Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? American Women and the Kitchen in the Twentieth Century
Richards, Virginia, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences
Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? American Women and the Kitchen in the Twentieth Century MARY DRAKE MCFEELY, (2000)
Amherst University of Massachusetts Press
Reviewed by: VIRGINIA RICHARDS, Ed.D., CFCS
Assistant Professor, Georgia Southern University
I am ambivalent about Mary Drake McFeely's Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?American Women and the Kitchen in the Twentieth Century. It is, at the same time, a delightful journey based on the types of cook-- books published during each decade, and a puzzling misconception about the influence of home economics on cooking modes. These mistaken assumptions about home economics are surprising in an otherwise meticulously researched and exquisitely written book.
OVERVIEW Ms. McFeely proposes that the kitchen and the chore of feeding families has been used throughout history as a way of suppressing women, but that women have countered by using the kitchen as a way of expressing creativity and control over their daily lives. The book begins with a verbal snapshot of Napton, Missouri, in 1928, found in The Napton Memorial Church Cook Book. The recipes and advice given in this cookbook reflect a hard but meaningful farm life in which a woman's cooking expertise was passed down from her female forebearers. These farmwomen viewed the cooking and preserving of the food produced by their men as an essential part of the total work of the family. Ms. McFeely contrasts the typical farm woman with intellectually elite women in the late Nineteenth Century who sought to free women from the drudgery of daily kitchen work by bringing families together to live in cooperative homes. The author related the unsuccessful cooperative housekeeping movement through the writings of Melusina Fay Pierce and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
At the turn of the century, The Fanny Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cookbook and the home economics movement brought science into the home kitchen, events which Ms. McFeely blames for the loss of instinctiveness in homemaking. Technological advances in kitchen equipment and application of factory efficiency to the home marked the first two decades of the twentieth century. According to Ms. McFeely, time and motion experts and scientific rules discouraged experimentation and incorporation of ethnic foods into the mainstream of food preparation.
As America plunged into the depths of the Great Depression, cook-- books turned from efficiency and technology to methods for feeding families on very little money. This endeavor included making whole-- some as well as comforting food during hard and uncertain times. In the forties, women were exhorted to help fight the war by cheerfully dealing with rationed staples such as sugar, butter, coffee, and meat. McFeely found that most women welcomed the opportunity to support the war at home, at work, and in the kitchen. Vegetable gardens and food preservation made a comeback with the help of agents from the Cooperative Extension Service. The forties also gave us our first national standards for nutrition with the seven food groups.
The postwar decade of the fifties was marked by the influx of convenience foods and cookbooks that gave menu and recipes incorporating them. This generation no longer felt the need for restraint, and a consuming public marked the fifties. …