150 Years of Mostly Good Meals
In 2004 Maureen Hathaway donated her substantial collection of Michigan-related cookbooks to the Clarke Library. Prior to Ms. Hathaway's generous gift, the Clarke Library included among its holdings a fair number of cookbooks, but the gift of the Maureen Hathaway Michigan Culinary Archive has more than doubled the number Library's collection in this area.
This increase in the Clarke's holdings occurred at a time when scholarly opinion about cookbooks was changing dramatically. Cookbooks have long suffered from the same scholarly neglect traditionally shown most "how-to" books. Of course, these volumes were useful to those involved "in the trade," and perhaps for those writing "technical" histories, but they were not items that should trouble the serious researcher pursuing themes in social history. Most scholars did not consider how and when non-Hispanic Americans mastered making a good taco a matter of great historical concern.
This attitude toward cookbooks, however, has changed dramatically in recent years. Scholars have begun to use cookbooks as windows allowing them to view social history that is otherwise difficult to see. For example, documenting the ways in which immigrant communities and the larger American majority remain distinctive or blend together is a task that requires multiple types of information. Community fundraising cookbooks allow a scholar to document how the taste for "foreign" dishes such as tacos crept into middle America, in what parts of the nation change first occurred, how the ethnic community may or may not have remained true to its culinary traditions, and the subtle mix of "ethnic" versus "American" ingredients and preparation techniques, all of which document change in both the immigrant and the broader American communities.
The Clarke Library is pleased to be able to support this research trend, and staff members are equally pleased to be able to share Ms. Hathaway's collection with historians, writers, and researchers of all sorts. Her kindness will benefit users for many years to come, and it may also give them a good dinner.
My thanks also to Megan Goodwin, Mary Graham, Pat Thelen, and Rebecca Zeiss for their help in creating this catalog and the exhibit it accompanies.
Every day everyone eats, or wants to. In Michigan the ways in which cooks cook have been guided by published cookbooks since the mid-nineteenth century. This was not always the case, as even general-purpose cookbooks in earlier times generally represented a single culinary tradition, whereas today a single-tradition book generally advertises itself as a guide to a particular specialty. Today we take for granted that many cookbooks published in the state, no matter how remote the corner from which they appear, will have a wide range of recipes from around the nation and perhaps the world. This was not always the case, as even general-purpose cookbooks in earlier times generally represented a single culinary tradition, whereas today a single-tradition book generally advertises itself as a guide to a particular specialty. Thus cookbooks from the past serve as guides to the time, place, and community that published them or for whom they were published. By looking at what we find in cookbooks, we can often infer a great deal about the social, nutritional, and cultural lives of families and communities in the past.