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Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century (California Studies in Food and Culture, 24)
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Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century (California Studies in Food and Culture #24)

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  331 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
Depicts the culinary habits of turn-of-the-century women, portraying their passion and idealism, as well as their frequently bizarre and misguided ideas.
Paperback, 304 pages
Published February 20th 2001 by Modern Library (first published 1986)
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janel.m No. The book focuses mostly on the women who created the movement that eventually deflated into home economics.

Community Reviews

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Jan 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
You've heard of Perfection Salad, right?

Chopped or shredded vegetables, primarily cabbage, celery, carrot, and sweet pepper, embedded in plain (later tomato) aspic.
"At the tail end of the 19th century (in the United States) the domestic science/home economics movement took hold. Proponents of this new science were obsessed with control. They considered tossed plates of mixed greens "messy" and eschewed them in favor of "orderly presentations." Salad items were painstakingly separated, organized
Sep 28, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, 2014
A look at the food science/domestic science movement that went from about 1880-1914, which tried to make science/chemistry/calories the driving force behind food and therefore revolutionize the future of women and the domestic sphere while improving the lives of the poor especially. (Essentially taste and preference were seen as bad, and food was merely chemical reactions forming proper energy.) The facts were interesting. The writing was dry. It's from 1986 and began with, "The domestic science ...more
Jen B
Oct 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Whoops! Finished this several weeks ago and simply forgot to log it.

In all honesty, this started out well, got dry, and only became fascinating toward the end because of the Nanny-State tendencies of the women who near the end of the period covered gained control of the movement, and that just angered me, since these control-freak (at best) and tyrannical (at worst, and it's not so far from one to the other) types remain with us, always veiling their insistence that everyone eat the same, unifor
Mar 16, 2008 rated it did not like it
I would move this to my "read" or "2008" shelf, but that would be dishonest, because I couldn't finish the book. If I had been required to read it, for class or something, I might have gotten through more of it. I found the writing dense, much of the topical coverage uninteresting, and the 1/2 or 3/4 that I read largely scattered. I wish this book had lived up to its promise to "uncover[] our ancestors' widespread obsession with food [and] tell[] us why we think as we do about food today..." but ...more
Perfection Salad opens up the (mostly) forgotten world of domestic science - an attempt by social reformers to improve the lives of the poor through teaching the science of cooking and homekeeping. Additionally, however, it was an attempt to elevate the status of women by showing the rigor and intelligence needed to properly caring for a family and running a household. While the science of the 1890s has in some cases been disproved - it turns out that fruits and vegetable do have nutritional val ...more
Jun 13, 2014 rated it liked it
Nonfiction book about basically the history of home economics, women, and cooking in America, in the late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century. You will see the origins of such bizarre foodstuffs as carrot-raisin-mayonnaise salad and other "old fashioned" dishes. At one point, there was a whole "white sauce" craze, where absolutely everything was doused in a sauce of milk, flour, and butter, I think? Lots of interesting little tidbits like that.

I found this book a bit dry, but there were some very
Kelly Wagner
Apr 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a re-read for me; I shouldn't have wasted time on books I've already read, but there it was, and it's fun to read. Horrified fascination, much like reading memoirs of bad families - the whole idea of scientific cooking, where taste and pleasure are not only unimportant, they are regarded as slightly dangerous, since they may interfere with getting people to eat a perfectly balanced diet - is sort of creepy, and the invention of the profession of home economics is certainly a horror stor ...more
Ami Stearns
Jun 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Loved this feminist/history/food book- so much fun to see how cooking and the kitchen were transformed by modernity at the turn of the century. Everything traditional, European, or made without recipes was thrown aside in favor of recipes which were standardized to always taste the same. Add ketchup and whipped cream to everything! This was really fun to read, not at all light reading but not too heavy. Could have gone a little more theoretical if she'd tried.
It makes me want to write a paper
Oct 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The story was pretty new to me - I knew the general story of women becoming active in professional reform organizations near the turn of the 19th Century, such as Jane Addams at Hull House, but I'd never heard much about this aspect of it. It certainly explains many things about American food - such as the weird propensity for mixing stuff with mayonnaise and calling it a salad - like the thing my mother-in-law calls Ambrosia Salad, which is some monstrous combination of canned fruit, nuts, and ...more
cynthia Clark
May 17, 2011 rated it it was ok
Not as good as I expected. Very repetitive at times. Most valuable insight was just how unscientific cooking used to be, before the days of gas ovens with temperature controls or standardized measurements. And, not that I'm supporting mass-production and distribution of food, it must have been even trickier to get predictable results when local ingredients like eggs, butter and flour varied greatly in style and quality. The relationship between the "scientific homemaking" and the feminist moveme ...more
Jul 13, 2012 rated it liked it
I thought this would be better. I loved Ruth Reichl's introduction. I was all set for a fabulous, interesting book. Instead, I found it rather dry. I did learn some things and there were some good parts but all-in-all, the introduction was the best part of this book.
May 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1900s
America has been royally screwed up in how it relates to food for way longer than I ever imagined. Yikes!
Jul 19, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: food loves
Shelves: foodwriting
Except I didn't like this book. I thought it would be interesting, but it was all about green jello. I am exaggerating here, really, green jello is not food.
Jul 21, 2017 rated it liked it
This history of home economics from its Boston beginnings to its demise in the 1960's is a lesson in unexpected consequences. We learn that people really do not care for Indian pudding or the bland Yankee diet promoted by these women; that white bland food was thought to be morally elevating even though it was soft and tasteless; and that these women actively encouraged the big business of food which led to the homogenous diet of the 20th century.
Nov 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Actually gave up on this one before the end because my enthusiasm for the topic didn't match the extensive level of research. An interesting examination of women in America at the turn of the last century. Home economics has had a weird and lasting impact on our culture.
Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
1968 was a signal year for my culinary development. There may have been rioting in Chicago and unrest on college campuses, but I was learning to cook in small town Kentucky. My librarian aunt gave me the Fanny Farmer Cookbook, and I carefully penned some favorite recipes on the endpapers, including ones I recorded that year while observing/assisting a Chinese professor make lunch (stir fry chicken, pepper steak, sautéed cabbage; I continue to make the recipes today sans MSG). Fanny Farmer, stain ...more
Dec 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The only edition listed here in Goodreads is 2001, but the edition I read was published in 2009 with a new afterword by the author.

