While appraising the late Julia Child’s books, Jan Longone got a call from the Boston lawyer overseeing the transaction. “He asked, ‘How can a cookbook be worth a thousand dollars?’ ” she recalls. “I sent him records from the dealers’ catalogues. People underestimate the value of culinary history.”
At 79, she has spent decades striving to correct that – first as a dealer in antiquarian culinary books and, since 2000, as curator of the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive at the University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library.
The Longone archive includes at least 20,000 items from the 16th through mid-20th centuries: rare or symbolic cookbooks, diaries, maps, graphics, menus, advertising and other ephemora. They represent “everything that influenced and influences America and everything that America influenced and influences in culinary matters,” according to the archive’s website.
There’s Amelia Simmons’ 1796 “American Cookery,” considered the first cookbook by an American. The 1876 “National Cookery Book,” prepared for that year’s International Exhibition in Philadelphia, celebrates regional dishes such as Florida guava preserves, New Orleans gumbo, Idaho miner’s bread and Rhode Island slump. A 1934 Bureau of Home Economics brochure promotes “Meat Dishes at Low Cost.” Fannie Merritt Farmer’s 1912 “Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent” is one of many references that dietetics students can comb for past approaches to nurturing patients.
“A lot of people have been interested in health and diet,” Longone says. “That’s always been an American thing.” Of those earlier writings, she adds: “Some of it we’d consider to be junk and some of it’s perceptive.”
Longone and her husband Dan, a wine authority and a professor emeritus of organic chemistry, donated many of the holdings. The archive formally opened to scholarly foraging in 2005, but Longone’s collection has been a source of edification and inspiration for years. The couple mined it for a 1984 exhibit at the Clements, “American Cookbooks and Wine Books, 1797-1950.” Janice Longone wrote the monograph and sent a copy to James Beard. Upon seeing it, the late author and chef wrote: “You have codified American culinary history and created a benchmark.”
The collection has been tapped by Martha Stewart, Inglenook winery representatives, restaurateurs and “a lot of people trying to do their own family backgrounds,” Longone says.
Ari Weinzweig first turned to Longone in 1982 while exploring recipes for Zingerman’s deli, the Ann Arbor institution he co-founded that year. “She’s been a great resource ever since,” says Weinzweig, who serves on the archive’s honorary committee. He’s found many recipes in the archive, including one for Thirded Bread — an 18th-century New England loaf of rye, corn and wheat – that’s a staple at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, one of the deli’s community of businesses.
Renee Marton, a culinary historian and chef instructor in New York, used the archive while researching a forthcoming book on rice. She describes Longone as “one of the seminal people in American foodways” — and baked a cake in her honor when the Culinary Historians of New York presented Longone with its lifetime achievement award in 2011.
The curator’s accolades and achievements have stacked up like buckwheat shortcakes: Food Arts magazine’s Silver Spoon Award, posts as associate editor for the “Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America” (which acknowledges her “unrivaled knowledge of the history of American cookbooks”) and contributor to “The Oxford Companion to Food.” She also has played a key role in Michigan State University’s online Feeding America collection of early U.S. cookbooks.
Longone especially champions fund-raising cookbooks and the changing tastes and social histories they trace.
Starting with the 1864 “Poetical Cookbook” – its proceeds helped injured Civil War veterans, widows and orphans – women compiled recipes to support social causes and religious organizations. They mobilized to acclimate immigrants to their new countries (“The Settlement Cookbook: The Way to a Man’s Heart,” 1901), to promote women’s rights (“The Suffrage Cook Book,” 1915), to subsidize schools (think PTA) and community projects. Junior League chapters have produced many cookbooks, of which the 1951 “Charleston Receipts” is the oldest still in print.
“I became so enamored of what those women were doing,” says Longone, who estimates she’s looked at 10,000 charity cookbooks, including nearly 2,000 in the Clements’ stacks.
“I cannot believe how much you learn about the role of women in the household and what they thought were their obligations and responsibilities,” she says, noting that traditional histories overlook much of the domestic sphere. “I think of those people and thank them for preserving so much of this culture, because otherwise it would be lost.”
Longone recognized their contributions in a 2008 exhibit, “The Old Girl Network: Charity Cookbooks and the Empowerment of Women.” She has reprised her corresponding lecture for numerous audiences, including at the 2011 Paris Cookbook Fair. There, she says, she heard renewed enthusiasm for such books: “People from all over the world said tourism is down in their countries, so their governments are encouraging them to do charity cookbooks.”
The archive itself relies heavily on charitable impulse. Though the assistant curator is paid, Longone has “never taken a dime” for her work at the Clements. Scores of “wonderful volunteers” collectively have given at least 50,000 hours to catalogue holdings, do research and otherwise assist patrons, Longone says. She has about a dozen now. “Many of them are food people, and they’re always ready to track things down,” she says.
Longone’s compensation comes in other forms. “You just know that you’re helping people,” she says.
