The Secret History of Home Economics | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 525RR
September 15, 2022

The Secret History of Home Economics

The Secret History of Home Economics

Author Danielle Dreilinger tells us the surprising history of home economics. We hear about its origins as a scientific movement that wanted to change the world and find out how it brought us Betty Crocker, astronaut food and the Rice Krispies treat. Plus, listeners share their Home Ec memories, lessons and tales of disaster. Also on the show: Kim Severson of the New York Times explores the rise of hydroponic farming, we get a lesson in Palestinian home cooking from Nadia Gilbert, and we learn a Filipino recipe for chicken soup. (Originally aired September 16, 2021.)

Questions in this episode:

"I live in western Wisconsin, where I own and operate a small vegetable farm. We are lucky to have many small farms and producers in our area. One such business produces organic pumpkin seed oil. I am not very familiar with this type of oil, so I'm eager to get recommendations. How should I use it?"

"Why is it that when I bake muffins, sometimes they stick to the paper cups and other times they don’t?"

"When I visit my Grama Zelda in North Dakota, I can count on one thing: candied crab apples with Red Hot candies. However, she calls them “Frozen Spiced Pickles." Can you help explain why this process may or may not be considered pickling?"

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Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Kitchen from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. If you took home back in high school, you might think that this field is nothing more than baking muffins and sewing pillows. Today journalist Danielle Dreilinger is here to set the record straight. Home Economics began as a scientific movement to change the way we cook and live at home. By the way, it also brought us the Rice Krispies treat astronaut food and Betty Crocker.

Danielle Dreilinger: Betty Crocker was never a real person. She was always created by a team of home economists. So, they would just send out the scripts, and the local stations would have somebody read the script. And it probably was much more effective that way, right? I mean, you had Betty Crocker sounding like she lived next door to you because she might very well have.

CK: Also coming up, we use coconut water to make a Filipino chicken soup. And Kim Severson of the New York Times investigates the future of hydroponic farming. But first, it's my interview with Palestinian American food educator, Nadia Gilbert, who hosts the online cooking series Sahtein! Nadia, welcome to Milk Street.

Nadia Gilbert: Thank you so much for having me.

CK: Let's start with a simple not so simple question. Could you define Palestinian? Exactly what does that mean to you?

NG: Being Palestinian, for me, is a celebration. It is a culture that has so much beauty and joy and color and history. And for me, it's a constant discovery of more things about myself.

CK: I think you wrote somewhere that one of your favorite movies was Enrica. And there's a quote from that movie you live in this house, you live in Palestine which I liked. You want to talk about that?

NG: Yes. Oh, my gosh, that is one of my all-time favorite films, it was the first time I really saw myself represented on screen or my family. So Enrica is about a mother and son, who live in Bethlehem who emigrate to the United States to rural Indiana to live with our sister right after 911. And so, it's a very tense time, it's really difficult for them to assimilate and, and integrate. And so, it's just this really beautiful vignette of an Arab American family. And I really resonated with that this idea of you know, we're in America, but we're not American kids, like we're Palestinian kids. And when we step into our house where we're in Palestine, so I just love that line. Because, you know, for me, it was it was very important for us to know that to know where we come from and to, to be able to experience that in the home because we didn't really have a community outside that we could experience that with.

CK: You say lunch is still the biggest meal of the day in Palestinian culture. Could you take us through a typical lunch?

NG: Oh, gosh, any meal, any meal is going to have so many different things to try. Like if you're sitting for brunch or breakfast Meza, you're going to have your bread but then you're going to have eight different dips, you're going to have two different types of olives, you're going to have some dry za’atar and olive oil to dip things in, you're going to have tea and then at the end of the meal, you're going to have your coffee. It's a whole series of experiences. But one of my favorite things about that way of eating and just about, you know, even if there's one one dish that's really the star of the show, there's like always little sides and things that really just excite the senses. And I love building different bites. It's it's fun. It's like an artistic, creative experience just eating the food. And I would say the constant is abundance, always abundant, and generous and more than you could possibly need.

CK: Pies or hand I call them hand pies. You call them meat pies or spinach pies or potato pies. I don't think people are familiar with these recipes as part of your culture. Could you just talk about them because I know you've done some videos about them and they're practical and they sound like a great idea.

NG: Oh yes, savory pies are just the king of the appetizer spread. You arrive in an event. And before the main meal has even come out there are muajannat we call them in Arabic which are savory pies and there's all different kinds. You'll have ones that are stuffed with cheese and parsley. You'll have ones that are stuffed with potatoes or little pies with meat on top. My all-time favorite is the spinach pies, but they're just so versatile and such a great thing to serve at parties, but also, they're so nice to have at picnics to take out for lunch. They're just so good that everybody loves them.

