FROM HARDTACK TO HOME FRIES: An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals

Barbara Haber, Author . Free Press $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-684-84217-2

The tasty graham cracker, a beloved bedtime snack of many children, began its life as the linchpin of its originator Sylvester Graham's fanatical early–19th-century health campaign to curtail sexual excess, especially masturbation and more then once-monthly marital coitus. Facts such as these, interwoven with informed, witty discussions of social, political and economic history, make Haber's tour through the history of American food so entertaining. Since food has so often been consigned to the domestic realm of woman, Haber's study is in essence a history of American women: the "Harvey Girls," who worked in the chain of reasonably priced railroad depot restaurants that revolutionized public eating in the 1880s and '90s; how Eleanor Roosevelt and her general housekeeper Henrietta Nesbitt had to balance White House menus, which had to seem both fancy and economical during WWII; the role of a small tea shop, started by faculty wives in Cambridge, Mass., as a boon to women refugees in the 1940s. While Haber doesn't explore issues in depth (her discussion of why Irish immigrants were antagonistic to African-Americans would have been helped with references to Noel Ignatiev's 1996 study How the Irish Became White), she does cover a wealth of material with a breezy style and a fine eye for historical detail. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/25/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-14-200297-1
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