came back from fighting overseas and Americans travelled abroad for pleasure, their hunger for exotic recipes increased and so did the number of international cookbooks. Cooking on a budget was a popular theme in times of recession like the 1970's. Curiously the cookbooks from the 50's and 60's were dominated by the use of processed foods. Browsing the volumes, I began to wonder, just how did processed food come to such popularity anyway?

Not long after my shopping trip I began reading Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America. Not a cookbook at all, but a rich and fascinating history of cooking in America in the post WWII period up until the early 60's. Suddenly it all made sense! The popularity of processed foods, of kitchen appliances like the blender, the "quick and easy" and even the "I hate cooking" trends in cookbooks were completely understandable.

If you've ever wondered about the history of the fictional Betty Crocker or how Julia Child came to such prominence you'll love this book. But you'll also discover a lot of other captivating stories of the people behind the scenes, who shaped what we cooked, ate and believed about food in America. The book illustrates the struggle for the soul of the American cook. Fully explored is how the spirit and values of American home cooks could not be broken by the corporations sometimes evil plots. Breathe a sigh of relief that dehydrated wine never caught on and laugh at what was considered "glamourous dining" just a few decades ago. Apparently all you had to was open a can of crab and you were on your way!

One of the most interesting stories in the book is how the food industry tried to convince women that cooking was a drudgery and a bother. Thankfully they didn't succeed. Or did they? Get a glimpse at modern day Sandra Lee and her frightening Semi-Homemade empire and you can get a peek at the vision corporations still have to get us to rely on processed food. A world of style over substance and fake food over the real thing.