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Panel 123 Mincing Their Words: Spanish Women in the Kitchen

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    Michelle Sharp

    Feminism and Femininity in Pre- and Post- Civil War Spanish Cookbooks

    MLA: Chicago, Illinois

    January 9, 2014

    Mincing Their Words: Spanish Women in the Kitchen

    Michelle M. Sharp


    I wish to contextualize this talk by explaining why studying non-canonical literary texts such as cookbooks enriches our understanding of the currents in motion at a given point in history. They provide narratives of class, gender, sexuality, nation-building and the ideologies informing the formation of all of these social identifiers. As María Paz Moreno discusses in the conclusion of <i>De la página al plato. El libro de cocina en España </i>we must look beyond the recipes and into the author, the style, and the context of the text itself in order to give these works the value they deserve.  Furthermore, as Janet Theophano explains in <i>Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote</i> “There is much to be learned from reading a cookbook besides how to prepare food—discovering the stories told in the spaces between the recipes or within the recipes themselves” (6). Cookbooks are not merely listed collections of domestic knowledge. Rather, they serve as vehicles for women to express their voices, assert their individuality, and build community.

    The empowerment of women to improve their quality of life was of key interest to reformers of early twentieth century Spain. Liberal activists saw education, through improved literacy and direct instruction, as the key to modernizing Spain. The first four decades, up until the defeat of the Second Republic at the conclusion of the Spanish Civil War, fostered a spirit of intellectual debate and a desire to diffuse Spanish and western European culture throughout the peninsula to ameliorate the cultural backwardness perceived to be holding the country back. Culture, or <i>cultura</i>, as defined by Sandie Holguín in <i>Creating Spaniards</i> “could mean either education or culture or both.” The left of Spain used the term expansively “with meanings that ranged from education and literacy to arts and crafts to philosophy and sociology” (9).

    Following the defeat of the Second Republic, the Francoist regime sought to obliterate the Second Republic’s teachings and offered its own educational program to bring unity, uniformity and the concept of the nation to Spain. Through its domestic schools, compulsory courses in all state schools, and its many print publications, the Sección Femenina sought specifically to instruct Spanish women as to their place and mission. Kathleen Richmond has discussed at length in <i>Women and Spanish Fascism </i>how “domestic efficiency was necessary for national regeneration” (8) for women needed to be “active participant[s] in the economic and spiritual reconstruction of the nation” (9).

    In order to explore two different models of ideal femininity, I wish to introduce here the 1917 edition of <i>Quiere Ud. comer bien? </i>by first-wave peninsular feminist, essayist, novelist and lecturer, Carmen de Burgos in dialogue with the 1965, fifteenth edition of the <i>Manual de cocina</i> <i>para Bachillerato, Comercio and Magisterio</i> published by the Delegación Nacional de la Sección Femenina during Franco’s dictatorship. To a lesser extent, I also consider the 1977 twenty sixth edition of the <i>Manual de cocina: Recetario</i>, also published by the Delegación Nacional de la Sección Femenina. This text looks to more closely parallel Burgos’s publication in terms of the quantity of recipes will hers and the Bachillerato are much closer regarding didactic tones. However, my analysis of the Recetario is not yet complete having only recently acquired it. Unless otherwise specified, when I refer to the <i>Manual de cocina </i>in this presentation, I refer to the student edition.<i> </i>

    Both Burgos and the Sección Femenina sought to bring reform to middle class women through the written word. Through close readings of these texts, it is clear that each reflects its sociohistorical moment in terms of teachings for women regarding etiquette, conduct, and what it meant to cook and tend to the home in a Spanish style. Theophano makes the point that, “It was in domestic literature such as cookery books that women could develop both their concepts of the feminine ideal and their opinions on social and political issues ranging from women’s education to temperance and religion” (6). Both Burgos and the Sección Femenina used cookbooks as a platform from which to disseminate this message. Cookbooks are ripe for this use as Louisa DeSalvo and Edvige Giunte point out in the introduction of <i>The Milk of Almonds: Italian American Women Writers on Food and Culture</i> that it is essential to consider women’s interactions and dealings with food because within a patriarchal society, such as Italy or Spain, often “providing food is the only kind of power women are permitted to employ” (8). To sum up, these cookbooks offer insight into the closed domestic lives of Spanish women in a way that few other texts can.

