Food on the Page: Cookbooks and American Culture

By Megan J. Elias

(University of Pennsylvania Press)

In Food on the Page, Megan Eias, director of online courses at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and a CHNY member, explores the history of cookbooks in the United States from the early 1800s to the present day. She notes that, “The book got its start when I was awarded an Amelia Scholar’s grant from CHNY to travel to the cookbooks archive at the Schlesinger Library. It is a history of American cookbooks from the early 19th century to the present day. I focus on how American food has been defined, celebrated and derided in print across generations.” Following food writing through trends such as the Southern nostalgia that emerged in the late nineteenth century, the Francophilia of the 1940s, countercultural cooking in the 1970s, and today’s cult of locally sourced ingredients, she reveals that what we read about food influences us just as much as what we taste. Examining a wealth of fascinating archival material—and rediscovering several all-American culinary delicacies and oddities in the process—Elias explores the role words play in the creation of taste on both a personal and a national level. From Fannie Farmer to The Joy of Cooking to food blogs, she argues, American cookbook writers have commented on national cuisine while tempting their readers to the table. By taking cookbooks seriously as a genre and by tracing their genealogy, Food on the Page explains where contemporary assumptions about American food came from and where they might lead.


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