Cover image for From hardtack to home fries : an uncommon history of American cooks and meals
From hardtack to home fries : an uncommon history of American cooks and meals
Haber, Barbara.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
vii, 244 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TX360.U6 H33 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
TX360.U6 H33 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



An authority on women's history and the history of food takes readers on a cook's tour of American history, offering a savory new perspective on our country's past. 25 illustrations.

Author Notes

Barbara Haber has had a distinguished career as Curator of Books at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies. Haber is a popular speaker and writer on culinary history and has been profiled in Newsweek, The New York Times, Bon Appetit, and other prominent publications. For her contributions to food and cooking, she was elected to the James Beard Foundation's Who's Who in American Food and Beverages, and given the prestigious M.F.K. Fisher Award by Les Dames d'Escoffier. She lives in Winchester, Massachusetts

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Haber's wonderfully readable, intelligent, and eclectic history of cooking in America sheds new light on women's achievements and relates stories sure to delight. Haber begins with the remarkable tale of Asenath Hatch Nicholson, an American Protestant missionary who went to Ireland at the height of the potato famine to distribute Bibles. Becoming an outspoken defender of oppressed Irish Catholics, she taught starving folk to cook properly and appetizingly unfamiliar foods such as rice and cornmeal sent as relief. The Civil War gave rise to cookbooks designed to make up for lack of scarce ingredients, and these mark the origin of the now-famous mock apple pie concocted of crackers. Phoebe Pember, a Jewish Confederate cook, used her ancestral chicken soup as a remedy in a hospital in Richmond, Virginia, and generally improved the state of institutional food. Ellen White, of Adventist fame, spread also the nutritional gospel of figures such as Graham and Kellogg. Haber offers still more intriguing narratives of women's contributions to good cooking, including stories of Jewish immigrants and African Americans. --Mark Knoblauch

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Drawing on cookbooks, diaries, and memoirs, noted food historian Haber here presents some of the major events of American history through the lens of food history. Chapters cover such topics as the diets of POWs during World War II, why the food was so bad in the FDR White House, the role of the Harvey Girls in feeding the Western expansion, and the "diet kitchens" run by Civil War nurses. Each chapter works better as an interesting and well-written essay than as a contribution to a linear history of American cooks and meals. Some of the chapters are quite funny, such as the one on America's food reformers, which includes a digression on Haber's favorite modern diet books. An annotated bibliography, photographs, and several illustrative recipes are also included. Curator of Books at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute, Haber has been profiled in Bon Apptit, Newsweek, and other publications. Recommended for public libraries and academic or special libraries where there is interest in food history. Mary Russell, New Hampshire State Lib., Concord (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Follow the Foodp. 1
1 Feeding the Great Hunger: The Irish Famine and Americap. 7
2 Pretty Much of a Muchness: Civil War Nurses and Diet Kitchensp. 34
3 They Dieted for Our Sins: America's Food Reformersp. 61
4 The Harvey Girls: Good Women and Good Food Civilize the American Westp. 87
5 Home Cooking in the FDR White House: The Indomitable Mrs. Nesbittp. 107
6 Cooking Behind Barbed Wire: POWs During World War IIp. 131
7 Sachertorte in Harvard Square: Jewish Refugees Find Friends and Workp. 159
8 Food Keeps the Faith: African-American Cooks and Their Heritagep. 179
9 Growing Up with Gourmet: What Cookbooks Meanp. 208
Annotated Bibliographyp. 223
Indexp. 237