CK: When you talk about Palestinian food, is that a subset of Arabic food and if so, how would you define the two as being separate? If they are separate at all?

NG: Yeah, I mean, you know, like the food of the Levant, which is, you know, that that whole region, there's a lot of similarities within it. Palestinian food, Jordanian food, Syrian food, Lebanese food is all going to have a lot of similarities. You know, you start to go out to like Iran, and Saudi in the Gulf, and then there it starts to have some different influences. But then even within the same country, like my grandma's going to make something differently than your grandma will. And I think that that's something really important to highlight is that there is no one way that something is perfectly traditionally made. But then there are definitely regional dishes like in Jordan, Mansaf is the national dish,

CK: Do you want to describe what that is?

NG: Sure, so mansaf is slow cooked lamb, which is cooked in something called jimmied, which is like a hardened dry yogurt, it comes in this dry ball, and it dissolves in water, and it becomes this really savory, very tasty yogurt sauce. And so, the lamb is cooked in that and then it's eaten alongside rice. But if you can't find jimmied, you actually can make mansaf with cow's milk and Aidan which is that like yogurt drink, you can make it with basically using a mix of different yogurts. And in Palestine, a very very well-known dishes and stuff on which is a dish made of roasted chicken which is roasted in sumac, which is this crushed berry. It's got this kind of citrusy flavor, very, very popular spice. And so, it turns things pink when it cooks them it's like this very bright pink color and so the chicken is roasted with sumac, and it's put on top of a flatbread and topped with these caramelized onions that are also cooked in sumac and it is one of the messiest and most delicious meals of all time.

CK: So, I say sumac, which is so American, right? So, when you hear me or other people like massacre the language, I mean, you say suma, you don't I guess pronounce the “c”? So, it's so lovely to hear you say it properly. Or I would say mouzacan or something. You know, so is that hard for you, sometimes when people like me just don't have the pronunciation properly done.

NG: No, I mean, you know, I think I love when I hear people refer to my, my people and refer to my people’s food. You know, it just brings me joy to hear it. I do. The one that I do end up correcting people on a lot is hummus. Because I just I the one thing is I don't know what it is but hearing hummus just like really? I don't I can't like just make it it needs gusto like it's not hummus, it's hummus like it's it's so fortifying it's this strong being you got to give it that strength when you say it you know

CK: Don't be wimpy when you when you say hummus

NG: Yeah, don't be wimpy when you say hummus. It’s not Hamas it’s hummus.

CK: There you go, okay. I'm getting it. You know, what's interesting is, is the language has not just emphasis in it. But it has heart and soul and the way you say a word. I mean, when you is not hummus its hummus, you know, it's got, it's got some gusto in it. And that seems to me be very different than English. Right? It has an extra element that English does not have.

NG: Yeah, I feel very, very blessed to have grown up speaking both Arabic and English. You know, that was something that was really important to my mom that you know, if we were going to grow up in America, we were going to speak Arabic we were going to be able to communicate in that way. And that which I'm infinitely grateful for. And you know, when you speak multiple languages, you see how different languages affect the way that you even begin to speak and think, right, like the rhythm of the way that you communicate with others and the way that you think is very different. And I would agree that there's just there's a fire and a passion in the Arabic language. You know, the ways that we describe somebody we love are just so deep and intense and poetic. You don't just tell somebody that you love them, you tell them that you would die for them. You know, it's like you don't just call someone your friend, you call them like your person who your soul speaks to, and everything in the language has this fire and this real depth within it.

CK: I guess on one, one side of the universe, there's New England speak and on the other side is Arabic. They could not be farther apart

NG: Yes, yes totally, totally it's very like clean, like frugal. It’s very direct

CK: Less is more. Nadia it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for being on Milk Street

NG: Oh, thank you so much for having me. It was really lovely to speak with you.

CK: That was Nadia Gilbert host of YouTube channel Sahtein! Now it's time for my co-host Sara Moulton and I to answer some of your cooking questions. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking 101. And she also stars in Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television.

Sara Moulton: So, Chris, have you ever attempted something that, you know you aspired to be able to make and just decided it wasn't worth it? You might as well just go buy it from somewhere.

CK: Yeah, there are two things’ marshmallows. I mean, just go by him. There's a million people making great marshmallows. But the other thing, the serious one is the Macaron those French cookies with a filling inside? Forget it. I mean, I once tried to do it. I should have taken a picture because I could put that on my disaster. You know, file. It's just so much work. I mean, yeah, there is a reason the French actually buy their desserts that don't make them very often. Yes, but those are just forget it. I mean, those are too much work. And everything's got to go exactly right.

SM: Yeah. I tried making English muffins. And I made them, and they were fine. And they looked like that they just weren't the same. I don't know what happened there and they're not hard to make either.

