By Rebekah E. Pite
In 1934, the first edition of Argentina’s most popular cookbook, El libro de Doña Petrona, was released. It included recipes with Spanish, French, British, and Italian roots as well as local criollo ones. While previous generations learned to cook from relatives and friends, many locals and immigrants with sufficient resources bought this encyclopedic cookbook that would teach them how to be an Argentine woman and to cook Argentine food.
Cover of early edition of El libro de Doña Petrona
Petrona Carrizo (later Carrizo de Gandulfo) migrated to Buenos Aires from the province of Santiago del Estero in the late 1910s. In 1928, she landed a job in the capital as an ecónoma (home economist) working to teach other women how to use the new technology of the gas stove for the British company Primitiva.
Petrona C. de Gandulfo presenting a cooking lesson for Primitiva at the Liga de Damas Católicas (Argentine League of Catholic Women), 1937.
Source: Courtesy of Archivo General de la Nación.
She had learned to cook the foods of Santiago del Estero from her neighbors and relatives as a child and, later, studied at the French culinary institute Le Cordon Bleu in Buenos Aires. An Italian immigrant, Angel Baldi, served as the director and her instructor at Le Cordon Bleu. There, she and her fellow home economists not only learned (and, soon thereafter, taught other women) how to make French-style dishes but also Italian and British ones.
Doña Petrona adopted an inclusive and diverse vision of Argentine cuisine and recommended that her readers do the same. In the first edition of El libro de Doña Petrona, she included approximately 1,000 recipes on a total of 414 pages. While she provided some explicitly nationalistic recipes, such as a cake with an Argentine national flag, along with some typical local cuisine, like empanadas, she presented French, Spanish, and Italian dishes as equally important for Argentine homemakers to master. In this way, she helped make dishes immigrants brought with them part of the Argentine repertoire, and encouraged immigrants to expand their repertoire to less familiar foods. Like immigrant cooks, Doña Petrona tailored these “foreign” dishes to the local environment and ingredients, for example, by filling one version of her Italian cannelloni with humita, a traditional creamed corn eaten regularly in northwestern Argentina, and using Argentine-made cheese (“queso del país”) for her pizza recipes.
Illustration of dishes from El libro de Doña Petrona (1934).
Source: El libro de Doña Petrona, 1934, 169.
- Paula Caldo, Mujeres cocineras: Hacia una historia sociocultural de la cocina Argentina a fines del siglo XIX y primera mitad del XX (Rosario: Prohistoria, 2009).
- Rebekah E. Pite, La mesa está servida. Doña Petrona C. de Gandulfo y la domesticidad en la Argentina del siglo XX (Buenos Aires: Edhasa, 2016).
- Rebekah E. Pite, Creating a Common Table in Twentieth-Century Argentina: Doña Petrona, Women, and Food (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013).