    Assuming that all of this is true, why haven’t they received more critical attention?  According to Hazel Gold in her article “Del foro al fogón: narrativas culturales en el discurso culinario de Emilia Pardo Bazán”, there are three principle reasons:

    The marginalization from the canon of popular genres that display obvious feminine character including magazines by and for women, conduct manuals, and domestic manuals (anything that deals primarily with the home and/or the family).

    The tendency to privilege narrative texts with less respect for those texts like cookbooks that have an encyclopedic structure.

    In the case of Doña Emila Pardo Bazán, who wrote and published two cookbooks—<i>La cocina española antigua </i>in 1913 and <i>La cocina española moderna </i>in 1917–, it is difficult to reconcile the image of her as a tireless defender of women’s rights while participating in a supposed angel of the hearth (ángel del hogar) discourse as she edits cookbook editions.

    This line of thinking, where we overlook works that don’t support the progressive image that we wish our first-wave feminists to have, is counterproductive.  By ignoring these texts we risk missing out on an encapsulation of how practical feminism was (or was not) presented to every day women in Spain.  In the case of Carmen de Burgos, <i>Quiere Ud. comer bien?</i> [SLIDE—click twice] is consistent with her feminist notion of reform.  By writing a cookbook, Burgos shows that a woman can have a variety of interests—why shouldn’t she publish both edited texts examining divorce and domestic manuals for women, full length novels and beauty guides? All of these texts contribute to her overarching mission of educating women in order to break the code of ignorance that had long been the status quo of women of the higher social classes in Spain.

    In addition, there is a gender subversive act on the part of Burgos by publishing her own cookbooks (she has three—<i>Quiere Ud. comer bien?</i> followed by <i>La cocina moderna </i>in 1918 and <i>La cocina práctica</i> in 1920).  Between 1880 and 1920 the best known cooking manuals in Spain were all written and published by men (most notably Ignacio Doménech who openly criticized female authors).  With the publication of her own cookbooks (and Pardo Bazán as well), she challenges male authority in the field. (Point out the two different covers, neither particularly feminine, French chef on the one—way of having a cover of authority)

    On the other hand, the <i>Manual de cocina</i>, [SLIDEx2] published by the Sección Femenina, appears to be more consistent with the ángel del hogar discourse that activists like Burgos rallied against at the beginning of the twentieth-century.  On the left is the cover of the edition published in conjunction with the domestic schools while the right cover is the recetario.

    I wish to pause here for a moment to define the concept of the ángel del hogar. This refers to an idealized feminine domesticity where the woman best serves her community as a wife and mother. The woman’s entire realm consists of the domestic space. The dogma of the ángel del hogar is consistent with the overall vision of the Sección Femenina.  Established in 1934 as the Women’s Section of the political party Falange española, fascist Spanish women became a formidable political force.  It was the  state organization dedicated to women’s affairs from 1939 through Franco’s death in 1975, though not totally dismantled until 1981. While the official mission was social justice, the Sección Femenina is also well-known (and often criticized for) its adherence to the traditional principles of the Catholic Church regarding the role of women.  According to the International Museum of Women, “They were self-professed anti-feminists who took to heart José Antonio’s (referring to José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the eldest son of the former dictator) directive that women should not be feminists but feminine.  During their forty-year reign they tried to shape Spanish women into their model of the ideal woman: a Catholic, dedicated, self-sacrificing mother and obedient wife.” Kathleen Richmond further explains that “Domestic expertise was thereby able to be presented as necessary and desirable. It became the cornerstone of post-war educational programmes and was the primary area of control of SF staff members” (16).  It is worth mentioning here that among Carmen de Burgos’s goals was improving the position of women in society in their roles as wives as mothers.  The key difference is that she argued that these roles were a component of a woman’s potential identity whereas the <i>mandos </i>and other instructors and instructive materials of the Sección Femenina argued that this was the entirety of her place in society. As a sidenote, Richmond points out the conflict of interest that middle and upper class women who were highly mobile, frequently unmarried, and drawing a salary of sorts were the bearers of the message of idealized domesticity and containment within the home.

