Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America by Laura Shapiro
The Goods: The post-war marketing campaigns that attempted to groom the American palette to embrace prepackaged foods took it on faith that the answer was, "no." Shapiro examines what started off as an attempt to unload a surplus of field rations onto American kitchens and led to the rise of such odious dishes as the Snow Ball Sandwich and Gourmet Crab*, and the American love/hate affair with convenience foods.
Thoughts: This is an odd book, in the respect that its too-broad focus actually contributes to its charm. It contains, to name a few things:
1. a brief history of the Pillsbury bake-off (someone needs to write a comprehensive history of this event... it's a great story)
2. short biographies and discussion of the contributions of foodie celebrities ranging from Alice B. Toklas to Poppy Cannon (the Half-Assed Gourmet of her day, but very famous) to Julia Child
3. a look at housewifery in the 50s, including the rise of the domestic chaos memoir and the impact of women in the workplace
4. the strange, but eventually not-so-crazy assertion that Julia Child and Betty Friedan could be described as parallel forces in the feminist movement
Some of the discussions are oversimplified, but that doesn't stop this from being one of the most fun and interesting books about the 50s that I've read.
If you liked...: Books that examine popular assumptions about the post-war era, like The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap by Stephanie Coontz and The Fifties: A Women's Oral History by Brett Harvey, or fun foodie books about the 50s, like The Gallery of Regrettable Food: Highlights from Classic American Recipe Books by James Lileks, this book is for you.
* Snow Ball Sandwich: "two-layer circular sandwiches, one layer of tuna fish and the other of crushed pineapple mixed with whipped cream, the whole frosted with cream cheese and garnished with a cherry" (223)
Gourmet Crab: canned crabmeat, Cheez Whiz, cream of mushroom soup, and frozen spinach (67)