This the eighth in my series of monthly projects that I hope will get you excited about “In the Kitchen With Laura.” Here is my post for August. “In the Kitchen With Laura” has continued to be a popular program this year.
One of the goals I have for the program is to have interactive experiences and share a little cooking knowledge. Another is to help share the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life. In another way, you could say it was the story of these two cookbooks that are part of the show. We follow how learning to cook has shifted from an apprentice process to a science to a pleasure. It used to be that learning cooking was a very hands on affair. You learned through what basically was an apprentice method, studying at the side of someone who cooked or baked well and you learned how to make a relatively small number of dishes that were in a specific geographic and ethnic repertoire. When printed cookbooks came out they faced a challenge on how to pass on in a written form what had always been passed on by repeated demonstration. The results were not always good. The first American cookbook dates back to 1796 with Amelia Simmons and her American Cookery. To try and figure out exactly what the cookbook author was trying to tell you what to do was hard for both cooks at the time and cooks who revisit it and other books of the period. They assumed you’d already have a really high background knowledge of cooking and the types of recipes they are taking about. One hundred years later Fannie Farmer had the idea that cooking should be more like a science than an art and that anyone who could read a recipe should be able to cook it and when she was given the job of re-doing The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook she totally redid it with these rules in mind. Coming out in 1896 it would revolutionize cooking. She also had a tendency to the fancy and to put sugar in a lot of things that you wouldn’t normally think of adding sugar too. Some people think Farmer has part of the blame for America’s sweet tooth. The book was such a success that Fannie Farmer became a byword for American cooks and they renamed her book simply The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. (She actually wrote a total of 6 cookbooks and countless magazine articles.) Read more about her revolutionizing cooking here. And read more about the history of the book on Feeding America page. The book has run to many editions. As they say a camel is a horse designed by a committee and the number of editors over the years had left the book in poor shape. That was 11th edition. Then for the 12th edition food writer Marion Cunningham was brought on board. Her revamp of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook turned it around and restored its former luster. Her first version came out in 1979 and sold 400,000 copies its first year. She followed up with the 13th edition and once again a version of Fannie Farmer’s cookbook is considered a staple on kitchen shelves.
Read more about Marion Cunningham:
Find the 1896 reproduction version pictured above (note: there are several replica editions of the 1896 ed., this is the one that looks most like a period book cover, but the Dover edition has the best biographical essay on Farmer):
The second book was also revolutionary in its time. The modern editions of Joy of Cooking don’t differ that much from regular cookbooks, but the original one by Irma Rombauer was an entirely new take. In the beginnings of the Great Depression many formerly upper middle class women were forced to dismiss their maids and cooks and instead take on kitchen tasks on their own. Instead of trying to be scientific, Rombauer’s recipes were designed to be full of flair, but be as simple as possible to make (after all you didn’t want to LOOK like you had to fire your maid, but that you enjoyed cooking without giving up too much of your other activities). Women who had always had the job of cooking also took to the book wanting to add some of the fancy flair (like St. Martha of Bethany, the patron saint of cooking, slaying the dragon of kitchen drudgery on the front cover) into their homes for meals and for women’s group meetings. Reflecting Rombauer’s background there was also more of a cosmopolitan flavor and mixture of recipes to the book (of course at the time things like spaghetti and pizza were considered ethnic). The original edition was self-published in 1931 (the reproduction of which is pictured above) and her negotiations to turn it into a professionally published book and keep control of the text did not go well. The family lost control and money due to the overpowering negotiations that she tried to handle herself. The first professional edition published by Bobbs-Merrill Company in 1936 or just about the time “In the Kitchen With Laura” is set.
Read more about it here:
The official history from The Joy of Cooking website:
Family history with the 75th Anniversary edition:
Papers of the Rombauer Family Finding Aid:
So one of the points I really want to people to take away from “In the Kitchen With Laura” is that Laura didn’t stay a little girl. She grew up and had other experiences. Personally I think her years as a farmwife and club woman are just as interesting as her early years. She didn’t keep making long winter bread any more than she kept wearing her hair in braids. I don’t know for sure whether Laura actually owned either of these specific books, but I think she probably did or at least had some experience with some of their recipes as a recipe clipper/collector (see Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook). And I think by coming to this program you really get a feel for what it would have been like to be “In the Kitchen With Laura.”
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.