Thursday, December 27, 2012

You Are What You Eat 1900 Era!

Marion Nicholson's 1912 Fanny Farmer Cookbook. The book was very popular in the era of the NEW WOMAN, who wasn't trained to cook at her mother's elbow. It included a chapter on Sick Room Cookery. Lots of broths!

"Food holds so important a place in the human economy that it is almost impossible to over-estimate the importance of knowing how to prepare it properly.

In his book entitled "The Intellectual Life," Philip Gilbert Hanierton says: Cookery in its perfection - the great science of preparing the food in the way best suited to our uses, is the most important of all sciences, and the mother of the arts."

And each year's added observations confirms me in the belief that bad cookery is one of the worst foes with which civilization and Christianity has to contend.

Flowers and vegetables partake of the character of the soil in which they grow, and animals of the character of grass, grains, etc upon which they feed. This physiological law holds good, and applies forcibly in the case of human beings; for the relations between the stomach and the senses are so very intimate that the things we eat and drink materially affect our opinions, beliefs and prejudices. Does not the character of our diet impress itself upon the sights we see, the sounds we hear, the thoughts we think?

Does it not give tone and colour to our reflections? 

Organic forms are the expression of our surroundings, and individuals are a reflex of the food they feed on and the homes they live in.

Most of the dishes comprising the daily far of a large proportion of all our classes of people are so inharmoniously compounded, or so improperly cooked (generally both) that they are indigestible, innutritious and unsatisfying, and it is not a matter of surprise that  many resort to stimulants for temporary relief from the discomforts and ailments engendered by their diet. The whole territory of the drink question lies contiguous to that of the food question. It overlaps in many places.

This tidbit comes from Woman: Her Character, Culture and Calling from 1890 and is written by an Emma Ewing of Purdue University.

This book is a Canadian compilation of the contemporary wisdom (edited by an Ontario clergyman) and I have little doubt that Margaret Nicholson of School Marms and Suffragettes would have agreed wholeheartedly with this  writer's statements.

This kind of thinking was pervasive in Protestant circles (and articles like this later influenced Public Education Policy in Canada as well as the United States) but seems to me more a condemnation of the poor and the rich, elevating the prestige of the middle class home-maker.

Rich people had maids for cooking and although they paid their cooks better than their other domestics, they likely didn't believe their minions were doing anything special.

The middle class however, was finding it harder and harder to get a maid-of-all-work and homemakers increasingly were having to cook the family meals, like Margaret Nicholson, who prided herself on her cooking and baking  and her ability to manage the woodstove.

 When someone asked for one of her recipes she always left out an ingredient so that they couldn't equal her success.

You can sense a bit of Epicurean philosophy here, everything in moderation, but I imagine the French or Italians would not have agreed with this educator's belief that bad food caused people to drink.

Of course Protestants were mostly for Temperance.

None the less, the "You are what you eat" adage has remained and many today still believe it,perhaps more than ever in today's industrial economy, as our hopes and fears about foods and health help the mega-corporations improve their profits selling us new 'improved' products lines of edible fare with quasi-magical properties!

Decades from now, I suspect readers will howl reading all the nonsense (backed by 'scientific' proof, of course) about food and the mystical Power of Food found on the Internet today.  Pass the Sea Vegetables please.

In my play Milk and Water about Montreal in 1927, I show a how my French Canadian grandmother did all her cooking, and made the best tourtiere and baked beans without using recipes despite being upper middle class and how my husband's English Grandmother, (from the American South) didn't touch a utensil because where she came from THE HELP did all the cooking.

See how this Mrs. Ewing takes a rather indisputable and neutral quote from another writer (a Man!) and twists it to her needs. Rhetoric!

Well, because Margaret Nicholson, born 1853, took such pride in her cooking and because she didn't write down her recipes she took them to her grave. Her daughters did not learn how to cook. And they didn't need to. They lived through the age of industrialized food production.

Marion Nicholson, born 1885 (who purchased a copy of the Fanny Farmer Cookbook in 1912 when she moved into her own flat with three other teachers) wasn't half the cook her mother  was and her own daughter, born 1917,  was even worse. She served only canned veggies at home in the 1950's and 60's.

A stove range. Managing this monster was difficult. A homemaker (or domestic) had to be a kind of engineer. Margaret worried constantly about finding wood to feed her stove. The stove had to be polished too every day to keep it from rusting.