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Music – “Helping in the Kitchen (Family Album / Kitchen and Curate)” from The Pilgrim (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (The Chaplin Revue) by Charlie Chaplin. Released: 2018
One of the more delightful characteristics of older cookbooks is that they open a window to the mood of the people, the prevailing winds of politics at the time, and expectations of and within the family unit. A bonus is that they come filled with recipes!
I recently purchased a reproduction (1983) copy of “The Romanian Cook Book“, originally published by Anisoara Stan, in 1951, touted as “…the first book published in English which tells how to make the dishes for which the Romanians are so famous“.
Stan not only provides 450 Romanian recipes, but also some insights into her life growing up in Romania during World War I, her family, and life in Transylvania (no mention of Dracula anywhere in her book!)
What strikes me about the “narrative” portions of the cookbook, where Stan discusses her life, experiences and expectations of women in Romanian families during the war years, is the gay, almost carefree, nose-to-the-grindstone (with good cheer, mind you) attitude of children concerning their participation in daily rituals and chores. The author extolls their virtues and paints a picture of them as happy, bubbly, do-gooders. For example, she writes about the role of the children after dinner:
“…the Romanian mother gathers her children around her and discusses with them the next day’s meal. If they decide on ciorba (sour soup), every one (sic) gets busy.”
“I wish you could watch the little hands of the youngsters, peeling and cutting the vegetables, preparing the meat, bringing in water, getting wood, and do believe me, with singing.”
“Once they start to work they concentrate on what they are doing, having pride in their work, and so all their chores which mother or grandmother has delegated to them are done well and speedily, too. As mothers sometimes work in the fields, the grandmother runs the kitchen. She is treated with great respect and love, as befits her years and experience.”
“After the children have completed their tasks, they can go out to play, to visit or work on whatever they love to do. They feel a responsibility to their parents and help them always cheerfully, not with grumbling. The parents, in turn, know how important it is to teach the girls the art of cooking, so that they in time will be fitted to run their own households.
Wow. In this day and age, it is hard to read these passages without thinking, “Really?” It almost sounds akin to a fairy tale, the well-behaved rosy-cheeked children, exuberant in their tasks, which sound more like fun and games. I am in no way disparaging the author or her interpretation of these events, but it just seems too sugar-coated to be believable and I cite this book, only because it was so detailed in the descriptions of a bygone era.
Perhaps I am jaded in my observations of (many, but certainly not all) of today’s youth, self-absorbed, attached as if by some invisible umbilical cord to cellphones, IPods, smart phones, large-screen TV’s (in every room) etc. and have frequently been referred to as “Millennials” or the “entitled generation“. Elders in this country today often lack the respect the author of “The Romanian Cookbook” alludes to during her growing up years in Romania. Today, they are more likely to be ignored, taken advantage of, or even abused. What happened?