CK: There are a few supermarket things like Heinz ketchup like don't fool with them. It's much better than homemade. Right. And those English muffins, Thomas's English muffins or whatever They're really good.

SM: They are they are really good.

CK: So anyway, time for call.

SM: Yes. Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling and where are you calling from?

Caller: Hi, this is Ben hopper from Western Wisconsin.

SM: Hey, Ben. How can we help you today?

Caller: Well, I was Excuse me, I was just chasing a goat. But uh,

SM: You were what, you were you doing?

CK: That's a new one.

SM: Yes, excuse me, pardon

Caller: I had an escaped goat. I'm a vegetable farmer here in Wisconsin and just had an escapee, but I was gifted a bottle of pumpkin seed oil from a neighbor who is actually a producer at Hay River pumpkin oil. So, I make salad dressing with it. I make like a tahini salad dressing with it. But I'm just curious, some other uses of how to use it and what it's good for?

SM: Well, let me just say for people who don't know anything about pumpkin seed oil, it's toasted. So, you know, think toasted sesame oil, toasted pistachio oil, toasted walnut oil. It's got a robust flavor. It's a strong oil. When you make your vinaigrette, do you cut it with any vegetable oil, or do you use it straight up?

Caller: The one dressing that I do make with it, I use one cup of olive oil to 1/3 cup of the pumpkin seed

SM: Oh, that's interesting with olive oil, because I would have thought more to mix it with vegetable oil just to keep its flavor. You can use it in many different applications. It's terrific on roasted vegetables with winter squash, with beets. You know beet salad, drizzle it on cheese. Oh, sure. I'd be nice over ricotta. I mean, you could think toasted sesame seed oil. But to me it's more interesting than that. ‘

Caller: Yeah, it's got totally different flavors

SM: and you don't cook with it. You finish with it. You use it raw is what I'm trying to say.

Caller: Sure. Yeah,

SM: I think it'd be nice on tomatoes. As a matter of fact, Chris, do you have any thoughts?

CK: Yeah, pork. Our food editor Matt Card puts it on vanilla ice cream,

Caller: oh, wow

CK: He's a little odd. You know, it's okay. But that

SM: I like that idea.

CK: Sweet potatoes, you know, or squash in the winter. And I think it's nice with that, or drizzle over risotto maybe it's very distinctive and strong. And we use small amounts. And I think you're absolutely right, cut it with something else if you're going to use it in a dressing.

SM: One other thing I would say I think you should keep it in the fridge. Because (Okay) those nut, and seed oils tend to go rancid very quickly. And if it gets a little thick, don't worry about it. Just pull it out, let it sit on the counter and it'll get back to a more liquid state.

Caller: So when you say pork what sort of pork?

CK: If you did a roast for example, I know no one does roasts anymore, but do a roast pork. It would be nice pork chops would be nice. I mean, just to finish, a little drizzle. If you're going to make a paste, for example, for a roast with spices. Instead of using vegetable oil use the pumpkin seed oil as the base for the paste for wet paste. Right. That would be great.

SM: You know, it would be nice in a pesto.

Caller Oh, yeah. That would be delicious.

CK: Yeah. I think we've had 12 ideas. And yeah,

Caller: thank you very much. Appreciate it.

CK: Good luck with a goat.

Caller: Yeah. yeah, have a good day. Thanks. ‘

SM: Okay. Bye. Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Michelle from California.

SM: Hi, Michelle. How can we help you today?

Caller: Yes, I want to know, whenever I bake muffins or cupcakes, I use the little paper liners, and sometimes they stick and sometimes they don't. So, I was wondering if you had any idea why

SM: It has has to do with the fat content of the cupcakes and the temperature of Have you ever tried using the parchment paper wrappers?

Caller: No, I haven't

SM: because those are great.

Caller: Okay.

SM: The other thing you could do with the wrappers you do have since you probably still have some in house, yes, just choose a light vegetable oil spray and spray them before you put in the batter. Yeah, Chris, do you have any thoughts?

CK: Yeah, I'm disorganized and lazy. So, I never have muffin, you know, the little cups. I don't like nonstick in general. But I'll be using nonstick here. And then butter them not sprayed them, which I think works a little better. And that's how I've made muffin’s all the time. And that seems to work pretty well. But I would agree with Sara, I think the base of parchment ones are great. And you could just spray them a little bit with some spray. The worst thing you could do was bake in those, you know, light colored tins. Even if you spray, I find that it's very hard to get them out. So, a dark nonstick with butter will probably work pretty well.

Caller: Okay. Well, thank you so much.

CK: Our pleasure thanks for calling

SM: Yeah. Thanks, Michelle.

