Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century

#28Author: Laura Shapiro
Read: Mar 20 - Mar 23
Format: paperback, 227 pages
Source: Public Library
Subject: Cooking, nutrition, economy
Category: A Full Course meal
Genre: History
Challenges: 101020, 75 Book, SYLL, TIOLI
Stars: 2½

This book is basically the history of Home Economics that were taught to the poor in the late 19th and early 20th century. Women in Boston in the late 19th century started a group called the Women's Education Association and later another was the Boston Kitchen. Women's Education Association of Boston "believed that educated women were the natural leaders of a domestic revolution that was only waiting to be ignited."Women of these organizations worked to improve the appearance, nutritional value and cost efficiency of the food that was being prepared by the lower classes. Notice that taste did not enter into their equation. If it was nutritious and could be made for pennies a day/person, they didn't care what it taste like. However, back in that time, recipes didn't have any consistency until Fannie Farmer came along and standardized measurements. Yes, there really was a Fannie Farmer and when she published recipes they became standards for the new housewives and cooks in the nation. Her books showed basic procedures of how to boil, bake, stew, fry, and debone so that new cooks would be proficient and if when times were tough, domestic help was unattainable.

One of the interesting items was a suggestion that menus be developed according to the workload of the day. Monday - the normal laundry day of the time - was strenuous so potato salad was recommended so that leftovers could then produce mashed potatoes. Tuesday - ironing day - nothing that would give off a scent should be cooked so that the smell of the cooking food wouldn't cling the freshly pressed clothes.

Anything that was served with lettuce was considered a salad - Perfection Salad itself was a mixture of cabbage, celery, and red peppers, chopped finely and bound together by a plain gelatin. Gelatin (KNOX in particular) became very popular at this time. This salad did not last the test of time unlike the Waldorf salad that was developed at the same period. Salads were reserved for the upper class because it was believed that it was Brain food because it required less digestion.

Some fun facts that were noted in the book
1) daily guidelines were for men 90 gr of protein and 4500 calories per day (reduced slightly if not working at physically demanding labor) where women were 1200 calories (obviously they didn't think that housework in those days was physically demanding). 2) Food at the hospitals, almshouses, and prisons was not supposed to be palatable to prevent the people desiring to return for the food. 3) Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping were part of the Home Economics movement of the time. (I didn't know that.)
It was an interesting book, not sure whether I would recommend it or not because the writing style was a bit dry.

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