It’s the holiday season and we have cooking on the mind in Special Collections at UMD! For many, our relationship with food stems from a desire not just to sustain ourselves, but also to find comfort within and to bring comfort to others. Food helps us understand who we are by reflecting our heritage, talents, or personality. What we cook and eat can provide a glimpse into how adventurous, nostalgic, creative, communal, organized or practical we truly are. Eating and cooking gives us the opportunity to create and share memories, especially when exploring recipes passed down over generations. Even when we cannot be with our loved ones, aromas and flavors can evoke nostalgia and connect us with our past.
A new exhibit in the Special Collections & University Archives reading room, The Joy of Cooking in Special Collections reflects our human desire to share a meal, find joy, and explore who we are through the experience of cooking and eating. On display are cookbooks, recipes, and other items from Special Collections and University Archives that highlight the joy of cooking.
Included in the exhibit are personal recipes and annotated cookbooks from the literary archive of American Author Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980). Porter loved to cook and was inspired by her world travels to experiment in the kitchen. A native Texan, she spent time in Paris, Mexico, Washington D.C., and New York among other locations across the word. Her recipes for classic holiday dishes include turkey stuffing, eggnog, beef bourguignon, and roasted goose, perfect for a throwback holiday feast!
Porter collected a wide variety of cookbooks from the classic to the strange, often writing notes and substitutions over the original recipe, or simply writing “this” next to the recipes she wanted to cook. Her archives include both typed and handwritten recipes, sometimes featuring personal reminiscences about her favorite dishes. Porter was known to craft her own recipes and send samples off to friends, including her highly requested hell broth-a fermented pepper sauce made with dark rum, cognac, and three pounds of mixed hot peppers. You can read more about Porter in the kitchen in our ABCs of KAP blog post.
Also on display are cookbooks from the rare books collection and Maryland collection, the latter featuring regional recipes to the state of Maryland including regional favorited such as Old Bay, crabs, and oysters. Many regions have their own culinary traditions and local residents often pride themselves on loving those food items that are most closely connected with their hometown. Maryland embraces its connection to seafood, especially Maryland Blue Crabs, and the increasingly ubiquitous Old Bay spice which pops up in both sweet and savory treats, as well as beverages.
Cookbooks from the rare book collection range from medieval cooking with medicinal herbs to regional dishes from across the world. Some early cookbooks combined domestic medicine with cooking and other household skills, so the savvy reader could review a copy of A Treatise of Domestic Medicine (1888) to find a remedy for rickets as well as a dozen or so fish recipes to cook for the family.
Some rare book dishes may seem unfamiliar today, such as beef tongue toast, boiled pigeon, or mock turtle soup. The format may also seem unusual, with the ingredients not listed separately at the top and the instructions condensed in one paragraph. The recipes within however, are glimpses into the culinary past and can inspire nostalgia for a home cooked meal.
The exhibit also highlights cooking in postwar Japan from the Gordon W. Prange Collection. On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered unconditionally to the United States and Allied Powers, ending World War II. In the aftermath, thousands of U.S. military and civilian personnel and their families moved to Japan to oversee the rehabilitation of the defeated nation. Materials from the Gordon W. Prange Collection highlight how the “American dream” was represented by these communities and how in turn, the Japanese people envisioned their own dreams as they rebuilt their lives. These highly illustrative and colorful cookbooks each tell a story of food and community in this unique post-war environment.
Special thanks to Prange Collection Coordinator Motoko Lezec and Katherine Anne Porter Graduate Student Assistant Mattie Lewis for their inspiration for this exhibit!