American Cooking in Context: 3 Books on US Culinary History

Three titles for people who love cookbooks and are interested in the people that write them and use them, and their place in American history:

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Stand Facing the Stove: The Story of the Women Who Gave America The Joy of Cooking by Anne Mendelson

This delightful book is a biography of Irma Rombauer, the author of The Joy of Cooking, and her daughter Marion Rombauer Becker, who guided later editions of the iconic cookbook to publication. Mendelson contextualizes the story of these fascinating women with chapters illuminating an often overlooked aspect of American food culture: the home cook, the cookbooks and recipes she used to feed her family, and the food authorities she turned to, in the years when Joy of Cooking was first published, and as it grew to prominence as one of America’s most popular cookbooks.

Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950’s America by Laura Shapiro

Another fascinating journey into the lives of ordinary women in midcentury America, and how social and economic forces came together to impact what was cooked and served in homes across the country. As women’s roles in society changed, and their own notions about the responsibilities of feeding a family collided with the food industry’s ideas on how to increase revenue, the authors and publishers of cookbooks worked to connect with their audience and ostensibly help them wade through the vast jungle of opinion on what was good and what was nutritious.

The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African-American Cookbooks by Toni Tipton-Martin

A gorgeous, coffee-table format bibliography of American cookbooks by Black authors. Much of what we think of as ‘American’ cuisine was created and developed over the years by skilled Black professionals working in homes and restaurants, but their contribution has been systematically erased and ignored. Tipton-Martin delves deep into the American culinary library to find publications by these chefs and cooks, going back all the way to the very first known Black-authored cookbook, published in the early 19th century. An essential volume for anyone interested in our country’s culinary history.

–Mary W.