The way to a man's heart: gender roles, domestic ideology, and cookbooks in the 1950s.
The talented gal Who can whip up a pie, Rates a well deserved rave From her favorite guy.
A juicy red steak, Or a tender, fish fillet Done to a turn In a bright copper skillet
Will soothe the rough edges Of tempers, no fooling!!! And leave the man happy Contented and drooling.
- To The Bride (1956)
In the mid-1950s, the editors of To The Bride created a cookbook to advise a newlywed woman in the culinary arts and, as we can see in the above poem, to reassure the young wife that skills in the kitchen would ensure a happy married life.(1) Armed with a good pie recipe and a "juicy red steak," they counseled, a woman was ready to become a wife. In some ways, this selection from To the Bride seems to bear out the assumption that post-WWII cookbooks were part of a larger discourse that sought to limit women's roles to those of wife, mother, and homemaker. The domestic ideology of the 1950s seems vividly illustrated in the inane rhymes of these lines, which introduced a chapter coyly entitled "The Care and Feeding of Young Husbands." But can we, as historians and cultural critics, dismiss cookbooks as simply another way the "feminine mystique" was glorified in the postwar era? What, upon closer inspection, might cookbooks reveal about their role in 1950s society and the place of domestic ideology itself in postwar America?
Too often historians have echoed Betty Friedan's most famous work(2) and have characterized the postwar era as uniformly repressive, oppressive, and miserable for women. However, in the past decade, some historians have complicated this analysis. It was in many ways a repressive time, these critics argue, but there were women who were able to enact resistance strategies in the face of powerful gender ideology. Some scholars have focused on uncovering the civic life and activism of white middle-class women working in political or religious organizations and community groups.(3) Some authors point out that the political and social experiences of women of color and lesbians during the 1950s were, of course, quite different from those of white women, and require further and better historical research.(4) Others argue that a careful reading of excavated cultural artifacts supports the notion that gender and domestic ideology were not as omnipresent as Friedan suggested. Popular culture, they assert, revealed anxieties and uncertainties about domestic ideology and gender roles - uncertainties often overlooked by historians. They argue that films, television programs, and rock and roll from the 1950s presented contradictory messages about a woman's proper role in society.(5)
In the following essay, I follow the lead of these last scholars and examine another cultural artifact from the 1950s: cookbooks. I argue that a careful reading of cookbooks from the postwar years demonstrates how, at this site at least, gender ideology in the 1950s was not simply an overwhelming and omnipresent discourse demanding conformity to the domestic ideal. I examine cookbooks first published or revised any time from 1945 to 1963.(6) I cite both widely published cookbooks and lesser-known works, with the assumption that both obscure texts and best-sellers reflected the nature of domestic ideology in the 1950s. I do not claim to have drawn from an exhaustive sample: experts in the field of cookbook history note that it is probably impossible to know exactly how many cookbooks are in circulation at any one time.(7) My research sample consisted of about one hundred texts, housed mainly in the Los Angeles Public Library and the Hunnold Library in Claremont, California, and was comprised mostly of cookbooks published by corporations for promotional purposes (including Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book). I limited the books authored by individuals to those documented as popular in terms of sales or those which exemplified a certain genre of cookery text, such as books aimed at new brides or barbecue cookbooks.
I confine my analysis to an examination of the discursive constructions of gender. Many historians working in the fields of women's history and social history have argued that while historical investigations of prescriptive literature bring attention to how various authorities instructed women to behave during certain time periods, such work fails to account for how women actually did behave.(8) Sometimes termed "history of social ideas," feminists and social historians have criticized such work for emphasizing the gender norms themselves rather than the ways individual women (and men) might have resisted those norms.(9) While sympathetic to the desire to explore questions of agency and resistance, I believe that normative discourse itself is highly complex and a valid site for historical investigation. Like Joan Wallach Scott, I believe that social historians interested in gender issues must not limit their research by reiterating "man" and "woman" as natural givens. Rather, we should attempt "to understand the operations of the complex and changing discursive processes by which identities are ascribed, resisted, or embraced, and which processes themselves are unremarked, indeed, achieve their effect because they are not noticed."(10)
The "discursive process" I examine in this article - cookery texts - are important sites of historical investigation because, to use Scott's phrase, they were often "not noticed," both by their readers and by historians in later years. I begin with the assumption that these texts were a noteworthy aspect of normative discourse, that is, the circulation of mass produced material which reiterated and reinforced social norms, and gender norms in particular. They were instructional texts, giving detailed accounts of the "correct," gender-specific way to undertake the activity of cooking. They constrained possibilities and limited meaning, within their writings. At the same time, these cookbooks are an example of how popular culture from the 1950s reflected a deep ambivalence Americans felt about the gender roles in the postwar years. Although many scholars in women's history and social history may now readily accept historical analysis that reveals such ambivalence, this is by no means the dominant understanding of post-WWII gender ideology. The 1950s are far more often characterized as a time of omnipresent, and incredibly stringent, gender norms. And conservative politicians regularly evoke the 1950s as a time of great stability, when men and women enjoyed the comfort of clearly marked gender roles.(11) I do not discount the abundantly documented pressure women felt to define their lives solely as wives and mothers.(12) But I do argue that these cookbooks, although they may have urged their readers to pour their creative and intellectual energies into baking the perfect layer cake, simultaneously revealed the tenuousness of the domestic ideal.
"Coatings and Alibis:" Food and Cooking in the 1950s
"Enough food" is not enough for you!
- Mr. and Mrs. Roto-Broil Cook-Book (1955)
Studying the eating patterns from a particular era may offer insights into society not readily available in standard social or political history.(13) This is particularly true for scholars of women's history. To fully understand the gender norms of a certain era, it is imperative to understand who is expected to provide daily meals for the family.(14) Conservative backlash against feminist gains has often linked women's role in society to food preparation. For instance, historians associate the emergence of the modern cookbook with rhetoric in the 1930s that constructed culinary household tasks as an enjoyable and creative outlet for middle-class housewives.(15) While most cookery historians accept American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (1796) as the first American cookbook, they also recognize the 1896 Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking-School Cook Book as the first "modern" cookbook. The latter contained exact measurements, ingredient lists, and exercised an impersonal authoritative voice.(16) However, it was not until after the First World War that cookbooks began to be mass produced and became more clearly distinguished from general housekeeping manuals. Not coincidentally, women had made moderate political and social advances in the two decades preceding the Depression and the backlash included a heightened emphasis on women's role in feeding the family. The cookbook rhetoric that I examine in this essay evolved from these post-WWI texts, which began to fulfill a specific cultural and social need in maintaining gender roles, and to do so in a particular, "modern" format.
Similarly, cookbooks published during World War II reflected a cultural need to reaffirm women's traditional roles. Reiterating that a woman's place was in the kitchen was an effective counterpoint to the challenge that women's war-time employment presented to traditional gender norms among white, middle-class families. Jane Stern and Michael Stern quote this telling paragraph from a ration cookbook, addressed to the homemaker who wanted to do her part for the war effort:
You have been strengthening your country's defenses as plane workers, as flyers, as members of the armed forces, as producers in war plants and homes and in Red Cross and Civilian Defense activities. But whatever else you do, you are, first and foremost, homemakers - women with the welfare of your families deepest in your hearts. You must heed the government's request to increase the use of available foods and save those that are scarce - and at the same time, safeguard your family's nutrition.(17)
Many recipes reflected women's growing need for quick and easy meals, but most Americans insisted that such changes were temporary.(18) As "Betty Crocker" phrased it, women remained "first and foremost, homemakers." While the realities for middle-class women may have changed during the war, the domestic ideal of womanhood had not. War-time cookbooks, and the discourse that positioned women squarely in the middle of the kitchen, set the stage for postwar cookery books. And war-time deprivations set the stage for postwar appetites.
If ever a nation needed comfort food, it was the United States in the 1950s. Weary from the strain of war-time separations, economy, and anxieties, and reeling from the new knowledge that the U.S. possessed a weapon with unimaginable capabilities for destruction, Americans turned to abundant, rich food. In her essay on her mother's cookbook, Sydney Flynn remembers the recipes her mother saved from the late 1940s which reflected the return to the good life: "Melt six tablespoons of BUTTER," "Pork! Sweet and Tender," "Cheese Souffle: Rich and Smooth."(19) Supermarkets gained supremacy in the postwar years, stocked with these products and with newly available processed foods. Consumers in Los Angeles could buy the same soup as housewives in Peoria. Across class lines and geographic distances, Americans shared a taste for meat and potatoes and highly processed comfort food.(20) Manufacturers and producers touted the homogenization of cuisine as yet another aspect of postwar abundance and the new modem age. One cookbook, published to commemorate twenty five years of supermarkets, described the leveling effect of mass food production as one of the benefits of living in America: "The super market is a symbol of America's attainment of a high standard of living through democracy and is so looked upon as one of the great institutions in the world."(21) Comfort food was not only our war-weary right, but a patriotic privilege.
