Currently located on the main floor of Strozier Library is a mini-exhibit dedicated to the Great Rare Books Bake Off event hosted by Special Collections and Archives. Over the last month or so, I have been searching the archives for interesting and relevant materials to fill the display case and put together a cohesive exhibit that captures the nostalgia and enjoyment of this event. The theme I have selected is one that draws connections between the rare cookbooks in the collection and materials of Florida State University heritage.
During the research process, I was able to spend time with cookbooks and practical household guides filled with recipes from the nineteenth century. My first interaction with the books was via their digitized copies in the Cookbook and Herbal collection in Diginole. I was able to flip quickly through the pages, employ search terms within the books, and pull high quality images for elements of the display case such as the collaged backdrop. Pulling them from their shelves and viewing them in the reading room, however, provided another form of insight into these books’ potential. Flipping slowly through the delicate pages and viewing the beautiful and worn covers of each book provides a more nostalgic experience and helps to grasp their impressive age.
The common thread of these recipes from the nineteenth century is their drastic contrast from what we are accustomed to expect from a recipe in the present. Today, when you cook from a recipe it is often one found from a quick internet search that brings you to a website or blog dedicated to recipes, what we might consider the modern-day cookbook. These recipes are always prefaced with paragraphs of backstory and casual discussion of the recipe before a section that details dietary information and how much the recipe yields. Then, the list of ingredients with their specified measurements followed by detailed instructions for assembly and cooking or baking. This is simply not the case for these rare, aged books. What you might find instead is a recipe written in paragraph form that utilizes outdated or vague measurements and sometimes neglects them entirely. If you are baking an apple pie you might end up flipping around to another page in the cookbook looking for a pastry dough recipe for the pie shell. Overall, it might seem as if there is too much room for mistakes, but really it is just room for improvisation and creativity
This year we have fostered this connection between the past and present by showcasing these rare books alongside objects from Florida State University’s heritage such as the Seminole Savorings (1982) cookbook. The recipes from this book are from local Tallahassee residents, FSU alumni and athletes, and even Florida politicians. They are written in a style much like what we are accustomed to forty years later and demonstrate well the development of cookbooks over time. Also being displayed are photographs from various collections relating to the heritage of Florida State University such as scenes of students eating, cooking on campus, and baking in their Home Economics classroom.
In putting together this display it was my hope to string a connection between those who currently work and learn at Florida State University with the history of the school and ultimately a greater history through something that connects us all, the joy to cook and eat. It is a part of all of our lives that brings us together, whether friends or family, and is a consistent element of our collective history as humans. If you would like to participate in an entertaining activity about connecting to our past through food, please consider participating in the Great Rare Books Bake Off event hosted by Special Collections and Archives. For information on how to join the fun and bake this year’s selected recipe, click here.
This post was written by Caroline Haight, a senior at Florida State University pursuing a BA in Art History with a minor in Museum Studies. Caroline is currently interning at Special Collections and Archives for the fall of 2022 as an Undergraduate Research Assistant.