CK: Take care. This is Milk Street radio. If you're looking for culinary inspiration, give us a ring anytime. That number is 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Jaycee

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: Well, my question is about my grandma's recipe for candied crab apples that she would do with red hot. And I finally decided to make them this fall, and I was really surprised by the recipes title, which is frozen spiced pickles. So, I'd like to quickly describe them and then I'm hoping that you can help explain why this process may or may not be pickling.

CK: Okay, go ahead.

Caller: They’re apples would start with like the size of a golf ball, and you cut the blossom end off, cook the skin a couple times. And then you simmer them for a few minutes in a simple syrup. spiced with red hots, cloves, ginger, then you submerge them in the simple syrup and freeze them. The apples themselves are I love them. They're these like neon red, wrinkly golf ball size apples that are floating in the red sugar syrup. They kind of taste like a baked apple, or kind of like cinnamon, applesauce wrapped up in fruit leather because the skin gets nice and pliable. So, I'm just wondering if you've ever heard of anything like this and if you can talk to me about the pickling process.

CK: There are two things going on here you have apples cooked a little bit in a hot sugar syrup that's flavored with red hots, but that's not really pickling,

Caller: right

CK: A freezer pickle is like a regular pickle, except that instead of heating up the vinegar and the water and the salt, etc. spices and putting them over the vegetables or the cucumbers in a jar etc. and canning them. You're going to pour it over at room temperature and then throw in the freezer. But what you're really doing is taking fruit and sugar syrup. So, it's not a pickle but it's a freezer red hot candy crab. I guess that's the best term for it. But it sounds like a great now I'm really interested. Okay, so you have crab apples, I got plenty of those. What else goes in the mix? Do you have a recipe for this?

Caller: I do. So, it's a simple syrup, a cup and a half of each sugar and water. And this is really funny. It's three quarters of a cup of red cinnamon is what grandma's Elda called it which is red hot. Nine cloves, three eighths teaspoon of ground ginger, eighth of a teaspoon of salt and a little lemon juice. Simmer it in the simple syrup for five minutes. You pick the apples up by the stem, cover it with the strained syrup and freeze it.

CK: Oh, man

Caller: when I did it there in my fridge right now and I love them

CK: Yeah, this is great.

SM: How do you eat them? I'm intrigued.

Caller: My grandmother always serves them with like lunch next to like a beef pasty. She grew up on a farm. I just kind of snack on them or throw them on my dinner plate as a little treat,

CK: I think was a big roast. It would be like a pork roast. Oh boy it would be good

SM: It's so funny. I see it is straight to dessert with a little vanilla ice cream.

Caller: Ooh

CK: This is fun. But you know what it sounds like it would be something you'd have around. Right? And you could pull out at the last minute and serve it with a whole bunch of stuff so

Caller: So yeah, they're really beautiful.

SM: Jaycee that's a really cool story. And I love the recipe.

CK: Red hot crab apples. Yeah,

Caller: Yeah. Well, thanks for helping me think through it. I did not think they were pickles, but it's just the funniest title. Yeah,

CK: That's a great recipe. Well, Jaycee, you taught us something. Yes, we’re the students today. Thank you. I'm definitely going to try that. Yes.

SM: Yes

Caller: That's great. Thank you very much

CK: Yeah, thank you for calling. Great idea.

SM: Take care. Bye.

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next, we're taking a look at the real history of home economics. That's right up after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host, Christopher Kimball.

Movie clip: What are you doing? Janet? You haven't had you know that those papers for an hour now? I'm trying to figure out what courses to take next term. I have to do that, too. What are you taking? Well, I have to fill one science requirements, and English and I want to take home
Economics. Economics? Why in the world do you want to take Home Ec? Why? Well, because that's something I'm going to need to know. And so are you.

CK: That was a clip from the 1955 film. Why Study Home Economics? That's also the question journalist Danielle Dreilinger, asked, when she set out to uncover the surprising history of the home economics movement. Danielle, welcome to Milk Street.

DD: Thanks for having me.

CK: So if you were to define home economics in a sentence, how would you do it?

DD: You know, it's funny, you should ask that because this field itself argued for decades about exactly how to define it. And they came up with a bunch of different definitions over the years. But I would say it is the science, art and craft of helping people live better.

CK: So, your mission is to redefine and rehabilitate home economists.

DD: Yeah, just to share the completely unknown, feminist history that just, I wanted to make everybody else as amazed as I was, you know, they created all sorts of innovations that are in our lives today make home economists created the food groups. They popularized the calorie which, you know, I mean, arguably, we might wish they hadn't. They invented the Rice Krispie treat

CK: Hey, there's now, that's important. Exactly. Well, it is amazing. And I think this is a long story that has a lot of history. Let's go back to the beginning. My understanding is towards the end of the 19th century, there was a movement to get cooking out of the home into central kitchens and to free up women from what was considered, you know, really, un-glorious labor. So, was that part of Home Economics at some point? Or was home economics always trying to focus on doing it better, for example?

