Making The “Meat and Two Veg” for Sunday Dinner and Why it Matters

by Amy B. Trubek, author of Making Modern Meals: How Americans Cook Today

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd.

Making Modern Meals cooking book coverThe discipline of anthropology has always paid close attention to everyday life, relying on ethnography as the method par excellence. Observations of how we live work like a microscope of the social. Anthropologists take notes on the small and telling details because each one means something, revealing our values, our perceptions, our social selves. Everyday life certainly matters. In this telling, food, for anthropologists, should be a matter par excellence: everybody eats. And to a certain extent this is true. Anthropology, of all the social science disciplines, probably contains the broadest and deepest set of fine grained studies of the complex and contradictory relationship humans have with food. Over the past ten years, a number of ethnographies have looked at the significance of special ritual meals, the meanings of an artisan product, food ways as means for social distinction and social power, the global journeys of ingredients, and more, all resulting in fascinating analyses.

But we have yet to give food its due, especially given the commitment of anthropologists to everyday life and everyday experience. What about all the processes involved in answering that mundane and necessary question addressed fifty years ago by Mary Douglas: What should we have for dinner? As David Sutton, a committed ethnographer of cooking points out, even in Douglas’s famous consideration of the British meal, in this brilliant analysis of the structure of her meal why was “no concern expressed about how the ingredients might be assembled, processed and cooked to create these dishes (“Cooking in Theory” in Anthropological Theory, 2017)?” It is tempting to focus on the finished product, the object of consumption as what matters most. But there is more to put under the microscope. There is eating Sunday dinner but there is also making it. What items must she purchase in order to create the two veg on the side? Where did she get her ingredients? How did she learn how to make that roast? Over the course of my research on everyday cooking in the United States, I realized that so much tacit knowledge stays just below the surface, buried, rarely the focus of attention. What is known but not understood is the next journey anthropologists of food should take. The tiny, the trivial, the barely conscious are in fact grand, powerful and significant. As I witnessed, while dinner gets made – and planned, and eaten, and cleaned up – so to do our social lives and social selves.

Amy Trubek author cooking Making Modern MealsAmy B. Trubek is Associate Professor of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Vermont. She is the author of Haute Cuisine: How the French Invented the Culinary Profession and The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir.

A History of Cookbooks: Does the Cookbook Have A Future?

excerpted from A History of Cookbooks: From Kitchen to Page over Seven Centuries by Henry Notaker

This October we are celebrating National Cookbook Month by exploring the history of the cookbook genre. Check back each Wednesday for a new excerpt from Henry Notaker’s work.

A History of Cookbooks coverThe future of the cookbook is part of a broader question: What is the future of the book? When the cook Martino and the writer Platina met in the fifteenth century, the Gutenberg era had just begun. What will happen to the physical book as more and more information and texts of all kinds can be accessed via other media? According to the scholar David Greetham, we don’t know yet if this shift “from the printed book to hypertext is of a different order from previous shifts in medium (for example from manuscript to print, from roll to codex, from oral transmission to the written word).” It is possible that the primacy of print will be totally undermined by new technologies in the long run, but this does not necessarily signify the death of the book. Historians David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery point out that, “in fact, some have argued that new media has the potential to extend the life of the book through individual engagement with written texts.”

Printed cookbooks are still flooding the market, but more and more people are turning to the Internet to look for recipes. Is it only a matter of time before cookbooks follow the same path as reference works, with exclusively electronic editions? Or do cookbooks have other functions and needs than most reference works? The history of the cookbook dates back to the manuscript age, when single recipes were recorded; over time, these were compiled into recipe collections. After the introduction of modern printing, individuals continued to put together their own cookbooks made up of material from friends as well as recipes found in printed books. Some printed cookbooks even included blank pages so readers could write down their personal recipes. In the nineteenth century, recipes were printed in magazines, which meant that instead of copying recipes by hand, housewives (and perhaps some men) could cut them out and paste them into their private cookbooks, still a common activity today. Some publishers even invented new alternative forms for collecting recipes, such as systems with each recipe printed on a separate card or a separate sheet that could be put into a box or a ring binder.

In other words, cookbooks have a long tradition of being considered dynamic literature. In this context, using the Internet to search for and view recipes is just another step in the same direction. It is now possible to compile a personal electronic recipe collection and make the most of the new features this medium offers, such as hypertext and searchability. The Internet makes it possible to watch video clips of recipes being prepared, and recipes can also be introduced through the new medium of television cooking shows.

