“Cooking with gas” means performing a difficult task with maximum efficiency and capability. There is a hint in the expression that an obstacle had to be overcome in order to achieve a state of “cooking with gas.”
There is also a sense of energy and excitement that still clings to the phrase because gas ranges, when they started to become popular in the late 19th century, represented a real breakthrough in kitchen technology. After all, before that, wood fire was the only way of cooking food, going all the way back to cavemen and cavewomen.
People still use this phrase, but its days are numbered. Newer generations, who grow up with not only gas ranges, but also electric stoves and microwave cookers and whatever is next (lasers?, nuclear fission?) hear an old boomer say “I’m cooking with gas,” their response might be, “So what.”
Culinary Note Regarding the Prevalence of Wood Burning Kitchen Stoves
My wife recently picked up an edition of The Settlement Cook Book from our local library’s book sale. This cookbook was originally edited by society matrons who wanted to help waves of immigrants assimilate into American culture by providing them with basic recipes of what we now call comfort food. It gradually became a kind of precursor of Joy of Cooking, the kind of comprehensive cooking guide you gave to newlyweds.
It’s interesting that in our 1947 edition, the book still provided dual cooking instructions in each recipe for both wood burning and natural gas stoves!
By the way, the recipes we tried are great in that all-American, not too fancy way.