"For these women, a good cookbook is as
likely to be found on their bedside tables as in their kitchens,"
Haber said. Why? Because food has great meaning for us -- above and
beyond simple nutrition. "After Ella Fitzgerald became diabetic, she
would page through cookbooks, lingering over recipes of the foods
she could no longer eat," Haber said.
Old family recipes, family traditions
surrounding cooking, and the foods we eat for comfort or prepare for
special occasions affirm our identity and reinforce the connections
that promote family resiliency, said Haber.
The sight or smell of a certain
dish, whether it's green bean casserole or a four-alarm chili
prepared during football season, has the power to take us back in
time, she added, bringing back memories of the person who prepared
it, the dish it was served in and the way the family was then.
When a woman's sphere was restricted
to the home, women poured much of their creativity and artistry into
their cooking, Haber said. Women became known for their angel food
cakes or their Christmas-tree-shaped cinnamon rolls during the
holidays, and these recipes became precious family keepsakes.
Haber talked about ethnic cookbooks,
the recent spate of 10-minute-meal cookbooks, diet cookbooks, and
church and community cookbooks.
"The meals-in-minutes cookbooks are
not new," Haber said. "Decades ago, we had a little volume called
'The Can-Opener Cookbook.'"
She finds diet cookbooks compelling
for the personal narratives they contain. A favorite is Elizabeth
Taylor's "Elizabeth Takes Off: On Weight Gain, Weight Loss,
Self-Image, and Self-Esteem." Haber calls these books wonderful
barometers of popular culture, citing recent examples that urge us
to "diet for Jesus" or tell us "not to feed our inner child junk
And compilations of recipes from
church or community members paint rich pictures of life in the
communities they represent. Haber suspects the chance to contribute
a recipe to one of these collections may be one of the few chances
these women have to present themselves in a public manner, so the
recipes they select take on special meaning.
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in this article]
Finally, Haber told the stories of
three American women for whom cooking was both a livelihood and a
passion. Their cookbooks and life stories demonstrated their
resilience in the face of challenges, she said, as they turned their
culinary talents into businesses at a time when women had few other
In the early 1900s, Alice Foote
Macdougall turned the tragedy of her husband's early death into a
personal triumph when necessity compelled her to open a coffee shop
in Grand Central Station. She later opened grand restaurants with
Mediterranean décor, was profiled in the New Yorker and was the
model for a heroine in a Fannie Hurst novel.
Cleora Butler grew up in a poor
black family in Oklahoma. Unlike Macdougall, Butler always expected
she'd have to earn her own living. When Cleora's mother discovered
the girl burying her failed recipes in a backyard "dough patch," she
took the fledgling cook under her wing. In eight decades of cooking
for others, Cleora Butler was known as one of the best cooks in
Oklahoma, and her cookbook, "Cleora's Kitchen," is a classic.
Maria Grammatico, sent to live in a
Sicilian orphanage when her father died, learned to make the almond
pastries for which the nuns were famous. Although her childhood was
filled with sorrow, she left the orphanage at 22 with the recipes in
her head that would make her a successful businesswoman. Her
cookbook, "Bitter Almonds: Recollections and Recipes from a Sicilian
Girlhood," is much more than just a collection of recipes.
The discerning cookbook reader can
always learn more than how to make a chocolate soufflé, Haber said.
"Cookbooks are just as important as diaries and other historical
documents in documenting women's history. They tell important
stories about women's role in the family during certain eras and as
preservers of ethnic cultures and family values."
The Pampered Chef Family Resiliency
Program at the University of Illinois supports research, education
and public outreach that strengthens families' ability to be
resilient in the face of life stressors and to successfully navigate
the competing demands of work and family. The program was
established through a gift from Doris Kelley Christopher, founder of
The Pampered Chef and a University of Illinois alumna. Laurie Kramer
directs the program.
[University of Illinois news