The increasing use of processed and packaged foods was perhaps the most significant aspect of postwar cooking.(22) Cussler and de Give, in their 1952 study of Southern rural eating patterns, summarized their subjects' response to the availability of processed foods:
Why shell peas or squeeze oranges, asks the housewife in increasing numbers, when prepared frozen peas, orange juice - practically anything you can name - are so readily available? Cook Boston baked beans for six hours when you can buy a can for fifteen cents?
Manufacturers and advertisers touted processed foods as more healthful,(24) but more importantly, as convenient. Recipes from the postwar years emphasized ease in preparation, and relied heavily on brand-name products and prepackaged foods. In several books, virtually every soup recipe consisted entirely of adding extra ingredients to canned soup.(25) The Food Favorites cookbook, published by the Kraft company in conjunction with their televised cooking show, relied heavily on the easy meltability of Velvetta.(26) Numerous recipe pamphlets and advertisements/recipes in magazines such as Life and Ladies Home Journal were published by food manufacturers(27) and featured processed and prepackaged foods.(28) The most famous of these brand-name cookery books was General Mills' Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook,(29) which remains one of the most popular cookbooks of the twentieth century.(30) Freezer, blender, mixer, cutlery, and electric range companies also printed hundreds of recipe booklets, to help convey the convenience of their products.(31)
But 1950s cookbooks, as a whole, imposed certain limitations on convenience and speedy meal preparation. As the Carnation company's promotional booklet cautioned, the new shortcuts were but a drop of relief in women's bucket of culinary duties:
Then there are always sips and snacks, for TV-watching means "munching time." Growing children are never filled up, and they do have a way of raiding your refrigerator. Entertaining guests means a constant supply of "show off" meals. Truly, a woman's work is never done! Shorten your cooking hours. Take advantage of the many new convenience products and kitchen short-cuts.(32)
Moreover, women were expected to "be creative" with processed foods.(33) Serving your family food straight from the can or the package seemed to indicate an unwomanly interest in providing for your family; hence a proliferation of recipes which "doctored up" processed foods and which required additional kitchen work in order to serve the very foods that were supposed to be more convenient. Marling argues that during the 1950s, "even convenience foods [had to] be slaved over to show love."(34) In 1955, one cookbook author reminded housewives that even given the wide availability of processed foods, "there must be an individual touch to produce good meals."(35) While cookbooks relied on canned and packaged foods, they also directed women toward elaborate ruses to cover up the fact that they were using those convenience foods.
On 1950s food, the Sterns write: "To the suburban cook, food is never enough. Parties need themes; meals, accents."(36) While everyday meals were, theoretically, simpler and easier to prepare, cookbooks encouraged women to throw "Hawaiian company dinners" or "country style" meals when "Everyone on the block is dressed for the hoe-down."(37) The General Food's Kitchens Cookbook(38) had complete menus for parties with themes such as "Come to the Mardi Gras," "Old South Open House," and "Alpine Fondue Party."(39) The 1950s was the era of what Roland Barthes termed "ornamental cookery." Barthes argued that the shaping of certain foods to look like other food was another aspect of the bourgeois domination of culture. He described ornamental cookery as
... on the one hand, fleeing from nature thanks to a kind of frenzied baroque (sticking shrimps in a lemon, making a chicken look pink, serving grapefruit hot), and, on the other, trying to reconstitute it through an incongruous artifice (strewing meringue mushrooms and holly leaves on a traditional log-shaped Christmas cake, replacing the heads of crayfish around the sophisticated bechamel which hides their bodies).(40)
Barthes asserted that in ornamental cookery
there is an obvious endeavor to glaze surfaces, round them off, to bury the food under the even sediment of sauces, creams, icing and jellies ... Hence a cookery which is based on coatings and alibis, and is forever trying to extenuate and even to disguise the primary nature of foodstuffs, the brutality of meat or the abruptness of sea-food.(41)
Barthes was writing of French cuisine, but his descriptions readily evoke American Jell-O salads and cocktail wiener canapes. I do not mean to imply that the 1950s was the first time in history that food assumed such odd disguises and interesting forms. But, as Barthes points out in these passages, there was something unique about the way food in the postwar era was molded and shaped. This kind of food decoration was, for Barthes, a reflection of the era, of the way postwar society rushed to embrace the plastic and the mass-produced, and obscured the "primary nature" of life. 1950s food was glazed, smoothed, and shaped to symbolize other foods. Good Housekeeping's Hamburger and Hot Dogs cook book gave a recipe for "Hamburger Post Roast" and "Frank Rabbit."(42) 500 Delicious Dishes from Leftovers offered "Carrot Croquettes" - pureed carrots fried into the shape of whole carrots and topped with parsley.(43) Cookbooks, magazines, and advertisements touted Jell-O, the most famous example of 1950s ornamental cookery, not only as a simple dessert food, but as a way to transform food:
A chicken was a chicken and, thus, of limited utility, but Jell-O was a vague, supple fantasy food which conformed perfectly to whatever vessel it was put in and whatever use it was put to, were it Orange-Glazed Duck, Cherry-Glazed Ham, Popcorn Balls, or Blue Cheese Deluxe Mold.(44)
Jell-O, like numerous recipes from the postwar years, was and was not food: it was more like meta-food. Newton describes the original Jell-O target consumer as
the American housewife who was assured that this product would please her family (be both tasty and "fun"), make her somehow a better wife and mother, and allow her to exercise kitchen creativity. Jell-O salads were invested with symbolic meaning of "wholesomeness, purity, and domesticity."(45)
The Sterns write that this ornamental cookery was the most significant aspect of 1950s food:
If there is a single generalization to be made about the cuisine of suburbia it is that it consists of things made from other things: soups turned dips and casseroles, steaks cubed to form kabobs; graham crackers transformed into S'mores; Pepsi-Cola Cake and Ritz Pecan Pie.(46)
Marling argues that "cuisine meant to look like something else" aimed to elevate the status of cooking and gave the impression of time and trouble taken.(47)
The emphasis on glazing, decorating, and fussing with food, in the face of rapidly increased exposure to instant and canned foods, indicated unease over the implications of such processed foods. By "doctoring" food, women retained their position as the only real cook of the family. Any member of the family could open a can, but only Mom knew to add chopped watercress and milk to a can of potato soup and make "Watercress Vichyssoise." The nature of food and eating was rapidly changing in the 1950s: supermarkets, suburbs, advertising, consumer testing, the development of fast food, increased mobility, the rise of the scientific "expert," and television were changing what, where, and how Americans ate. And Morn had to make sure that even as diets were affected by outside influences, the warm fuzzy feeling of the family dinner remained unaffected. General Foods, for example, opened their cookbook by evoking women's role in maintaining stable family units, visa vis food, in a world of change: "The times we live in are hurrying times, and we are a hurrying people. But it is still possible to provide the necessary islands of peaceful, enjoyable family living that are traditionally associated with the table."(48)
Even the television, with its distractions from family life, could be incorporated into women's nurturing sphere. General Foods offered the concerned mother a menu for TV snacks when her teenager entertained: "When the group gathers to watch the Series game, or tune in their favorite music show, they'll want a simple but hearty lunch or supper they can devour as they watch, without leaving their chairs at the height of the excitement."(49) One author reassured her readers that you had nothing to worry about if your husband wanted to eat dinner in front of the TV now and then. But there was a caveat:
If, however, he wants to eat dinner cure television every night, you had better look to your dinners, or yourself, very quickly indeed. It is hoped that the recipes in this book will help take care of any dinner deficiencies for a while. As for any deficiencies in your dinner-self which a full-length, 3-way mirror may disclose, you can do something about those too. In fact, you had better.(50)
Not to put too fine a point on it, if the television was a disturbance to a woman's marriage and family life, she was solely responsible, and it was up to her to improve her appearance or her cooking or both.
Was this author's prescription for the housewife's defense against a modernizing world a typical one? Levenstein asserts that even as processed foods spread to every comer of every suburb, town, and city in the 1950s, public concerns about the effects of advertising and food additives and preservatives were growing.(51) Some cookbooks continued to espouse the use of fresh foods and M.F.K. Fisher quietly spoke out against the over-indulgences of the postwar years in the revised edition of How to Cook a Wolf.(52) In 1952, Cussler and de Give tartly criticized the way advertising played on emotions and how it linked consumption (and digestion) with worldly success:
If a boy doesn't eat Wheaties, he won't grow up to be a major league ball player; if the young man doesn't keep regular he will miss out on promotions; he has to look out "after forty" and success will bring him at once more bathrooms and more ulcers.(53)
And where does the growing popularity for "ethnic" foods during the 1950s fit into the jellied, canned, processed ornamental home cookin' that seems have been ubiquitous in the postwar years?(54) Though the cuisine of the 1950s may seem to have been primarily Spam and casseroles, cookbooks actually told a more complicated story. They revealed postwar uncertainties, described by Levenstein as "growing doubts that the glittering new appliances and attractively packaged processed foods could really deliver on their promises of freedom."(55) In the recipes and rhetoric of postwar cookbooks, we can see how cooking became a cultural battleground and how American anxieties about gender roles fermented in the kitchen.