Illustrations have been printed in cookbooks since the incunabula era, but they were rarely pedagogically effective. Television brought a new type of approach, one that in many ways mimics the scenario in which a mother teaches her daughter or a master cook instructs his apprentice: words are followed by acts, or better, acts are explained by words. Normally, this is a one-way communication, from the television cook to the audience, but it is sometimes a dialogue between two people in a television studio. How is the host’s language created in this new setting? Are the sentences planned and drilled—in other words, are they written texts learned by heart? Is this a false orality compared to the original teacher-pupil scenario? Or is all teaching based on a certain degree of performance and therefore dependent on training? At any rate, modern television cooks most certainly have reminiscences of all the cookbooks they have read and all the cooking teachers they have listened to. The scholar Walter Ong has called this new orality a secondary orality: “This new orality has striking resemblances to the old in participatory mystique, its fostering of a communal sense, its concentration on the present moment, and even its use of formulas. But it is essentially a more deliberate and self-conscious orality, based permanently on the use of writing and print.”

Most people watch television cooking shows as a form of entertainment. The writer Neil Postman observed in 1984 that television transformed part of Western culture into an arena of show business; education became an “amusing activity.” But practical professions are learned not only by listening and watching but also by doing. This means that television kitchen shows are only superficially similar to the original mother-daughter and master-apprentice scenarios because the daughter and apprentice actually had to repeat the acts demonstrated by their teachers. This may change through the use of new electronic media, such as personal blogs, which allow for interactivity.

Despite their popularity, television shows and blogs have not made books superfluous. Some of the hosts of these programs have become celebrity chefs, and the recipes from their shows have been collected and published as books, many of which have become bestsellers. Today, the same is happening with food blogs, many of which have also been turned into popular cookbooks. The Internet has become a steppingstone to producing a printed work. This has brought about changes to the editorial process. Traditionally, at least since the early twentieth century, publishers had ideas for cookbooks, contacted qualified individuals, made marketing analyses, and so on. Now, much of this work is done on social media. At the same time, technological advances have opened the gates for self-publishing. The Mexican intellectual Gabriel Zaid warned that the number of books increases geometrically, while the number of readers increases arithmetically; so, if the passion for writing continues like this, we are heading toward a world with more authors than readers.

To answer the question of whether a cookbook is really necessary in this environment, we must begin with a discussion of function. Many television shows are available on the Internet, which means that the recipes can be watched repeatedly on a computer screen, but is this practical in the kitchen? There are still fumes and smoke in many kitchens, which can make electronic devices difficult or unsuitable to use. But even if these problems were to be solved, cookbooks would still be popular. The reason is that they don’t need to be read for practical purposes. When the great French poet Baudelaire complained about the lack of good restaurants in Belgium, he found comfort in reading a cookbook. That kind of pleasure is even more obvious today with the introduction of modern food design in the illustrations of beautiful editions of cookbooks in coffee-table format. The recipes in these books are meant to be leafed through and read sitting in a sofa or an easy chair rather than followed step by step over the kitchen stove. In this context, it is possible to see cookbooks as show business. When Postman refers to what he calls “television-oriented print media,” he mentions magazines such as People and US, but there is a similar interchange between television cooking shows and food blogs and coffee-table cookbooks.

As Angus Phillips has pointed out, books are also important for the authors themselves: “For an author, appearing in print remains better than being published on the Web. There is an affirmation of one’s worth as a writer, and receiving a beautifully printed hardback of one’s work is an undeniable pleasure.”9 This is particularly important if an author wants to be considered for prizes and awards, such as the annual Gourmand World Cookbook Award. Celebrity chefs can use their cookbooks to promote themselves, and cookbooks can be used to promote special products, foods, and kitchen appliances.

Finally, many cookbooks are conceived and written within the framework of a lifestyle ideology, representing new (and old) moral attitudes and practices. They are part of a self-help and self-development literature, to be studied mainly outside of the kitchen.

Notaker cookbook author photoHenry Notaker is a literary historian who taught courses in food culture and history for over a decade. He was a foreign correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and a TV host of arts and letters shows and documentaries. He is the author of numerous books and articles on European and Latin American contemporary history, food history, and culinary literature.

A History of Cookbooks: How New Products Entered Cookbooks

excerpted from A History of Cookbooks: From Kitchen to Page over Seven Centuries by Henry Notaker

This October we are celebrating National Cookbook Month by exploring the history of the cookbook genre. Check back each Wednesday for a new excerpt from Henry Notaker’s work.

A History of Cookbooks coverThere was a great difference between the various products in the way they were integrated. When people were confronted with the new foods, they compared them to existing and well-known food categories. The product that was most easily accepted was turkey—at least for those who could afford to buy it. This animal was not too different from the other big birds that had traditionally been served at the tables of the European elite. Turkey could be used as a substitute for peacock or capon and was prepared the same way. Meat from birds was also considered to be healthy, so it did not risk being criticized by doctors, as many of the other new foods were.

