From the Factory to the Table: Advertising Cookbooks and the Changing Face of American Domestic Cookery 1880-1941

1. Introduction

Birds Eye Cook Book - Back Fly-Leaf

The Role of the Woman in Advertising

The collection of advertising cookbooks held at Bryn Mawr College spans 100 years, beginning in the late 19th century and continuing throughout the 20th century. This period is marked by tremendous changes in technology and production, in the social standing and role of women, and in the role of corporations in guiding social modes and mores. In the United States, the shortages of two wars and a Great Depression, the social strictures of Prohibition, and the push and pull of government agency with corporate industries fundamentally changed the face of American cuisine and the ways Americans did—and did not—cook.

Cookbooks in general offer a view into the specific cooking practices of regions and cultures that produced them. But they are mediated through an individual--the author. Therefore the view they present is an individual’s perception, understanding, or experience of any given cooking culture. They present only one possible facet of the wider scope of practice and variation within any given regional cooking culture. As such any cookbook can be seen as codifying and standardizing a living tradition. But that is not, in many cases, the intent. In some cases, wider practices can be extrapolated from other cookbooks representing the same traditions. And in some cases, the generalizing nature of a given cookbook leaves room, explicitly or implicitly, to create one’s own variations through the illustration of principles and core recipes. Therefore, while all cookbooks present a crystallized version of tradition, they do not necessarily set out to define tradition directly.

Advertising cookbooks, however, serve the dual function of operating within a tradition and overtly seeking to define or reshape tradition so as to include a product. More specifically, these books responded in part to the social needs of women as their roles in society were changing while at the same time reinforcing the normative roles for women as the keepers of the kitchen.