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Some people think that a cookbook is just a collection of recipes for dishes that feed the body. In Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives through the Cookbooks They Wrote, Janet Theophano shows that cookbooks provide food for the mind and the soul as well. Looking beyond the ingredients and instructions, she shows how women have used cookbooks to assert their individuality, Some people think that a cookbook is just a collection of recipes for dishes that feed the body. In Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives through the Cookbooks They Wrote, Janet Theophano shows that cookbooks provide food for the mind and the soul as well. Looking beyond the ingredients and instructions, she shows how women have used cookbooks to assert their individuality, develop their minds, and structure their lives. Beginning in the seventeenth century and moving up through the present day, Theophano reads between the lines of recipes for dandelion wine, "Queen of Puddings," and half-pound cake to capture the stories and voices of these remarkable women.The selection of books looked at is enticing and wide-ranging. Theophano begins with seventeenth-century English estate housekeeping books that served as both cookbooks and reading primers so that women could educate themselves during long hours in the kitchen. She looks at A Date with a Dish, a classic African American cookbook that reveals the roots of many traditional American dishes, and she brings to life a 1950s cookbook written specifically for Americans by a Chinese émigré and transcribed into English by her daughter. Finally, Theophano looks at the contemporary cookbooks of Lynne Rosetto Kaspar, Madeleine Kamman, and Alice Waters to illustrate the sophistication and political activism present in modern cookbook writing. Janet Theophano harvests the rich history of cookbook writing to show how much more can be learned from a recipe than how to make a casserole, roast a chicken, or bake a cake. We discover that women's writings about food reveal--and revel in--the details of their lives, families, and the cultures they help to shape.


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Some people think that a cookbook is just a collection of recipes for dishes that feed the body. In Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives through the Cookbooks They Wrote, Janet Theophano shows that cookbooks provide food for the mind and the soul as well. Looking beyond the ingredients and instructions, she shows how women have used cookbooks to assert their individuality, Some people think that a cookbook is just a collection of recipes for dishes that feed the body. In Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives through the Cookbooks They Wrote, Janet Theophano shows that cookbooks provide food for the mind and the soul as well. Looking beyond the ingredients and instructions, she shows how women have used cookbooks to assert their individuality, develop their minds, and structure their lives. Beginning in the seventeenth century and moving up through the present day, Theophano reads between the lines of recipes for dandelion wine, "Queen of Puddings," and half-pound cake to capture the stories and voices of these remarkable women.The selection of books looked at is enticing and wide-ranging. Theophano begins with seventeenth-century English estate housekeeping books that served as both cookbooks and reading primers so that women could educate themselves during long hours in the kitchen. She looks at A Date with a Dish, a classic African American cookbook that reveals the roots of many traditional American dishes, and she brings to life a 1950s cookbook written specifically for Americans by a Chinese émigré and transcribed into English by her daughter. Finally, Theophano looks at the contemporary cookbooks of Lynne Rosetto Kaspar, Madeleine Kamman, and Alice Waters to illustrate the sophistication and political activism present in modern cookbook writing. Janet Theophano harvests the rich history of cookbook writing to show how much more can be learned from a recipe than how to make a casserole, roast a chicken, or bake a cake. We discover that women's writings about food reveal--and revel in--the details of their lives, families, and the cultures they help to shape.

30 review for Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kerith

    Really really interesting premise, but dry as a bone.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Well, like most of the other reviews say, this was an academic read, and it took me a few weeks to get through in between more fun and lively books. Too bad, because the fascinating subject matter really deserves a more enjoyable text, without all the repetition and carefully hedged conjecture inherent in academic writing. That said, it's academic as in kinda dry, not as in pretentious or full of inaccessible jargon - it's totally readable. Anyway, the glimpses into historic cookbooks are delight Well, like most of the other reviews say, this was an academic read, and it took me a few weeks to get through in between more fun and lively books. Too bad, because the fascinating subject matter really deserves a more enjoyable text, without all the repetition and carefully hedged conjecture inherent in academic writing. That said, it's academic as in kinda dry, not as in pretentious or full of inaccessible jargon - it's totally readable. Anyway, the glimpses into historic cookbooks are delightful and informative, full of everyday history. My favorite parts were when the author was able to get a deep look into a single book that also serves as a diary or cultural commentary, and the handful of times she reveals her own stories of falling down some research hole. I also really appreciate her effort to look beyond the middle/upper class, English-speaking, white women most accessible in the historical record; there are some very cool and unexpected stories here that are left out of many histories. Totally worth a read if the subject interests you - keeping in mind you might feel like you're doing your homework while you read!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Laura Cushing

