Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega searches old newspapers to learn about the first “foodie” writer: Clementine Paddleford. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”
Do you enjoy reading about food or watching food TV programs? Sure, there are recipe columns that you may save for new ideas about what to cook for dinner, but do you ever just read about food for the pure enjoyment of it? Maybe you are one of those that read a cookbook like a novel, savoring every description and image. Maybe like me you love food boards on Pinterest and peruse them for the beautiful photos depicting possible menus you could replicate. In a digital era when everyone posts photos of their food, beverages and recipes, it may seem odd to think that it wasn’t too long ago that finding tantalizing food information was a little more difficult—and that the idea of “food writing,” other than a recipe column or cookbook, was nonexistent.
We’ve talked about newspapers’ food recipe columns and related articles in this blog previously (see list below). These types of recipe columns and articles provided women with the answer to that eternal question: what’s for dinner? While recipe columns were popular, other types of food columns debuted in newspapers as the 20th century marched on.
The First Foodie Writer
Before it was trendy to be a food writer, there was a woman who not only wrote about food under her own name, which was not traditionally done—she traveled around the country to do so, and even learned to fly a plane to make that travel easier. She estimated that the short trips she took via her own plane accounted for 40,000 miles each year. In an era before food television shows, when cuisine was much more regionalized, she provided recipes that introduced her nationwide audience to foods that they were unfamiliar with and may have seemed “exotic.”
Her name was Clementine Paddleford.
A Brief History of Clementine Paddleford
Paddleford was born in Kansas in 1898 and, after graduating with a journalism degree, went on to write about food for such newspapers as the New York Herald Tribune, New York Sun, New York Telegram and the newspaper magazine This Week. While she may seem to have had a glamorous life, she encountered her share of difficulties including a throat surgery that initially left her speechless for a year and then with a lifelong “husky whisper.” She was the ultimate career woman, in a time when most women were relegated to the home. She wrote, published, traveled, and shared her expertise with her readers.
Clementine’s Foodie Newspaper Column
Clementine’s syndicated column for the New York Herald Tribune chronicled her food travels and the recipes she picked up for readers. Her foodie columns were newsy and provided details about what she ate and whom she dined with.
For example, in this 1960 newspaper column she talks about a trip to Chicago where she dined with her friend Katherine Belle Niles, a home economics director for the Poultry and Egg National Board who, appropriately enough, fried eggs for her. She then went to have a turkey dinner during a meeting with the National Youth-power Congress. She quotes Ezra Taft Benson, a speaker at the meeting, who was encouraged by the sight of the teenagers eating cranberries served at the meal. At the time, Benson was the Secretary of Agriculture; later he became the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Paddleford tried to describe the experience of the meal for her readers. Consider the end of this column, where she describes:
…filet mignon, hot, juicy, tender. There was a stuffed baked potato and green peas combined with sautéed fresh mushrooms. The dinner rolls were soft and warm.
Clementine’s Career as an Author
While Clementine had a long career as a food writer, she also wrote other articles and a book about her mother. In this 1958 newspaper article, Paddleford (who was the paper’s food editor), wrote a feature entitled “How America Eats,” also the name of one of her books. Here she reminisces about her childhood and her mother’s saying “Never grow a wishbone where your backbone ought to be.”
Clementine died in 1967 in New York and was buried in Riley, Kansas. Her life is well chronicled in her numerous newspaper articles, books and in a collection of her papers, including menus from her many food travels, available at the Kansas State University Library.
To read more about Paddleford, check out her articles found in GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives. Also, read the books Hometown Appetites: The Story of Clementine Paddleford, the Forgotten Food Writer Who Chronicled How America Ate by Kelly Alexander, and the re-release of Paddleford’s The Great American Cookbook: 500 Time-Tested Recipes: Favorite Food from Every State.
Related food articles:
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- Newspapers, Food & Family: Like Nonna, Nana & Grandma Used to Make!
- Eating on the Titanic: Massive Quantities of Food on the Menu
- My Ancestor’s Menu: Researching Food History in Newspapers
- Find Grandma’s Recipes in Old Newspaper Food Columns
- Rationing Thanksgiving Dinner during World War I
- Holiday Recipe Ideas for Good Old-Fashioned Home Cooking