It is consequently no surprise that cookbooks with recipes for turkey were published in the first century after Columbus arrived in the New World. In 1570, the Italian Bartolomeo Scappi suggested the same preparation for turkey pullets and ordinary pullets, and he compared the cooking of turkey with that of peacock. A decade later, the German Marx Rumpolt proposed twenty different ways to prepare turkey, all of them well-established methods for other meats. A taste for turkey soon spread from the aristocracy to the wealthy bourgeoisie, and prices went down. In France in 1538, turkey meat cost eight times more than meat from hens; in 1711, it was only twice as much.

The tomato is an example of a new food that was slow to become part of European food culture. For a long time appreciated only as an ornamental plant, the tomato was mentioned as food around 1600 in an Italian botanical treatise. As was the case with turkey, the fruit was compared with well-known ingredients in the kitchen; the author of the text explained that tomatoes could be eaten the same way as eggplants—with salt, pepper, and oil. But the first professional recipe for the food did not come until 1692, when Antonio Latini’s Italian cookbook gave a preparation for salsa di pomodoro, alla spagnuola (tomato salsa, Spanish style). In Spain, tomatoes were not included in any cookbooks published before 1611. After that year, there is unfortunately a period in which no new Spanish cookbooks were published that lasted until 1745, when we find a recipe for tomato sauces with garlic and oil, typical of the Mediterranean food culture we know today.

Tomato recipes in Spanish and Italian cookbooks surprise nobody, since the fruit could be grown in these countries. The situation was completely different in northern Europe, where effective cultivation came only in the twentieth century. The first tomato recipes from this region were from the last decades of the nineteenth century, and they suggested using canned tomatoes in soups and sauces. One of the Russian cookbooks written by Elena Molokhovets called for tomato purée in soups in early editions published in the 1860s and only gradually introduced fresh tomato dishes. As late as 1896, Charles-Emil Hagdahl wrote in his gourmet cookbook that he regretted that tomatoes in Sweden were mainly sold in the form of bottles of purée, imported from abroad. In Norway, a cookbook from 1888 included a series of interesting tomato recipes, but the book actually demonstrates why general conclusions about diet never should be drawn on the basis of one cookbook. The author had spent several years in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), where tomatoes were common by that point, and her book was the only one of its kind. A decade later, another Norwegian author did not give any tomato recipes in the first edition of her cookbook, published in 1897, and in a later edition, issued in 1912, she remarked that “tomatoes are seldom appreciated the first time they are tasted,” and wrote that in Norway, “tomatoes are still very expensive.”

Notaker cookbook author photoHenry Notaker is a literary historian who taught courses in food culture and history for over a decade. He was a foreign correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and a TV host of arts and letters shows and documentaries. He is the author of numerous books and articles on European and Latin American contemporary history, food history, and culinary literature.

A History of Cookbooks: American Cookbooks and National Identity

excerpted from A History of Cookbooks: From Kitchen to Page over Seven Centuries by Henry Notaker

This October we are celebrating National Cookbook Month by exploring the history of the cookbook genre. Check back each Wednesday for a new excerpt from Henry Notaker’s work.

A History of Cookbooks coverIn 1776, many years before the aforementioned European nations started to fight for independence, a new independent country had been created in North America: the United States. After the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolutionary War, a growing national consciousness was observed among the inhabitants of the nascent state. This new patriotism was strengthened by new national symbols; before the turn of the century, the United States had a flag, the Great Seal, and a national bird, the bald eagle. The first cookbook written by an American is also from this period: American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons, was published in 1796. The subtitle claimed that the book was “adapted to this country.” There are recipes for Independence Cake and Federal Pan Cake, but more important is the use of indigenous foodstuffs, such as corn, squash, and Jerusalem artichoke.

The language of the book has many interesting features. For example, it introduced several Americanisms that had not yet been referred to in American dictionaries. One of them was “slapjack” (a corn pancake), a word probably based on a misreading of the English “flapjack”; at the time, the f and the long s (∫) were very similar in print. The book was also the first to use two words borrowed from Dutch: “cookey,” from the Dutch koekje, used for what English cookbooks called “little cakes,” and “slaw” from the Dutch sla, meaning “salad.”

The author—of whom we know nothing more than we can read in the book—presented herself on the title page as “An American Orphan.” Why did she give this peculiar biographical information? Some scholars have interpreted it as a national metaphor. The author had to support herself without any help from a parent, just as the United States needed to survive without England. If this interpretation is correct, the book is an even stronger proof of national attitudes.

