Teaser: It seems no one can resist cookbooks...
-- Marylene Altieri, Curator
When it comes to Cookbook
Started it all...
The culinary count is more than 20,000 volumes dating back to 1597...
The History: Excerpts from a text by Marylene Altieni for the
Culinary Historians of Boston Newsletter.
(Old cookooks Find a Home at Harvard)
Schlesinger Library, the nation's premier collection of books, is home to one of the country's most extensive and distinguished culinary collections. The Schlesinger's culinary collecting goes back to 1960, when 1,500 historic cookbooks, many donated to Harvard College by Marietta Greenough, were transferred to the library, then known as the Women's Archive, by Widener Library in Harvard Yard. They thought it was a good idea to transfer these underutilized books, which were shelved four levels below ground, to the growing women's history collection in Radcliffe Yard; but the books were greeted here with disdain by the ardent feminists and Radcliffe alumnae who staffed and supported the library in those days. It was not long, however, before the value of this collection became apparent, as the food revolution got underway along with the women's movement and the connection between food history and women's lives became more apparent. Building on that kernel, the culinary collection grew to encompass not only books but periodicals, papers of culinary figures, and ephemera such as pamphlets and menus.
Barbara Haber was the Curator of Books at Schlesinger for over three decades, and through her advocacy the culinary collection became firmly established here and continued to grow. She tirelessly sought out donations and raised funds to support the collection, organizing cooking demonstrations and other events, founding the Radcliffe Culinary Friends, and publishing the Radcliffe Culinary Times. In addition she wrote a book of culinary history essays, From Hard Tack to Home Fries, which convincingly drew the connection between culinary history and social history. Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, an independent scholar, author of Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789, and one of the founders of the Culinary Historians of Boston, welcomed legions of budding scholars to Schlesinger as a defacto research advisor and guided them through the collections here. Her Bibliography of Culinary History, prepared with Patricia Kelly, is constantly cited by scholars and rare book dealers, and her week-long seminars on Reading Historic Cookbooks are rapidly filled each time she offers them.
The culinary collection grew mainly by gifts and continues to benefit from them, combined with strategic purchases of essential new publications and antiquarian purchasing to fill gaps and deepen our strengths. A new collection policy was written in 2005-2006, as part of Schlesinger's Strategic Plan. In it we redefined our collecting somewhat to reflect the fact that many other libraries now collect in this area. We have chosen to focus on cookbooks that emphasize the domestic aspects of food and its role in women's and in family lives. In the meantime, the subject of food history has become a popular discipline that goes far beyond cookbooks. We hope to undertake a systematic collection analysis soon, to determine our strengths and weaknesses and perhaps write a fresh policy that takes the new trends and future needs of researchers into account.
We estimate that the culinary collection now includes 18,000 (recently updated to 20,000) volumes, going back to (the year) 1597 and including thousands of rarities from America and Europe.
Granted, we are no longer the only show in town, and many fine culinary collections have sprung up at other universities and institutions. The main distinction that we have from all the other collections out there is that our culinary collections are embedded in a rich and deep context of materials documenting women's lives and domestic and family life. A major distinction is that we remain open to the public; no academic affiliation or prior vetting process is required to use our materials.
What do we have? Our main strength in the printed collections is American culinary history, in which our holdings are very broad and deep; thousands of community and regional cookbooks. Other strengths include cooking as part of domestic science (which crosses over into our women's history collections); a large collection of periodicals, both culinary and general women's; French and Continental cookery (thanks to the gifts of books we received from Julia Child, the Chamberlains, Carl Sontheimer, Eleanor Loewenstein, the American Institute of Wine and Food, and other significant gifts); Russian and Eastern European (gifts of Sophie Coe and Joyce Toomre); Swedish (Judith Rosenberg); modern Greek (Effie Layton); vegetarianism (The Whitten Collection, which we purchased, added to our already significant holdings) and other health diets; 20th-century British cookery (thanks to a gift from Mary Thale); wartime cookery; culinary ephemera including over 4,500 pamphlets, and menus (including a collection of 1,300 French and continental menus from American expatriate Lee Orloff); films, blogs (through our Web Archiving project we are harvesting Lee Orloff's blog.
In addition to the print collections, we have many outstanding and important manuscript collections. Here you will find the papers of Julia Child, M. F.K. Fisher, Elizabeth David, Simone Beck, Dione Lucas, the Rombauer-Becker Family, Grace Zia Chu, Stella Standard, Roberta Kalechovsky (a Jewish animal rights and vegetarian writer/activist);
Our manuscript resources can now be discovered through Google searches.