Ambivalent Authority: Postwar Cookbooks and Domestic Ideology
A man is in general better pleased when he has a good dinner upon his table, than when his wife talks Greek.
- Dr. Samuel Johnson, as quoted in The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook (1959)
As Patricia Storace writes "Every cookbook, more or less consciously, is a work of social history."(56) Yet historians have virtually ignored twentieth century cookbooks.(57) Cookbooks offer vivid examples of what we might appropriately term a cultural text: recipes are loaded with meaning particular to their time and place.(58) Lynne Ireland raises the question of how accurately cookbooks portray society in her article on compiled (or fund-raising) cookbooks. She asks "Do the facts presented in any way correspond to reality? Are cookbook compilers saying 'Here is what we eat' or 'Here is what we would have you believe that we eat'?"(59) The cookbooks discussed in this essay do both. They represent what women cooked, what cookbook authors and corporations believed women should cook and most importantly, why women should be cooking. I agree with Erika Endrijonas when she writes "While it may not be clear how individual cookbooks are actually utilized, the ideals they project reveal much about their historical and cultural context."(60)
The ideals projected by post-WWII cookbooks are not unique in their complexity and contradiction. Janet Theophano, for example, has argued that late nineteenth century "receipt books" offer historians evidence of the way women complied with the "cult of womanhood" while at the same time carving out spaces for creative expression within the pages of their cookery texts.(61) Moreover, post-WWII cookbooks were not the first prescriptive household texts that upheld domestic ideology and at the same time demonstrated an undercurrent of ambivalence about that ideal. Susan Strasser, for instance, has identified a strained effort in the rhetoric of Catherine Beecher to convince women that the drudgery of housework was an essential part of true womanhood.(62) But cookbooks published in the 1950s do contain uniquely eloquent expressions of anxieties particular to the post-WWII era. Humble describes how postwar cookbooks are especially helpful in illuminating white, middle-class 1950s society:
The cookery book in its twentieth-century form has always been about contemporary anxieties and aspirations. As a popular, topical genre it has responded quickly to shifts in economic and social conditions, to factors influencing domestic work, to changing gender roles, and to newly available nutritional and health information. It has invariably spoken to the middle classes; in fact, its rise to cultural prominence is intimately tied up with the changing patterns of middle-class life and identity.(63)
Cookbooks from the 1950s, then, reveal more than the growing popularity of canned soup in the postwar period.(64) Recipes and rhetoric from 1950s cookbooks illustrated the anxieties of a middle class caught in the throes of huge cultural change. The 1950s are often characterized as a "the dull decade," and virulent anti-communism undoubtedly limited political expression during this time. However, for average Americans, daily life was changing rapidly and in innumerable ways. Suburban living, the exponential rise in automobile ownership, the growth of "white collar" employment, racial tension and the beginning of the civil rights movement, and the spread of television were just some of the factors which contributed to the ways that the daily life for Americans in the post-WWII was dramatically different from the previous generation. Moreover, white middle-class women sought employment and civic activities outside the home in ever-increasing numbers in the years following World War II.(65) Thus, cultural representations of "traditional" women completely fulfilled by their roles as devoted and nurturing mothers spoke to the expectations or desires of society, not necessarily the reality. I will argue that cookbooks from the postwar era were replete with such expectations but I will also assert that closer readings reveal other meanings, contradictions, and tensions.
At the very least, according to several of these cookbooks, a woman's role demanded a cheerful acceptance of the inescapable. In 1960 Ruth Stout addressed "the reluctant cook," and advised that women must face the inevitable and learn how to cook without complaint.
I have heard a woman I know say often throughout forty years: "I hate to cook." She's actually a pleasant person, but when she says those words the expression on her face is far from attractive. If, during all that time, she had forced herself to think and to say aloud "I like to cook," or even "I don't mind getting dinner," my conviction is that by now she wouldn't mind it. If it had been impossible for her to say she enjoyed cooking, she could at least have tried never to think of her hatred; failing that, she certainly could have managed not to express it.(66)
Stout went on to remind the reader that "the majority of women are obliged to fix meals, however little they like the idea."(67) As a thermometer of middle-class values, a cookbook like this one articulated the notion that women should enjoy housekeeping or, if that was not possible, make the best of it.
The recipes themselves in these texts often reiterated a similar set of norms. Editors and authors linked food and gender norms in at least two ways: sexualizing the process of cooking - as in "a way to a man's heart is through his stomach" - and by gendering particular cooking processes or types of food, in particular linking masculine behavior to meat preparation and barbecuing. The recipes and accompanying text that sexualized food preparation asserted that food was a way to woo a man and the way to keep him. For example, "Betty Crocker" offered a set of cookie recipes called "Beau-Catchers and Husband Keepers."(68) Majorie Husted, creator of Betty Crocker, told an advertising executive in 1952 that advertisers must make women believe that "a homemaking heart gives her more appeal than cosmetics, that good,things baked in the kitchen will keep romance far longer than bright lipstick."(69) Many cookbooks delivered the same message. The Seventeen Cookbook emphasized the desirability of a girl who could cook:
To many men (and most teen-age boys) cooking is one of the feminine mysteries, one they can heartily appreciate. With an ever-hungry young man, few things enhance a girl's stock as a girl as swiftly, as surely, as something really good to eat that she made herself [original emphasis].(70)
The editors of Seventeen made sure that their young reader understood that it would be her job to cook and moreover, that her cooking was a critical aspect of her attractiveness to teen-age boys. They reiterated this point by linking culinary skills to popularity: "Most of the popular girls we know have one thing in common. In the kitchen, there's a cookie jar - and there's always something in it."(71) As "Betty Crocker" might have counseled the beginning cook, cookies are "beau-catchers."(72)
But a woman's work was never done. Even after a woman obtained a husband, her culinary skills remained a critical part of her attractiveness. Keeping a husband, in many of these texts, was often a matter of providing a good meal or having the perfect drink ready when he came home from work. However, a woman had to be careful not to be too pushy with the culinary delights. Stein cautioned the housewife that sometimes a husband would be too tired to appreciate an elaborate meal. It was up to the wife, she asserted, to provide a leisurely, relaxing meal for the man:
All too many of us are so eager to be rid of its burden [making dinner] for another night that we present it to our husband as soon as he gets his foot in the door and, if he is lucky, his drink in his hand. This is all wrong.
The evening meal should be leisurely. It should be special. It should be different from all other hours of the day. Dinners a deux are as important, indeed more important, to make pleasant and relaxing as any company dinner of your marital career. A failed company dinner can only lose you a client or a friend. Bad dinners nightly can lose you a good deal more. Like your husband, for instance.(73)
Stein made the connection between husband-pleasing cooking and marital stability again when she advised women to serve hamburgers if an exhausted husband requested them, even if an elaborate meal had already been prepared:
What you would remember is that if he has lousy days once in a while, he has them, partially at least, so that you can afford to buy the fixings for a feast when you feel like conjuring one up; and, further, so that you can afford to stay home and spend four hours bending over a cool electric stove instead of seven and a half hours bending over a hot manual typewriter.(74)
In Stein's view, a woman's economic dependence upon her husband was simply another reason to provide meals carefully crafted to his every whim.(75)
Other cookbook editors and authors were less direct. They asserted gender norms in less overt ways, by connecting women to a certain limited set of food consumption behaviors and men to another set. In these texts, women were to Jell-O salad as men were to meat. Women required dainty, decorative food and men required hearty meals that stuck to their ribs.(76) For example, General Foods Kitchens Cookbook suggested that a mother throw a tea party for her daughter or organize a casual get-together for her son to celebrate a high school graduation. The menu and decorations for the girl's party included:
Open-Faced Cucumber Tea Sandwiches Nut Bread Triangles with Cream Cheese Shrimp Salad on Salty Rye with Cheese Wafers Pink-Frosted Medallion Sugar Cookies Apricot Coconut Balls and Brownies Mixed Nuts Tea Coffee Tangy Punch
For this party, a pretty table, by all means - a pastel tablecloth, and a basket of tiny, individual corsages - paper-lace backed, ribbon-trimmed, for each party-goer to take home with her. Sweetheart roses; phlox, stock, or delphinium doters with baby's breath; small-leaf ivy with pink geraniums - any would be lovely.(77)
The boy's party, according to General Foods, was a somewhat simpler affair:
Nero's Zero Hero Sandwich with Appropriate Fixings Butterscotch Pecan Pie Cola Drink Chocolate Milk
For this party you need no decoration other than the grins of your guests when they see the most Heroic Hero Sandwich opportunity of all time. Do it up proud: Have the plainest possible table - an outdoor picnic one, or boards on sawhorses in the play room - and let the food be the show. Great six-to-eight-inch hunks of split and buttered French or Italian bread; and then, every kind of meat, fish salad, cheese, vegetable, pickle, relish you can possibly call to mind ... Set out the dessert and beverages - and then stand clear: there are men at work here [original emphasis].(78)
Here, the food itself and the presentation of the food both reiterated gender norms. A man required hearty "hunks" of food to satisfy his appetite and any fussy decorations just got in his way. On the other hand, girls and women enjoyed dainty finger foods, with an abundance of frilly favors to accompany the fare.
