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Food Innovations: The Conditions of ‘Cookery’ in Good Housekeeping

4 November 2022

Loren Evangelista Agaloos, University of the Philippines, Diliman

This paper explores the intersection of food studies and modernism by considering the women’s periodical in the early twentieth century, particularly Good Housekeeping (GH) and its Department of Cookery pages. My focus is on the American edition of GH from the year 1922, whose digitised volumes are available on the Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition, History (HEARTH), which is found within Cornell University Library’s open-access collections.[1]

My initial question is: How is the topic of food organised for this magazine’s readers in 1922? First there is the element of meal planning which is being proposed in order to save time, money, and effort. This takes the form of unfamiliar recipes or new equipment which are tried and tested by a group of experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute so that the reader does not have to meet an unexpected outcome in the kitchen. Second, there is the aspect of food presentation, where the goal is to achieve ‘perfect’ or ‘attractive’ meals. And third, these pages establish a sense of community among its readers, often referred to as the ‘housewife’, ‘hostess’, or ‘housekeeper’.

As I consider these pages in light of what is ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ modernism, I frame my discussion around the work of other scholars who have examined the connections between food studies and modernism. Catherine Keyser (University of South Carolina) recognizes that ‘In its mobility, food exceeds nation-based definitions of literary or artistic movements. In its long histories and speculative futures, it problematizes periodization’,[2] hence the connection between food and modernism may not always be so evident. But as Jessica Martell (Appalachian State University) et al. have observed, ‘food is a crossroads linking a number of perennial modernist subjects: aesthetics, authenticity, commodification, empire, gender, interiority, mass production, politics, tradition, and others’.[3] A study on food and modernism can therefore lead to analysis of the Department of Cookery while considering these connections.

The following scenario provides a plausible context for thinking about the conditions of GH’s readers in 1922: With the arrival of ‘artificial [flavours] and [colours]; chemical fertilisers and industrial slaughterhouses […] canned goods and home kitchen appliances’ in the early twentieth century, this ‘changed how modern producers and consumers experienced food’.[4] In addition, ‘Mass-market magazines of the 1920s encouraged their readers to place [the]improvement of the domestic environment and projection of a successful image of the self as wife, hostess, and fashionable woman high on their list of priorities’.[5] Moreover, ‘The magazines in themselves also provided entertainment and relief from the burdens of domesticity, along with a sense of community amongst readers’.[6]

GH was established in 1885 by Clark W. Bryan, a Massachusetts newspaper publisher, and then acquired by William Randolph Hearst in 1911. According to David Sumner (Ball State University), GH  ‘was among the first to seek relationships with its readers by sponsoring contests, inviting readers to write in with questions, suggestions, stories, and household advice, and paying them for their contributions’.[7] The magazine was fairly popular, since ‘throughout the period 1920 to 1965 [GH] ranked third nationally in circulation among the genre of advisory women’s magazines. Its readers were mostly women from small and mid-sized towns who were […] generally a little better educated than the average, without being sophisticates or “in” members of any intellectual elite’.[8]

agaloos 2

To draw from some specific examples: In the January 1922 issue of GH, the theme across the Department of Cookery pages centres on meal planning, or how food waste can be avoided. The volume includes articles entitled ‘Long-Period Oven Cookery’, ‘The Facts of Fish: An Aid to Economy’, ‘Sweet Potatoes Plus’, ‘Rice and Corn-Starch Recipes’, and ‘The Bride’s Cookery Primer: How to Make Corn-Starch Pudding’. ‘The Facts of Fish’ focuses on the seasonality of ingredients, which implies an instinct that one can develop for what is available and how to make use of that in the best way possible. There is an emphasis on a sense of responsibility, the writer of the piece suggesting that ‘We must look at the situation squarely and see what we, as housewives, may do to become more intelligent and cooperative buyers’,[9] highlighting efficiency to its readers.

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In ‘The Bride’s Cookery Primer: How to Cook Eggs in Water’ from February 1922, there is a keen invitation for the reader to share her suggestions on how to achieve perfection through these meals, as well as a prevailing idea that the reader could also be a ‘master’ at these techniques. Some examples from the piece include invitations such as: ‘We will gladly welcome any suggestions from readers for further subjects on this Cookery Primer page’, ‘There is nothing more tempting or more satisfying than a perfectly poached egg, attractively served’, and ‘Be a master in your art and cook eggs in the perfect way—that alone can be the best way’.[10]

Perhaps owing to the growth of advertising in the early 1920s (and as evidenced by the large number of printed advertisements in the magazine), the content of these pages resembles what today be called ‘branded content’ or ‘advertorials’. This brand-centred approach emphasises that the magazine is a mechanism within this expanding consumer culture in which the woman is a willing participant. The magazine is ‘selling’ the idea of an ‘ideal’ housewife at the same time as it proposes how easy household preparation can become, that is, with the help of the magazine’s advice or invitations to its readers.

