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Kentucky's Cookbook Heritage

Kentucky's Cookbook Heritage: Two Hundred Years of Southern Cuisine and Culture

John van Willigen
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 306
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  • Book Info
    Kentucky's Cookbook Heritage
    Book Description:

    Food is a significant part of our daily lives and can be one of the most telling records of a time and place. Our meals -- from what we eat, to how we prepare it, to how we consume it -- illuminate our culture and history. As a result, cookbooks present a unique opportunity to analyze changing foodways and can yield surprising discoveries about society's tastes and priorities.

    In Kentucky's Cookbook Heritage, John van Willigen explores the state's history through its changing food culture, beginning with Lettice Bryan's The Kentucky Housewife (originally published in 1839). Considered one of the earliest regional cookbooks, The Kentucky Housewife includes pre--Civil War recipes intended for use by a household staff instead of an individual cook, along with instructions for serving the family. Van Willigen also shares the story of the original Aunt Jemima -- the advertising persona of Nancy Green, born in Montgomery County, Kentucky -- who was one of many African American voices in Kentucky culinary history.

    Kentucky's Cookbook Heritage is a journey through the history of the commonwealth, showcasing the shifting priorities and innovations of the times. Analyzing the historical importance of a wide range of publications, from the nonprofit and charity cookbooks that flourished at the end of the twentieth century to the contemporary cookbook that emphasizes local ingredients, van Willigen provides a valuable perspective on the state's social history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4691-1
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction: Cookbooks as the Key to Kentucky Foodways and Culinary History
    (pp. 1-14)

    Kentucky cookbooks (that is, collections of recipes produced by Kentucky authors or groups) provide a glimpse of what Kentuckians ate, how they prepared food, the cooking technology used, and the social setting of food preparation and consumption at the time of the book’s compilation. Tapping into this potential resource requires careful analytical reading, however. As John Egerton notes, “Cookbooks tend to keep their social and cultural clues discreetly buried between the lines, but when they can be uncovered they may be useful barometers of a society’s tastes and priorities and values” (1993, 17). This book is based on a close...

  4. Chapter One The First Kentucky Cookbook: Antebellum Hearth Cooking
    (pp. 15-42)

    The earliest Kentucky cookbook isThe Kentucky Housewife, written by Lettice Bryan and published in 1839. Its content reflects the foodways of the region’s upper-class white households in the decades prior to the Civil War. The recipes were designed to be prepared on an open, wood-fired hearth, and the ingredients consist mostly of foods produced in the household’s gardens, orchards, and pastures. There are also recipes for game. Some ingredients, such as sugar and various spices, had to be obtained from great distances and were no doubt used sparingly. In reading the recipes, one is made aware of the labor...

  5. Chapter Two The Needs of the “New Regime”: Post–Civil War Cookbooks
    (pp. 43-62)

    In the introduction toThe Kentucky Housewife: A Collection of Recipes for Cooking, Mrs. Peter A. White includes the intriguing but cryptic statement that her cookbook will help “home life in Kentucky under the new regime” (1885, 3).¹ Although she provides no explanation, I think the “new regime” refers to the dramatic changes occurring in the white, upper-class households of the region after the freeing of enslaved persons and other stresses caused by the Civil War. These households had fewer staff after the war. They lost not only the physical help but also the knowledge of the formerly enslaved women,...

  6. Chapter Three A Turning Point: The Early Twentieth Century
    (pp. 63-92)

    This chapter focuses on two Kentucky cookbooks published in 1904:The Blue Grass Cook Bookby Minnie C. Fox andThe Blue Ribbon Cook Bookby Jennie C. Benedict.¹ In many ways, Fox’s book reflects a nostalgic culinary past, while Benedict’s book looks toward the future. Both are important in terms of understanding the changing needs of households in this era, and both were written by a single author with her personal goals in mind. The contrast between the Fox and Benedict cookbooks reveals the influence of the emerging domestic science movement and the increased entrepreneurship of women. Following an...

  7. Chapter Four Hard Times: The Great Depression and the New Deal
    (pp. 93-108)

    During the 1920s there were real increases in prosperity in Kentucky, especially in cities.¹ These conditions ended with the Great Depression. The conventional beginning of the Depression is the stock market crash of 1929, although there were hard times in rural Kentucky earlier than this, related to the collapse of farm commodity prices after World War I. The Depression touched many Kentuckians early and deeply and had a lasting impact on life in the commonwealth. It created an economic vacuum of joblessness, insolvent banks, and low prices for agricultural commodities. To deal with the Depression, there was massive government spending...

  8. Chapter Five New Foods and New Roles: World War II
    (pp. 109-126)

    World War II had an impact on Kentucky cookbooks and recipes. The most important influence was the dramatic increase in women’s participation in the labor force, making convenience and efficiency paramount. These issues began to appear in the 1940s and certainly became more common in cookbooks of the 1950s and 1960s. Convenience was also promoted when, after the restrictions of the war years, the nation’s robust industrial capacity and pent-up consumer demand led to the widespread use of kitchen appliances such as refrigerators and freezers.

    Cookbooks and recipes of the era were shaped, to an extent, by wartime food policies...

  9. Chapter Six Convenience and Innovation: The Mid-Twentieth Century
    (pp. 127-148)

    This era witnessed a culinary paradox. By the 1950s, Kentucky cookbook writing seemed to be going in a number of different directions: some cooks were motivated by novelty and complexity, and others wanted to simplify. We had both Julia Child’sMastering the Art of French Cooking(Beck, Berthole, and Child 1961) and Peg Bracken’sI Hate to Cook Book(1960).

    Although there seemed to be more interest in cookbooks, there may have been less interest in cooking, or at least a greater focus on convenience. There was a sizable increase in the number of Kentucky cookbooks published, especially community cookbooks....

  10. Chapter Seven Iconic Recipes and Kentucky Foodways: The Bicentennials and Beyond
    (pp. 149-180)

    Although social and technological changes have an impact on foodways, food practices and food preferences are somewhat stable and can lag behind other changes. There is a cultural investment in doing things a certain way. This can be seen in the Kentucky cookbooks compiled in observance of the nation’s and the state’s bicentennials and the many other cookbooks commemorating historic events associated with a particular county, church, or other entity. This chapter focuses less on the social context and more on the recipes for historically iconic foods.

    One does not actually eat tradition; one eats food. In the framework of...

  11. Chapter Eight Eating Locally and Sustainably: Contemporary Kentucky Cookbooks
    (pp. 181-198)

    One theme that dominates many of today’s Kentucky cookbooks is the local sourcing of foods. In this way, Kentucky cookbooks reflect a movement that is national and perhaps even worldwide. The local food movement advocates more direct relationships between food consumers and producers, with the goal of obtaining cleaner and higher-quality food in a way that is economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable. Kentucky poet, essayist, and novelist Wendell Berry (1981, 2009) and novelist-essayist Barbara Kingsolver (2008) have made important contributions to this discussion locally, nationally, and internationally. Other writers whose works resonate with this idea are food writer Michael Pollan...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 199-200)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 201-204)
  14. References
    (pp. 205-218)
  15. Annotated Bibliography of Kentucky Cookbooks
    (pp. 219-290)
  16. Index
    (pp. 291-300)