One way that some cookbooks reiterated the gender norms of consumption was by noting how men were simply unable to prepare food. Just as many of these texts emphasized that women will, by nature or by fate, assume the family's kitchen duties, they implied that men will not be playing any kind of significant role in cooking for the family. Again, General Foods Kitchens Cookbook gives one of the clearest examples of how many cookbook authors implied that men should not be cooking. It offered a menu suggestion to use when one's neighbor fell ill and left her husband to fend for himself and the kids. The editors recommended that one take the following food over to the neighbor's, leaving a note of instructions, for George, who "can't boil WATER!" The explicitness of the directions indicated just how helpless George was on women's turf:
Quick-Frozen Chicken Dinners Lettuce and Tomato Salad Rolls and Butter Minted Pineapple Cup Milk Coffee
Hail to the chef! Here's what to do, and when:
40 minutes before dinnertime, turn on oven to 425 degrees. Take chicken dinners out of freezer. Package directions tell what to do. Slice tomatoes and arrange on lettuce leaves (both are in the crisper drawer - bottom right-hand side - of refrigerator). Salad dressing's in the little cruet with oil-water-vinegar markings - top shelf of refrigerator. Shake well before pouring.
Open can of pineapple (refrigerator) and put in dessert dishes (kitchen table). Garnish each with mint sprig (it's the bouquet on the kitchen table). Heat water for instant coffee, pour milk, put on rolls (bread box) and butter."(79)
The assumption that George would be unable to locate the crisper drawer or think to look for the rolls in the bread box makes it difficult for this reader to perceive George as anything but a touch slow. But I do not want to dismiss this passage as merely an amusing fiction created by General Foods. As I noted, these recipes do not necessarily reveal what men and women actually did in the kitchen.(80) Rather, they articulated a powerful postwar anxiety that white middle-class women might not be completely fulfilled by their duties as wives and mothers. Again, this may not have been an anxiety unique to the 1950s. But as Elaine Tyler May has argued, gender norms were an integral part of a cultural response to the worries and anxieties of the atomic age.(81) George reassured the readers of The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook that the rapid and overwhelming changes of the postwar years had not really changed anything: the kitchen remained a safe, familiar haven.
A few cookbooks acknowledged men's presence in the kitchen, by including breakfast or mixed drink recipes.(82) But these were limited and, in addition, reiterated the notion that men were fundamentally different food consumers from women and required different recipes.(83) One product promotional cookbook, for example, contained a section entitled "Special Recipes" intended for the "amateur male cook."(84) The tone of the recipes suddenly assumed a hearty "Just us guys hanging out" tone. This was especially true for a recipe called "Wieners Royale" (hot dogs stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon):
But let's start with husky, meat-filled Franks - none of the puny, anemic, cereal stuffed dogs will do. With a sharp knife incise lengthwise about halfway through your Frankfurter, and press from both end to make the gaping wound grin at you ... [after they are cooked) pop a sizzling Frank into the bun. Pull out toothpicks, slosh with mustard to taste, clamp both pieces of the bun together, and fling your lips over as delicious a dish as Hebe ever served on Olympus.(85)
I do not need to explore here the implications of a recipe calling for making a wound in one's phallic food, but I do want to point out the rhetoric of this recipe, which made it clear that this was men's work. Adjectives like "husky" and verbs like "slosh," "clamp" and "fling" indicated that this recipe was not for the faint-hearted. The rhetoric of the recipe, which firmly positioned men as creatures of strength and action, who did not fuss around the kitchen, offset the potential threat to gender norms a man's presence in the kitchen might have presented.
Not coincidentally, the above recipe featured meat. Many 1950s cookbooks directly linked masculinity to the desire for and enjoyment of meat. Men, in these texts, overcame their natural disinclination to cook in one case: when the meal involved meat, they became natural chefs. The most well known aspect of 1950s cuisine that reiterated gender norms at the site of food preparation was the backyard barbecue? Men might have been helpless in the kitchen, but they produced a mean steak or burger out on the patio. The incredible popularity of outdoor grilling in the 1950s illustrated several aspects of mid-century society. Suburbs, for example, were an essential aspect of barbecuing because it required yard or patio space. And the Sterns point out that 1950s barbecuing was an activity that required paraphernalia such as tongs, mitts, and aprons with witty sayings: the consumer frenzy of the 1950s called for countless gadgets for every activity.(87) Levenstein asserts that these kinds of accouterments to barbecuing clarified the gender roles of the people cooking:
To assuage any fears that Dad might really be serious about moving into the kitchen, he was encouraged to wear large aprons with macho slogans, which were the opposite of her filly ones and wild oversize utensils, which were clearly inappropriate for the kitchen.(88)
Nonetheless, Levenstein continues, barbecues were a subtle challenge to gender norms. He asserts that they were "the first significant step toward the sharing of the responsibilities for cooking."(89) Thomas Adler, in his article, "Making Pancakes on Sunday: The Male Cook in Family Tradition," argues that barbecues were responsible for establishing the first widespread male culinary sphere.(90)
But in much of the rhetoric around men and barbecuing, and, more generally, men and meat, many cookbook authors took pains to make it clear that meat was a fundamentally male food. They avoided the possibility that Dad may have been assuming daily cooking duties and concentrated on the fact that men and meat naturally belonged together. General Foods, for instance, established the primal connection between men and meat at the beginning of their section on "Meals Outdoors:"
One day, a couple of million years ago, one of our ancestors was having a snack of saber-tooth tiger steak, when it accidentally fell into the fire ... he decided to eat it anyway. And he liked it! Naturally, he wanted to show off his discovery right away; so he called - or grunted, rather - to his wife.... She came running when she heard the familiar grunt; and she tried his new masterpiece.... Then she said, "It tastes okay, but why didn't you put it on a forked stick, so it wouldn't get all over ashes?" To which he replied, "All right, you're so smart - you do it next time." And it's been that way ever since: Men continue to be inspired and resourceful cooks - and women continue to do most of the cooking.(91)
Again, a cookbook reminded women readers that their cooking duties were inevitable; a pattern established "millions of years ago." Men, they asserted, might have been able to slap a steak onto the grill but "women continued to do most of the cooking."
The Picture Cook Book, published by Time Life Inc. in 1958, reiterated the message that men cooking meat outdoors was not really cooking, but simply a natural pairing of masculine elements. Their opening section was succinctly entitled: "MAN'S JOB: STEAK." The editors stated that
Whenever the menu calls for a delicate dish or a fancy pie, most men are more than happy to let their wives take care of the cooking. When it's a matter of steak, this tolerant attitude is replaced by an unassailable belief in masculine know-how. Steak is a man's job.(92)
In this description of the barbecue, men were not assuming cooking duties. They were claiming their natural role as meat consumers.(93) As the Big Boy Barbecue Book made clear, when men grilled meat outdoors, women were somewhat freed from wifely duties, but they still did the cooking: "Husbands become the experts and do the barbecuing. Wives take it easy. All they have to do is make the salad and dessert."(94) Another cookbook echoed this conceptualization of men as responsible only for the meat on the grill, not the meal.(95) This author described family picnics as a time when "men of the household ... will gladly do their part in making the fire and in superintending the cooking of hamburgers, hot dogs, ham, or steak."(96) Adler suggests that backyard barbecues established a new masculine culinary sphere, but that sphere was extremely limited: it was fire and meat and nothing else.
Meat, asserted many cookbook authors from the 1950s, was what men liked best. As Seventeen instructed its teenage reader, there was "one way to a Man's Heart - steak."(97) Women, intoned many cookbooks, were well advised to learn how to cook good meat, because that was what men liked. One author concluded her cookbook with this comment about cooking meat for one's husband:
... if your husband really and truly and profoundly, down to the very bottomless depths of his unsophisticated soul, wants steak for dinner every night, serve it to him. Make fancy lunches for your girl friends. That way you will be sure to keep yourself in friends. And with a husband.(98)
Again, Jell-O salads were for you and your girlfriends and meat was for your husband. In postwar cookbooks, meat was more than the main dish: it signified male desire and privilege and feminine acquiescence.
