The nice thing about The “Settlement” Cook Book is that it has an actual publication date (1903). This makes our job of contextualizing the recipes much easier.
|Downtown Milwaukee, c. 1900|
America’s early 20th century is often called the “Progressive Era” because of all the middle-class families who wanted to make the country a better place. The industrial revolution had forever changed America by this point: railroads crisscrossed the country, clothing and everyday goods were produced in factories, and families were beginning to move to cities in droves. The country had blossomed without much governmental oversight, though, which led to widespread corruption, child labor, and exploitation of people and resources.
(This is the era that spawned Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, about the disgusting conditions of the Chicago meatpacking industry. Trust me, it’ll put you off meat for a while.)
So many middle-class men and women decided to do something about these problems. They were called “Progressives” because they believed in change, and they believed that state and the federal government could be used to make individuals’ lives better. Progressive men campaigned for transparency in politics and direct elections, while women fought for laws to restrict child labor. Other Progressives attacked railroad barons and those gross meatpacking factories. This continued up until America entered World War I (in 1917); after that, people got more interested in spending money with abandon (the Roaring Twenties). But thanks to the Progressives, government had reined in a lot of the excesses of the late 19th century.
|Newly arrived immigrants at Ellis Island, New York|
By the 1840s a number of Scandinavian and German immigrants had settled in the Midwest, hoping to set up farms. (Remember Kirsten, the American Girl doll?) According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, a lot of ethnic tension developed between the German-Americans and the “native” Americans (what native-born white Americans called themselves). Ultimately the German-Americans were forced to assimilate into American culture to some extent. In turn, their culture began to integrate Midwestern culture.
How It All Relates to Cooking
|The Settlement in Milwaukee|
Lizzie Black Kander, the author of The “Settlement” Cook Book, helped create the Settlement and led a number of cooking classes, which culminated in her writing the cookbook. Since she believed that cooking was one of the best ways to get immigrants to shrug off their “backwards” European culture and adopt the “desirable” American culture, she emphasized cooking American foods. Yes, it’s patronizing.
* The most famous settlement house was Jane Addams’ Hull House in Chicago.