My name is Maria and I’m addicted to cookbooks.
And I’m not alone. In case you haven’t noticed, America is embroiled in a scorching love affair with food.
So when I learned the University of Michigan has a center devoted to collecting, documenting and archiving thousands of food-related items from the past five centuries, I had to investigate.
The Longone Center for American Culinary Research is housed at the U-M Clements Library and curated by Jan and Daniel Longone. A museum of sorts, it aims to define and preserve America’s culinary traditions and experiences and offers a unique view into how we live, evolve and celebrate.
The collection, much of it donated by the Longones, features more than 20,000 culinary treasures, including cookbooks, menus, magazines, manuscripts, ephemera, catalogs, diaries, letters, advertisements, graphics and reference works.
Jan, the founder of the Wine and Food Library, the oldest culinary antiquarian bookshop in the U.S., has transformed her passion, which once was housed in her modest Ann Arbor home, into a one-of-a-kind resource for researchers, chefs and authors.
The library holds a staggering, diverse assortment of goods, ranging from 2,800 vintage charity cookbooks, an eggbeater collection, antique cooking magazines, wartime recipe books, etiquette texts, ethnical and regional tomes, and, as one might expect, the first-ever U.S. cookbook, Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery, circa 1796.
In short, there’s historical information about everything from gumbo, wine, ice, chowder, chocolate chip cookies, French fries, even Michigan’s own pasties.
Sadly, the collection itself isn’t open to the public (Jan and her volunteer crew continue to catalogue the materials), but the library hosts regular exhibits. Its latest, 500 Years of American Grapes and Wines: The Literature of a Remarkable Journey is on display now and is open to the public from 1:00-4:45 p.m. until May 29, 2009.