A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat: 02/10/16
A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins is a problematic book to put it mildly. At its most basic, it's about the evolution of cooking as told through the creation of a relatively simple recipe called a Blackberry Fool.
The book shows the same recipe being made by four different families in four different locations in four different eras. The first is 1710 Lyme England. The second is Charleston, South Carolina in 1810. The third is 1910 Boston, Massachusetts. The final scene is modern day (though I suppose on could say for convenience sake, 2010) San Diego, California.
It is the second scene that has caused the most uproar but it's frankly only the most obvious problem with this book. The team making the blackberry fool dessert that time are slaves. The mother and daughter shown happily cooking, bonding over the creation of a simple, delicious, and silly named dessert, are making the meal for the master and his family. Yet, they are shown smiling in a couple places, even when hiding in the pantry to eat what remains in the mixing bowl.
I was willing to give that part of the book a pass given the illustrator's post about her decisions on how to represent the 1810 scene but it's not the only problematic scene. Scenes one, and three all show mother/daughter teams cooking. The success of the dessert is dependent on the approval of the father and brothers. Scene three, of course, adds to that patriarchal bent, the power of a white master and his family.
The final scene is presented as the happily ever after. Now that we're in the present day we have modern conveniences. We have organic food. We have blended families and men who are willing to cook too. And now fathers and sons can share the joy that is the preparation of the blackberry fool. It's all sunshine and lollipops.
And the more I think about these four scenes the more my eye starts to twitch. We are to pretend that all the world's problems have been solved because the women are liberated from the kitchen and men are now cooking! The problems of slavery are all gone as evidenced by the mixed marriage of a black woman to a white man (who bears a striking resemblance to the slave master, just with a beard this time).
If the story had really and truly been about how cooking evolves over time and how even the most simple of dishes change, then the story should have been kept as simple as possible. Show the same family in the same location making the same meal. All that would change is their clothing, the decorations in the kitchen, and the technology used to make the dish.