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 From Hardtack to Home Fries: An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals

 

by Barbara Haber

This book focuses on the contributions of women to America's food culture. I highly recommend this as an entertaining and informative history of American food in the 19th and 20th century.

Barbara Haber's fascinating From Hardtack to Home Fries bills itself as "An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals." More exactly, it locates the recurrent intersection of American women's history and culinary practice and shows how one shaped the other. In lively chapters like "Pretty Much of a Muchness: Civil War Nurses and Diet Kitchens" and "The Harvey Girls: Good Women and Good Food Civilize the American West," Haber focuses on the untold female contribution to 19th- and 20th-century food culture, an engrossing story. Readers not only encounter great anecdotes--Civil War nurses guarding barrels of whiskey from thieves, for example, or pioneer chain-restaurateur Fred Harvey's female service corps in action--but discover a hidden American history.

The vividness of the narratives results, largely, from Haber's excerpts of contemporary diaries and memoirs, like that of World War II POW Sarah Vaughan, who was held by the Japanese in Manila. ("There is a great rush for spinach juice," Vaughan reported, "on the days this is served.") In addition, Haber supplies pertinent recipes, like Ella Kellog's Savory Nut Loaf, a chilling example of 19th-century food-reformist fare, and Baked Fudge, the formula of Cleora Butler, whose unsung cookbooks first explored African American food in the Southwest. These documents tell truths as no others can. Haber's final and most personal chapter, "Growing Up with Cookbooks," explores the importance of cookbooks more explicitly, revealing their "intimate power to make connections between people"--to make culture itself. The authors of most of these recipes are women, a fact not lost on Haber, as the delightful Hardtack shows.
--Arthur Boehm, Amazon.com

 

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