Imagine this, if you can – spending ten years searching for the most popular recipes of the century!  Cookbook author, Jean Anderson, a name you should recognize, did just that. It was Ms. Anderson’s quest to search for the most popular recipes of the 20th century, and to chronicle one hundred years of culinary changes in America.

The result? THE AMERICAN CENTURY COOKBOOK/The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century, published in 1997 by Clarkson N. Potter/Publishers, containing over five hundred cherished recipes, ranging from California Dip to Buffalo Chicken Wings, from Chiffon Cake to classic green bean bake.  This must surely be the crowning achievement of Ms. Anderson’s illustrious career as a cookbook author. (I wrote about Ms. Anderson in January, 2011—please refer to “WHO IS JEAN ANDERSON, COOKBOOK AUTHOR” posted on my blog January 15, 2011, and a cookbook review, “FALLING OFF THE BONE” by Jean Anderson, posted June 23, 2011).

Jean Anderson, a member of the James Beard Who’s Who of Food and Wine in America, is the author of more than twenty cookbooks, including FOOD OF PORTUGAL (which won a Seagram Award for best international cookbook of the year, in 1986), the best-selling DOUBLEDAY COOKBOOK (with Elaine  Hanna) which was named cookbook of the year, in the R.T. French Tastemaker Awards in 1975 (and incidentally, is a two-volume set), as well as HALF A CAN OF TOMATO PASTE AND OTHER DILEMMAS, also an R.T. French Tastemaker Award winner in 1980. This versatile writer also wrote several non-cookbooks, including one about ghosts, titled THE HAUNTING OF AMERICA.

Jean Anderson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina and attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  She obtained her B.S. Degree from Cornell University and a few years later, obtained her M.S. Degree from Columbia University.

Among Anderson’s other published accomplishments are RECIPES FROM AMERICA’S RESTORED VILLAGES, published by Doubleday in 1975, and THE GRASS ROOTS COOKBOOK, published by Times books in 1977. I mention these especially as I think they demonstrate the author’s skill in writing—and writing admirably—about our country’s culinary history. And, although she doesn’t say so, I suspect that these two particular books may have provided some of the inspiration for THE AMERICAN CENTURY COOKBOOK. She is also the author of THE ART OF AMERICAN INDIAN COOKING published by Doubleday in 1976 (I didn’t know I had this cookbook until I was writing about the American Indian’s foodways in my article KITCHENS WEST—it was a happy discovery since I was attempting to complete my collection of her books).

Anderson has also written, over the years, numerous magazine articles. She also worked as an editor on various women’s magazines before turning free-lance.

“For the past ten years,” writes Anderson in the Introduction, “I have been traveling backward in time, back across the decades to 1900 and beyond. My  quest:   to trace this century’s role in our culinary coming of age. To track the recipes, foods, food trends, food people, appliances, and gadgets that have had an impact on our lives from 1900 onward…”

(I understand how it feel to travel back in time, to attempt to get a feel for a different time and place—it took over a year of research for me to write the original KITCHENS WEST in the 1990s; it’s almost incomprehensible to me that a cookbook writer could compile, in one volume, a book as extensive as the AMERICAN CENTURY COOKBOOK. Anderson admits she had a lot of help and that her book would never have seen the light of day without the generous cooperation of archivists, home economists, and media people at major food companies and manufactures of appliances, large and small. Even so, someone had to bring it all together – and Jean Anderson has done just that.

Explain the publishers, “Beyond this collection is Jean’s exploration of the diversity of our nation’s cuisine and our adoption of such ‘foreign’ dishes as pizza, gazpacho, lasagna, moussaka and tarte tatin. Her painstakingly researched text includes extensive headnotes, thumbnail profiles of important people and products…and a timeline of major 20th century food firsts….”

“Has any century done more to revolutionize the way we cook, the way we eat, than the twentieth?” Jean asks. “Take the home kitchen. At the beginning of this century, women were still cooking on stoves fueled by wood coal or petroleum, cantankerous behemoths that demanded constant stoking, cleaning, prodding and pleading.

Fast forward to 1939 and the New York World’s Fair. Women were dazzled by General Electric’s ‘Kitchen of Tomorrow’. A G. East Fair booklet ad read:

With a dishwasher so very fast and sanitary

She’d never break another dish—‘twas plain

and the work she most despised was completely modernized

when the garbage went like magic—down the drain…”

Anderson notes that “the Twentieth century also gave us the pressure cooker, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, national cook offs (from chicken and chili to cake and cookies), food magazines, the TV chef, and not least, the twenty four hour television Food Network…”

“Food advances were no less revolutionary,” Anderson continues, “Ice cream cones, ‘hot dogs and hamburgers all the way’ entered our lives as did salad and sushi bars, fast-food chains, frozen and freeze-dried foods and TV dinners—to say nothing of instants and mixes galore. There was a proliferation, too, of the kinds of food put into cans, of herbs and spice blends, of ersatz salts and powders…”

This is the kind of book you can either read from start to finish or pick up and start reading anywhere within. The author delves into the history of everything we’ve been eating for the past one hundred years, provides background material for the many cookbook writers and teachers of the past century—from Fanny Farmer to Julia Child – and all along the way are recipes – all of our favorites!

Jean began her research for this book by writing to editors of food magazines, major women’s magazines and newspapers throughout the country, as well as home economists at major food companies, asking for their 10 most requested recipes of the century. The response, she reports, was overwhelming. It was logical, I think, for Jean to start with these resources. We know that food editors have their fingertips on the pulse of American cookery. Who knows better what recipes are most requested by their readers? And, it was a role that Jean herself had played for a number of years. (As a young adult, I was strongly influenced in my love for recipes and the stories behind them, by Fern Storer, who was for many years a food editor of the Cincinnati Post. After we moved to California, whenever my mother was getting ready to mail a box of favorite things to me and would ask what I would like, I’d reply “Ruble’s Rye bread and the food sections from the Cincinnati post”. After we settled in Los Angeles, I collected the S.O.S. columns in the L.A. Times for many years).

