Before summer runs away from me, this little blog of mine has to visit Spain.
Enough with Boni’s flowery language, enough with Davidis’ succinct instructions, and it’s not time for canning yet, so no Norwegian either! Today we celebrate Spain and Simone Ortega, wife of the founder of the newspaper El Pais, who in 1972….wait….
Let’s review when the first editions of America’s cookbook bibles came out:
Ok, ok, that’s America, but what about abroad? Maybe their cookbooks were published later?
How did Spain not have a go-to cookbook until 1972???
I should start by saying this is not wholly true. At the end of the 19th century, there were several authors who published large cookbooks delving into many details about the Spanish cuisine. Their hope was to build a national identity through cuisine. Their attempts were noble and the results were very respectable, but soon after it began, it stopped.
The time when cookbooks have been most successful is in prosperous societies. Societies that have well established food supply chains and enough money to splurge on decadent tastes once in a while. During the Spanish Civil War, war was life, afterwards, finding anything at all to eat was a struggle. There was no mass market and so cookbooks suffered.
This is not the story of 20th century Spain. War, famine, dictatorship and civil strife: this is the story of 20th century Spain.
From 1936-1939 (The Spanish Civil War) only one cookbook was published. In contrast, one site projected the number of cookbooks to be published in 2013 at 3,181. I couldn’t find an exact number of how many cookbooks were published in Germany during WWII, but on one antiquarians cookbook site I found at least 50 different titles. My assumption is that many more, that have since been lost, were published during that time. During World War II (1939-1945), although Spain remained neutral, the lack of easily accessible food meant simple meals from easy to come-by food. Even the national dish tortilla española was sometimes served without potatoes or eggs. In the 50s, when America was pouring money into most of Europe to rebuild their destroyed nations, Spain received little aid and struggled to find its bearings with a fascist government in place.
Cookbooks are small significant representations of the society as a whole.
After almost a year of delving into books that had once been a cook’s or house wive’s life’s work, I have begun to look at cookbooks as small significant representations of the society as a whole.
Until recently, Spain’s society was very stratified. There were the poor peasants, living almost as serfs on land owner’s land, and land owners, monarchists and republicans, the very poor and the very rich.
Discontent, unrest, dictatorships and poverty are not conducive to cookbooks.
Industrialization, had arrived in some areas, but many parts of Spain were still desperately poor. Discontent, unrest, dictatorships and poverty are not conducive to cookbooks. The cookbooks that did exist catered to the upper classes, this meant there were as many French recipes as there were Spanish and lots and lots of meat recipes.
I may be going out on a limb here, but it is my impression that Franco’s oppressively patriarchal regime also significantly hindered the proliferation of cookbooks. In Franco’s Spain, women were denied the right to employment, to own property, to travel or even LEAVE THE HOUSE unchaperoned. The argument that cookbooks fall perfectly into the category of “housewife” is perfectly legitimate. There were cookbooks published during the Franco’s time and women’s magazines were very popular. However, most cookbooks have a specific author and the myth of this dedicated author both represents and symbolizes the cookbook. When we talk about cookbooks we talk almost as much about the authors. We need this type of branding for a cookbook to be successful. If women were not allowed to exist publicly in Franco’s Spain, how were they ever going to have a Julia Child? This is why the all inclusive cookbook with a renowned author was not released until 1972.
Enter Simone Ortega, born in Barcelona to French parents, married to the founder of El País — now one of the most well known newspapers in Spain– daughter-in-law to the famous Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset. Educated, smart, from the upper diaspora, and passionate about culture and cooking. She represented the prefect counterbalance to Franco’s waning power.
So in 1972, Spain finally got their go-to book.
Like most cooking bibles, 1080 recipes is a hunk of a book. With almost 1000 pages of recipes, you’ll find anything and everything here. Of course, being a cooking bible it may also be harder to digest, and if you want visual inspiration as much as well as cooking instructions (remember cookbooks before were mostly used as references.) This is not the book for you. Better then to turn to The Food of Spain or perhaps Delicioso.
But if I can plunder my way through Fraktor, vague instructions, and hard to find ingredients 1000 pages will not frighten me. So onward to the Spain cooking bible!