Cultural critics have linked postwar cookery with a domestic ideology that demanded that acquiescence. Humble asserts that by the 1950s, cooking was an inextricable part of the discourse that sought to limit a woman's life to the domestic sphere:
The idea of cooking as a fulfilling activity had firmed by the 1950s into an ideology of domesticity that saw the home as the centre of a woman's existence. Increasingly high standards operated for both housework and cookery, turning them into full-time occupations, despite all the labour-saving gadgets which filled the postwar home.(99)
Many social historians agree with Humble's analysis and mention cooking in the postwar period as part of an overwhelming domestic ideology.(100) Laura Shapiro, food historian, bitterly describes her 1950s home economics course as an exercise in domestic ideology indoctrination: "Perhaps those classes, known by 1958 as 'Homemaking,' had a grip on us that we hardly suspected at the time, codifying as they did a grim and witless set of expectations that loomed across the future like a ten commandments for girls."(101) Did all cookbooks also uphold a "witless set of expectations?" As I have shown above, the rhetoric and recipes in many of these books did indeed seem to have strongly reinforced the "ten commandments for girls." But I want to suggest another reading of these texts.
Examining cookery books from the postwar years requires the historian to read on multiple levels. Just as the 1950s themselves were rife with contradictions, cookery books from the postwar era performed multiple functions, often contradicting themselves and undermining the domestic ideology they seemed to advocate. While the evidence I have already presented seems to indicate that cookbooks quite powerfully maintained "traditional" gender norms, I want to more closely examine how some texts acknowledged the anxieties, fears, and changing gender roles of the 1950s.
One of the most significant ways that postwar cookbooks indicated the cultural debate around the nature of women's role in society was to give credence to the belief that cooking meals every day for one's family could be a tedious task. This is not to say that cookbooks published in the post-WWII period were the first cookery texts to mention the drudgery of kitchen work! However, I believe these expressions of potential dissatisfaction with culinary duties in post-WWII cookery texts offer historians important evidence of the instability of gender norms in the 1950s; norms that academics and the more general population have too often taken for granted.
Levenstein notes how advertising in the 1950s for certain labor-saving products portrayed "cooking as an interesting, nurturing, and creative pursuit" and, paradoxically, claimed that "new products, technology, and packaging would free women from this boring, unpleasant task."(102) Levenstein quotes an especially revealing statement from a Campbell's Soup executive who in 1958 gave the following response to a question about postwar demand for "highly packaged" foodstuffs:
The average housewife isn't interested in making a slave of herself. When you do it day after day, [cooking] tends to get a little tiresome and that young housewife is really less interested in her reputation as a home cook today.... She doesn't regard slaving in the kitchen as an essential of a good wife and mother.(103)
The acknowledgment that cooking could be boring and unpleasant was not limited to advertisements for appliances and gadgets or processed foods, however. Cookbooks, even those which simultaneously reiterated normalized gender behavior, often addressed their text to the busy modern woman who did not wish to spend a great deal of time in the kitchen. Levenstein asserts that there was only negligible attention paid in cookbooks to the working woman,(104) but even a short statement about the valuable time of a homemaker who could not devote untold hours to cooking revealed a question about gender norms. Even if the text contradicted itself elsewhere, such statements flagged that the editors or authors could not assume that their readers chose to confine their identities to the domestic sphere. Many cookbooks from the 1950s contradicted their basic message about a woman's sacred domestic role in this way: the author or editor expected a woman to have interests outside the sometimes tedious task of daily food preparation. It's a Woman's World, which instructed women on the unavoidable task of cooking, also advised that a woman need not strive to cook elaborate meals - "Don't spend endless hours in the kitchen if you don't want to."(105) The author went on to complain about receiving a "la-de-da French cookbook" that contained recipes that were "far too fancy" for her meager cooking ambitions. She noted that she had no interest in spending hours in the kitchen perfecting these recipes: "If I had a thousand years to live and needed only two hours of sleep out of the twenty-four, perhaps I would be willing to spend some of my valuable time chopping and grinding and stirring and straining and tasting."(106)
Working women, or women without the inclination to spend many hours in the kitchen, often popped up in such unexpected paragraphs. Casseroles, that ubiquitous food of the 1950s, were touted as the "best friend" of the busy housewife or working woman by Cooking With Casseroles, published in 1958.(107) Cussler and de Give mentioned women working outside the home as a factor in their 1952 study: "As women continue to take jobs outside of their homes, the chore of preparing meals becomes shortened."(108) Working women were the target audience of the 1963 The Working Wives' (Salaried or Otherwise) Cookbook. The authors noted that few cookbooks specifically addressed the needs of working women with children.(109) They were careful to state that their cookbook would have great value for busy wives who were not employed outside the home, but they also stated that their text "was planned primarily by and for working wives."(110) Though only one text, its existence points to the growing acceptance of women working outside the home (but still shouldering all cooking duties(111)).
Preceding The Working Wives' Cookbook, Peg Bracken summed up some women's reluctance to cook in her 1960 The I Hate to Cook Book. In many ways, Bracken's text is an example of what Nancy Walker has termed "domestic humor literature." In her article "Humor and Gender Roles: The 'Funny' Feminism of the Post-World War II Suburbs," Walker argues that domestic humor, by authors like Shirley Jackson and Betty McDonald, voiced a refusal to be fooled by the domestic ideology of the postwar years. Walker argues that women writing about their experiences as 1950s suburban (white, middle-class) housewives targeted themselves as the object of their humor, but "a sensitive reading of these works makes it clear that there are specific causes for these women's feelings of inferiority and uneasiness, located in social norms and attitudes that decreed woman's separate sphere."(112) By describing their own ineptitude in the housewife role and resulting domestic chaos, these authors reassured the reader about their failures to live up to the perfect wife and mother image circulating in the 1950s. This kind of writing, Walker asserts, "expressed a hostility toward rigid role definition that prefigures the issues of the women's movement."(113)
Bracken's text, like the ones examined by Walker, did not fundamentally nor overtly call gender norms into question.(114) Even if you hate to cook, Bracken implied, as a woman it would be your job to cook. But Bracken broke a certain silence: she reassured her readers that it was okay to not find deep fulfillment in daily food preparation and offered limited solutions, such as avoiding elaborate canapes and desserts and relying on processed foods. And she explicitly took other cookbooks to task for being neither practical nor easy to use:
Finally, and worst of all, there are the big fat cookbooks that tell you everything about everything. For one thing, they contain too many recipes. Just look at all the things you can do with a chop and aren't about to do! What you want is just one little old dependable thing you can with a chop besides broil it, that's all.(115)
And while Bracken never asserted that women should rebel against the inequitable division of cooking duties she certainly expressed "a hostility toward rigid role definition:"
It is understood that when you hate to cook, you buy already-prepared foods as often as you can.... But let us amend that statement. Let us say, instead, that you buy these things as often as you dare, for right here you usually run into a problem with the basic male.... He wants to see you knead that bread and tote that bale before you do down cellar to make soap. This is known as Woman's Burden.(116)
This dry description of gender norms did not fundamentally question such norms. But it did, with the power of satire, poke fun and thus, undermined those norms. Similarly, Bracken challenged the broader national trend of emphasizing cooking in women's lives:
We live in a cooking-happy age. You watch your friends redoing their kitchens and hoarding their pennies for glamorous cooking equipment and new cookbooks called Eggplant Comes To The Party or Let's Waltz into the Kitchen, and presently you begin to feel un-American(117)
In some ways, Bracken's cookbook was a major exception to the rule. It articulated a dissatisfaction with cooking duties that most other cookbooks from the postwar period simply did not express. Yet on the other hand, The I Hate to Cook Book was wildly successful. Bracken clearly hit a nerve with her book and it became one of the best-selling cookbooks ever.(118)
Humble asserts that Bracken's text was a product of Betty Friedan's suburbs, that is, she argues that Bracken was another white, middle-class woman unhappy with the isolation and drudgery of housekeeping but unable to act against it:" ... Bracken's solution to the fact that many women hate to cook is not to question whether they should have to do so, but to suggest ways in which they can deceive and cheat and get other women to do it for them."(119) But Humble oversimplifies Bracken's strategy, which began with the open acknowledgment of a hatred of cooking. To do even that much was to question, at least in part, postwar domestic ideology. Bracken did not ask her readers to try to actually like cooking. Nor did Bracken pretend that it was simply the reader's busy schedule that prevented more elaborate meals: her readers did not want to spend a lot of time cooking because they did not like to cook, and Bracken sympathized. Humble and other scholars examining popular culture of the 1950s have read at only one level when multiple levels existed. Cookbooks, like other aspects of pop culture in the postwar years, presented complex and contradictory messages. Reading postwar cookery as simply another aspect of the domestic ideology that constructed June Cleaver as the ideal wife and mother is to ignore the currents of anxiety of which June was actually a product. The pop culture representations which, to us, seem to offer unambivalent images of the thoroughly domesticated woman, actually present other kinds of evidence. The women who baked, basted, glazed, and decorated throughout postwar cookbooks were figments of the postwar American imagination. They were expressions of desires and fears in a nation strained by the war and baffled by the unstoppable social changes that shaped the 1950s. These women were as fictional as Betty Crocker and constructed for a very similar purpose: to soothe and reassure. The recipes and rhetoric of postwar cookbooks, by their continuous repetition, tell social historians a story of strained and tested gender norms.