    Looking at these texts, I wish to first draw your attention to the dedications at the beginning of each one as well as the first paragraph of each one’s first chapter [SLIDES] as they set the tone of the author (or authors’) intent.  I’ll give you a moment to read Burgos’s dedication. [PAUSE, count to ten in my head] I want to highlight the first sentence. This is an empowering charge that offers refinement and possible creativity to the woman who puts Burgos’s practices into play. Also, here at the end in terms of marketing her cookbook, “ Obra ilustrada con doce magníficas cromotipias y treinta grabados en negro.” We’ll get to those cromotipias in a moment, but the inclusion of the many pictures is noteworthy for further clarification, instruction, and comprehension. For the  Sección Femenina, [SLIDE] it is much more direct: “Está destinado a las alumnas que asisten a las Escuelas de Hogar de Sección Femenina.” This is clearly a pragmatic text that compliments the courses mandated by the state. This edition of the recetario bears no dedication. Perhaps this was a manner of indicating that its text was to be received by all women without exception?

    Now on to the first chapter: [SLIDE] La cocina (Burgos): “La cocina es el laboratorio doméstico donde se preparan los alimentos y debe reunir en lo posible todas las condiciones de comodidad, de salubridad y de economía deseables” (5).  [SLIDE] Complete with a picture of the ideal kitchen, Sección Femenina: “La cocina es una habitación muy importante en un hogar.  (Exactly the sort of sentence we tell our composition students never to use to start a paper.) La buena ama de casa pasa en ella la mayor parte del tiempo para la preparación de las comidas, cuidados de la vajilla, etcetera.  En ella se elabora varias veces al día el menú racional necesario” (5).  While the <i>Manual de cocina</i> is part of a larger educational program of the state run schools, it is the language in Burgos’s that encourages women to direct, experiment and make a variety of dishes in her domestic laboratory as an exercise in empowerment.  In Burgos’s text the use of the passive voice “se preparan” (5) implies that any number of people could prepare the recipes included while the Sección Femenina stipulates that all the preparations are done by “la buena ama de casa” who will spend the majority of her time in the kitchen.

    Both texts include specific directions for the best layout of the kitchen, the sort of crockery required, the need for good light and ventilation, and proper methods for the storage of food, both raw and prepared.  As far as topics that would fall under the auspices of home economics, both texts clearly explain a variety of technical terms so that even a novice cook could follow the directions. The Recetario does eventually cover many of these same points, but in a less linear fashion. [SLIDE] It begins with diagrams of cuts of meat and how they should be prepared for cooking. It later offers a glossary of cooking terms and suggested utensils for furnishing the home though it seems to presume a greater working knowledge of the kitchen that the other two books.

    The texts widely diverge when discussing how food and the family intersect.  Burgos advises that “Es un gran error comer con platos y cubiertos modestos, teniendo un servicio bueno…hay que partir de la base que los mejores convidados son los individuos que componen la familia” (11).  One is to celebrate the time with one’s family. Burgos provides insight on protocol for entertaining and maintaining a refined table for both one’s nuclear family and a wider range of guests. Meanwhile the <i>Sección Femenina</i> encourages careful planning of the daily shopping “La mujer, por tanto, debe saber, antes de salir al mercado, qué es lo que  necesita y con qué dinero cuenta.  Pensará con tiempo la comida para todo el día, teniendo en cuenta las personas que integran la familia y las necesidades calóricas de cada una de ellas, ofreciéndolas una alimentación adecuada” (21). <i>Adecuada </i>is an interesting choice of adjective given post-war shortages that many a Spanish family endured, the new nutritional sciences that gained popular dissemination in the 1960s, and the sense of obligation promoted throughout the cookbook. The Sección Femenina provides Dear Abby style advice on table manners and conversation “Por último, evitaremos en las comidas las discusiones violentas y disputas por disparidad de criterio, recuerdos dolorosos, emociones vivas, etc.  Perjudican a la digestión, puesto que excitan el sistema nervioso y éste no regula bien las funciones digestivas” (40). As the Sección Femenina continues with behavioral advice, Burgos provides elaborate color pictures of table settings [SLIDE—mesa a la rusa as opposed to mesa a la francesa, one of the twelve cromotipias] and enticing images of the recipes includes [SLIDE—these are possibilities from the pescado section].  The pictures in the <i>Manual de cocina </i>literally pale in comparison and do little to foster imagination [SLIDE p. 87]. The Recetario contains no pictures beyond the diagrams of animals at the beginning. I have also found little discussion of dining etiquette. What does stand out in the Recetario is that at the beginning of the chapter containing daily menus, seasonally grouped for best availability of ingredients in Spain, it stipulates in capital letters that all recipes are set for six people. This seems to imply that group entertaining was not to be a priority. There are thirty suggested menus per season, usually consisting of two dishes for a full meal, three if a special sauce is necessary. The seasonal arrangement of the recipes reminds us that current food trends of farm to table and nose to tail cooking are not so much innovations but rather a return to what was once the reality of feeding one’s family.