Recently interest in food has grown outside of the doors of Schlesinger. When I first came to Schlesinger in late August, 2004, Julia Child, who had given all her books and papers to Schlesinger before retiring to California, had just died. There were no courses at Harvard relating specifically to food, and culinary studies were being pursued mainly outside the University. At that time the biggest food topic on everyone's lips was the Food Network. Within a year, that all began to change as a huge growth of interest in food hit this University (and most other universities around the country). Harvard was a little late coming to this, actually. The upsurge in awareness at Harvard seems to have grown out of the broader subject of sustainability. Students suddenly seemed passionate about what they were eating in the dining halls and also interested in food as an academic study, leading to the birth of the Food Literacy Project in 2005. Publication of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma in 2006 was a galvanizing eye-opener (though other works, including Frances Moore Lappé's Diet for a Small Planet, had already introduced many of the same ideas 25-30 years ago; but people weren't ready to seize on them). Faculty began introducing food studies into the curriculum. Julia Child's death was followed by a swell of interest in her life and career. Radcliffe's Gender and Food conference in 2007 was enormously successful and well-received. And the growing efforts toward environmental sustainability at Harvard, which include a sizeable component of food-related projects, achieved center stage with former Vice-President Al Gore's visit to Harvard in October, 2008, to launch Harvard's green initiative, a giant occasion in Harvard Yard that featured local sustainable food prominently.
The Harvard Dining Services began a Food Literacy Project in 2005 with a full-time director, a web site, and a broad program of events for students, faculty and staff, including the Harvard Farmer's Market, cooking classes, films, lectures, and visits to local farms. Finally, the groundswell of interest in food at Harvard became a volcano in the fall of 2010, with the new General Education course on Science & Cooking that was offered in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, taught partly by scientists and partly by celebrity chefs such as Ferran Adriá, and if you read the papers you can't have helped noticing that this has been really big news. This course, designated as one that can fulfill the core requirements of undergraduates in science, drew over 700 students to its first meeting, of which 300 were admitted by lottery. Similarly, a new course in the history department on American food history drew over 200 students. Because of all these developments, our culinary collection is being discovered all over again. We are being asked to participate in a variety of University food-related events, and to put on exhibits and presentations for Harvard and non-Harvard groups. Our culinary collection, which historically has been second in importance or subsidiary to our women's history collections, is under a new spotlight.
Other courses that have been or are being taught at Harvard include one on food in the Italian Renaissance, taught by Allan Grieco from Harvard's I Tatti in Florence. In the anthropology department, Richard Wrangham's work, described in his book, Catching Fire; has seized a wide audience. Other historians using food in their classes include Steven Shapin and Joyce Chaplin; we also have graduate students doing dissertations in food history. In October 2010, a conference called Why Books was held at Radcliffe, in conjunction with which many workshops were held around the University. Schlesinger presented two heavily-attended workshops on treasures of the culinary collection. This generated so much interest that photos from it were chosen to illustrate the articles about the entire event in the Harvard Gazette and on Harvard's web site. It seems no one can resist cookbooks.
Library acquires collection on Vegetarianism.
Other food developments at Harvard include: community vegetable gardens outside an undergraduate residence, Lowell House, and at the Harvard Divinity School; student food groups such as the Vegetarian Society, Real Food Harvard, and the Culinary Society; guest lecturers such as Carlo Petrini, who spoke on the Slow Food movement; and the publication of Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, written by Lilian Cheung of the Harvard School of Public Health with Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Harvard's annual Sustainability Report includes much discussion of food at Harvard, including the university's contracts with local farmers for milk, squash, and other products.
Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life
by Dr. Lilian Cheung and Thich Nhat Hanh
Publisher: Harper One
Our cookbook collection at Schlesinger is useful primarily for historical studies on the domestic aspects of food, home cooking, rather than the huge current food studies spectrum; for example, we don't cover restaurant food.
Outside of Harvard, the whole world seems focused on food these days: Michelle Obama and Jamie Oliver working on school foods; Mark Bittman and other bloggers emphasizing food justice, sustainability, and safety; colleges using farm and garden projects and higher-quality dining hall food to attract applicants. Finally, we've seen an enormous amount of interest in Julia Child, with films and new books appearing in rapid succession and Julia Child-themed travel all the rage (Schlesinger has hosted two visits from the RoadScholar Julia Child Voyage!).
There has never been a more exciting time to be involved with a food collection. Schlesinger Library encourages everyone to explore our resources and extends a warm and helpful welcome to all.
--- Marylene Altieni
From Culinary Historians of Boston Newsletter
Julia Child Papers Open to Research
The papers, additional papers, and videotape collection of cook, cookbook
author, and television personality Julia Child (1912-2004) are now open to
research at the Schlesinger Library. Consisting of material related to Child's
work as a teacher, television personality, and cookbook author, the papers
include address books, biographical material, cooking demonstration menus
and programs, notebooks, correspondence, recipes, clippings, drafts,
University stacks are growing.
Grandmothers, your prized cookbooks may be going to college.