When a cookbook author advised her readers that they would find deep fulfillment in daily cooking duties, other possibilities were, paradoxically, raised. The rhetoric of cookbooks in the 1950s actually did not assume that women would be completely fulfilled by domestic labor. An assumption is unspoken and, to the contrary, postwar cookbooks stated, over and over, what women's roles were, what they would accept and what they would enjoy. Homi K. Bhabha's discussion of colonial power in his essay "Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of ambivalence and authority under a tree outside Delhi, May 1817" is useful here. Bhabha's well-known essay is usually read as a call for the political usefulness of the "Third Space" - the field or space of ambivalence and possibility - and the subversive qualities of a hybrid identity. Here, I am interested in Bhabha's exploration of how colonial power is rooted in difference and repetition.
In Bhabha's view, the authority of the British colonials in India was never omnipotent, but in fact undermined its own project by demanding the acknowledgment of an authority based on a superiority that did not need acknowledgment, that is, "the colonial presence is always ambivalent, split between its appearance as original and authoritative and its articulation as repetition and difference."(120) To repeat authority is to destabilize that authority. Bhabha describes this aspect of colonialism as "the paradox of ... a demand for proof and the resulting ambivalence for positions of authority."(121) I do not mean to draw a parallel between the political and cultural oppression of Indians and the lives of white, middle-class housewives, although one could certainly make connections between imperialism and domestic ideology.(122) Rather, I want to use Bhabha's definition of how authority functions to demonstrate how postwar cookery texts, in their relentless repetition of gender norms, were an articulation of general fears and uncertainties about those norms.
Cookbooks are the voice of authority; recipes are the directions for detailed behavior. When these authorities of the kitchen also sought authority over the meaning of women's roles by gendering certain foods or informing women of the inevitability of cooking duties, it was in fact a plea for authority. "Please do it this way," begged these texts, beneath their perky suggestions for theme parties and recipes for "date-bait" pie. The necessity of claiming authority renders authority unstable: "The recognition of authority ... requires a validation of its source that must be immediately, even intuitively, apparent - 'You have that in your countenance which I would fain call master'.... "(123) In the 1950s, the authoritative voice that limited women's sphere to home and kitchen was not "immediately, even intuitively, apparent." Many of these texts, like the country as a whole, were deeply ambivalent about "traditional" gender norms: they asserted that a woman's place was in the kitchen but they knew that a woman's place need not be in the kitchen and that in fact, the kitchen was often a dull place.
Betty Crocker's lectures on the significance of cake baking in the lives of white middle-class women were over determined. Like a zealous evangelical colonial passing out Bibles, certain of the authoritative power of the book, the editors and cookbook authors of the postwar United States published text after text which handed down the ten commandments of gender.(124) But, like the dismayed missionary who discovered that Indians were using the free Bibles for waste paper,(125) the purveyors of these cookery books had to face inescapable realities of the mid-twentieth century; in particular, the fact that white, middle-class women were going to continue to work outside the home. Women's distressed confessions of how they could not live up to a domestic ideal, their anxiety about being unable to be the "perfect" wife and mother, would evolve into active, organized resistance to that ideal.
Bhabha argues that an authority based on construction of the subjects visa vis the colonizer's gaze - "You are Indian and so you must be ruled by the superior English" - allows room for the colonized to look back, to return the gaze. When authority does not conceal itself, but is repeated in text, a space where resistance or subversion may be enacted is created.(126) By stating assumptions about women's lives, cookbooks left room for those "assumptions" to be questioned. Cookbooks, in their efforts to seal up the growing cracks in gender ideology, actually left traces and clues about just where the cracks had begun to show. The dominant discourse that positioned cooking and food preparation as a natural, deeply fulfilling activity for all women spoke to the possibility that perhaps it was not. These texts articulated what must not be articulated but assumed, in order to maintain "traditional" gender roles. These books were instruction manuals in attitudes and desires that should have been "natural" to men and women, thus they actually denaturalized those attitudes and desires. Historians, sifting through postwar artifacts which seem to have ordered women to don aprons and return to the kitchen, should look more closely. Like a layered Jell-O salad, there's more than meets the eye.
Department of History Claremont, CA 91711-6163
I am grateful to Dr. Janet Farrell Brodie for her astute and careful reading of an earlier version of this article, and beholden to the following friends and colleagues who read various drafts of this essay and offered helpful comments and suggestions: Kelly Austin, Kelly Douglass, Charley Turner, and Shasta Turner. Dr. Erika Endrijonas has kindly answered numerous email messages, offering me invaluable conversation and advice on this research. I would also like to thank Dr. Joe Price for inviting me to present a version of this paper at Whittier College, Michelle Ladd for attending that and other presentations of this paper and offering her insights, and Katrine Barber for her comments during our panel session at the American Historical Association Pacific Coast Branch annual meeting, 1997.
1. Dorothy Hurst, Walter E. Botthof, Mary Barber, Don Clark, eds., To the Bride (Milwaukee, WI, 1956). Dr. Janet Farrell Brodie kindly, and with her usual gracious good humor, presented this volume to me on the occasion of my own wedding.
2. Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York, 1963, 1974). Friedan's text is not the work of a historian, but is a psychological/cultural analysis of then-present social conditions. She argues that the combined effects of media, Freudian thought, functionalism, and advertising created a feminine mystique which trapped women into being identified solely as wives and mothers, at great cost to their intellectual and emotional health.
3. Harriet Hyman Alonso, "Mayhem and Moderation: Women Peace Activists During the McCarthy Era," in Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960, ed. Joanne Meyerowitz (Philadelphia, 1994); Birmingham Feminist History Group, "Feminism as Femininity in the Nineteen Fifties?" Feminist Review 3 (1979): 48-65; Cynthia Harrison, On Account of Sex: The Politics of Women's Issues, 195-1968 (Berkeley, 1988); Susan Lynn, Progressive Women in Conservative Times: Racial Justice, Peace, and Feminism, 1945 to the 1960s (New Brunswick, NJ, 1992); Leila J. Rupp and Verta Taylor, Survival in the Doldrums: The American Women's Rights Movement, 1945 to the 1960s (New York, 1987); Amy Swerdlow, "The Congress of American Women: Left-Feminist Peace Politics in the Cold War," in Linda K. Kerber, Alice Kessler-Harris, and Kathryn Kish Sklar, U.S. History as Women's History: New Feminist Essays (Chapel Hill, 1995). See also "They Make Their Voices Heard" and "Victory from Defeat" (Ladies Home Journal June, March 1953): 54-55. These two articles describe housewives' involvement in political activities. Significant to this paper is the description of how one mother of three did not let her volunteer duties interfere with feeding her family: "Fortunately, it [the phone] is at the end of the counter where I give the family breakfast and lunch, so I could stir the soup with one hand, knead the bread with the other, and still talk or listen with the phone propped on my shoulder" (54)!
4. See, fog example, Joyce Antler, "Between Culture and Politics: The Emma Lazarus Federation of Jewish Women's Clubs and the Promulgation of Women's History, 1944-1989," in Kerber, Kessler-Harris, and Sklar, eds., U.S. History as Women's History; Xiaolan Bao, "When Women Arrived: The Transformation of New York's Chinatown," in Meyerowitz, ed., Not June Cleaver; Ruth Feldstein, "'I Wanted the Whole World to See," Race, Gender, and Constructions of Motherhood in the Death of Emmett Till," in Meyerowitz, ed., Not June Cleaver; David J. Carrow, ed., The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson (Knoxville, 1987); Ann Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi (New York, 1968); Margaret Rose, "Gender and Civic Activism in Mexican American Barrios in California: The Community Service Organization, 1947-1962," in Meyerowitz, ed., Not June Cleaver; Ricki Solinger, Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe V. Wade (New York, 1992). On lesbian experiences during the 1950s, see Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis, Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: A History of a Lesbian Community (New York, 1993), John D'Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970 (Chicago, 1983), Lillian Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America (New York, 1991).
5. Wini Breines, Young, White, and Miserable: Growing Up Female in the Fifties (Boston, 1992); Susan J. Douglas, Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media (New York, 1994); Margaret Finnegan, From Spurs to Silk Stockings: Women in PrimeTime Television, 1950-1965," The UCLA Historical Journal 11 (1991): 1-30; Brandon French, On the Verge of Revolt: Women in American Films of the Fifties (New York, 1978); Meyerowitz, ed., Not June Cleaver; Andrea Press, Women Watching Television: Gender, Class, and Generation in the American Television Experience (Philadelphia, 1991); Nancy Walker, "Humor and Gender Roles: The 'Funny' Feminism of the Post-World War II Suburbs," American Quarterly 37 (1985): 99-113.
