This afternoon, I visited the Schlesinger Library at Harvard's Radcliffe Institute for a tour of the culinary collection.
The curator of books and printed materials, together with the honorary curator of the culinary collection, provided a captivating, and way too short, taste of some of their 20,000 (!) holdings. Among many other things, they have Julia Child's and M.F.K. Fisher's personal book collections; a book containing the first known mention of serving cranberries ("cramberries") with turkey; a cookbook illustrated by Andy Warhol before he was famous; historically very significant Emancipation-era cookbooks authored by freed Black women; and, some of my favorites, cookbooks from the 1960s, one of which recommends shoplifting ingredients, among other unorthodox techniques.
I wish I had taken thorough notes. I plan to go back and spend some more time there.
The good news for everyone is that the Schlesinger Library is open to the public. You can just walk in the door.
But it is not a lending library. You can't take anything out.
In fact, you can't really bring anything in, either. No pens. No sharp objects. No liquids over 3 ozs. It's pretty much like getting on an airplane. I'm exaggerating a little. Unlike at the airport, you can put your banned items in a locker by the front door, for later retrieval.
Their policy is entirely understandable, given the circumstances.
If you visit, consider bringing a little digital camera, a laptop, and/or a voice recorder.
And finally, dessert:
A seminar taught by Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, entitled "Reading Historic Cookbooks: A Structured Approach".
How incredibly cool is that.
It is at exactly the wrong time for me. I could just barely do it. I would suffer greatly. I am very tempted.
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, by Weston A. Price: Rather that theorizing abstractly about human nutrition, the author sought out isolated groups of healthy people around the world (this was in the 1930s, when there were still isolated groups of people), and documented their foodways. Price's book is jaw-dropping (literally). He describes group after group of people who are healthy in isolation, and become sick, miserable, and toothless when they adopt a "modern" diet. Aren't you curious what they were eating when they were healthy? Full write-up coming soon.
Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, by Shizuo Tsuji and Yoshiki Tsuji: A masterwork on the subject of Japanese cuisine, and by extension, Japanese culture.
Winning Bicycle Racing, by Jack Simes: A short, fascinating book on the subject of bicycling, published in 1976, when the majority of men still wore moustaches. And as with any bicycling publication, there are some great facial expressions.
The Secret History of the World: As Laid Down by the Secret Societies, by Mark Booth: A truly fascinating, meticulously documented look at the evolution of human consciousness and religion. What are some of the connections among different religions' creation myths and pantheons? Why are there astrological and other "pagan" symbols in Christian rites? Did you know that "elohim", the Hebrew word in Genesis typically translated as "God", is actually a plural noun? And so on. N.B.: the book describes an almost exclusively male experience. I think Booth could have done more in the front material to explain this, or at least to notify the reader of the orientation.
The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy, by Sasha Issenberg: The history of sushi and the sushi supply chain, detailing the journey that your fish takes from the cold ocean to your neighborhood sushi bar, often by way of Tokyo. Sasha Issenberg focuses on the lives of the people involved in the sushi trade. Fascinating and well-written.
The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice, by Trevor Corson: The story of some students at a sushi academy—and more generally, the story of sushi itself. A wonderful book, entertaining, thorougly and carefully researched, and instructive. It makes me want to eat sushi. Or write about it. Similar, but only a bit, to The Making of a Chef, by Michael Ruhlman.
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