From Hardtack to Homefries: An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals

Front Cover
Simon and Schuster, May 11, 2010 - Social Science - 256 pages
Barbara Haber, one of America's most respected authorities on the history of food, has spent years excavating fascinating stories of the ways in which meals cooked and served by women have shaped American history. As any cook knows, every meal, and every diet, has a story -- whether it relates to presidents and first ladies or to the poorest of urban immigrants. From Hardtack to Home Fries brings together the best and most inspiring of those stories, from the 1840s to the present, focusing on a remarkable assembly of little-known or forgotten Americans who determined what our country ate during some of its most trying periods.

Haber's secret weapon is the cookbook. She unearths cookbooks and menus from rich and poor, urban and rural, long-past and near-present and uses them to answer some fascinating puzzles:

• Why was the food in Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt's White House so famously bad? Were they trying to keep guests away, or did they themselves simply lack the taste to realize the truth? It turns out that Eleanor's chef wrote a cookbook, which solves the mystery.

• How did food lure settlers to the hardship of the American West? Englishman Fred Harvey's Harvey Girls tempted them with good food and good women.

• How did cooking keep alive World War II Army and Navy POWs in the Pacific? A remarkable cookbook reveals how recollections of home cooking and cooking resourcefulness helped mend bodies and spirits.

From Hardtack to Home Fries uses a light touch to survey a deeply important subject. Women's work and women's roles in America's past have not always been easy to recover. Barbara Haber shows us that a single, ubiquitous, ordinary-yet-extraordinary lens can illuminate a great deal of this other half of our past. Haber includes sample recipes and rich photographs, bringing the food of bygone eras back to life.

From Hardtack to Home Fries is a feast, and a delight.

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - bostonian71 - LibraryThing

Engaging collection of food history essays. Haber draws on cookbooks, memoirs and other archival sources to tackle a number of topics, most of which I hadn't known or thought much about. (I most ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - mmadamslibrarian - LibraryThing

Funky history of food in the U.S.- but not necessarily chronological. I enjoyed the discussion of the horrible food in the Roosevelt White House and how the Harvey girls came into being. Read full review


Follow the Food
Pretty Much of a Muchness Civil War Nurses
They Dieted for Our Sins Americas
The Harvey Girls Good Women and Good Food
Home Cooking in the FDR White House
Cooking Behind Barbed Wire POWs During
Sachertorte in Harvard Square Jewish Refugees
Food Keeps the Faith AfricanAmerican Cooks
Growing Up with Gourmet What Cookbooks Mean
Annotated Bibliography

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2010)

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 Appétit, 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.

Bibliographic information