BOOK REVIEW: BAKING POWDER WARS
Baking Powder Wars: The Cutthroat Food Fight that Revolutionized Cooking, by Linda Civitello
If baking powder doesn’t seem substantial enough to merit an entire book, that’s only because its history and background have not been widely explored and remain generally unknown. Linda Civitello’s carefully researched book has finally opened a window onto a fascinating subject and era in U.S. history. The book is interdisciplinary in nature, shedding light on the science and chemistry behind baking powder, the international exchange of ideas and scientific knowledge that enabled the powder’s development, the history of chemical leavening agents, politics and corruption, suspicion of foreigners (in this case, Germans), and insights into the role baking powder played in the economic history of the U.S., as well as marketing, feminism, and social issues.
I found especially interesting the book’s exploration of how baking powder revolutionized women’s lives, freeing them from the necessity of spending long hours kneading and baking bread for their families. The popularity of baking powder in the US also explains how baking styles here developed differently from European baking — U.S. cooks relied much more extensively on a chemical leavening action while more traditional European cooks relied on beating bubbles into the batter and using eggs as a leavening. This difference created new American baked goods such as cookies, quick biscuits, cobblers, and light, fluffy cakes.
Baking Powder Wars provides fascinating insights into a unique American product — insights that will change the way you look at a marvelous invention that we have too long taken for granted.
Baking Powder Wars: The Cutthroat Food Fight that Revolutionized Cooking, by Linda Civitello, University of Illinois Press