Having spent a fair amount of time researching some of these topics myself, I read Anderson’s viewpoint with great interest. I was particularly intrigued with what she had to say on the subject of soups—as you may know by now, I love soups, especially homemade soups and I have written about them in the past.

“Great-Grandma had a farm,” writes Anderson as she introduces her chapter on soups, “Grandma had a garden, mother had a can-opener.

When it comes to soup, that pretty much sums up this century…”

Anderson goes into great depth in her dissertation on soups and writes “It may seem that I have devoted too much attention in this chapter to canned soups and ‘instants’. Well, like it or not, heat-and-eat soups have revolutionized our lives this century, and mass America still depends on them, as a thumb through any community cookbook or trundle down any supermarket aisle quickly proves…”

But, she adds that there are plenty of “from scratch” soups here, too, ones that have made their mark during the last hundred years.

“Many of the recipes our mothers and grandmothers loved were product-driver: canned soup casseroles, molded salads, mayonnaise cakes, graham cracker crusts, even chocolate chip cookies. We may scoff at the hokier of these today but they belong to this century’s culinary history and cannot be ignored. Moreover, as a riffle through any regional cookbook quickly provides, they remain popular over much of the country…”

(Anderson doesn’t say, but wouldn’t you suspect that part of the reason product-driven recipes were so popular is that the recipes were printed on the packages and cans, and booklets touting the product were generally distributed free. My own mother had only one cookbook. I don’t think women had access to a wealth of recipes like we do today, especially during the poverty-stricken depression years. During my teenage years, I often bought a handful of penny postcards and sent away for free recipe booklets. These free booklets formed the nucleus of my cookbook collection, although I didn’t realize it at the time.

Anderson takes nothing for granted in her research and writing style. She doesn’t always accept at face valu8e what other cookbook authors have to say on a subject; her own research often takes her farther back in time to prove or disprove another writer’s research. It’s this kind of attention to detail that catches my attention and approval. (It didn’t hurt to have great research resources at her disposal, I’m sure—but as I have noted previously, it’s one thing to unearth material, another to put it all together cohesively in one place—actually, I am a bit chagrined that THE AMERICAN CENTURY COOKBOOK was not available to me when I was writing food-related articles for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange in the 1990s.  I have several bookcases filled with books on the history of food and can often spend hours going through all of those books searching for answers to my food related questions).

And remember War Cake, which I have commented on when writing about rationing during  WW2? (See HARD TIMES, April 2011). Anderson includes it in THE AMERICAN CENTURY COOKBOOK on page 440.  Her research came to the same conclusion as mine, that War Cake actually dates back to World War ONE.  In fact, it’s a delight to find the answers to many different questions about food and culinary objects we now take so much for granted. (and after the wars were over, savvy women renamed War Cake, calling it eggless, butterless, sugarless cake. It appeared in a Taste of Home magazine in 2004 as Eggless, Butterless, Sugarless, and Milkless cake.

I love the style and illustrations of THE AMERCIAN CENTURY COOKBOO  K as well as the wealth of recipes and fascinating sidebars.

This is one of my favorite books—and although it’s called a Cookbook, I keep it with my food-reference books, within reach of my computer.


  • § GRASS ROOTS COOKBOOK, DOUBLEDAY DELL PUBLISHING, 1974, 75, 76, 77, 92 (*The Grass Roots Cookbook is a outgrowth of magazine pieces originally features in Family Circle magazine)
    § The Doubleday Cookbook VOL 1 & 2 (with Elaine Hanna). Doubleday: 1975. R.T. French Tastemaker Cookbook-of- the-Year as well as Best Basic Cookbook
    § Half a Can of Tomato Paste & Other Culinary Dilemmas (with Ruth Buchan). Harper & Row, 1980. Seagram/International Association of Culinary Professionals Award, Best Specialty Cookbook of the Year.
    § The New Doubleday Cookbook (with Elaine Hanna). Doubleday: 1985.
    § The Food of Portugal. William Morrow: 1986. Seagram/International Association of Culinary Professionals Award, Best Foreign Cookbook of the Year
    § The New German Cookbook (with Hedy Würz). HarperCollins: 1993
    § The American Century Cookbook. Clarkson Potter: 1997
    § The Good Morning America Cut the Calories Cookbook (co-edited with Sara Moulton). Hyperion: 2000
    § Dinners in a Dish or a Dash. William Morrow: 2000§
    § Process This! New Recipes for the New Generation of Food Processors. William Morrow: 2002. James Beard Best Cookbook, Tools & Techniques Category
    § Quick Loaves. William Morrow: 2005
    § A Love Affair with Southern Cooking: Recipes and Recollections. Foreword by Sara Moulton. William Morrow: 2007
    § Falling Off the Bone, Wiley Publishing, published October 19, 2010

Also by Jean Anderson:

THE FAMILY CIRCLE COOKBOOK (with the Food Editors of Family Circle Magazine)

This list is as comprehensive as I could make it, based largely on the dozen or so Jean Anderson cookbooks in my personal collection. I also checked with and for titles. I ordered “Quick Loaves” and “Falling off the Bone” which has also been reviewed on my blog.

My copy of the American Century Cookbook is a first edition, published in 1997. This cover is shown on new for $17.12 or pre owned for $2.48. Apparently, the book was republished in 2005 and has a different cover. Pre owned copies are available for $1.31 on has the original priced at 99c or new for $9.99.

Happy Cooking! And when you aren’t cooking, read a good cookbook!

–Sandra Lee Smith



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