DD: Oh, so that is exactly what Home Economics was about? Yes. To bring science into the home, to make housework more efficient, so that women could spend less time on it and have more time to take care of their children to work a paying job to be involved in civic affairs. But from the start Home Economics had this tension of whether it was empowering or repressive, you know, was it giving women opportunities, or was it keeping them in the kitchen? And they absolutely did talk about things like communal kitchens. Ellen Swallow Richards, one of the founders of the field, thought it was just ridiculous that every night every single house would have somebody right slaving over that hot stove. When you could just do it centrally. She believed in takeout she had a takeout restaurant. She solved that with the Industrial Revolution. Most of the interesting and economically productive tasks had left the house. And what was remaining was she she called it something like the endless work never done.

CK: So, so what happens in the 20th century? So, we've gone from this massive change in the kitchens and now World War I shows up. Does this now focus on conservation?

DD: Right, right. So, World War 1 was when the home economics movement really came to public attention. rationing was voluntary. So, the US Food administration headed by Herbert Hoover, I mean, the first thing he did was telegram to floor rose, who co-founded Home Economics at Cornell to say, can you come we need you. And they came up with all of these pamphlets and these public health campaigns, there were these financial resources coming together as well, that sent community educators out into the countryside. Sometimes they would go in a converted railroad car, and they would show women how to can things, how to use pressure canners slow cookers, they had the sort of proto crock pot that was buried in a heat retaining outer shell. And it could be coal fired, it could be wood fired. And Booker T. Washington, was very interested in getting it down to Tuskegee, where his wife, Margaret Murray Washington was enormously influential in home economics in black communities.

CK: Coal fired slow cooker; I just love it. Okay, so let's let's talk about the media now, because all of a sudden, Home Economics sort of merge with food companies and media.

DD: Right, so food media and home economics were tied up together from the start of the Home Ec movement. And it was when radio happened that really took off. These radio waves just needed someone to fill the time. So, they would have for instance, housewives just talking about their homes and what they did, and that became this whole arm of called radio homemakers.

Movie clip: Good afternoon this is Leanna coming to you with our kitchen patter broadcast over station KMH in Shenandoah, Iowa.

DD: And the Bureau of Home Economics, which began at the same time in 1923, had a very successful long running daily radio program with Aunt Sammy, who was Uncle Sam’s sister

CK: I saw that she was his sister

DD: She was not his wife, people thought that she was his wife by went back to the original press release. She was his sister. And she, you know, would have these little like, daily dialogues that were written by the Bureau of Home Economics. And at the same time, yeah, you had this sudden growth of what came to be called business Home Economics. And that was companies doing the same thing. Only they were trying to sell you, their products. And Betty Crocker is the best known. And she had a cooking show on the air where she would talk people through making recipes. And you could even graduate from the program, you had to sort of fill out a little card saying that you'd made all the recipes. And your grocer had to annotate to like initially to say that you had used only Gold Medal flour.

CK: And the other thing you you write about it's so interesting is that, obviously, in different places, her voice was different because it was being read by a local actress. So, the Texas Betty Crocker on the radio sounded different than the New Jersey one. Right?

DD: Right, right. So, if anybody who doesn't know Betty Crocker was never a real person. She was always created by a team of home economists. So, they would just send out the scripts, and the local stations would have somebody read the script. So yes, me I probably was much more effective that way, right. I mean, you had Betty Crocker sounding like she lived next door to you because she might very well have.

Movie clip: It's time for Betty Crocker and here she is America's first lady of foods. Your Betty Crocker brought to you by General Mills. Hello, everybody. It's cooking school time here in our kitchen again. The technique of managing the cooking of several different foods at one time. This idea of cooking two or three kinds of vegetables in one fall Sam is very practical. Finally, brownie mocha tour with chocolate curls. This is made with a brownie mix in round cake pan. do join us here in our kitchen again tomorrow. I'll be expecting you, this is Betty Crocker

CK: And, and she was wildly popular, and they had a hole as you pointed out, they had a whole crew of people answering these letters which ran into the 1000s per day, so people related to her and thought she was quite real. Right. And

DD: Right. And you know less we think that people oh, people used to be so naive, right? And we're all smarter today. In the 80s, my mother worked as a home economist at General Foods. And she worked on a project for General Foods, international coffees, where they had a person with, you know, some name they made up. And every month, they would send out a little newsletter about her life. And they asked for people to send in their favorite experiences with General Foods International coffee, and my mom got this package of responses. That all said things like, dear Suzy, it was so good to hear from you again.