It should be mentioned that not all the recipes in Simmons’s book are American. She included traditional English recipes, many of them taken verbatim from English books. But the American recipes in Simmons’s book were noticed by both readers and publishers; in the following years, new editions of old English books were printed with the addition of American recipes, many of them taken directly from American Cookery. The title of her book also heralded a period when the American angle was emphasized. In the years leading up to the Civil War, more than twenty cookbooks used the word “American” in their titles: for example, The American Housewife, American Domestic Cookery, American Receipt Book, and Modern American Cookery.

The United States was a society dominated by immigrants from many European countries, and one of the characteristics of cookbook publishing, like other fields of publishing, was the high number of books in languages other than English. The first French cookbook in the United States was published in 1840, the first Spanish in 1845, and the first German (Pennsylvania Dutch) in 1848, and they were followed by cookbooks in Italian, Yiddish, and Scandinavian languages, mirroring the country’s different immigrant groups. Some of the books were printed in two languages—for example, Yiddish and English, or French and English.

Most cookbooks in foreign languages catered to large immigrant groups who wanted to preserve their culinary heritage, but there were also foreign-language cookbooks with a very different intention. A particular genre consisted of works with recipes written in two parallel columns, one in American English and the other in Danish, Swedish, or Finnish. They were meant to help American housewives communicate with their Scandinavian servants—of which there were a large number in the United States around 1900. The housewife would point out the dish she wanted prepared (the dishes in these books were American, not Scandinavian), and the servant would then use the cookbook as a manual for cooking in addition to as a textbook for the English language.

Notaker cookbook author photoHenry Notaker is a literary historian who taught courses in food culture and history for over a decade. He was a foreign correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and a TV host of arts and letters shows and documentaries. He is the author of numerous books and articles on European and Latin American contemporary history, food history, and culinary literature.

A History of Cookbooks: Recipes in Verse

excerpted from A History of Cookbooks: From Kitchen to Page over Seven Centuries by Henry Notaker

This October we are celebrating National Cookbook Month by exploring the history of the cookbook genre. Check back each Wednesday for a new excerpt from Henry Notaker’s work.

A History of Cookbooks coverDidactic works in verse go back to Hesiod’s Works and Days, written around 700 BCE, and are found in the Middle Ages and the early modern period. Several versions of Regimen sanitatis were circulated in verse starting in the thirteenth century, many of them written in a Latin close to the vernacular Italian. In England, there were John Russel’s treatise on household duties, The Boke of Nurture (ca. 1460), and Thomas Tusser’s A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry (1557). According to the German scholar Bernhard Dietrich Haage, the bound form is used in practical literature as a mnemonic aid, but it might also have been used to give material an aesthetic value.

Several early cookbooks open with a verse, either written by the author to serve as a preface or written by someone else as a recommendation for the book, but there are also examples of rhymed recipes from the fifteenth century in German and English manuscripts. According to the historian Hans Wiswe, however, one of the German recipes is “a humorous Intermezzo in a book that is otherwise so matter-of-fact.” This can be explained by what Haage said about versification of practical literature for the upper levels of society: “It is mainly for fun” (Aus reinen Spieltrieb).

There is a long tradition in European literature of verses about food, often with a comic or playful element, and the humor is quite obvious in the collections of rhymed recipes (“poetic cookbooks”) from the eighteenth century onward. The first of these books was the French Festin joyeux, printed in 1738. One of the recipes is for perdreaux aux écrévisses (partridges with crawfish) and it starts like this:

First you cook everything well,

And mix with a light ragoût,

Add sweetbreads and truffles too,

And let cockscombs and champignons swell.

Typical for the recipes in this book is that they can be sung, as they were written to well-known tunes from light and popular music genres. Referring to himself as a cook, the alleged author made excuses for the bad rhymes in his verses, which he said were certainly not as Scarron would have written them. By referring to the seventeenth-century burlesque poet Paul Scarron, the suspicion is strengthened that the verses belong to the century before the book was printed, and it has been suggested that the real author was the aristocrat Louis de Béchameil, although this has not been confirmed.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, French, German, Spanish, American, Danish, and Norwegian books of recipes in verse were published. A Norwegian book from 1833 versified the recipes of the first printed cookbook in Norway, published only two years earlier, and the verses were written to melodies used for national anthems, drinking songs, and hymns. By using tunes for hymns in these merry songs, the author, a church warden and rebellious publicist, did the opposite of men such as Martin Luther and William Booth, who wrote religious hymns to popular, secular melodies.

Were these recipes intended to be used to help in the kitchen? Some of them did in fact emphasize that that was the basic idea. The Danish Kogebog for musikalske husmødre (Cookbook for musical housewives) professed in verse in the preface:

The housewife now can cook her meat

While singing from a music sheet.