Universities are on the hunt for that elusive 1898 booklet on how
to can cucumber pickles. The Ball Blue Book (of canning and
preserving recipes) owns and manufactures Mason jars. Ball told
Grannies how to preserve vegetables in glass before the advent
of tin cans. Actually it was in 1858 when John Landis Mason
created a glass jar with a screw-on tin lid to preserve food. At
about that time Mason printed his receipts (a common spelling
until about 1895. Cousin, locate one of Mason's patent receipts
(sic) prounouced re-cetes and you have fresh new dollars.
The Ball Blue Book with 50-plus pages of canning recipes, as
recent as 1941, sold for a dime. Copies today are being bid up
to a hundred bucks. They are called Keepers.
Food manufactures have long used recipes and cookbooks to
pitch their products. The best known and possibly the most
successful is Pillsbury Co. While best known for the nation's
most successful in-house promotion, the Pillsbury Bake-Off,
the firm also owns Pillsbury Productions to fill the demand
for printed recipe books. The Bake-Off's first competition
in 1949 drew more than 4,000 entrants. The first winner's
prize was $50,000. First prize this decade...$1 million. The
Pillsbury cookbooks, actually thick pamplets, today are as
prized by home-bound Keepers as they are by university
Other major trade names in the cookbook business: Borden
pitching their brands Wyler's Bouillon, ReaLemon and Eagle
Brand Condensed Milk, and Osterizer in 1966 published a 100-pager
titled Spin Cookery using their blender.
All are Keepers in private and university collections.
(*) Example: This writer has a 96-page Pillsbury Time Saver Cook Book,
issued 1967, cover price 79 cents. Bid prices are 20-30 times that cover
price. Value factor: Early recognition for dips and dunks such as avocado
before Tex-Mex swamped the nation with themed eateries.
Ink on Pulp by the Numbers.
The Ohio State University
The Peter D. Franklin Collection, 8,000-plus
New York University
Fales Library Food Studies Collection
America's largest cookbook collection has
more than 55,000 and counting. It is the Fales Library Collection
which includes gifts such as 21,000 from Georg and Jenifer Lang.
Lang was a famed New York restaurateur. His collection covers
food from the 16th century to the present. The gift had a value
of $800,000. Fales also received big-number gifts from the
James Beard Foundation, Julia Child, and the entire Gourmet
Radcliffe Institute's Schlesinger Library
Credit for being first to collect cookbooks goes to Radcliffe.
While it has more than 20,000 of historical value from
around the world, it also holds papers of Julia and Paul
Child, M.F. K. Fisher, Elizabeth David and other culinary
Beyond being first, Schlesinger can claim to be the nation's
primary authority on culinary history, in this case, for
cookbooks. Barbara Ketcham Wheaton is co-curator
and lecturer at the library. Repeat that: Barbara Ketcham
Iowa State University
The Ruth Ellen Church "Mary Meade" Collection
If this Iowa collection does not have a formal name,
here's a vote to name it for this Iowa State graduate
honoring her many achievements in the food and wine
world. She was food editor for the Chicago Tribune. She
created the first test kitchen for a major newspaper.
She was the first regular wine columnist for a daily
newspaper. She authored many cookbooks with
recipes highlighting Iowa and Midwest abundance.
Iowa's collection is loaded with recipes and cookbooks
written by Iowans. Many of the booklets come from
Iowa companies...Quaker Oats, Maytag and Amana.
Iowa, in case you missed a couple days of the state
history, is best known for Grant Wood and Field of
Dreams. Of the 3,000 cookbooks about 100 are
historical American cookbooks dating to the 1700s.
Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen
and Table from 1300 to 1789
by Barbara Ketcham Wheaton
Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
Think about this: There is a place for the advanced study of
cookbooks. Rather than go into the details, best one Google
onto the repository where more than 20,000 books on cookery
Meet Barbara Ketcham Wheaton...
Wheaton fans are not there for the recipes or techniques, they
like her fame factor for her opinions on other cookbooks. She is a great
read when it comes to cookery history. She does not have a vast
presentation of recipes in this cookbook. Put it this way. This is not
Betty Crocker. She has fans in academia who appreciate good writing.
Make that great writing in a content field that is lacking real grammarians.
From her introduction...the character of this book has been shaped by the
diversity and unevenness of teh sources. In the five-hundred -year span
considered here, few or no cookbooks appeared during some periods
and an abundance appeared in others. There is little helpful literary
material before the sixteenth century, and few journals or diaries
mention food. Still-life painting with useful culinary subject matter
was not produced until the seventeenth century, but by the eighteenth
visual representations were, if anything, overabundant...
Ms. Wheaton continues...cookbooks, necesssarily the principal
source, are curious documents. She reasons that so few cookbooks
were written in the early centuries because so few cooks were able
to read and write. Glance at the top of this brief review...Savoring from
1300 to 1789. She is working on Savoring...from 1789 to the present.
The line forms at the left...