Cream butter? Where’s the milk?!

Curator's Note

The years surrounding the end of the Second World War saw a great flood of instructional films geared toward mostly young, white men and women. These films were typically shown in schools and attempted to relay various lessons to their audiences. It might be unfair to criticize the standards of the era from whence these films came, and to employ anachronistic terms, but to modern eyes they are sexist, racist, and wholly devoid of political and social correctness. "Cooking Terms and What They Mean" is intended for young, newly wed white women and attempts to teach them how to interpret recipe instructions. While the premise seems benign, it is delivered in such a way that puts the film's main character, a twenty-something newly wed woman, on so low an intellectual echelon as to say she is incapable of divining meaning from common cooking terms. The film's "newly wed cook" is carried across the threshold and the narrator ushers out the end of the honeymoon and in the hard work of marriage. Her husband goes to work (a place she may very well have been during the War) and leaves her to agonize over what to cook him for dinner. It seems she spends the entire day in this pursuit, fouling up recipes and generally looking dumbfounded. When she finally learns all the cooking terms necessary for preparing her husband a worthy dinner ("one just like mom used to make", implying wives are sexually-involved stand-ins for mothers) the films ends on a triumphant note, heralding in a successful marriage: one with plenty of accurately interpreted recipes.


The history and use of cookbooks is fascinating for their specialized writing format and for the cultural information they contain. It seems strange that this video heaps so many rules-as-norms onto the young wife, Margie, while also being so unaware of what cookbooks contain. The Michigan State University Library and the MSU Museum have partnered to create an online collection of cookbooks in "Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project." The video is also interesting in establishing Ms. Blake not only as wife, but also as a form to be shaped into the correct form, one who consumes cookbooks, pregnancy manuals, child rearing manuals, and other books telling her what to do in the absence of any personal knowledge or any social resources. With chocolate cake for dinner, her next manual may be a one on healthy cooking for the family. Of course, one can also hope that the video is meant to be oppressive and to drive women to the more radical move of attending college since it was "Produced under the technical supervision of Professor Edna A. Hill, Chairman Department of Home Economics University of Kansas."

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