    An exploration of women's cookbooks throughout history, and what they say about the women who wrote them. Coookbooks handwritten by individuals ,self-published by groups, and professionally published are all examined. Many different kinds of cuisine and heritages, social standings, and so forth. It's interesting to see how women from long ago had some of the same desires and dreams and concerns that we do today - they wanted to make good meals for their family, entertain their friends, and learn An exploration of women's cookbooks throughout history, and what they say about the women who wrote them. Coookbooks handwritten by individuals ,self-published by groups, and professionally published are all examined. Many different kinds of cuisine and heritages, social standings, and so forth. It's interesting to see how women from long ago had some of the same desires and dreams and concerns that we do today - they wanted to make good meals for their family, entertain their friends, and learn new skills. They expressed their opinions about everything from men to politics in the pages of their cookbooks. Their children practiced their letters in their pages. They kept little diaries, and appended recipies for their own household's needs. Recommended for those with an interest in women's history and /or cooking.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Heather G

    This was a terrific social history of women's roles and impact through foodways. I had no idea cookbooks were such rich historical fodder! I came away thinking about my own cookbook legacy.... That said, this book is a somewhat academic read. For those who appreciate thorough archival and historical research, you won't be disappointed.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen

    impressive volume that takes a look at 10+ specific cookbooks/personal cookery writings. highly recommended if you're interested in women's domestic history and the history of literacy/cookbooks.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    I’ll admit, I skimmed the last two chapters of this book because I just couldn’t stand it anymore. The premise of this book is so interesting and I can tell the author spent a lot of time with this topic and original manuscript cookbooks, but she is not a good writer. This book is so academic it’s like reading a really boring textbook and there are way too many instances where she says, “we’ll never know” or “we can’t know.” To me, this book would have been more effective if she had picked some I’ll admit, I skimmed the last two chapters of this book because I just couldn’t stand it anymore. The premise of this book is so interesting and I can tell the author spent a lot of time with this topic and original manuscript cookbooks, but she is not a good writer. This book is so academic it’s like reading a really boring textbook and there are way too many instances where she says, “we’ll never know” or “we can’t know.” To me, this book would have been more effective if she had picked some women that we could know some more about and delve into their cookbooks to show how the cookbooks tell about their lives.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    This is one of those books with a fascinating premise, and some fascinating insights that simply didn't live up to its promise. It is interesting, but SO dry, and it really needed more images of what it was talking about. I think this would have made a better documentary, where we could have seen what was being talked about on screen while we heard about it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bryn (Plus Others)

    The strongest parts of this book were those moments when Theophano is deeply engaged in studying a particular text; her analysis of How To Cook And Eat In Chinese was both fascinating and insightful. However, a great deal of the book is not this; Theophano is looking at a huge variety of texts, and each time she approaches one she seems to feel she needs to re-invent the wheel -- by which I mean she never just studies a particular phenomenom, she has to give a breakdown of how it works, so when The strongest parts of this book were those moments when Theophano is deeply engaged in studying a particular text; her analysis of How To Cook And Eat In Chinese was both fascinating and insightful. However, a great deal of the book is not this; Theophano is looking at a huge variety of texts, and each time she approaches one she seems to feel she needs to re-invent the wheel -- by which I mean she never just studies a particular phenomenom, she has to give a breakdown of how it works, so when she talks about women including jokes or satirical poetry in their personally assembled cookbooks, she Explains About Humour for a bit and how jokes work and what role humour serves in society, which seems unnecessary if one is not going to then spend an entire chapter doing a detailed study of humour in cookbooks or what-have-you. I wanted much, much more time with the original texts; historical background is vital to situate them in their proper context, and I suppose some theoretical scaffolding is occasionally necessary, but the balance felt very off to me for a lot of the book and made it a slog. The other part of this book that did not work for me -- and this is not in any way Theophano's fault -- is that access to information in the U.S. has changed so much between 2003 (when this was published) and the moment I am writing this in 2018. Theophano talks a lot about how most of the women who created these cookbooks are totally unknowable to us except through their particular text, since all we have is their name and this book they left -- but in this day & age of Google, I can do a fairly quick amount of searching on these women and find bits and pieces of information which often to lead to other bits of information which eventually leads to a suggestion of the shape of a life. For instance, Lydia Grafton Jarvis, whose cookbook Theophano works with some, was probably not having her husband copy down recipes for her (which Theophano does a lot of class/gender based speculation about -- why would a woman have her husband copy things she could just as easily copy, etc etc), but rather her brother, in which case it seems like a possibility that he was back in the family home copying down recipes from a family cookbook and sending them to her in her married home. Now, I based this off some family trees and church records and other online information I found, and I am NOT a trained scholar, and I could be reading the sources entirely wrongly, but the thing is -- the sources are easily available to me, and they were not for Theophano, but unfortunately it makes the book weaker.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Deb

