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My Kitchen Wars Paperback – October 30, 2000

3.7 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

She may be a cookbook author, but Betty Fussell's extra-tart autobiography is no ordinary gastronomic memoir. For starters, her attitude toward cooking ("the one activity, besides tennis, in which housewives were encouraged to excel") is decidedly ambivalent. A chapter entitled "Attack by Whisk and Cuisinart" paints a devastating portrait of entertaining as a competitive sport, in which women who spend weeks planning and executing elaborate dinner parties must "pretend there'd been no labor, no expense, no fatigue, no sweat ... the aim was to look like a hot tomato while remaining cucumber-cool." For another thing, anyone with Fussell's gift for apt metaphor should enjoy chapters like "To Arms with Squeezer and Slicer," or "Invasion of the Waring Blenders," whose titles wittily encapsulate their content and would be wasted on mere recipes or recollections of Chefs I Have Known. Instead, she limns the experience of a generation of women who flung themselves into domesticity after World War II with mixed results, which in the author's case included an ultimately failed marriage to cultural historian Paul Fussell (who is not treated gently here). Smart, funny, even appetizing at times, her book takes one woman's story as a case study of the role food plays in our lives and in our culture. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

As befits a noted food historian and writer (I Hear America Cooking), Fussell recounts how the domestic wars of her childhood, marriage and family life played out in a succession of kitchensAin brilliant vignettes marked by appealing humor, biting irony and unflinching honesty. In the house where Fussell was born, the scene of her father's delight in squeezing oranges became, before Fussell was two, that of the death of her high-strung mother, with an open tin of rat poison mutely testifying to the cause. Until Fussell escaped to college, she endured the harsh restrictions of a hostile stepmother whose favorite appliance was the pressure cooker. At school, Fussell concentrated on the primary mission of every girl in the late 1940s: landing a man. When she married Paul, a literature student, the inevitable wedding present of that eraAa Waring blenderAsymbolized the beginning of a sophisticated lifestyle. Paul focused on his career in academe, while Betty enthusiastically embraced her role as wife and mother, and turned entertaining into a competitive sport. In the 1960s, the Fussells' circle turned to erotic excess: Betty recalls drunken wife-swapping and her own illicit affair, and she offers gossipy tidbits about Kingsley Amis and Philip Roth. Paul's book, The Great War and Modern Memory, brought him acclaim but, according to Betty, he continually demeaned her writing efforts. Their marriage failed after his homosexual affair with a student. Fussell was finally able to make her own way using what the French call a "batterie de cuisine" (kitchen artillery), displaying her considerable talents in such publications as the New York Times and nine of her own books. Agent, Gloria Loomis, Watkins Loomis Agency. First serial to the New Yorker; 8-city author tour. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press; 1st edition (October 30, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865476039
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865476035
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,165,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As I read this book, my mouth dropped open more and more---not so much because of all the mouth-watering food descriptions, as because it seems like a tale from another time, as remote from my own as Chaucer's stories. Betty Fussell is original and engaging; her work is detailed and sensuous like that of the medieval bard. At one point she quotes an even more famous bard, Shakespeare, "An expense of spirit in a waste of shame," referring to the obsessive amount of time and energy she and her faculty-wife peers spent on their elaborate party meals.
One doesn't have to be overly perceptive to realize how good food became such a priority in her life, as she tells us how all the food was "mush" in her childhood; or to realize that, however odd it may seem, she was relieved, even "euphoric"(her own word) at the loss of her third and last baby, since from an early age, she lacked a loving mother herself.
Most of her book is about the postWWII era, an anomaly in American life, a time of great prosperity when even English professors made very good money and were able to acquire large, lovely houses and to make frequent trips to live for months at a time in Europe. Denied a career of her own in those pre-feminist times, she poured her efforts into cooking and became an "amateur" expert. (She even moaned the invention of the Cuisinart food processor, which made obsolete all those whisks and grates and sieves she had worked so hard to collect.) In an era of outwardly conservative conformity, she tells us of the troubled marriages and casual adulteries that seemed to be the norm in her circle. She had her heart broken twice: By a writer with whom she carried on an affair that lasted years, and by her husband, whom she caught in a homosexual encounter with one of his students.
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Format: Hardcover
I finishesd this and am exhausted. She lived a lifestyle I had vaguely read about, like the Maoris or Amazon Indians or Eskimos, and all I can think of is, how did she do it 20 or 30 years ago? Life among the "intelligensia", heavy drinking and wifeswapping and cooking the entire gourmet Julia Child repetoire, copper pots and truffles and pate...parties, parties, parties, from 4 to 75. Elaborate French dishes painstakingly prepared from scratch. She even sewed her own dinner gowns, for crying out loud! Trips to France on ocean liners, eating their way through France...studying, writing, intellectual discussion of Shakespeare, adulterous canoodling with a neighbor. I thought the husband was a professor but he must have made a mint - where did she get all the money for all the wine, the exotic ingredients? Where did she get the time, the energy? I am in awe and wonder at this slice of I-don't-know-who's-life. (By the way, the marriage broke up for good when she found her husband with another man, which I saw coming from her very first description of him.) Real food for thought, somesthing like reading farm journals of the pioneer ladies who had to make their own soap, churn the butter, and sew all the family's clothes....how did she do it all? Where did all those guests come from, to all those parties, in costumes yet! How could she possibly raise two children in the midst of this madness, and how did they turn out? (They are given short shrift.) She does not get my sympathy, but I found this book fascinating. I give it four stars for presentation, but am mystified as to what the ingredients are and how they got there.
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Format: Hardcover
Betty Fussell published her first book, a biography of actress Mabel Normand, in 1982 at the age of 55. Now 72, she has just released her 10th, a memoir titled My Kitchen Wars. In between, she has produced a highly respected body of work in the fields of food and cooking -- two vastly different subjects, as readers of her hands-on cookbooks and her scholarly food histories will testify.
My Kitchen Wars, a soul-baring, major departure from her earlier books, is sure to become a favorite among her current fans, and likely to reap a new crop of admirers. The compact 238-page volume skillfully weaves American history, food lore, literary anecdotes, motherhood, and an unsparing look at the discriminatory, male-dominated world of academia in the postwar U.S. The theme of food runs through the book like a golden thread, and there are even a few recipes sewn into the fabric. My Kitchen Wars is at once instructive, entertaining, heart-rending, and eventually uplifting.
The book begins rather slowly, with a tracing of Fussell's family roots back to the 18th century. The tempo picks up when Fussell describes her emotionally scarred childhood in Southern California during the Great Depression, and the narrative becomes truly absorbing when Fussell recounts her teenage years in World War II. From that point on, the book traces a familiar theme -- the coming of age in the 1940s and '50s -- but does so with rare insight and brutal honesty, letting us glimpse the era through new eyes. Fussell's experiences, despite their remarkableness, were paralleled by those of a whole generation of American women, and many will identify with her struggles to raise a family and boost her husband's career, while living an intellectual life of her own, against constant obstacles.
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