There’s also the delight of discovery. “We’re just uncovering things all the time,” she says. Her voice rising with excitement, she mentions some recently acquired papers that raise questions she’s eager to research. Toward the end of the Civil War, “a private club in New York decided to make sure every Union soldier had an appropriate Thanksgiving dinner, so they advertised to wealthy people and ended up getting thousands” of donations in money, turkey, squash and more, she says. “I want to find out how they distributed things. All of this material has to come out to the world.”
Titles from the Longone collection
Among the many notable holdings in the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive:
- Amelia Simmons’ “American Cookery” (1796, Hartford, Conn.). The subtitle for this, the country’s first published cookbook, captures its range: “Or the Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Pates, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and all Kinds of Cakes, from the Imperial Plumb to Plain Cake, Adapted to This Country, and all Grades of Life.” ADDED: In its pages, Simmons introduced the pairing of turkey and cranberry sauce, Longone noted.
- John James Dufour’s 1826 “American Vine-Dresser’s Guide: A fascinating and personal account of the viticultural misfortunes of one of America/s pioneer vinyardists and winemakers.” It’s part of the archive’s extensive holdings on beverages.
- Robert Roberts’ 1827 “House-Servant’s Directory,” the first book by an African-American to be released by a major U.S. publisher. A butler in a prominent Boston household, Roberts advised his peers on proper conduct, some cooking, the use of new kitchen utensils, even formulas for furniture polish.
- Philomelia Hardin’s 1842 “Every Body’s Cook and Receipt Book: But More Particularly Designed for Buckeyes, Hoosiers, Wolverines, Corncrakers, Suckers and all Epicures who wish to Live with the Present Times.”
- Malinda Russell’s 1866 “Domestic Cook Book for the Kitchen,” the first known cookbook by an African American. A free black, widowed after just four years of marriage, she supported herself and her “crippled” son as a laundress and then pastry-shop owner. Robbed in her native Tennessee and “compelled to leave the South on account of my Union principles,” Russell relocated to Paw Paw, Mich., where she wrote the cookbook for income. The Longones marked one anniversary by seeking her records in Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina, and the Clements Library published a facsimile of her cookbook.
The 1876 “Porcineograph,” a poster featuring a pig-shaped U.S. map or “Gehography,” with Maine at the snout and “Alas-queue” at the tail end.
- Menus, scrapbooks and advertising paraphernalia from the1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, a collection reportedly second only to that of the Windy City’s Newberry Museum.
- “Hotel Planning and Outfitting,” by Albert Pick Co. Inc. (1928). The oversize book includes floor plans, photos and descriptions of hotels long since shuttered, such as Cincinnati’s grand Hotel Sinton and its coffee shop. “You can see layouts, what the kitchens were like,” Longone says. “Probably 25 people could get a Ph.D. out of just this book alone.”
- Menus from Jeremiah Tower, including a complete, annotated set from his stint as the first chef at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., and historic menus he displayed at his former San Francisco restaurant, Stars.
Recipes from Jan Longone’s Culinary Archive:
The 1876 “National Cookery Book” is among many notable titles in the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive. Its recipes, solicited by the Women’s Centennial Executive Committee, represent a wide range of dishes – and even contain a lesson on dealing with dire economics and drought:
“Two quarts of milk, one cupful of rice, uncooked half a cup full of sugar, butter the size of a walnut, two teaspoonfuls of salt and spice to taste. Bake for three hours, stirring several times during the first hour.”
“As it is a serious matter what is put into the human stomach, I feel it incumbent to say that my readers may safely eat everything set down in this book,” Mrs. L. O. Kleber writes in introducing “The Suffrage Cook Book,” whose recipes she compiled in 1915 Pittsburgh for the Equal Franchise Federation of Western Pennsylvania.” She assures, “Most recipes have been practically tested by me.”
That includes both Creole Salad and Hot Slaw, printed here as they originally appeared.
In this Creole salad, from “The Suffrage Cook Book” (circa 1915), a bell pepper cradles a mixture of minced chicken, ham, hard-cooked eggs and celery dressed with a vinaigrette.
Cut off the tops of 8 medium-sized sweet bell peppers, saving the tops with the stems attached; remove all the seeds and white portion without breaking the pepper, then throw them into ice water for 30 minutes.
Mix together a cupful of minced ham and chicken, four hard boiled eggs and a bunch of celery, chopped, and a Spanish onion.
Moisten with dressing, fill the shells, replace the tops and serve.
Hot Slaw, a recipe from the 1915 “Suffrage Cook Book,” gets a vote for its ease and hearty flavor.
- 1 small head cabbage
- 1 onion
- 1 tablespoon bacon fat
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon vinegar
- Salt to taste
Cut cabbage not too fine, heat fat in sauce pan. Wash cabbage and put into that a little water and add onion, cut up, salt and a little pepper. Cook about 20 minutes, then add the sugar and vinegar.
It must be sour-sweet. It is then ready to serve.