But in spite of the declared intentions, these books were probably made more to amuse readers than to instruct them. Most of the verses were rather amateurish, with clumsy rhymes and hobbling rhythms, and could not hope for a glorious afterlife in the history of literature. There are, however, recipe poems that were written by authors with acknowledged literary qualities. They followed the same chronological progression as the ordinary recipes, giving step-by-step instructions, but they added aspects and elements that were generally absent in cookbooks. Here follow five examples in five languages and from different literary contexts.

The first was by a representative of Polish romanticism, Adam Mickiewicz, who in his epic poem Pan Tadeusz actually used a 1682 cookbook to describe an old Polish dinner. But he also gave, as part of his description of old national traditions, the “recipe” for bigos, a dish still popular in Poland. He admitted that words and rhymes—he used thirteen syllable lines with caesura and rhymed couplets—were not sufficient to transmit a real appreciation of “the most wonderful flavor, the smell and the color.” He listed the ingredients of the dish—good vegetables, chopped sauerkraut, morsels of meat—and explained that they should all be simmered in a pot. But he did not follow the traditional recipe form; his recipe is a narrative told in the third person and without the particular verbal forms indicating a request.

Other writers, however, chose the imperative. The French dramatist Edmond Rostand included in his most famous play, Cyrano de Bergerac, a scene where the protagonist’s friend, the rôtisseur and pâtissier Ragueneau, proudly declares that he has versified a recipe: “J’ai mis une recette en vers.” The recipe is for tartelettes amandines and is written in a light, elegant poetic form that plays with the rhymes and rhythm, making it very difficult to translate.

While Rostand kept the imperatives in the second-person plural, which was typical of most French culinary recipes at that time, the Argentine-born Spaniard Ventura de la Vega—who wrote many occasional poems—chose the first-person singular when he described his method of making garlic soup, sopa de ajo. The Voltaire-admirer-turned-Catholic paid tribute to the soup as a dish for Lent, but he also declared it the basis of the Castilian diet. The personal tone in the poem creates an atmosphere similar to the one in Pablo Neruda’s Odas elementales (which is about tomatoes, potatoes, and other foodstuffs), combining the solemn and the ordinary: In a casserole, boil salt, pepper, and small bits of bread in olive oil, and in this swelling mixture, “I will hide two well-peeled cloves of Spanish garlic.” Instead of Neruda’s free verse, Vega chose the bound form, and the Spanish composer José María Cásares later composed music for it. The text and the notes were printed in Angel Muro’s original cookbook, El practicón (1894).

Another original and much praised cookbook, Modern Cookery, by Eliza Acton, included a recipe in rhymed verse in the 1855 edition. In a note, Acton wrote that this was the first time the poem was printed, after it had been circulated among the friends of the author, the poetic reverend Sidney Smith. But in contrast to the serious, almost religious tone in Vega’s verse, Smith’s poem is filled with the light-hearted humor he was famous for. The ingredients for his salad dressing are enumerated with the common imperatives, but they are not always used in the traditional manner: “Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,” he instructed readers in one line, and in another, he told them to add “a magic soupçon of anchovy sauce.” He even resorted to alliteration: “Of mordant mustard add a simple spoon.” And then he expressed his enthusiasm for the result: “Oh, green and glorious! Oh, herbacious treat!”

A final example, which also raises theoretical questions, is a poem the German romantic poet Eduard Mörike wrote about Frankfurter Brenten, a type of small cookies. The first surprise is perhaps his use of the imperative second-person singular, a dated and very uncommon form in the mid-nineteenth century:

Start with almonds, I suggest,

Take three pounds, or four at best.

This poem, which is included in Mörike’s collected works, was originally published in a German journal for ladies, Frauen-Zeitung für Hauswesen, weibliche Arbeiten und Moden, in 1852, and Horst Steinmetz used it as an example of how context may decide the reception of a text. The readers of Mörike’s complete works may have considered the recipe as a poem on a par with the other poems in the book, which describe feelings and phenomena of the human universe. The ladies who read “Frankfurter Brenten” in the journal may have looked at the text as a practical instruction—a recipe—even if they observed and appreciated the form as an amusing variation and perhaps made no practical use of the recipe in the kitchen. Yet a closer reading of Mörike’s text reveals that it has elements not expected in recipes. Consider, for example, these lines:

Now put all this while it is hot

Onto a plate (but poets need

A rhyme here now, and therefore feed

The finished stuff into a pot).

With this ironic remark, which breaks up the sequence of instructive steps, the poet seems to make fun of his own role; it is a kind of Verfremdung, or alienation, that creates a distance between Mörike as a poet and as a cooking teacher.

