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Author Shares Recipe For Cooking Shows' Popularity

Food is one of television's most enduring stars, from the days of black-and-white TV when prim homemakers whipped up casseroles and cream pies to today's round-the-clock Food Network.

Author Kathleen Collins offers a history of television cooking shows in a new book, Watching What We Eat.

She tells NPR's Renee Montagne that the seeds for the TV shows came from radio, beginning in 1926 with "Housekeeper's Chat" on the Farm Radio Service. The show featured "Aunt Sammy," a fictitious character created by the Department of Agriculture, who shared household tips for housewives.

"They would have different actresses playing Aunt Sammy, and she would adopt different regional accents to fit the area that she was broadcasting to," Collins says. "And, while it was not ever made terribly explicit, she was supposed to be the wife of Uncle Sam."

The first nationally televised cooking show starred James Beard, but most people didn't get to see him because not many people had televisions in their homes, Collins explains. At that time, most televisions were in public places such as taverns and saloons.

"Men used to gather in these bars on Friday nights to watch the boxing matches and they were the first audience for television cooking shows," she says.

But what ties those first shows to the popularity of cooking shows today, Collins says, is that they speak "to so many different parts of us. It's soothing, it's sensual, it somehow speaks to everybody a little bit."

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