The New Art & Convenience in the Kitchen

Convenience and efficiency are a common theme in the collection here. Growing middle classes in the late 19th and into the 20th century meant women were responsible for managing the kitchen and preparing food. In 1934, the General Electric Kitchen Institute offered this handy little home helper: The New Art of Buying, Preserving, and Preparing Foods. The book includes tips for home management, advice for how to modernize your kitchen, recipes and meal planning, and details on how to use modern appliances to improve feeding one’s family (especially the refrigerator, the range/over, the electric mixer, and the dishwasher).

“The most important room in the home has now become the most enjoyable. No longer is the modern woman tied down to monotonous hours of kitchen routine. Magic electric servants work for her, giving her new joyous hours of freedom–hours she can spend in any way she chooses.” The G-E Kitchen Institute was even offering personalized directions on how to modernize kitchens for women who sent a sketch of their current set up!

The book includes suggested menus for all kinds of meals, from family dinners to entertaining at a bridal shower, as well as recipes for every course. But there is an emphasis on convenience and speed (“Today in over 1,000,000 American homes, electric cookery does in minutes the work that hours did in years gone by”). There is a whole section on oven meals, in which the whole dinner goes into the oven and finishes at the same time. Many things can now be done in advance and stored in your refrigerator! Leftovers won’t be wasted, either! And the dishwasher will keep your hands out of that dirty water! A few of the recipes may make you wonder (like many of those in our collection) just who thought onions rolled in bread and spread with mayonnaise resulted in a tasty canape or chopped chicken needed to be embedded in gelatin, but that’s always what makes this collection and these publications special. They offer us a window in a food past we don’t see today.

It’s a bit challenging to pigeon-hole this publication into a single category. It isn’t just a cookbook, an advertisement for GE appliances, or a household manual. Rather, it’s a creative melding of all three–which is one of other reasons to highlight it this week. We’re gradually starting to think about our culinary collection in a new way here at Special Collections. Instead of defining it simply in terms of formats (books, manuscripts, educational kits, electronic resources, etc.), we’re trying to imagine it in terms of topics. While that could potentially be a long list, we’re noticing there are some distinct themes among existing holdings: receipts & recipes (including home remedies); dietetics, education/home economics & nutrition (children and adults); household management & social history; technology, food processing & preservation; and entertaining & the history of the cocktail.

We’ll be sharing more about some of these themes on the blog in the weeks to come, as well as serving up our usual fare of recipes, history, and a little gentle fun, so be sure to stick with us.

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