CK: Well, your mother also wrote scripts for the Kool Aid man,

DD: She did.

CK: The Kool Aid man even had a series produced by Marvel that he fought evil villains called thirsties so it’s like

DD: Oh, my God, he did I forgot all that.

CK: So, the 50s show up, and everything gets it from my perspective gets turned on its head, because all of the science is now going to processed and fast foods, right? And then the home economist got sort of drawn into that and often started working for these big companies. Is that a fair comment?

DD: I would say that is a piece of what happened. I spent a lot of time thinking about the 50s. Because it was the time when like, all of this goes wrong. in that home economists had been so powerful had been, so it had been such a smart field. This was a field that women went into because they wanted jobs, you know, because they could, you know, they couldn't get into chemistry labs. But if they studied meat proteins, they could go job in a home economics lab. And then after the 50s, I talked to I don't know how many women who took home economics in the 50s and 60s, and I read the curriculum, and it was really pretty dumb. You were not taking physics in home economics courses anymore. I mean, home economists in the military, developed space food, and the government defunded the Bureau of Home Economics gradually over time, and then closed it all together. In the early 60s. It used to be that the Bureau of home economics did all sorts of scientific research into food. And now that was gone, if you wanted to do the only place that was doing it was the food companies. And, you know, they believed that they were making life manageable with these convenience products.

CK: There's something about all of this, though, I find really curious in there two things. One is, it's the marriage of cooking is something to avoid, there's no pleasure in it. And two getting women out of the kitchen, which was horrendous place to be in the late 19th century, and then being able to use their minds and their skills outside of the kitchen, which is quite understandable. Those two things come together. So, we've never until recently have never considered cooking and the preparation of food central to a healthy culture. It was always to be supplanted by technology and science, right?

DD: That's a really interesting point. I wouldn't say that they that there was no pleasure. I mean, one of the reasons there were so many recipes coming out of the business Home Economics world is that women still really like to cook, like all of their research show that like women enjoyed cooking, it was the chore that they welcomed, you know, as opposed to vacuuming. But I also think that it's worth remembering that at the same time that you see, you know, the convenience cooking and the TV dinner, you know, that's the exact same time that we have this beginning of the food culture of today out appreciating the pleasures of the table of people reading Julia Child and watching her TV show. So, it's an interesting, I guess, dual track.

CK: So, Home Economics, I don't know, where is it today? Is it still being taught in schools or is it kind of disappeared.?

DD: In fact, it is still being taught. So back in the 90s, the field rebranded itself as Family and Consumer Sciences, because the term Home Economics had so many stereotyped associations of well, they call it stitching and stirring. And they wanted to make it clear that it was something that was much bigger than that. And at last count more than 3 million public school students in the US were still taking the class every year. And there are still more than 100 college programs. And yet today, it's very modern. It's very focused on solving community problems and social problems has this really unique ability to look at both the micro and the macro levels of society.

CK: Danielle, thank you so much. It's been, it's been a great pleasure having you on Milk Street

DD: Thank you.

CK: Thank you.

CK: That was Danielle Dreilinger. Her her book is The Secret History of Home Economics. How trailblazing women harness the power of home and change the way we live. When I was in elementary school boys took shop, girls took home economics, and in high school I took typing, which was much more useful than my Latin or Russian history courses. Now all of this makes me think that a modern curriculum might teach one how to fix the Wi Fi, unclog a sink drain, replace a smoke alarm, reboot a computer, reset your Apple password, refinish a cast iron skillet, install a car seat, and of course make good espresso. So, I'm all for teaching kids how to think. But if we can't even make a decent cup of coffee, what's the point? We asked listeners to send in stories, memories and disasters from their home economics classes. And here's what they shared.

Caller: Hi, my name is Kathy Kwan. And there's no way I would know anything about baking basics without Home Ec my mother's idea of baking was cutting slices off a store-bought Hershey's chocolate chip cookie roll and putting them in the oven. I didn't realize it at the time, but Home Economics taught me some essential life lessons. Thanks Miss ___. We were put into small groups and each group had to create a tea. My group invited the wife of that principal. And when we went to make our little cakes on maybe mistake and I put in baking powder instead of baking soda. I was teaching high school students food class and the one boy's kitchen was supposed to be making a pasta salad and they didn't cook the pasta that went into the pasta salad It was a dry rotini pasta from a box, needless to say, it made the salad a little crunchy.
It was 1986 and my mother didn't want me taking Home Ec because she didn't want me to become a housewife. I lied and told her that the other electives were full, so I had to take Home Ec. I forgot to take the butter out and my punishment was I was the one who had to then cream the butter and sugar with cold butter the next day. I loved the cooking part of the class made English muffin pizzas. 12-year-old me scoffed thinking that this was amateur hour and an easy A for sure. Then came the sewing part. By the end of the class, I was the proud new owner of pink frog shorts with a crooked pattern and one leg two inches shorter than the other. I still to this day do not know how to sew but I do make a mean English muffin pizza. In Home Ec in 1972 Mrs. King taught us to lift the lid of the pot of boiling water, pointing it away from our face to let the steam out. I think of her every time I boil water here in Chicago, Illinois. I loved my career as a life skills teacher. What could be more important?

