Cook Brew American And French Cook Books

Americans have long been suspicious of French food, even though it enjoys a reputation as one of the world’s most refined cuisines. Americans’ deeply ingrained suspicions of anything fancy or pretentious, their deeply ingrained thrift, and their self-congratulatory practicality impeded their welcoming French cuisine in the same way that they welcomed Lafayette. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, a rapidly expanding economy and the growing wealth it sustained extended desire for elegance in food. First, Americans bought sophisticated cookbooks from Anglophone publishers abroad.

Urbain Dubois was a celebrity chef who cooked for the Rothschild family and Prince Orloff of Russia; he published eight cookbooks. His The Household Cookery-Book: Practical and Elementary Methods was published in London in 1871; travelers purchased his book in the UK, and then brought it to the US. Pierre Caron’s 1897 volume, French Dishes for American Tables was a Mrs. Frederic Sherman’s translation of a French book dedicated specifically for American cooks. In her translator’s introduction, Mrs. Sherman wrote that she hoped the simplicity of her language would bring French culinary techniques into "the comprehension of all classes."

Caron’s book was not a unique event; Oscar Tschirky had started to work as the Waldorf Astoria Hotel’s maitre d’hotel in 1893. At the Waldorf, Tschirky arranged functions at the hotel and saved the menus; he also collected menus from social events and professional functions across New York City. Together, these provide a revealing view of Americans’ dining habits during this era of unprecedented prosperity. At his death, his heirs donated his menu collection, along with his personal papers and professional memorabilia to Cornell University.

Tschirky’s legacy lives on: Karl Schriftgiesser published his biography, Oscar of the Waldorf in 1943, and the university’s School of Hotel Administration Library continued to add to Tschirky’s menu collection, which currently numbers more than 10,000 menus. After the First World war, and the further expansion of economic prosperity, an increasing number of books offered hosts advice on how to welcome, entertain"and impress"their guests. One example of this genre would be Winnifred Fales and Mary Northend’s Party Book (1920). But as books told hosts how to welcome their guests, the Federal government intervened. A formal prohibition on the sale and distribution of alcohol went into effect the same year that Fales and Northend’s book came out; when Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Americans viewed French wines and domestic liquors alike as essential components for their good life.

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