Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"Let the children cook..."



The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook, written by the women of General Foods kitchens (New York: Random House, 1959), has a chatty, helpful tone and an Eisenhower-America notion of normative race, gender and class that I would hardly bother mocking. Opening more or less at random I find this on page 49:
When there's a great stack of ironing to do, or you've promised yourself to clean out the closets, do you sometimes just open the refrigerator door at noon, grab the first thing you see, and gulp it down, so you can go on with what you're doing?

You're making a big mistake if you do. With your full and busy schedule, it's important for you to take time off in the middle of the day to relax and simmer down. Those few minutes will mean a lot to you after the baby wakes up from his nap, or the children come whooping in from school, or it's time to start dinner.
Well, who can argue with that?

The book's photos, when they contain human subjects, invariably portray girls and women cooking and boys and men consuming. The general feeling, as in so many of these books, is that taking care of the food is an essential mission that guarantees a person's proper femininity. I don't care for the ideology but at the same time I get a kick out of kids working in the kitchen.

Now the picture. I have always thought of spaghetti and meatballs as a quintessential 1950s dish but in this combination of pasta, red sauce, and meat the meat is cooked as burgers. I would never think of eating spaghetti with hamburgers or hamburgers without buns, but these old cookbooks remind you of how notions of what goes with what change over time. Alternatively, it could be "cute" that the kid prepares a dish that's a little bit funny. Or it could be that the people who wrote this book were wacky.

With the exception of the meat, the meal that the girl has prepared is virtually all "instant" in some way. The peas and carrots surely came from a can, the pudding from a mix, the sauce from a jar, the cookies from the box on the counter. One reason for thinking so is that there are no recipes to accompany the shot. It is assumed that the housewife will know enough about how to make these easy dishes to teach her daughter. I wonder if a cookbook today would get away with that.

There are several details I especially like in this image. One is the grease in the pan, as if to insist that the young model has actually sauted those patties just before arranging them in a circle around her platter of spaghetti. Another is the carving fork used to serve the pasta. And there's the color-coordination of the apron and the pudding, the pitcher of wholesome milk, the kid's rolled-up sleeves, her bright red smile...

The caption next to this photo on page 53 reads, "Let the children cook...its fun for them and a help to you. Start off with an easy menu...and just see them shine!"

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7 Comments:

Blogger kat said...

My mother grew up in the 1950s and also learned to serve spaghetti with a carving fork. I did the same until I moved in with my girlfriend.

1:08 PM  
Anonymous Rhi said...

This makes my little feminist heart ache. Though I do support the kids cooking venture, I feel like it should be started with nonessential items before moving into, say, the main course straightaway.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous I Feel Crazy said...

Much like those old Newport ads, these old images of domestic life have that wonderful, exciting frisson between smiling delight and abject horror. Enchanting! More please!

12:10 PM  
Blogger mzn said...

kat, it's funny that a vegetarian would own a carving fork.

rhi and ifc, I agree completely with you both. Abject horror!

4:31 PM  
Anonymous Rebecca said...

Growing up in the 50s and 60s myself my mother had very firm ideas about what were girls' jobs and the jobs my brother had to do (he got off pretty easy, my sister and I always thought), so she was flummoxed when he came home from the army and insisted on ironing his own shirts, having learned the skill there. I remember giving him a cookbook when he got his first apartment and he taught himself how to cook from it, since he had never learned at home.

I have 3 sons and was willing to teach any of them how to cook, but only one of them took me up on it - Leland. But meanwhile, this photo; I don't think this menu would be particularly easy to prepare - too many things to get ready at the last minute, even if they are all frozen or canned. And the lipstick on the model - shades of JonBenet Ramsey!

2:10 PM  
Anonymous JL said...

I am enjoying your food photography of yesterday posts.

8:48 PM  
Blogger the chocolate lady said...

I think this pic and the previous one with the deer-head are both challenging what one thinks of as rawness and, um, cooked-ness. All the "raw ingredients" for this meal are industrially processed. They are already out of the realm of nature and into culture. Does our gal civilize them further by "cooking" them?

On the other hand, while the venison one would use to make these rolls is raw, would you say a whole deer is raw? Is it not raw yet? And what about the mounted head? I don't know what they do to make those head-ornament-trophies, but it must involve something akin to the cultural process.
This is a prvocatively somber image. Memento Mori.

5:51 AM  

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