These rhymed recipes seem to have been written with very different intentions: to inform, to instruct, to entertain, or to create art. This is of course also true for recipe poems in unbound form by Günter Grass and others. But there is a noticeable difference in intention when recipes appear in prose works other than culinary works.

Notaker cookbook author photoHenry Notaker is a literary historian who taught courses in food culture and history for over a decade. He was a foreign correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and a TV host of arts and letters shows and documentaries. He is the author of numerous books and articles on European and Latin American contemporary history, food history, and culinary literature.

Cooking as a Chore in Modern America

excerpted from Making Modern Meals: How Americans Cook Today by Amy Trubek

Making Modern Meals cooking book cover

Carol, who is in her late twenties, is a single professional living in urban Boston. Her kitchen does not resemble Laura’s cavernous room; it is a small galley space where every item is neatly stored in cabinets and all surfaces are kept clean. She admits that she is a planner in all aspects of her life and certainly in her approach to preparing a meal. She likes to host dinner parties on the weekends and clearly enjoys the entire process, from creating the menu to shopping and cooking to hosting the event: “If I’m having a dinner party on Saturday, I plan my Saturday so that I can clean the house, clean the kitchen, get all my stuff ready, go food shopping, make sure that I have everything. . . . I kind of have a timeline.” Carol is documented preparing for a dinner party; she wants to share her love of hospitality. Carol proudly displays the printed menu for the evening’s dinner, and then goes on to display what she calls her tricks of the trade. One is a baked brie appetizer: “The secret to this is you don’t buy the baked brie they sell to warm up, you just buy a wedge, slice some apples and put that in halfway through: heat it for twenty minutes, put in the apples, and pour on maple syrup.” She serves this to her guests and then continues to prepare the main dish. Another of her secrets is spending money on ingredients: “This is a $40 bottle of olive oil, which makes a huge difference.” She prides herself on her engagement with cooking, which she characterizes as being important to her social life: “When I cook for others I take it very seriously. I put a lot more time and love into it.” She enjoys all aspects of preparing a meal when it is a special event: “I love doing it, and I love the display. . . . I spend a lot of time prepping.” She likes being known for being a good cook, but she aims even higher: “I think my next step is to be more creative in what I’m doing. It’s one thing to be a good cook, but I want to be really creative.” She actively engages in the process, figuring out a good recipe, testing it before she uses it at a dinner party, shopping at multiple stores (e.g., Shaw’s, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Russo’s) to get the best ingredients, and setting up her house. In fact, the excitement of the process of making a meal for more than sustenance—the adventure of cooking, in a sense—is her passion: “The part about cooking that I love is seeing something I’ve never done before come out. I guess I like the final product.”

Carol acknowledges, however, that not all domestic cooking is about adventure. When she is by herself, the type of cooking she does is generally different: “I will throw a salad together, and I will do very simple things for myself.” When she’s just cooking for herself, she shops once a week and doesn’t plan ahead. She also sees that her love of cooking for others relies on the fact that these meals are special events: “I think I wouldn’t love it as much if I had to cook for my family every single night, but [I enjoy it] because it’s more of a novelty.” Her sense that cooking can, in some circumstances, be more of a chore than a pleasure comes from seeing her mother’s relationship to cooking change over the years: “I just never saw my mom loving cooking. I never saw her just love to cook. There were always five of us running around. . . . The food was always awesome, but I don’t think we truly appreciated what she gave us.” At another point, Carol both identifies with her mother’s burden and distances herself from it: “She cooked every night, and she was an awesome cook, but for her it was a chore. . . . I think it’s a generational thing.”

Ultimately, Carol’s articulation of her own identity as a cook is intertwined with her social relationships. These are between her and other cooks but also between her and a group of eaters. She understands she is not obliged to these eaters, although as she attests, her mother was not so lucky. As the contrast between Carol’s passion for cooking and her mother’s sense of drudgery reveals, cooking skills and knowledge, especially when categorized as a chore, cannot easily be extricated from the Gordian knot of social expectations. Cooking can all too easily develop a negative connotation, or at least a sense of ambivalence. Women often talk about their mothers’ cooking with a twinge of regret; although cooking can be an expression of nurturance, it certainly isn’t always. Carol intuitively makes a distinction between her planned dinner party—an event enhanced by the labor of thoughtfully making a meal—and her mother’s daily social responsibility to make a meal for her family. She sees the complexities of the ties that bind when making sense of her relationship to cooking.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary gives the following definitions for the word “chore”: “1. the regular or daily light work of a household or farm; 2. a routine task or job; 3. a difficult or disagreeable task.”4 Defining cooking as a chore seems to make a lot of sense at first glance. It is certainly part of the regular work of a household; the fact that we must eat to live makes cooking a necessary daily activity and thus could easily be considered routine; and this regularity and necessity can certainly make it disagreeable, if not difficult. What a dictionary definition does not make explicit, however, is that the symbolic meaning of all chores are not equal. Cooking is not the same as sweeping or taking out the trash because the end result is not household cleanliness or order. Making a meal merges certain types of household tasks, webs of social relationships, and needs for nourishment and nurturance. Categorizing cooking as a chore is tempting, and it is common in contemporary American discussions of the task, but perhaps Carol’s point that cooking can be a chore but can also be much more needs to be examined in more detail, especially in terms of what cooking means to nurturing social relations.

