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1 INTRODUCTION Taste and the American Cookbook There are few subjects on which men talk more loosely and indistinctly than on taste; few which it is more difficult to explain with precision. Hugh Blair, “Lecture II: Taste” Cultivate a taste for intellectual pleasures, home pleasures, and the pleasures of benevolence. Catharine Beecher, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book TASTE IS an elusive concept. It is at once a sensory perception and an expression of reason. It is informed by cultural associations yet is often asked to provide empirical truth.Taste is present in all people from birth and,in eighteenth-century rhetorical tradition, is improvable by means of persuasion. Despite its complex philosophical history, taste remains, as Hugh Blair notes, imprecise.While it is “founded on a certain natural and instinctive sensibility to beauty, . . . reason . . .assists taste in many of its operations,and serves to enlarge its power.”1 The belief that taste has power and the rhetorical acts that derive from this view are central to the domestic texts under examination in this study. Taste simultaneously indicates an individual preference and a cultural standard, as well as physical and intellectual labor. For women in the nineteenth century , this space between self and body is a particular point of contest. While the “pleasures” Catharine Beecher describes are largely consistent with domestic ideology, the fact that she is talking about women’s pleasure at all is significant, as it suggests an emphasis on the desires of the individual, which were viewed as a threat to social order. When women engage this discourse, then, they must acknowledge and publicize the physical body,define and promote cultural standards ,and expand the power and value attached to domestic acts.The complex definition of taste in the nineteenth century makes such statements possible. Taste as an intellectual pursuit rose to prominence in the mid-eighteenth 2 INTRODUCTION century, as empiricists sought to determine standards of aesthetic beauty and their relationship to moral action and civic virtue. Their theories informed styles of European and American rhetorical education throughout the nineteenth century and were popularized through newspapers, periodicals, lectures , reform associations, and domestic manuals, a genre that includes the cookbooks under examination here. As taste increasingly came to indicate middle-class morality and identity, it was American women in the nineteenth century who were charged with promoting and preserving the physical, emotional , and spiritual health of the nation. Yet their capacity to speak or act publicly was constrained by the very ideal they were charged to protect: the belief that they should behave tastefully. In response, many domestic experts turned to perhaps the most obvious yet least expected genre: the American cookbook. These women combined the power of taste with the authority of the cookbook to contribute to the ongoing discussion of the civic value of domestic performance . As both an individual experience and a cultural standard, taste was uniquely poised to inform the civic function of domesticity. TastefulDomesticityexaminesthepublicsignificanceandpervasivepowerof taste discourse as it is used by cookbook authors in the nineteenth century.Vast social changes accompanied the transformation of women’s domestic identities from the republican era to the turn of the twentieth century. This book argues that women used the cookbook as a rhetorical space in which to conduct public discussions of tasteful domestic practices.2 That rhetorical space assured their participation in evolving discussions of American citizenship and virtue. While domestic rhetoric in the nineteenth century is largely a product of the white middle class, by the turn of the century, cookbooks allowed women marginalized by race, ethnicity, and class to evolve domestic discourse to influence a national citizenry. By examining cookbooks’ introductory text and recipes, I trace the progression of taste discourse in American women’s domestic writing , from its origins as a means of promoting virtue in the early republic to its disappearance as a cultural standard when a multiplicity of voices challenge the middle-class status quo. Through their commentary on cookery and consumer practices, women played a vital role in forming an ever-changing national body. My project responds to Cheryl Glenn’s now famous call for scholars to remap the rhetorical tradition by continuing the project of recovery and analysis.3 Scholars of nineteenth-century women’s rhetoric such as Nan Johnson, Carol Mattingly, Jane Donawerth, Shirley Wilson Logan, Lindal Buchanan, Lisa Shaver, and many others have built a growing body of research of American women’s public participation through their “available means of persuasion.”4 This project builds on...


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