Unlike today, the bustling U.S. wine industry was much less prosperous in the 1960s. After more than a decade of Prohibition, in the 1920s and early ’30s, America’s wine culture had to be remade to some extent in the latter half of the 20th century, not experiencing a rebirth until around the early 1970s. With wine knowledge and consumption relatively low, how did cookbooks from the 1960s talk about it?
A classic general advice cookbook, “The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook,” published in 1963, dedicates nearly 10 pages to the topic. Near the end of the 700-page tome, a section poetically titled, “When there is wine,” starts at square one in the most basic of fashions, asking and answering the question, “What is wine?” After getting readers up to speed that wine is fermented grape juice and reviewing the basics of viniculture, the editors keep their focus stateside, summarizing U.S. production in California, New York and Ohio.
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Written for an audience less familiar with wine, Good Housekeeping’s advice works to gently persuade the novice to cook and serve it. The editors promise that wine “can brighten your meals, bring new zest to your cooking, and add new smartness to your entertaining.” Furthermore, editors offer assurances that even as newcomers, readers can buy, store, cook and serve the beverage with panache. If a reader is unfamiliar with wine, the editors recommend talking to a reliable dealer. Editors also soothe a hostess’ concerns about proper wine-food combinations, stating, “It’s perfectly correct to serve any wine any time you wish.” The next eight pages elaborate in dizzying detail, however, exactly how, when, why, and in what glasses wine should be served.
How Julia Child Taught Wine
First published in 1968, Julia Child’s “The French Chef Cookbook” urges readers to think about wine differently. “Notes on Wine” appear in the book’s introductory section, and as we would expect from the “French Chef,” Child takes a kind but firm hand from the start, instructing the reader that wines used for cooking need not be expensive, but must be good. Rather than building confidence through simplification or shifting responsibility for wine selection to a dealer, Child empowers the reader. She gives pointed suggestions, but also says, “You will have to search around and experiment yourself to find the right cooking wines at the right price.”
Just as she encouraged housewives to accept the challenge of French cooking over the false sense of accomplishment provided by doctoring up packaged foods, Child coaches readers, providing the detail they need to choose a wine, use it in cooking and serve it with meals, so that they too may know “what delight there is in the perfect combination.” At its most basic core, this delight resides within a marriage between food and beverage that will “bring out the taste of the wine” and “accentuate all the subtle flavors of the food.”
Always zealous when it comes to food, Child encourages readers to become devout and dedicated students of wine. While she describes wine consumption as a “pleasant hobby,” she recommends that readers get started by not only buying wines, but also sampling and discussing them, keeping notes of their impressions, reading and thinking about wines, and above all enjoying them.
The school year will be upon us before we know it. Will you become a student of wine?
Main photo: Cookbooks from the 1960s were written for an audience less familiar with wine. Credit: Emily Contois