Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Modern Family Cookbook

Here's one more of Grandma's things that I have to share - The Modern Family Cookbook, by Meta Given. The spine is just about non-existent, and it's got that great old book smell. While I'm sure there are some lovely dishes in this book, the ones pictured tended to look a lot like selections from the Gallery of Regrettable Foods. The most interesting part is the text, by far.

As you can see from the inscription, this was 1944 modern, so hold on to you hats, ladies. I have to wonder if Grandma was rolling her eyes at this stuff, too, the first time she flipped through this tome. The author was apparently big on "creeds." There are 4-5 major creeds peppered throughout the book, to guide the happy homemaker. Here's a portion of my ultimate favorite: The Family Hostess' Creed.

That's right people. Once you're a wife and mother, you transition from being a member of the household to being the hostess of a never ending party! The guests never leave, they take your hostessing skills for granted and somehow you end up doing everyone's laundry...

This is such an alien idea now - as if you are the one that doesn't belong here, and everyone elses's comfort is somehow waaaaay more important than yours. And you know what's even crazier, is that many women are still operating like this, unconsciously! Not that taking care of your family isn't important, or that you can't get enjoyment and satisfaction from it. The implication is that hostessing the family is now your only purpose on the earth, and to do anything for yourself is somehow a failure of your duties! Watch out, wifey. If anyone's grumpy is the fam. it's clearly your fault for using paper plates last night.

I just like the wording on this one: I will preserve as far as possible the nutritive elements in the foods which are delivered to me. Ummm, delivered by whom? Woodland creatures? I know back in the day the grocery store actually could bring food to you, but, I mean, I just picture a harried wife looking at a random pile of foods brought to her by some clueless person and trying to make an enjoyable meal. This homemaker is starting to sound like she's not allowed to leave the house, or even request specific ingredients!

"Let's see what hubby ordered for us! Okay, we have a cantaloupe, some celery, dried beef and a box of plain gelatin. That silly man! Oh, if only I were allowed to go the grocers! Well, it looks like beef celery aspic with cantaloupe relish again tonight. Although, how I will ever preserve and enhance the attractive qualities of these foods, I don't know."

Wow - a whole chapter on dishwashing! Now, I realize there are probably lots of handy housework tips and tricks out there that I could benefit from, and that a person can truly be an expert of running a house (thanks for the pressure Martha). But, really, a whole chapter on managing dishes? It's not as if they're mobile and sentient and you have to convince them to jump into the soapy water so that you can scrub them clean, rounding up those pesky forks and juice glasses, like a scene from The Magician's Apprentice. But hey, maybe my kitchen would be cleaner if I read this chapter. Who knows?

I guess the difference between a household management book from 60 years ago and a current day one is that, now, the book is trying to help without creating a deep seated anxiety in you that now, everyone's happiness is suddenly under your watch. That you could potentially ruin someone's happiness by making the wrong household move. Hopefully that's the case. Maybe now they just pile on the guilt in a less ham fisted way. And now you get to do all this crap after you just spent 8 hours doing more stressful crap somewhere else. Either way, it's pretty interesting looking at an artifact of pre-feminist American life, and just thinking about the changes.


Cat said...

I am seriously laughing hysterically at your commentary. I love those creeds! I know my own grandmother would have laughed at it all, too. (She was a way-cool chicky, let me tell ya!)

Wait . . . you mean my family members' emotions and feelings aren't all my fault? What would Freud say about that? I thought EVERYthing was the mother's fault?!?!?

Thanks for sharing - this is an excellent post, and as I've just been thinking about posting about family stuff, I'm going to link to it. :-)

DiannaB said...

Crazy stuff, right?! Thanks for the comment :)

katie said...

Ha! Dianna, I didn't know you were so funny! (Sorry, I do mean that as a compliment. @Cat is right--your commentary on this was hilarious!)

Also, your blog header is gorgeous. Soooo gorgeous! I need you and Amanda to help me fix my lame-o one! Anytime I get myself psyched up to try to tackle it, the photos get cropped all weird and I give up.