Call him Cookbook Dad. He may not be anyone's real-life dad at all, but there he stands, nonetheless, a variation on Cookbook Man and mate to Cookbook Woman. Somewhat fanciful creatures all, they emerged over decades of American publishing.
Cookbook Dad would be known by his tendency to appear in the kitchen on important occasions, or perhaps to make an important occasion of his every kitchen appearance. Thus he distinguishes his cookery from that of Cookbook Mom, the daily drudge.
Know him by his ballyhooed way around a backyard barbecue. His reputation precedes him in this domain, where women need not apply. Consider, for instance, his flair with seasonings, his humorous barbecue apron -- "GENIUS AT WORK," it might declare -- and his array of Freudian tongs. All the better to say: Sure, I'm cookin', but I ain't no sissy.
The evolution of Cookbook Dad unfolds in a new book by historian Jessamyn Neuhaus, Manly Meals and Mom's Home Cooking: Cookbooks and Gender in Modern America, to be published next week by the Johns Hopkins University Press.
That the official publication date of Manly Meals falls almost squarely on Father's Day is merely coincidence, says Neuhaus, but her work speaks to the occasion nonetheless. She spent years in libraries from coast to coast poring over cookbooks, finding between the recipes a story of how a culture sorts out domestic dynamics between men and women.
Neuhaus devoted her most intense study to books and articles published between 1920 and the early 1960s, but brings the story up-to-date by considering some materials published since 1990. While much has changed -- particularly with the prevalence of cookbooks by male chefs, many of whom have gained "celebrity" status -- Neuhaus says trace elements of gender stereotyping can still be found in books on food and cooking.
Consider, for instance, the work of David Joachim in collaboration with the editors of Men's Health magazine, who this year and last, respectively, published A Man, a Can, a Grill and A Man, a Can, a Plan: 50 Great Guy Meals Even You Can Make! Then there's Don Mauer's A Guy's Guide to Great Eating: Big Flavored Fat-Reduced Recipes for Men Who Love to Eat, published in 1999.
This notion of "guy meals" is a throwback to at least the 1930s, when "authors never hesitated to make sweeping, universal generalizations about male food preferences," Neuhaus writes.
Put simply, guy food is supposed to be big and spicy, probably involving meat, preferably prepared simply, absent the frills and fussiness commonly associated with food preferred by women.
If cookbooks in the early 20th century made such distinctions between men and women's eating, they also drew the line between their styles of cooking and how their culinary performances should be seen. Men tended to be credited with particular culinary gifts. As the kitchen was seen as a woman's rightful place, Neuhaus writes, it was also considered a man's showcase.
In the 1950s, cookery instruction "consistently emphasized that men naturally possessed the ability to cook more creatively and with better results than women," Neuhaus writes.
While the woman cook was portrayed as a slave to the recipe, the man was considered a bold innovator, improvising on written instructions, bringing innate flair to otherwise humdrum fare. The editors of Chefs of the West, a cookbook published in 1951, typified this tendency, applauding their male contributors who "exercise the pioneering virtues of enterprise and ingenuity. ... They take on the listless zucchini, penetrate to its deeply hidden qualities, and elevate it to a place of honor at the table."
Some things have changed more than others, says Neuhaus.
Cookbooks no longer further the notion that a woman's very worth as human, wife or mother is largely tied up with her enthusiasm and accomplishment in the kitchen. The "domestic ideology," as Neuhaus puts it, no longer forbids women to express discontent about kitchen work, as was common in the first half of the 20th century.
Neuhaus notes, however, an enduring tendency to see men and women differently vis-a-vis the home kitchen, to tout Cookbook Dad. He might be the caveman or kitchen wizard, but probably not the mundane cook upon whom the family depends for daily sustenance.
Neuhaus writes that articles and books published since the 1990s still suggest that men cook for fun, comparing "cooking to other kinds of masculine activities, like woodworking or golf. Even if, statistically, more men frequent the kitchen than they did 50 years ago, our ideas about how and what men cook have not changed much."
On this point, Neuhaus gets an argument from some folks in food publishing.
Susan Friedland, a cookbook editor at Harper Collins in New York, calls books such as A Man, a Can, a Grill or John Boswell's 1999 A Man and His Pan anomalies in a field that has outgrown culinary gender divisions.