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I am no stranger to the kitchen. Indeed I am rather proud of my dinners. My cooking skills come from my student years in New Mexico, not from any time spent in my mother’s kitchen. My methods for fry bread and green chili stew are products of experiment and experience, not results of studying cookbooks.
So I tend to look upon cookery texts as historical documents, not instruction manuals; and the History Museum agrees.
One of the oldest cookbooks in our archives is an 1876 edition of Mary Henderson’s "Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving", a guide that offers details of life in the 1870s that never make the history books. A “Win the War” cookbook published by the St. Louis Women’s Committee gives us a homefront perspective of World War I.
Arguably the most famous cookbook in America is St. Louisan Irma Rombauer’s "Joy of Cooking". We have a 1931 first edition, inscribed and autographed. It’s a real treasure, but I am especially captivated by our library’s 1940s version, with the blue plaid cover. This one is stained and mottled and dog-eared—embodying a wealth of stories. A Joy of Cooking from 1936 belonged to a Clayton woman who had penciled her own recipes all over the inside covers—more stories.
This is what we really collect: the stories of the people who were here before us, who left of these stories to build on.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Bob Archibald is the President of the Missouri Historical Society