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. I'd like to thank all of our listeners who called in to share their Home Ec stories with us. After the break. Kim Severson takes us inside farming is high tech revolution. We'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now, it's time to chat with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe Filipino style chicken soup with coconut and lemongrass. Lynn, how are you?

Lynn Clark: I'm doing well Chris.

CK: So, this is our chicken soup theme, right? Every culture has chicken soup.

LC: Of course

CK: It's almost always a winner. And this is Filipino style chicken soup. So how do they make chicken soup there.

LC: So, I don't think you can have too many chicken soups in your repertoire. And this is a great one to add it has a ton of flavor all comes from this coconut broth. The way they make it in the Philippines is they hollow out a piece of bamboo and add all of the ingredients into this piece of bamboo cook it over an open fire for about an hour, it has tons of ginger, lemongrass, chicken that we're using here boneless skinless chicken thighs, just cut in half tossed with a little bit of fish sauce. And the coconut they use in the Philippines is green coconut. So, the kind of coconut you would find you'd stick a straw in it and drink coconut water out of but the flesh in there is very different. It's soft, very mild flavors, so they add chunks of that into the soup to really flavor the broth.

CK: Are we asking our viewers and readers and listeners to buy green coconuts?

LC: So that's my cue up, no. We're using coconut water and you want to make sure you've got unsweetened coconut water and we're using dried wide flake coconut also unsweetened and that's very important here but the wide coconut not the thin shreds sometimes in the market they'll call them coconut chips that is more indicative of the same kind of texture as the coconut you'd find in the Philippines.

CK: So, you have fish sauce, coconut water, coconut unsweetened coconut chips or whatever. Lemon Grass, ginger. Big flavors here.

LC: It’s great. I mean you could just drink the broth and not have the chicken or anything else and you would probably be very happy. But we do add a little bit of chicken. We're also adding in some chayote so in the Philippines they use chayote a lot. They also use green papaya chayote is a squash more like a summer squash so the winter squash, it's green and bumpy and fun looking but it has a really mild flavor and a sort of crisp tender texture, so you get a little bit of that crunch in there. But the flavor is very mild. Some say it's bland even however that works to our benefit here because it really soaks up all of that flavorful broth. So, you've got the flavor from the broth there, but you've got a little bit of texture from the crispness of it

CK: Or zucchini I assume right if you can't find chayote

LC: You can certainly substitute with zucchini or yellow squash here but if you can find chayote it's got a really interesting different texture.

CK: So, this is standard soup technique the onion and ginger, the chicken etc.

LC: Super easy sauté those aromatics add in the liquid bring it to a boil add the chicken fish sauce. let that cook till the chicken is tender then you add the chayote and the coconut. let that go for about 10 minutes. Then off the heat we take out the lemongrass and then add in some baby spinach they would use chili leaves in the Philippines. We're using baby spinach and then serving it with some sliced chilies, lime wedges and a little bit of steamed rice.

CK: Thank you. A Filipino style chicken soup with coconut and lemongrass. This has got to be in the top three worldwide chicken soup recipes ever

LC: Agreed. You can get this recipe for Filipino style chicken soup with coconut and lemongrass at Milk Street

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Next up It's New York Times correspondent Kim Severson. Kim, welcome back to Milk Street.

Kim Severson: Very glad to be here. Chris, how are you?

CK: I'm pretty good. You wrote a piece in The Times recently on hydroponics but it's not my mother's hydroponics. It's big tech, big money big ag. So, what are we talking about?

KS: Well, hydroponics are essentially vegetables that are grown in a water bath that has been supplemented with liquid nutrients. So, it's growing food without soil. And there are some different ways that you can get a hydroponic vegetable. Right now, vertical farms are sort of all the rage. These are farms that are completely indoors, no sunlight, LED lights, racks and racks and racks of lettuces growing in trays of water. But you can also of hydroponics growing in these new kind of high-tech greenhouses. So, the idea of doing this is not necessarily new, but recently there's been I think a convergence of several cultural trends and also tech trends that have led us to the place where, you know, hydroponics is it's big money. I think in 2020, there was $929 million that went into US farming ventures venture capital money. Chefs like Jose Andres and Tom Colicchio have invested in a vertical farm that's in New Jersey called Bowery. And that, of course catches everybody's attention. If Tom Colicchio who famously hated hydroponics is into it, it must mean something.

