Site icon

The Future of Cooking: Progress in America


By Henry T. Finck

This article is an excerpt from the 1913 book: “Food and Flavor: A Gastronomic Guide to Health and Good Living.” This book is now in the public domain. We have lightly edited this selection for ease of reading. Most fun of all, we have bolded and underlined those lines that easily (so freaking easily) lend themselves to snarky commentary. Enjoy! (And if you have great snark, we’d love for you to add it to the comments.)


RESPECT for the noble art of cooking is being greatly enhanced by its introduction into our public and private schools as an important branch of education.

When this innovation was first suggested, the funny men of the newspapers seized on it as a welcome new subject for their jokes and cartoons and, even now, not a few persons who have given the question insufficient thought speak of cookery as one of the fads and frills of our schools. But at a budget hearing in October, 1910, Dr. W. H. Maxwell, Superintendent of the New York City Public Schools, made the memorable statement that he considered the retention of cooking-lessons more important than the study of languages.

He might have gone further; he might have said that because health is more important than learning, therefore cookery is more important than anything else now taught in our schools.

It is useless to say that cooking should be taught at home. Most mothers, especially among the working classes, have neither the time nor the knowledge to teach their daughters how to prepare food rationally.

Recognizing this fact, the Young Women’s Christian Association also began some years ago to provide culinary lessons.

One of the reasons for this action may be found in a statement made in the Twenty-seventh Report of the New York Cooking School, that “good coffee and a palatable meal often remove the need of strong drink, and many a working-woman has had her cares lightened by the child who has learned to cook.”

An English girl, who had thus been taught, said: “Mother tells me she’d make a drop of nice broth for the children out of an old bone as she’d have thrown away.”

A glimpse of future possibilities is given by an experiment made in six Chicago schools, with 1,200 pupils. The boys in the manual-training classes made fireless cookers, and the girls did the rest. One result was a rich, palatable soup costing one cent a bowl.

The most encouraging aspect of the situation is that both in England and in America the experience has been that the children like the cooking best of all their lessons and are glad to practise them at home. As one principal wrote, “The cooking has been enthusiastically received by the pupils, and the parents are heartily in favor of it.”

Cooking Class at the Wadleigh High School (1913. New York, The Century Company. Project Gutenberg)


As far back as 1835 household economics was taught in young women’s seminaries of the United States, as we are informed by Benjamin R. Andrews of the School of Industrial and Household Arts at Columbia University. In 1912 there were over 130 schools which gave collegiate degrees for proficiency in the courses in home-making, and it was clear from the way things were going that ‘ere long every woman’s college and high school in the country would have a domestic science department, if only to meet the competition of the Domestic Science schools which are springing up everywhere.

These special schools for home-making turn out the really up-to-date girls—the girls whom young men want to marry.

In recognition of the growing importance of this branch of education, Representative Wilson of Illinois introduced, in 1911, a bill providing that a Bureau of Domestic Science be established in the Department of Agriculture with the object of investigating methods and appliances for the preparation of food and of gathering information to be used in training the boys as well as the girls of the schools and colleges in household and institutional management.

In 1910 there were, in the elementary schools of Chicago, only 75 kitchens available for use in giving the girls practical instruction in the art of cooking. In view of the fact that at least eight out of every ten girls in these schools are fated to spend a part of their lives in the kitchen, the superintendent of schools, Mrs. Ella Flagg Young started an agitation to have this number increased to 250.

In commenting on this subject the Chicago Tribune remarked: “A girl who has to hold in after life solemn communion with stewpans and gridirons had better learn in advance how to use them. It will save her mortification, bitter tears, and scoldings.

Not every husband takes the matter as calmly as the brute who, when his young wife met him with tears in her eyes and the information that the cat had eaten the first pie she had made for him, replied: “Don’t cry, dear; we can easily get another cat!

Bad cooking drives a man to drink sooner than anything else. Many honeymoons are shortened by home-made dyspeptic pangs. “Poor food ruins dispositions as well as digestions.”

“Fashionable private schools are adding cookery to their subjects,” I am informed; and the girls “have lots of fun with it.” A wise thing; for even if these girls marry men who are wealthy enough to hire a cook they ought to know something about culinary art—the more the better—so they can tell the cook how they want things. Cooks in general are not so bad as they are painted. Many of them are simply inexperienced and glad to learn the better way. I know this from abundant experience in my own household, and I bless the stars that I have a wife who can tell what’s wrong and how to mend it.

