Privilege Blog

High WASPs And Food, Continued

In the my mother’s generation, servants became widely impossible except for the super-rich. And High WASPs were no longer exclusively super-rich, nor were the super-rich exclusively High WASP. What did the young women graduating from Smith and Vassar and Radcliffe and Wellesley in the 1950’s do about food? They knew it was their job. They had read the books. Being High WASPs, they had a deep belief in doing a good job.

And so the modern obsession with cooking began. Now I am not going all Al Gore and saying the High WASP invented the cookbook. (Although I understand in fact he had good reason to say he invented the Internet?) But High WASP women really needed cookbooks, since they had no mother, no grandmother, to show them how to make food. No food of the homeland. No cooking culture. And since they were apt to lose touch with their family’s cooks when they moved to their husband’s houses. And since, in the 1950’s, their husbands certainly weren’t cooking. And since, in the 1950’s, probably small children who usually require feeding would be arriving in the unprecedented numbers of the Baby Boom. Which Boom of course produced me, so I’m a fan.

But these women didn’t want to cook just anything. They certainly didn’t want to cook like the middle class, however the middle class might have cooked. Since High WASPs had no home cooking they wanted to cook the recipes of other homes, other people. Actually, other peoples. They wanted cultural authenticity to stand in for childhood recipes, which belonged in fact to the family cook. (This is my theory of course, developed without an iota of research or data to back it up.) My mother bought her first wok in 1970 from Taylor and Ng, a San Francisco company and Chinese-American cookbooks shouldered their way onto our pantry shelves next to Julia Childs’ (a High WASP if I ever saw one) Mastering the Art of French Cooking. My memories of Mom’s cooking involve a lot of stir-fried broccoli. Cooked with sherry. Xiao xiang wine hadn’t yet made its way to suburban Northern California. But if it had been there she would have bought it.

For my mother, her comfort foods had been Spam, Libby’s Corned Beef Hash, and Underwood Deviled Chicken, all the foods she ate when the cook had a night off, her parents were out, and she, her brother, and sister, ate with the nanny. I don’t think comfort food was allowed in my father’s house. I am not sure he even knew where the kitchen was in the houses and Park Avenue apartment he grew up in. But for my generation, comfort food was the food our mothers learned to cook from other worlds. Ironically, of course, but who knew it then, just before the women’s liberation movement began to tell them to get out of the kitchen.

8 Responses

  1. this topic is extremely fascinating to me (have you seen my foodie blog?)– I may have to send you more questions soon. Seriously- I want to write a bigger project about manufacturing ‘home’ and ‘authenticity’ through cooking…

  2. I will look at your foodie blog, haven’t yet. I think that is a really interesting topic – especially considering globalization and then Whole Foods takeout. My kids actually recently made me a cookbook on the Internet, using recipes that reminded them of their childhood. Hmm.

  3. And isn’t it sad that I’ve now lost all my cookbooks to the shit in my garage? I’ll have to go out browsing cookbooks once I get back from my upcoming trip.

  4. Have you read “The United States of Arugula” – it might interest you and talks about this concept as well :)

  5. @24 – yes, amazing the impact of one little sewer line overflow on family history.

    @city girl – no I haven’t read it. I made that all up but I am glad to know that maybe it wasn’t completely preposterous. I am collecting books that I need to read, thank you.

  6. In our house the Julia Child had to be rejuvenated when some of the newer editions came out; then one had problems with any little notes written on the pages of the previous edition. (Although that really wasn’t done, but we discovered the ‘truth’ about making notes in the margins at an early age!)

    Smiles Miss LPC,

  7. I like this post a lot, in our house comfort food is still nanny food. Although now that means thai and indian as well as the Scottish food we grew up eating.

  8. My family always ate simple food. Fried Chicken and boiled potatoes with parsley and tomatoes or beets from the garden. The most “Ethnic” we got was German Potato Salad. We were/are very English in our tastes. We never gave up the foods of our ancestors, why would we? We love tradition here in the South.

Comments are closed.