    A noteworthy aspect of Burgos’s cookbook is its broad cultural scope that is designed to broaden the worldview of her reader.  With little fanfare, Burgos includes recipes from all over the world.  She occasionally provides additional context such as the fact that the salsa de menta is very popular in London, but in general Burgos includes recipes for sopa a la francesa, sopa a la alemana, and sopa holandesa just after recipes for cocido español, cocido catalan, and pote gallego with no further introduction.  Since there is no reason for these dishes not to be part of a normal Spanish diet they need no additional orientation.  Bearing in mind its publication date of 1917, Burgos’s list of recipes offers an international culinary tour to readers who may have never left their hometown, not to mention the country.  A few examples of note include salsa india de currié, kouscoussou (presented as a Turkish dish), and the noted Italian dish of raviolis.  A personal favorite of mine is the color picture included of langosta a la noruega [SLIDE] and to help her readers navigate this exotic dish she also includes a series of diagrams on how to carve the lobster [SLIDE].  Again, these recipes are alongside traditional Spanish dishes that feature bacalao, tortilla, and croquetas, organized within the cookbook in chapters of general categories so that it is possible to contextualize unknown dishes among traditional favorites.

    The <i>Manual de cocina</i> maintains a steadfast focus on a national Spanish cuisine without noting specific regions of origin as Burgos does.  The presentation of recipes is straight-forward and usually focuses on the nutritional benefits for the family with warnings that dishes like soup offer little nutritional value.  An exception to this direct approach is the chapter on chocolate where the history harkening back to days of Imperial power of the Spanish Empire lauds the discoveries of the conquistadores.  However, after this grand reflection, or perhaps because of it, the chapter closes with, “No hay que decir que el chocolate es el que reúne mejores condiciones para alimentar [más que té o café], y es la merienda española por excelencia” (147). The Recetario makes no such special distinction about the nutritional value of chocolate.

    Another distinction is Burgos’s extensive chapter of cocktails—including un cocktail americano—while <i>Manual de cocina </i>does not include alcoholic beverages.  The Recetario does however include alcoholic beverages such as sangria, ponche romano, and a warm punch that lists leche, coñac, ron, huevo, azúcar and nescafé as its ingredients.  An interesting editing question is that the chapter of beverages is titled “Bebidas para comidas y meriendas” while the index says “Bebidas para comidas y fiestas”—same beverages, different titles. Burgos closes her cookbook after the chapter on cocktails with “algunas recetas nuevas” that include mantecado de pistachio and mantecado de rosa (made with rose petals) and her final two recipes are defined as “consejos útiles”—agua sedativa and para las quemaduras, consistent with the tradition of cookery books that contain all matters of domestic knowledge. Neither of the manuales de cocina include these sort of remedy recipes.  These are followed by fifteen pages of small print index [SLIDE] of all the recipes included for easy reference.  The final word of <i>Manual de cocina</i> is about vitamins: “Las vitaminas son unos elementos indispensables para la vida del hombre, y en cuanto éste deja de ingerirlas, enferma y muere” (165). The index here only lists the individual chapters. [SLIDE] The recetario, however, does list all recipes individually including a double listing of the seasonal menus as individual recipes as well as grouped by daily menu.

    [SLIDE]All of these texts offer practical knowledge regarding the set-up and maintenance of the home kitchen. There is a certain a sense of ownership of the kitchen and of its products as well as a scientific approach to the designing and management of the kitchen space present in all three volumes.  However, <i>Manual de cocina</i> (student version) has a heavy sense of obligation to this mission since it is filled with warnings of what not to do and how the woman’s family depends on her absolutely.  La buena ama de casa must be tethered to her kitchen should she want to be deemed as good. The Recetario makes it clear that the days of hiring of cook are long gone, it is the wife and mother’s obligation to provide her family’s meals. Burgos’s text, on the other hand, offers a broader definition of what it is to be a woman through her combination of textbook and global culinary tour.  Her readers are to direct their households, but also are to enjoy the results of their efforts in decor, hospitality, and culinary experimentation. Through her intent to educate her readers as to global food trends, she does not contradict her public feminist efforts of reform. Burgos’s cookbook echoes the leftist spirit of education and culture that encourages women to widen their spheres of influence while the Francoist publications reinforce the regime’s vision of the homebound domestic ideal wife and mother.


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