Serious About Food

A whole new world opens up each time I find a new library. As a kid, I volunteered at our town's local library and remember the joy I'd feel looking at all the books.

Recently I caught up with a friend of mine for lunch at Grendel's Den in Harvard Square. We had such a fascinating conversation that I forgot to photograph the food! That does not happen often. But it had been decades since we had seen each other. Probably just as long since I had eaten at Grendel's.

After we ate, we wanted to keep talking, so I decided to walk with her to visit a friend of hers at work. She works at Schlesinger Library, which was just around the corner.

Her friend gave us a quick tour of the library and started pointing out the books. Some were cookbooks. Yes. Cookbooks! I pointed out the cookbooks and my friend says to her friend something like, "Oh I forgot! Lisa is really into cooking and blogs about food." Her friend's eyes lit up and she started explaining about their collection.

It turns out, Schlesinger Library, which is part of Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, has one of the largest culinary collections in the world, with nearly 15,000 titles. I had no idea that something like this even existed!

Here's an excerpt from the website.

"Schlesinger Library’s holdings of culinary works include close to 15,000 titles from the United States and the world over. Begun as a collection intended to document the domestic focus and contributions of women, the collection grew around a core of cookery books transferred from Harvard’s Widener Library to Schlesinger when the latter opened. It has expanded to become an international collection covering the entire field of culinary history, the culinary professions, gastronomy, the history of domestic life and management, and the role of food in history and culture.

The holdings include books, periodicals, and microforms, and many rare titles are represented. Classic works on cuisine from the 16th century to our day are joined by hundreds of community and voluntary association cookbooks. The periodicals feature complete runs of many culinary and gastronomic titles. The culinary book collection complements Schlesinger’s significant holdings of papers of individuals in the culinary field, including Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher, Alice Bradley, the Corner Book Shop/Eleanor Lowenstein, and Elizabeth David."
So if you want to do some serious research about all things food and cuisine, this is the place to go. The library is open to the public to examine books on the premises.

I haven't gone back yet, but I'm definitely planning a trip. Have any of you visited or done research at Schlesinger?

*Updated 10/19/2010* Tuesday, April 5, 2011, Marylene Altieri will give a talk on the Schlesinger Library's Culinary Collection and the current state of culinary studies at Harvard.

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christina said…
You had me at Julia Child. Sounds very interesting.
: )
Suldog said…
I have to admit, I didn't even know that library existed. However, I am a HUGE fan of libraries. I don't know if there has ever been more than a four or five week span in my life, since the time when I was four-years-old, when I haven't visited a library. On average, I'd say I visit various libraries fifteen to twenty times during a year.
Josephine said…
i wish we had something like that in the Bay Area! i would be logging lots of hours in there.
Sharlene T. said…
Okay, I hope you have a room for a rotation of visitors because I have got to see that library -- it sounds like a place I could hide away in and just have someone bring me a sandwich once a day... thanks for sharing

Twitter: SolarChief
El said…
The Schlesinger has cookbooks? I knew about Radcliffe but I didn't know they were involved. Now if only it were easier to park around there!
Can-Can said…
I knew they had a large cookbook collection. A friend of mine, Sylvia MacDowell, used to work there. She passed earlier this year, unfortunately.
It is a great resource.
Lisa Johnson said…
christina - Pretty much anything she's associated with is usually worth looking into.

suldog - That's a great thing to be able to say. Our libraries are such a great resource. It's so sad to hear when some of them close.

josephine - Well, you'll just have to come here and visit!

sharlene - Just tell me what sandwich and I'll bring it to you! ; )

el - I've completely given up ever trying to park around there again. Especially in the fall when the kids come back. It's practically traumatic! It's the T now for me!

can-can - Sorry about your friend. She must have loved working there.

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