Down the Rabbit Hole...In the very best way

Readers are curious people. 

And I am no different.  Recently, I found myself falling down a Rabbit Hole (in Alice terms) after reading Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus.  If you have read the book, I hope that you enjoyed it and struggled with it as much as I did.  If you have not, I strongly recommend adding it to your TBR pile.  

So, this is how it started.  I found myself intrigued by the role that Elizabeth Zott, the main character, stepped into which led me to read this:


WOW!, has The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live been an interesting and informative read!  Seriously!  I have learned so much and it has added so much more depth to my understanding of Lessons in Chemistry (and earned kudos for well-grounded research!).  There is so much more to the story of the home, women's place in it and around it, and the path that visionaries (and detractors) have taken in influencing the way we live and what we believe. 


As all curious cats do, I went a little deeper. 


As many of you know, I love cookbooks.  Not just the cooking and eating (which is a great perk), but I also love the stories hidden between the lines and the history that these books chronicle.  In fact, I own a lot (yes, a LOT) of cookbooks.  Most of them are because of the stories they tell, not necessarily the recipes within.  Although my fellow booksellers have experienced my culinary endeavours (for better or worse--that whole hot dog/green olive/rice gratin thing), I have these books because of the notes that people have written in them, the reflections of the time that they are written, and because they tell a "hidden history" that lives in plain sight. So, I hit my cookbook stash and found a treasure trove of new ways to appreciate them and the people who created them. 

Some of the best quotes that I found are:

  • "Plucky Housewives, who master their work instead of letting it master them"
  • "Dr. Evelyn G. Halliday whose contributions to the field of Home Economics have won nation-wide recognition" and
  • pithy introductory quotes like "Bad dinners go hand in hand with total depravity, while a properly fed man is already half saved".
  • One book included a whole "Meal Planner's Creed" promising to provide healthy budget conscious meals that are tasty and appealing, but also with the affirmation that "I will treat my job with the respect due it." And here we come back to Elizabeth Zott and Lessons in Chemistry.   


I realize that Elizabeth Zott is not a real person, but I found her in the pages of The Secret History of Home Economics and in the wondrous entries and notes in the Cutco Cook Book, Meta Given's Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking, and The Electric Cookbook.  Within those pages, I saw the women who strived to highlight the dignity of Home Economics, who appreciated the smarts and skills that it takes to manage a home (in a time when those things were not always recognized), and who persevered in spite of the challenges that they faced.

Which leads me to my final piece of this project.  I was given this little booklet, Favorite Recipes of Business and Professional Women, Boise, Idaho by a friend:

Lacking any real identifying marks such as author, publication date or ISBN to chase down the information, I began doing what all good historians and sleuths do, I hit the internet.  And surprisingly enough, began to find out a little about the organization and the women who created this little cookbook. I still want to know:

  • What Nellie B. Hartley did for a living and where her recipe for "Celery Loaf" came from or
  • What did Bertha Lobnitz do and why she chose recipes for "Danish Dumplings" and "Swedish Pancakes" to include
  • For what occasion did Dr. Betty Crane bake her "Chocolate Yeast Cake"?
  • And, lastly, I would like to ask how Ruth Sandy spent her days and find out how long I need to bake her "Cocoanut Macaroons". 


Oh, the questions... and all because of a book.   

Thank you, Bonnie Garmus, for creating something that has and is bringing me so much curious pleasure! 

Bon Appetit and Happy Hunting!  Rebecca G