6. In my understanding of the postwar era, "the Fifties" began with the end of World War II and closed with the assassinations of John E Kennedy and the publication of The Feminine Mystique.
7. Barbara Heber, Curator, Culinary Collection, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, as quoted in Erika Endrijonas, "No Experience Required: American Middle-class Families and Their Cookbooks, 1945-1960, (Ph.D. diss., University of Southern California, 1966), 11.
8. See, for example, Ann D. Gordon, Meri Jo Buhle, and Nancy Schrom Dye, "The Problem of Women's History," in Bernice A. Carroll, ed., Liberating Women's History (Urbana, IL, 1976), 75-92.
9. Connie Miller with Corinna Treitel, Feminist Research Methods: An Annotated Bibliography (New York, 1991), 112 and 121. See also Susan Strasser, Never Done: A History of American Housework (New York, 1982), xii.
10. Joan Wallach Scott, "Experience," in Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott, eds., Feminists Theorize the Political (New York, 1992), 33.
11. For an example of the former characterization, see Marge Piercy, Parti-Colored Blocks for a Quilt (Ann Arbor, 1982). For an analysis of how, in an American nostalgic view of history, the 1950s remain "the privileged lost object of desire," see Frederic Jameson, "Postmodernism, Or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," 67, as quoted in John Storey, An Introductory Guide to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture (Athens, 1993).
12. For documentation of that pressure, see for example Brett Harvey, The Fifties: A Women's Oral History (New York, 1993).
13. M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating (New York, 1976); Harvey Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America (New York, 1993); Sarah Newton, "The Jell-O Syndrome: Investigating Popular Culture/Foodways," Western Folklore (July 1992): 249-267; Laura Shapiro, Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century (New York, 1986).
14. Class issues are also revealed when a historian explores the issue of who is expected to do the cooking for a family.
15. Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty, 89. See also Nicola Humble, "A Touch of Boheme: Cookery Books as Documents of Desires, Fears, and Hopes," Times Literary Supplement 14 June 1996, 15-16.
16. Anne Mendelson, Stand Facing the Stove: The Story of the Women Who Gave America the Joy of Cooking (New York, 1996), 106. The full title of the Simmons text is American Cookery, or The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and All Kinds of Cakes.
17. Michael Stern and Jane Stern, square Meals (New York, 1985), 199-200.
18. Stern, square Meals, 241-242.
19. Sydney Flynn, "My Mother's Cookbook," McCall's, May 1987, 52.
20. Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty, 116.
21. Edith Barber, Silver Jubillee Super Market Super Market Cook Book (New York, 1940, 1946, 1955), xv.
22. See Joshua Gitelson, "Populox: The Suburban Cuisine of the 1950s," Journal of American Culture 15 (Fall 1992): 73-78; Humble, "A Touch of Boheme"; Levenstein, The Paradox of Plenty; Karal Ann Marling As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s (Cambridge, MA, 1994); Stern and Stern, square Meals.
23. Margaret Cusser and Mary L. De Give, Twixt the Cup and the Lip: Psychology and Sociological Cukural Factors Affecting Food Habits (New York, 1952), 168.
24. Cussler and De Give, Twixt the Cup and the Lip, 35.
25. Marion Young Taylor, Martha Deane's Cooking for Compliments (New York, 1954); The Seventeen Cookbook (New York, 1963).
26. Food Favorites (U.S.A., 1951).
27. Levenstein, The Paradox of Plenty, 123.
28. Adventures in Flavor ... with Kraft Dressings (Chicago, No Date); Betty Crocker's Bisquick Cook Book (U.S.A., 1956); Knudsen Recipes (San Bernadino, 1958).
29. Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook (New York, 1950). Betty Crocker is a fictional character invented by General Mills, to give a reassuring, motherly face to their recipes and products.
30. Patrick L. Coyle, Cooks' Books: An Affectionate Guide to the Literature of Food (New York, 1985), 25; Marling, As Seen on TV, 203.
31. Sarah Alaxander, Mr. & Mrs. Roto-Broil Cook-Book (New York, 1955); Nedda Casson Ander, Complete Cookbook for Infra-Red Broiler and Rotisserie (New York, 1953); Ruth Ellen Church, Mary Meade's Magic Recipes for the Electric Blender (Indianapolis, 1952); Margaret Mitchell, Cutco Cook Book: Meat and Poultry Cookery (New Kensington, PA, 1961); Waring Blender Cook Book (New York, 1955). Mary Meade's Magic Recipes for the Electric Blender is somewhat of an exception, stating that your new blender is so much fun that you will actually spend more time cooking and entertaining.
32. 38 Answers to What's Cooking? (U.S.A., 1961), 3.
33. I question the possibilities for creativity espoused by many of these cookbooks, though I do not by any means dismiss the possibility. I believe Gitelson overestimates the possible creative outlet found in postwar cooking when he asserts "Often, when housewives combined two antipodal ingredients, it was a reaction against the cultural homogeneity of Suburbia. Dinner time became an opportunity to flee to far away place, a meta-escape from an escapist haven" (Gitelson, "Populox," 75). I am more inclined to agree with Dr. Robert Dawidoff, who argues that suburban entertaining, with its party themes and more elaborate dishes, offered women a break in routine and a chance for some self-expression. Dr. Robert Dawidoff, conversation with author, January 1996.
34. Marling, As Seen on TV, 222.
35. Barber, Silver Jubilee, vii.
36. Stern and Stern, square Meals, 274.
37. Good Housekeeping's Company Meals and Buffets (Chicago, 1958), 22, 12.
38. I am grateful to Dr. John Neuhaus and A. Lori Neuhaus for bringing this text to my attention.
39. The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook (New York, 1959), 121-154.
40. Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York, 1957, 1972), 79.
41. Barthes, Mythologies, 78.
42. Good Housekeeping's Hamburger and Hot Dog Book (Chicago, 1958) 22, 27.
43. 500 Delicious Dishes from Leftovers (Chicago, 1952) 27.
44. Gitelson, "Populox," 75-76.
45. Newton, "'The Jell-O Syndrome,'" 252.
46. Stern and Stern, square Meals, 296.
47. Marling, As Seen on TV, 222.
48. The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook, 1.
49. The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook, 207.
50. Toby Stein, How to Appeal to a Man's Appetites: Recipes, Cookery, and Related Pleasures (New York, 1962), 184.
51. Levenstein, The Paradox of Plenty, 133.
52. M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating (New York, 1976).
53. Cussler and De Give, Betwixt the Cup and Lip, 198.
54. In a cursory chapter on this topic, Endrijonas notes that "Numerous cookbooks published in the postwar years focused on regional and ethnic cooking" (Endrijonas, "No Experience Required," 192). For examples of such cookbooks, see Amuay Cooking Capers (Fort Worth, TX, 1952); Ada Boni, The Talisman Italian Cook Book, trans. Matilde La Rosa (New York, 1950, 1955); Elena Zelayeta, Elena's Secrets of Mexican Cooking (Englewood Cliffs, 1958).
55. Levenstein, The Paradox of Plenty, 131.
56. Patricia Storace, "Repasts Past: Delicious Memories from Antique Cookbooks," House and Garden, June 1986, 62. And Endrijonas comments: "While they rarely tell a story all on their own, cookbooks reveal the texture of the time and culture in which they were written" (Endrijonas, "No Experience Required," 1).
57. For explorations of eighteenth and nineteenth century cookbooks, see Charlsie Berly, "Early American Cookbooks (1783-1861): Windows on Household Life and a Developing Culture," Lamar Journal of Humanities 14 (1988): 5-10; Mildred Jailer, "Bible for the Happy Housewife," Antiques and Collecting (February 1993): 18-20; Janet Theophano, "A Life's Work: Women Writing from the Kitchen," Fields of Folklore: Essays in Honor of Kenneth S. Goldstein, Roger D. Abrahams, ed. (Bloomington, 1995): 287-299; Thomas H. Wolf, "Once Upon a Time a Cookbook Was a Recipe for Excess," Smithsonian (November 1991): 118-130.
58. Betty Fussell, "Reading Food: There's a Mythological Construct in My Soup," New York Times Book Review 24 September 1989, 36.
59. Lynn Ireland, "The Compiled Cookbook as Foodways Autobiography," Western Folklore (January 1981), 111.
60. Endrijonas, "No Experience Required," 212.
61. Theophano, "A Life's Work," 293.
62. Strasser, Never Done: A History of American Housework, 185.
63. Humble, "A Touch of Boheme," 15.
64. As the Sterns write, "Recipes are not arbitrary formulas for appetizers, entrees and dessert; they are affirmations of values and cultural priorities." (Stern and Stern, square Meals, xiv.)
