A World of Good Eating


Serendipity always surprises me. I guess that’s part of the magic of it all. Yesterday I received a missing issue of Gastronomica. I could go on about this quarterly journal published by UC Berkeley and the range of fascinating, vast and well-written and documented pieces in each issue. Suffice it to say that if you hold more than a passing interest in food you owe it to yourself to get a subscription. It makes other food publications, excluding Saveur and The Art of Eating look rookie. (Sorry, watching the Red Sox playoffs in tandem to this effort.)

Well, there in the author bio of Ann L. Bower, an associate professor of English at Ohio State University/ Marion was a listing of a book she had edited, Recipes for Reading Community Cookbooks Stories, Histories, (1997). Well, really! Now I’m not even thinking that I was the first to write about the cultural and social significance of this genre of cookbooks but I felt, well, ok, a bit smug and oddly validated.

Back to the book find of the moment…from the publisher’s site info in a short summary it states that it the scholarly book is arranged into three sections:

Part One provides a historical overview of community cookbooks, a discussion of their narrative strategies, and insights into the linguistic peculiarities of recipes.

Part Two contains essays about particular cookbooks and their relationship to specific cultural groups. Examined here are Methodist, Mormon, and Canadian recipe collections and a recent cookbook from the National Council of Negro Women.

Part Three considers a range of community cookbooks in terms of their culinary, historical, ethnic, and literary contexts.

Now I know many of you may not share this fever. The essays in this collection examine such topics as the “syntax and semantics of pie recipes to provide a linguistic background for the communities that created and used them.” (Tell me more!) Another “deconstructs Like Water for Chocolate as a complex blend of community and self in the kitchens of Mexico.” (Yes, yes!)

Cultural studies, food, and women’s studies all rolled into one book. To continue with this week’s feature find and purchased for $1.00 from the SF Big Book Sale is “A World of Eating” by New England homemaker and recipe collector, Heloise Frost. This effort looks like it was put together by Ms. Frost and her friend, and the book’s illustrator Ellen A. Nelson. The countries represented are the British Isles, China, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Scandinavia, and America. I know. Scandinavia is not a country, and folks living in the “country” of the British Isles would have something to quibble over but let’s go with it, this was put together, in 1951.

Ms. Frost’s objective, “if she couldn’t go to the foreign restaurants, maybe she could bring their exotic dishes into her home.” There’s a range of recipes ‘wild’ recipes including avocado cocktail, rhamkuchen (cheese cake), don-ku (egg wrapplings) to the simpler French omelette {sic} and breakfast marmalade.

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