The 1920s and 1930s were decades of transition in kitchen work, with an increasing emphasis on modernity. Home food-making—now almost entirely in the hands of housewives and their daughters—was heavily driven by the emerging values of efficiency, speed, cleanliness, economy, and the application of new labor-saving devices. Taste and the principles of gracious living were not entirely forgotten, but nutrition, sanitation, and rigorous scheduling had moved to the forefront.
A leader in spreading this new doctrine was a sculptor and painter named Mabel Bechdolt (1890-1933), who became a food writer taking the pen name Mable Claire. Reaching out to a burgeoning middle class with such books as The Busy Woman’s Cookbook and Shortcut Cookery (both 1927), she found particularly large audiences when her books were reissued by department stores around the country, putting their own names in the titles. Among these are New York’s Macy’s Cook Book, The Carson Pirie Scott Cook Book (Chicago), the Emporium Cook Book (San Francisco), and the Woodward and Lothrop Cook Book (Washington D.C.).
Claire’s food is seldom adventurous, and she comes down clearly on the side of “convenience” ingredients, as well as the kitchen appliances and tools carried by all of the large department stores. Every recipe is headed by a grand mise en place, with all of the components and all of the required equipment listed; the making of the dish is outlined step-by-step, each move calculated to require the least exertion, the timings reckoned to yield a perfectly coordinated performance. Even the serving process is orderly: “Arrange a mound of creamed potatoes on the plates. Dust with Paprika. Next the sliced Tomatoes. Then the lamb chops and green peppers. Decorate with sprigs of mint. Serve immediately.” This is a book that well reflects a nation at a particular time in its development; contemporary readers may find it eye-opening, and collectors interested in culinary history will value it as well.
This copy is in new, near-perfect condition, with the sole exception of four penciled recipes on the front and rear endpapers. The book is clean and fresh in all other respects. Most unusually, it comes in a striking printed mailing carton, missing its top and bottom panels and with one repaired crack . Very attractive in all other respects. We have never before encountered such a carton in association with this particular title, and we believe that this excellent copy is scarce in this respect.