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    Entries in Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1)


    Beer by “The Book”

    The book alluded to in the title of this blog is a reference to the “cookbook”.

    The publishing of books of recipes has a long and convoluted history. The rendering of all the processes involved in preparing food into a written form of communication was much more of an art than a science. Writing about food and the diets of civilized humans has always been a considerable section of recorded history. For a century or so the publishing houses of North America could make more money publishing “serious” manuscripts and “pulp” fiction than books of recipes.

    Nevertheless, in the early twentieth century one book of recipes made a mark on popular culture. It was the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book edited by Fannie Merritt Farmer.

    It was and is still considered the first of its kind. It was the kitchen bible for generations of home economists. It was the basis of countless family breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. In short it fed a nation for over fifty years. Nowhere in the book is there a mention of beer.

    In the mid twentieth century, the development of the food processing industry made and additional major impression on the food that was consumed by the families of North America. The “Butterball” turkey was created. The most important word in that last sentence is created. Other kitchen conveniences were packages of fry ingredients pre-measured and combined for the easy home production of biscuits, pancakes, layer cakes and muffins. General Mills commissioned Betty Crocker to insure that the Generals products found their way onto every breakfast, lunch and dinner table on North America. The “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook” was a masterful piece of cross-merchandising executed almost fifty years before the term was adopted into the vernacular.

    Once again the three meals served to folks were neatly arranged into easy to understand recipes for easy to prepare meals. They were healthy and did include proscribed amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits. A bit less of the economics of the was necessary to include due to the inclusion of many of the General’s products. Nowhere in this book is there a mention of beer.

    If I had no other form of reference other than the previously mentioned seminal books I could be led to believe that the inhabitants of North America were unfamiliar with beer.

    And then came Julia.

    In the book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking… The only cookbook that explains how to create authentic French dishes in American kitchens with American foods.” By Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, the American public found a book that wasn’t a textbook, or a marketing platform, it was an explanation. The introduction and popularity of “The French Chef” on the television service of the Public Broadcasting System made Julia Child an almost household known name. She didn’t dictate or demand ingredients that are impossible to get. She taught people who wanted to learn how to cook the how and the why.

    Most importantly she mentions “Beer”. The recipe for Beer in Beef and Onion Stew can be found on page 317 of the 1966 edition of the book. It is a recipe for Carbonnades a la Flamande (Beef and Onions Braised in Beer). The first sentence is a concise explanation of the essence of the recipe, “Beer is typical for Belgian braise, and gives a quite different character to beef than the red wine of the bourguignon.” She even goes further, “A bit of brown sugar masks the beer’s slightly bitter quality, and a little vinegar at the end gives character.”

    And so, if you can trust this seminal tome, America was finally introduced to beer.

    Bon Appetit!