    I want to say that I loved this one...in parts I certainly did...but it was a bit dry. The idea though that cookbooks tell us so much about their owners is exciting....that such complex stories can be told by notations and scraps tucked into an old cookery book might not have been a fully clear idea to me before, though obvious in hindsight. How the author clearly loved her research, and found such personality in each piece she discovered, is beautiful...I do wish though that she had gone a litt I want to say that I loved this one...in parts I certainly did...but it was a bit dry. The idea though that cookbooks tell us so much about their owners is exciting....that such complex stories can be told by notations and scraps tucked into an old cookery book might not have been a fully clear idea to me before, though obvious in hindsight. How the author clearly loved her research, and found such personality in each piece she discovered, is beautiful...I do wish though that she had gone a little deeper...perhaps she couldn't and I understand what is lost to time, but the is the fact that she had an agenda, almost a slant if you will, that she emphasized over the individual stories. I will look at cookbooks in used bookshops with new eyes now.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Claudia Majetich

    Very disappointing book. I didn't bother to finish it. The Introduction provides a detailed overview of each chapter, which seemed like it contained too much detail when I read it. My response proved to be true, unfortunately. The author's writing style is repetitive. Each sentence offers a slightly different way of stating a point she has already made without offering any additional insights. The book has enough info for an interesting article, but insufficient material for a book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rogue Reader

    Thoroughly researched academic work on early cookbooks, presenting these as women's avenue to self esteem, self expression, memoir and creativity. Photographs of manuscripts and personal notebooks from 1800s give insight into women's minds and daily life. Invaluable research work in the history of food, women's studies and Americana. Extensively annotated and footnoted, there is also a very long bibliography for additional reading. The book's typeface is faint and hard to read and the text is sma Thoroughly researched academic work on early cookbooks, presenting these as women's avenue to self esteem, self expression, memoir and creativity. Photographs of manuscripts and personal notebooks from 1800s give insight into women's minds and daily life. Invaluable research work in the history of food, women's studies and Americana. Extensively annotated and footnoted, there is also a very long bibliography for additional reading. The book's typeface is faint and hard to read and the text is small, lines oddly spaced. Ashland Mystery

  12. 4 out of 5

    Niya

    The concept of the text is a fascinating one and the authors thesis that cookbooks have been and continue to be a tool that further's women's literacy, progress to achieve equal footing, build community and establish themselves as credible experts is an excellent one. While the analysis of the roles these 'receipt' books played is an interesting one, it often quite dry and riddled with suppositions since there is a lack of primary and secondary source material. While the authors interest is tang The concept of the text is a fascinating one and the authors thesis that cookbooks have been and continue to be a tool that further's women's literacy, progress to achieve equal footing, build community and establish themselves as credible experts is an excellent one. While the analysis of the roles these 'receipt' books played is an interesting one, it often quite dry and riddled with suppositions since there is a lack of primary and secondary source material. While the authors interest is tangible, I was left wishing for pithier text and a more passionate argument.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pancha

    The information was interesting, but I was expecting something different and that made the reading less satisfying. Each chapter focused on a premise like "Cookbook as Community" and presented cookbooks that supported the premise. I think I would have preferred a more overarching narrative, more like a linear history of the cookbook dipping into the lives of the individual woman who wrote and used them.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mickie

    Did you know that women used to trade friendships by trading "receipts" or recipes? They still do! I loved peeking into the mundane and extraordinary meals of these women both known and anonymous. The cook in the 1970s who was tired from working all day and bored of being expected to cook really struck a chord with me--we've come a long way, have we?

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jessie

    I had to read this for my archives class. Its a good premise but not well executed. The author covers a broad range of cookbooks, but doesn't really go into much depth on anything. I really wanted this book to be really awesome, but it was disappointing.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Andie

    I agree with the previous reader who wanted a deeper exploration of the women whose writing Theophano studied. As is, it's a fairly superficial and repetitive read. I found it boring.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    Also for my class. It's a little Professor Obvious in places but overall the argument really helps us understand cookbooks as a women-centered literary genre.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Started reading, but got sidetracked. it's about women who wrote cookbooks, i.e. food, so what's not to like?!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Payne Jones

    Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote by Janet Theophano (2003)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Holly Maurer

    interesting in parts - but I could NOT finish this book! I felt like I was in college, reading a textbook!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    Because of this book, I make sure I write in all of my cookbooks now. Women may not have written much in the history of the world, but their lives are most definitely in their cookbooks.

  22. 5 out of 5

    John'alee

  23. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

  24. 5 out of 5

    Allison

  25. 4 out of 5

    Antoinette Mendoza

  26. 5 out of 5

    Fletcher

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kay

  28. 4 out of 5

    Vicky

  29. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

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