Honestly, I didn't expect this subject to be so interesting. I started it years ago and finally got back to it thinking that I was going to have to force myself to get into it. The writing is delightful and kept pulling me through what could have been very dull material.

I think one of the reasons I was so drawn to the book is because I am a history enthusiast and thi
Apr 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Laura Shapiro traces the social history of the domestic science movement and in doing so, explains the movement's considerable influence on American eating habits. As a reader in the UK, it was interesting to see how this movement must have influenced this country, though not to the same degree and in all areas.

There is clearly a large amount of research material in this book, and it is a real achievement to have made it so readable. The social history is narrated through the characters that wer
Kristen Northrup
I'd already read Shapiro's follow-up to this, Something From the Oven, and it was a hoot. This one was much drier. In part, probably, because it wasn't as goofy an era. I did bog down a few times, but then it would pick up again. There weren't as many specifics on the food as I would have liked. You heard over and over again what the home economists were assigning people to eat, but not much about what the public was eating instead and really not much about the reasoning behind those healthy sel ...more
Anna Bond
Oct 14, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food
The current trend away from processed foods and toward the fresh, simple, and low-tech can make you wonder: how did we end up here in the first place? Why were canned vegetables ever even considered a good alternative to fresh when both were available? Shapiro's mini-history of early cooking schools, dieticians, and "food consultants" explores how Victorian values and Protestantism manifested themselves in the shaping of our country's ideas about food and its value.

She stays away from heavy theo
Dec 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
What a fascinating little volume! In sort of a cross between sociology and history, Laura Shapiro reviews the views of cooking and domesticity that were popular around the turn of the 20th century. Turns out domestic science (later known as home economics) evolved as a way to get women into real university courses under the guise of having a legitimate career field for them. Domestic scientists wanted housewives to view their roles in purely scientific terms, learning topics like chemistry (for ...more
Oct 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food-studies
This is a very interesting historical account of the development of the domestic science movement, scientific cooking, and the often bizarre food that these leading women cooked. Rather than the home ec classes we experienced in school, the roots of the domestic science movement, which culminated in the field of home economics, focused on creating an academic home for women that had never before existed, applying scientific principles to work in the kitchen. Shapiro claims that the ultimate fail ...more
Jun 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
A social history of changing attitudes towards cooking and other aspects of homemaking, specifically the emergence of domestic science aka home economics towards the end of the 19th century. The re-imagining and re-purposing of housework (women’s work) as a matter of scientific logic and precision (men’s work) had some interesting social and culinary consequences (some of which Shapiro covers in another excellent book, Something From The Oven).

The title comes from a recipe for chopped vegetables
Sep 27, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: znon-fiction
A bit of a dash through this. Somewhat interesting. The rise of "scientific" cooking, meal planning, etc., in the US. Didn't realize that Fannie Farmer was responsible for our way of measuring. "Contained" salads, in a lettuce cups or other constructions on the plate. Must have lead to the development of of the jello salad. The rise of Crisco, taking flavor from food.
Stephanie LGW
May 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food-diet
This is an interesting look into the changing culture of cooking from the late-1800s to the mid-1900s. It also shows how the food industry changed with the times. Kind of interesting how people (okay, well, me...I know there are others but I don't want to speak for them) are moving back to a whole foods, home-cooked meal place, similar to the theory behind the original cooking schools.
May 17, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
An interesting and informative history of the domestic science movement, a topic I did not have any interest in before reading this book. I saw a recommendation for this book in the reader comments of The Sweet Beet blog. I was surprised by the attitudes and aims of many of the early pioneers in this field. Now I want to go check out some more books in this series.
I really enjoyed a lot of the info in this, but it was a bit too prescriptive and judgey about The Right Way To Do Feminism for me. Skip the first and last chapters; the middle sections about the rise of domestic science, 19th century novels about Christianity and cooking, health movements, and women trying to solve poverty through nutritionism in the US were absolutely brilliant.
Oct 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food
This is a pretty fascinating look at how we as a culture got from boiled beef to aspic and beyond--and how that's all mixed up with feminism, essentialism, and all those other isms we thought we'd left back in undergrad.
May 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cookbooks-food
Highly recommend this for anyone interested in the social climate surrounding food during the turn of the century and/or the founding of the Boston Cooking School. Get the revised edition to read the afterward added in 2008.
Apr 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
Clearly, I have thing with food writing, so my reviews on such topics might be biased. This one, though, should appeal to techie and history buffs, as well as foodies. Jello molded into banana peels to construct a big pea pod? Yes, people really once thought that was haute cuisine.
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Goodreads Librari...: Author's name misspelled 2 18 Jan 18, 2015 10:38PM  
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Laura Shapiro is an award winning author who worked at Newsweek for over 15 years.
More about Laura Shapiro...

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