CK: So, so what's the problem? They're solving for? land use importing fruits and vegetables, long distances? flavor? I mean, what is it we're trying to do with this new hydroponics?

KS: I think the number one selling point that I hear from so many people is we can shorten that supply chain and have fresher vegetables. In cities. on smaller amounts of land. Some people say that they can grow as much on an acre of hydroponic vertical farming as you could in 100 acres of open field farming.

CK: So, this sounds great, I reduce shipping food is grown and distributed locally, land use is severely cut back in terms of how much land you need to grow. But there are two questions right with three questions, cost, taste, and nutrients that is, is the stuff good for you or not?

KS: The nutritional studies, first of all, are notoriously awful and hard to do. Even finding the right the similar conditions and batches of conventionally grown lettuce versus organically grown lettuce versus hydroponic lettuce I mean you’re almost comparing apples and oranges in a way. So, you're never going to have this definitive? Well, aha, this has more, you know, antioxidants, then that one, this, this particular piece of lettuce has this much more B vitamin in it or whatever. And also, there are certain things the soil can do, that you just can't do in a vertical farm indoors. And some of that we just don't know. Dan barber said to me that, you know, we know more about what happens in the ocean than we do about what happens in soil. I think a bigger issue is is what these are going to contribute to our food supply and the food chain. You know, we I think we learned during COVID that our food chain is much more fragile than we thought. So if you can produce food in New York City, that's going to help but these things are, you know, we're not going to feed the country on vertical farms.

CK: So, this is going to come down to cost, it's all going to come down to price, which is what big ag always comes down to right. So, if they can produce lettuce or strawberries or anything else, at a at a lower price or same price, without the shipping cost, then this will take off.

KS: That's probably true. I think right now, the lowest retail price for like a local hydroponic grown lettuce in your part of the woods in New England is about 250 $2.50 for a four-ounce package, which comes out to almost $10 a pound which I don't think you were I would pay $10 a pound for lettuce, right. The other issue is that all comes in packaging in these clamshells so there's a you can argue that it's you're not having to ship the food from California to New England and that saves a lot of carbon output. But you've got this big plastic problem. You also have the electricity issue. The the electricity required to grow lettuce endorses is about 10 times higher than it would in a heated greenhouse. So, it's very expensive, you know, and particularly if you're using coal for that power, the environmental impact of hydroponics is it starts to not look as good.

CK: So, I've yet to ask you what it tastes like. And I assume you've done some tasting.

KS: I have done a lot of tasting and have eaten I've had hydroponic lettuce shipped to me. I've eaten tons of hydroponic tomatoes, and they actually were good. I would pay money for those tomatoes in the winter. However, they are nowhere near the tomatoes I'm eating right now, but just just pure complexity of flavor. I do think there is something delicious and magic about food that's grown in soil.

CK: So, based on your research for the article, the times, let's say five years from now, what do you expect to have happen? Do you think these big tech hydroponics will be available in most supermarkets or is do you think still going to be a high priced? You know, luxury good?

KS: I think it'll be better tasting and, and more of it. I think it'll still be a little bit of a novelty. I don't think it's going to save. You know, people talk about it like solving food, there'll be no food deserts because we'll all grow our lettuce in a warehouse in a small community in a, you know, an inner city. I think that's, that's a bunch of, I guess a technical term would be BS, but but I think it's going to have its place and the price is going to continue to drop. But I don't think this is a revolution by any means.

CK: When they can grow a good tomato. Conventionally hydroponically anyway, genetically, that'll be that that will be the revolution when you get good tasting food back. I mean, maybe hydroponics can allow us to go back and grow heirloom varieties of these things that were designed for flavor, not for shipping. And maybe that you know, maybe part of a revolution.

KS: I’m open. I'm open to trying to embrace the future, Chris.

CK: Well, I hope I'm there to see that great tomato. Kim Severson thank you so much the story of hydroponics, big ag, big tech, and big capital. It may change the way we grow and eat. Thank you.

KS: Thanks, Chris.

CK: That was Kim Severson. She's a food correspondent for The New York Times. Her article is no soil, no growing seasons, just add water and technology. If you tuned into late or just want to listen again. You can download and subscribe to Milk Street Radio and Apple podcast Spotify, wherever you find your podcast. To learn more about Milk Street, go to 177 Milk Street com there you can download each week's recipe, watch the latest season of our television show. Or you can order our latest cookbook, which is Tuesday Night's Mediterranean. You can also find us on Facebook Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH executive producer Melissa Baldino, senior audio editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp and Jason Turetsky. Production assistant, Amelia McGuire, and production help from Debby Paddock. Additional Editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic public media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street radio is distributed by PRX.