Most of the public schools in New York and many other cities now have courses in household science, including cooking. In the high schools attention is given, among other things, to the adulteration of foods and its detection; to the effects of certain bacteria, useful or harmful, on foods; to nutritive values; to the physiology of digestion; to money and labor-saving appliances; nursing and diet for the sick; cost of living; home sanitation; home-made fireless cookers; food adulteration; cooking as a moral agent; etc. The courses vary somewhat in different schools, but that all of them tend to domestic happiness and lowering of the death rate is certain.

There are indications that working girls are beginning to realize the gross injustice of marrying without having learned how to cook a palatable and digestible meal. The New York Sun of January 15, 1911, had an interesting article telling how Miss Mary E. Brockman started evening classes in cooking, largely for girls about to be married. Some of them have worked in factories and shops for years, yet “hardly know an eggbeater from a potato-ricer.” “They are eager to learn and make good pupils.” “It might seem hard to work all day in a factory and spend two or three hours in the evening mixing flour or braising meat, but evidently several hundred young women find it almost a relaxation. Once started, the subject becomes increasingly fascinating.”

“Increasingly fascinating.” Bear that in mind. In cooking, as in piano-playing, and everything else, the drudgery comes first, but increasing skill brings satisfaction and joy to the artist cook—not to speak of the husband, the children, and the guests. And this joy lasts as long as life itself.

There is in New York an Association for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor which, in 1911, was teaching 50,000 “little mothers” how to cook while their parents are away working. One of its main objects is to show the families how to economize intelligently. The fact that so many children as well as adults in our cities are so undernourished and so liable to disease is largely due to the spending of money on foolish, unnutritious, or harmful things. By simply substituting cereals and soups for their poisonous tea and soggy cake, thousands of suffering families can be rescued. The Little Mothers even get some simple notions as to the chemistry of food and the advisability of not having too much of one kind, as the following, from the New York Evening Post, shows:

“Girls,” said Mrs. Burns to a group of small cooks one day, “I am going to give a luncheon, and this is what I am going to have: bean soup, pot roast, canned corn, white potatoes, and rice pudding. Do you think that will make a nice luncheon?” Up came a small hand. “Well, what is it?” asked Mrs. Burns. “Too much starch,” said the solemn cook.

A book will doubtless be written some day showing by vivid illustrations how many of the problems of charity,—crime, poverty, and the prevention of disease and intemperance—can be solved by attention to rational cooking.

Ignorant feeding kills thousands of infants every month the country over. It is therefore a crime not to include food and feeding in the subjects of study in schools—all the more as most girls get no instruction whatever after they leave school at fourteen.

There will be fewer complaints about high prices when all girls are taught not only how to prepare a meal but how to buy food knowingly. As the New York World has forcibly remarked: “If women would pay half as much attention to the fluctuating prices of food as they pay to the prices of dress goods,—or as the men pay to the stock-ticker—and shop half as assiduously for the one as they do for the other, one of the worst phases of the high-cost-of-living problem would be met at the start.”

It is almost startling to find that the schooling of boys and girls in domestic science works the miracle of solving the important problem of how to keep boys and girls on the farm.

Professor Benson of the Department of Agriculture relates how, in 1907, he asked the teachers of thirty-four schools in Iowa how many of the boys and girls expected to remain on the farm when grown up. The answers were most discouraging. Provision was then made for giving up-to-date instruction in scientific farming to the boys and in rational household management to the girls. Three years later account was again taken, and it was found that whereas in 1907 all but 11 out of 174 girls wanted to leave the farm, in 1910, after being educated, only 17 out of 178 girls persisted in going to the city.

Progress in America is being greatly accelerated by the various women’s clubs which are working in the interest of the food question. Also, by Good Housekeeping, The Ladies’ Home Journal, The Woman’s Home Companion, The Housekeeper, and a host of other magazines, which monthly publish not only columns of recipes but helpful articles of all sorts bearing on household science and management.

All things considered, the outlook seems bright.

Characteristically American are the free lectures on cooking, with demonstrations, given in some of our large department stores. Good is also done by the booklets enclosed in many packages of food telling the purchaser of various ways of cooking it, alone or in diverse combinations. Surely, we are on the way to becoming a gastronomic nation!

Exit mobile version