In closing, I draw from the example of a praline woman from the December 1922 issue, as seen in the article ‘Old-Time Southern Sweets’, a part of which reads: ‘To see her is to see all those other pralinières of days now past, who clustered about all the streets of the French Quarter’.[11] According to a study by Chanda Nunez (University of New Orleans), ‘the most popular of the African-American street vendors was the praline women […] [T]he highly visible and enterprising praline vendors were simultaneously celebrated and caricatured by white observers who depicted them as mammy figures not only in store advertisements and logos, but also in everyday annotations’.[12] In the magazine’s 1922 issue, such women are presented as romantic, nostalgic figures, but not active participants, unlike the ‘housewives’ that GH often turns to. Instead, they serve as a starting point for what the housewife can recreate at home. Were these pages accessible to women other than the white middle-class housewife? How were ‘outsiders’ depicted in these pages (servants women of colour)? As I explore the Department of Cookery a bit further, such questions can form part of a more extensive study on how food finds itself both inside and outside modernism.


Loren Evangelista Agaloos is an assistant professor at the Department of English and Comparative Literature, University of the Philippines, Diliman. She earned her M.A. in English Literature from the University of Warwick in 2011. Her research interests include food studies, urban space, and modernism.


Image credits

Image one: ‘Good Housekeeping Covers: 1920-1929’, Good Housekeeping, <https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/entertainment/g2041/early-magazine-covers/?slide=8&gt;.

Image two: ‘Department of Cookery’, Good Housekeeping, 74, 1, January 1922, pp. 54-55 <https://digital.library.cornell.edu/catalog/hearth6417403&gt;.

Image three: ‘Department of Cookery’, Good Housekeeping, 74, 2, February 1922, p. 59 <https://digital.library.cornell.edu/catalog/hearth6417403&gt;.

Sources

[1] HEARTH includes high-quality scans of Good Housekeeping‘s editions from 1885 to 1950. As described on its website: ‘HEARTH is a core electronic collection of books and journals in Home Economics and related disciplines. Titles published between 1850 and 1950 were selected and ranked by teams of scholars for their great historical importance […] This is the first time a collection of this scale and scope has been made available’. All references to the Department of Cookery are from Good Housekeeping, January to December 1922 <https://digital.library.cornell.edu/catalog/hearth6417403&gt; [accessed 2 September 2022].

[2] Catherine Keyser, ‘Modernist Food Studies’, Modernism/modernity, 4, 1 (2019)  <https://doi.org/10.26597/mod.0103&gt;.

[3] Modernism and Food Studies: Politics, Aesthetics, and the Avant Garde, ed. by Jessica Martell, Adam Fajardo, and Philip Keel Geheber (Florida: University Press of Florida, 2019), p. 4.

[4] Keyser, ‘Modernist’.

[5] Rachael Alexander, ‘Consuming Beauty: Mass-Market Magazines and Make-Up in the 1920s’, Ijas Online 4 (2015), 3-14 <https://www.jstor.org/stable/26556732&gt;.

[6] Ibid, 4.

[7] David E. Sumner, The Magazine Century: American Magazines since 1900 (New York: Peter Lang, 2010), p. 39.

[8] Kim Chuppa-Cornell, ‘Filling a Vacuum: Women’s Health Information in Good Housekeeping’s Articles and Advertisements, 1920–1965′, The Historian 67 (2005), 455-456 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/24453148&gt;.

[9] Ida Naught, ‘The Facts of Fish: An Aid to Economy’, Good Housekeeping, January 1922, p. 56.

[10] ‘The Bride’s Cookery Primer: How to Cook Eggs in Water’, Good Housekeeping, February 1922, p. 59.

[11] Margaret Lawrence Sterrett, ‘Old-Time Southern Sweets’, Good Housekeeping, December 1922, p. 69.

[12] Chanda Nunez, ‘Just Like Ole’ Mammy Used to Make: Reinterpreting New Orleans African-American Praline Vendors as Entrepreneurs’, University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations 128 (2011) <https://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/128&gt;.

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