Thursday, February 21, 2013

Perfection Salad by Laura Shapiro~★★★★1/2

Author: Laura Shapiro
Title: Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century
Release Date: First released in 1986; this edition released October 2, 2008
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "Perfection Salad presents an entertaining and erudite social history of women and cooking at the turn of the twentieth century. With sly humor and lucid insight, Laura Shapiro uncovers our ancestors' widespread obsession with food, and in doing so, tells us why we think as we do about food today. This edition includes a new introduction by Michael Stern, who, with Jane Stern, is the author of Gourmet magazine's popular column 'Roadfood' and the book Eat Your Way Across the U.S.A.."

Taryn's Review: Food and history are two of my biggest interests. Luckily for me, one of the sections I'm studying for is about Food and Culture in modern America and this book fit the bill. It takes place mainly between the late 1870s up to the Great Depression (1930s).

This book answered so many questions I've had about women's role in the kitchen and how that identity evolved. There were a lot of changes going on in the U.S. during this time period with the predominant changes coming as offshoots from the Industrial Revolution. Thanks to a group of women who deemed themselves domestic scientists, the kitchen, cooking, and women's domestic sphere changed dramatically. Cooking became a science and kitchens were often referred to as cooking laboratories, measuring cups emerged to ensure precise accuracy, and recipes aided women in perfecting food to the teaspoon.

The idea that eating was to help one live and people were not supposed to "live to eat" was the stance the domestic scientists advocated. They focused on recipes that would aid in digestion versus taste and white bland food because very popular, especially when covered in the infamous white sauce. Cooking schools sprang up and at different times had various goals, but one famous face you may have heard about today was Fannie Farmer. Shapiro dedicated a section to Farmer and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Discussions in the book regarding women's moral role to protect the family's home and how that tied into religion were particularly fascinating. Shapiro wrote about why the hearth became the symbol of the home in modern life and how the domestic scientist carved out a role for themselves in the changing world around them. And the salads! Who hasn't heard of jello salads, or pink salad, or carrot salad? Shapiro let us know why all these exist.

The book is full of so many interesting ideas and thoughts that you really should read it. Fun fact: it was edited by Ruth Reichl, author of Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. The book is great and it filled in the gap of history between the hearth and stove. It explained so much about the ideology behind the movement and how those ideas still reflect and impact women's role in the kitchen today. My complaints were the distraction by the overuse of the word "however" and the abundance of commas to the point they interrupted the flow of the text, but Shapiro's great research produced a superb book. 

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