Amy Trubek author cooking Making Modern MealsAmy B. Trubek is Associate Professor of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Vermont. She is the author of Haute Cuisine: How the French Invented the Culinary Profession and The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir.

Celebrating Today’s Cooks on National Cooking Day

by Amy Trubek, author of Making Modern Meals: How Americans Cook Today

Let’s celebrate American cooks. Each day, the hands of many clean, chop, stir, knead, season, and work in other ways too, solely on our behalf. As has always been true, we rely on them to be nourished. But in 2017, just who cooks may come as a surprise. This is not your grandmother’s day of celebration. We now spend over 50% of our annual food purchases on food made outside the home. Americans cook at home, sometimes, but to find today’s everyday cooks, we might also need to look elsewhere. In restaurants, commissary kitchens, bakeries, school cafeterias, and other locations across the continent, hundreds of thousands of people wake up each morning, go to work, and make our meals (and snacks and side dishes and bread and cakes) every day, rain or shine.

This graph depicts the share of household food expenditures in the United States, food at home versus food away from home. Over the past fifty years, there has been a steady decline in money spent for food prepared and consumed at home.

The gradual meeting of these lines does not need to fill us with dismay. It might be tempting to take our new normal and to extrapolate that culinary skills and knowledge are in decline, that we have moved to a situation of culinary impoverishment. But should we? My friend Mark is an accomplished baker. He knows how to use wild yeasts, create a sourdough starter, and shape and bake crusty, flavorful loaves of bread. He learned from a master baker trained in France, and now he is teaching his teenage children too. I had one grandmother who loved to cook, took pleasure in making meals, and I inherited her handwritten recipe cards. I had another grandmother who was an indifferent cook, maybe even a hostile one, an ambitious woman whose world was circumscribed. She probably would have agreed with Peg Bracken, a feminist and writer who published the popular I Hate to Cook Book in 1960. As Bracken said, “Some women, it is said, like to cook. This book is not for them. This book is for those of us who hate to, who have learned through hard experience that some activities become no less powerful through repetition: childbearing, paying taxes, cooking.” My grandmother Ruth would have said, ‘hear, hear.’ My grandmother Katherine would have chuckled, and gone on to make her famous rum cake. Perhaps there have always been engaged and indifferent cooks, but now the former can make meals for the latter. Peg, Ruth and Katherine might be amazed at women’s autonomy when it comes to everyday cooking. Perhaps we should celebrate that.

So, on the occasion of National Cooking Day, thank all the cooks in your life, at home and beyond. Try to peek into the kitchen of your local, favorite restaurant, or go talk to the lunch ladies in your child’s school cafeteria: share recipes, swap stories about a failed batch of cookies, teach your neighbor a favorite family dish. Celebrate cooking, wherever it happens!

Amy B. Trubek is Associate Professor of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Vermont. She is the author of Haute Cuisine: How the French Invented the Culinary Profession and The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir.

National Cookbook Month: Moroccan Vegetable Tagine

by Joyce Goldstein, author of The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home

October is National Cookbook Month! Come back for a new recipe from The New Mediterranean Jewish Table each Wednesday, and click here to save 30% on some of our award-winning cookbooks.

New Mediterranean Jewish Table Joyce Goldstein

Moroccan Vegetable Tagine (Mehalet)

This recipe, which is sometimes called tajine del sabana, is a cross between two tagine recipes in La cuisine juive du Maroc de mère en fille by Maguy Kakon. Similar dishes are found on the Rosh Hashanah table in Fez, Meknes, and Tangier. Almost any combination of vegetables will work for this fragrant stew, which is typically served with cous-cous. It includes both potatoes and sweet potatoes and the classic addition of preserved lemon and olives, which add salt and tang. If you like, 1 to 1/2 pounds butternut squash or pumpkin, peeled and cut into 3-inch chunks, can be used in place of the sweet potatoes. Although not authentic, I sometimes add 1/2 cup plumped raisins for a note of sweetness. Continue reading “National Cookbook Month: Moroccan Vegetable Tagine”

Persian Yogurt Soup with Chickpeas, Lentils and Spinach

This is part three of a series of recipes from our forthcoming cookbook The New Mediterranean Jewish Table by Joyce Goldstein. Check out the other recipes here.