65. See Susan M. Hartmann, "Women's Employment and the Domestic Ideal in the Early Cold War Years," Meyerowitz, ed., Not June Cleaver.
66. Ruth Stout, It's a Woman's World (New York, 1960), 35-36.
67. Ibid., 39.
68. Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, 174.
69. Levenstein, The Paradox of Plenty, 102.
70. The Seventeen Cookbook, 76.
71. Ibid., 342.
72. For other texts which emphasized cooking in the pursuit of a mate, see Robert H. Loeb, She Cooks to Conquer (New York, 1952) and Mimi Sheraton, The Seducer's Cookbook (New York, 1961).
73. Stein, How to Appeal to a Man's Appetites, 183.
74. Ibid., 183.
75. Another important culinary ability women were supposed to cultivate, in order to provide for their husbands, was feeding unexpected guests. Barber advisers her readers: "When the husband brings one of his old friends without notice, however, if you are an intelligent wife you will welcome him with outstretched arms even if you are mentally racking your brain as to how you can possibly change or supplement the meal already planned just to prove to him that marriage is a desirable state for all men." Barber, Silver Jubilee, 26. Or as General Foods promised the woman who could provide for unexpected guests of her husband or her children "What better proof could a man have that his wife is a manger and a hostess to be proud of? Or, if it's the children who brought spur-of-the-moment guests to your door, what demonstration that Mom knows how to do things better than anybody!" General Foods Kitchens Cookbook, 375.
76. Endrijonas comments on how gelatin was associated with femininity and meat with masculinity:" ... molded food was considered to be quite feminine because it looked neat and dainty.... Plain meat, however, was considered heavy, masculine fare" (Endrijonas, "No Experience Required," 180). One male cookbook author reinforced this point as well:" ... of all salads, those compounded with gelatins to form aspics are ... the worst, and have no place in male cuisine." Malcolm La Prade, That Man in the Kitchen (New York, 1946), 160.
77. The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook, 271-272.
78. Ibid., 273.
79. Ibid., 364.
80. In fact, the editors themselves noted that George was the last of a dying breed: "He's a rarity these days - that man who can't cook a note" (General Foods Kitchens Cookbook, 363).
81. See Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (United States, 1988).
82. Levenstein, The Paradox of Plenty, 186.
83. There were some cookbooks authored by men and intended for male readers. Endrijonas argues that such cookbooks clearly enforced strict gender norms and were, in fact, often misogynist in tone. See for example La Prade, That Man in the Kitchen, Robert H. Loeb, Jr., Wolf in Chef's Clothing' (Chicago, 1950), Frank Shay, The Best Men are Cooks (New York, 1945), and Trader Vic, Trader Vic's Book of Food and Drink (Garden City, 1946).
84. Robertshaw Measured Heat Cook Book (Youngwood, PA, 1951), 71.
85. Robertshaw Measured Heat Cook Book, 74.
86. For an interesting contemporary barbecue cookbook which combines nostalgia for and ironic commentary on the 1950s, see Gideon Bosker, Karen Brooks, and Leland and Crystal Payton, Patio-Daddy-O (San Francisco, 1996).
87. Stern and Stern, square Meals, 283.
88. Levenstein, The Paradox of Plenty, 132.
90. Thomas A. Adler, "Making Pancakes on Sunday: The Male Cook in Family Tradition," Western Folklore 40 (1981): 46.
91. The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook, 295.
92. Picture Cook Book (New York, 1958), 8.
93. But this cookbook also included several pages of instructive photographs and step-by-step instructions on the correct way for men to carve a leg of lamb, a whole suckling pig, a ham, and a turkey because "carving in public before guests alarms some men." Picture Cook Book, 225. Apparently, some men needed assistance with what was supposed to be their natural affinity for meat-related activities. Endrijonas comments on these sort of instructions: "Men, sitting at the head of the table, were expected to carve the meat, usually the main course, as a showcase of their masculine authority and role within the family ... However, women were to play a significant behind-the-scenes role in protecting the carver from potential public embarrassment" Endrijonas, "No Experience Required," 144.
94. Big Boy Barbecue Book (New York, 1956, 1957), 5.
95. Even texts which do not specifically state that men will be grilling the meat while women prepare everything else imply this division of labor with photographs and pictures of men standing by the grill and women holding the salad bowl, etc. See especially Better Homes and Gardens Barbecue Book (U.S.A., 1956).
96. Barber, The Silver Jubilee, 43.
97. The Seventeen Cookbook, 65.
98. Stein, How to Appeal to a Man's Appetites, 185.
99. Humble, "A Touch of Boheme," 15.
100. See Benira Eisler, Private Lives: Men and Women of the Fifties (New York, 1986); Marion Nowak, "'How to Be a Woman:" Theories of Female Education in the 1950s," Journal of Popular Culture IX (Summer 1975): 77-83; Marge Piercy, Parti-Colored Blocks for a Quilt; Caryl Rivers, Aphrodite at Mid-Century: Growing Up Catholic and Female in Post-War America (New York, 1973).
101. Shapiro, Perfection Salad, 217.
102. Levenstein, The Paradox of Plenty, 108. I write under the assumption that housework can indeed be boring and limiting. This may seem an obvious point, but historians have sometimes implied otherwise. For example, Hine's flippant analysis on women and housework in the 1950s - that women "expressed extreme displeasure with housework, perhaps because the media were leading them to believe that would not have to do any" (Thomas Hine, Populuxe [New York, 1987], 31) - strikes me as wrong on several levels. Hine seems to assume that before the media told them otherwise, women happily cooked and cleaned, oblivious to possible dissatisfaction. He overestimates the control of the media in women's lives and underestimates the disruption in gender norms that was happening in the 1950s, and the subsequent dissatisfaction among white middle-class homemakers.
103. Levenstein, The Paradox of Plenty, 109.
104. Levenstein, The Paradox of Plenty, 105.
105. Stout, It's a Woman's World, 66.
106. Ibid., 48.
107. Cooking With Casseroles (Menlo Park, 1958). See also Stout, It's a Woman's World, 65.
108. Cussler and de Give, Twixt the Cup and the Lip, 167.
109. Theodora Zavin and Freda Stuart, The Working Wives' (Salaried or Otherwise) Cookbook (New York, 1963), 1.
110. Ibid., 3.
111. Several cookbooks make hopeful reference to men assisting in at least one aspect of food preparation: Shopping. One book claimed that "... a great many men have discovered that food marketing is fun, too" (General Foods Kitchens Cookbook, 6). And, not surprisingly, the Silver Jubilee Super Market Cook Book promised that "Often the man of the household ... comes to enjoy the weekly or semi-weekly visits to a modern super market" (Barber, The Silver Jubilee, vii). But even Helen Gurley Brown's 1962 bestseller Sex and the Single Girl, which is aimed specifically at young working women, warns her readers that they should refrain from cooking many meals for their beaux because "after you marry you're home a long time, cooking, cooking, cooking Better go out while the going is good" Helen Gurley Brown, Sex and the Single Girl (New York, 1962), 127-128.
112. Walker, "Humor and Gender Roles," 101.
113. Ibid., 113.
114. Bracken also wrote domestic humor books that did not concentrate on cooking. See the revealingly titled I Try to Behave Myself (New York, 1963).
115. Peg Bracken, The I Hate to Cook Book (New York, 1960), viii.
116. Ibid., 24.
117. Ibid., 30.
118. Patrick L. Coyle, Cook' Books: An Affectionate Guide to the Literature of Food (New York, 1985), 25. It was also popular enough to warrant follow-up publications: Peg Bracken, Peg Bracken's Appendix to The I Hate to Cook Book (Greenwich, CT, 1966); Peg Bracken, The I Hate to Cook Almahack (Greenwich, CT, 1976); and Peg Bracken, The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book (New York, 1986).
119. Humble, "A Touch of Boheme," 16.
120. Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (New York, 1994), 107.
121. Ibid., 112.
122. See Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (New York, 1995).
123. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 112.
124. Ibid., 93,102.
125. Ibid., 122.
126. Scholars working in the field of the history of sexuality have made a similar argument about gay and lesbian identity in the 1950s. See Allan Berube, "Marching to a Different Drummer: Lesbian and Gay Gis in World War II," Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality, eds. Ann Snitow, et. al. (New York, 1983); John D'Emilio, "The Homosexual Menace: The Politics of Sexuality in Cold War," Passion and Power: Sexuality in History, eds. Kathy Peiss and Christina Simmons (Philadelphia, 1989); Donna Penn, "The Sexualized Woman: The Lesbian, Prostitute, and the Containment of Female Sexuality in Postwar America," in Meyerowitz, Not June Cleaver. Postwar anti-homosexual campaigns, while repressive and terrifying for gay and lesbian people, also solidified a "gay identity" and contributed to the feelings of persecution against which gay liberation movements would be organized.
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|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1999|
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