Persian Yogurt Soup with Chickpeas, Lentils, and Spinach

Ashe Sbanikh

There are two ways to make this creamy soup. You can start with the stabilized yogurt and then add the other ingredients, or you can simmer the soup first and add the yogurt at the end. Either way will work as long as you do not let the soup boil and curdle the yogurt. With the jewel-like pomegranate arils, yellow turmeric tint to the yogurt, and the green of the herbs and spinach, this soup is visually a stunner.

Serves 6



1/2 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight in 4 cups of water

3- 4 cups thick yogurt

½ cup basmati rice, rinsed and soaked for a half hour or longer

1 egg

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon cinnamon

5 cups vegetable broth or water

1/2 cup lentils, soaked overnight in 2 cups of water, drained

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cups chopped green onions

1 pound spinach, well washed and chopped

5 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cloves garlic, minced very fine

Pomegranate arils



Drain the chickpeas and rinse. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the chickpeas are tender, about 45-60 minutes. Set aside.

Cook the lentils in water to cover until tender but still a bit firm.

Spoon yogurt into a large saucepan. Add the egg, flour, turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and stir with a whisk. Add the rice, and 3 cups of stock or water to the pot. Cook gently, over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10-12 minutes. When the rice is tender but firm, add the cooked chickpeas, lentils, the parsley, green onions, spinach and 3 tablespoons of chopped mint and the rest of the stock. Simmer for ten to 15 minutes.

In a small sauté pan, melt the butter. Sauté the garlic until soft but not colored. Add to the soup, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with remaining chopped mint. Garnish with pomegranate arils.


Joyce Goldstein was chef and owner of the groundbreaking Mediterranean restaurant Square One in San Francisco. Prior to opening Square One, she was chef at the Chez Panisse Café and visiting executive chef at the Wine Spectator Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa. Today she is a cooking teacher, consultant to the restaurant and food industries, and prolific cookbook author.

Mom’s Cooking, A Taste of Home

Whether it’s your mother’s pot roast, your father’s green bean casserole or your grandmother’s tamales, food, family and memory are utterly enmeshed. “We all have one particular food so wedded to our sensibilities that it has the power to resurrect the past”, writes Lynne Christy Anderson in her book Breaking Bread: Recipes and Stories from Immigrant Kitchens.

For those who moved to the US from abroad, a family recipe can be much more than a meal. It can bring back memories from across the world, offer a taste of home, and be a chance to share culinary traditions with friends and family in America.

To write Breaking Bread, Anderson visited with immigrants from all over the world, who invited her into their kitchens to cook and share stories of food and family. To celebrate Mother’s Day, Anderson has collected some of these stories from and about mothers.

“I think I learned things from my mother when I was a kid that, at the time, I didn’t even realize I was absorbing, like this desire to have certain foods….It’s like a continuum….Because now I’m cooking what my mother cooked, like the doce de leite and the katxupa.”—Ines Brito, fifty-five, is originally from Cape Verde.

“When I cook with my son, we like to make believe that we’re on TV. So he’s chef Matthias and I say, “Okay, Matthias, do this,” and he whispers, “Mommy, we’re on the cooking show.” It’s this little game that we play. I remember my dad doing that with me when we cooked. When we used to have people over, he and I would do the decorating. We’d roll up the prosciutto on the grissini, the long bread sticks, and arrange them on a plate with melon.”—Fausta Scarano Finkemeyer, thirty-eight, is originally from Italy.

“My mother is definitely the guide for my cooking. She’s a very good cook, and she’s always been artistic with the way she presents things. So I’ve never gone out and bought a recipe book; it was always my mother who was the source…. In our culture, recipes are passed down.”—Yasie Sadadat, thirty-one, is originally from Iran.

“You know, when I was growing up, whatever my mother made, it was always the best thing of the day. I grew up eating her food, so it was always the ultimate; there was never anything better. And I think when you go home and you eat your mother’s meal, that’s when you can say, the day is over and I can go to bed, because now I’ve been fed. Sometimes I think, without that, it’s like nothing.”—Dakpa Zady has been in the United States for over twenty years. He is originally from Cote d’Ivoire.

“And my kids, they cook with me, too. My daughter, Jessica, she loves to eat. I always tell her she’s a little girl with a big stomach. I make anything she and her brother want. If they want meatballs, I make meatballs….I always take them to the park so they can help pick the grape leaves. They know I’m going to save them for the winter instead of having to pay four or five dollars for the ones in the store.” —Dmitra Khoury, fifty, is originally from Lebanon.