Ann Arbor woman honored in New York for lifetime achievement in culinary history
By Catherine Arcure, for AnnArbor.com
That page-worn cookbook from the area’s thrift shop on your kitchen shelf or the recipe collection you turn to from a city’s Junior League share a powerful legacy. So demonstrates Jan Longone, an Ann Arborite, who was honored by the New York Public Library and the Culinary Historians of New York last week.
In a lecture following the presentation in New York City to Longone of the prestigious Amelia Award (honoring lifetime achievement in the field of culinary history), Longone traced the history of community charity cookbooks, showing how they have affected women’s rights and the political landscape in this country throughout the last 150 years.
The cookbook production became a social phenomenon of the highest order, bringing women together in a new way that has continued to grow decade by decade. The desire to share recipes was there but an overriding hope was to promote their right to vote, to speak to equal rights for women, to raise money for soldiers injured in war or for other military, political, social or religious causes. It was the beginning step inthe establishment of the “Old Girl Network,” Longone asserts, and the empowerment of women.
Women’s right to vote was a major issue addressed in many of these early cookbooks. Longone has many examples in her collection. One, for instance, shows Uncle Sam on the cover, supposedly navigating the “Ship of State” with a makeshift wheel supported by a few straggling spokes representing those small number of states granting women the right to vote; A half spoke is part of the wheel, too, meant to symbolize the vote given in one state in which women could vote but only in school board elections!
In various communities where cookbooks pleading for a woman’s right to vote were printed, celebrities of the area were often given a voice. Clara Barton (who later founded the Red Cross), for example, in an 1891 community cookbook of her town, says to men, “I have helped you when you were sick and wounded, now stand by me and give women a vote on the ballot.”
The community charity cookbook in the early years brought women together for a project that was their own and in which they organized themselves, sold advertising (often for goods that women made or wanted to sell), gave them business experience, made money and gave them a way to direct funds towards the causes they favored.
A 72-year effort is mirrored in these community cookbooks regarding a woman’s right to vote. Later these cookbooks took on issues such as temperance, buying bonds, supporting the military, and a concept called the Exchange. The Women’s Exchange was a women’s invention in the late 1880s and supported a place in many communities and large cities, where women could bring handiwork (from jellies to embroidery) or other items to sell. These exchanges existed for decades and often had a luncheon area where women could meet, Longone explains, noting how these cookbooks, used to found the Exchanges, were a start of women’s clubs, “The Old Girl Network” and the empowerment of women.
Women’s groups representing churches or synagogues through their cookbooks brought in and continue to bring in substantial amounts of money to support their projects. A Milwaukee cookbook, "The Way to a Man’s Heart” first published by the women of a Jewish temple there in 1901 to raise money for a Jewish settlement house, and is now in its 30th edition and its growth supports all charities in Milwaukee. She notes that in this book, the support for the cause continues although the recipes have changed: in 1901, the recipe for green beans called for them to be cooked for 1-3 hours; today’s version suggests simply 10-15 minutes.
Another that continues today was started in 1903 to save artifacts and preserve landmarks in Southern California. Others were started in support of the New Deal. Those cookbooks supporting temperance were often concerned about that issue as those publishing them believed that women and children were the most affected by intemperance and the abuse of alcohol and used the charity cookbook to emphasize this. The community charity cookbook provided a way for women to support women and make clear their views on issues that affected politics, even constitutional amendments.
The community cookbook and the culinary history of American has been of long-standing interest to Longone. She and her husband, Dan, are proprietors of the Wine and Food Library in Ann Arbor, America’s oldest antiquarian culinary bookshop. Her collection is considered one of the foremost of culinary Americana and has now been generously donated to the Clements Library on the University of Michigan campus, where she is the first person to ever be given the position of Curator of American Culinary History. The extensive collection is now a part of the Longone Center for American Culinary Research and is a mecca for all those studying American culinary history. Longone describes its scope as “everything that influenced and influences America and everything that America influenced or influences in culinary matters.”
Her passion for American culinary history has also led to Longone’s involvement in other projects including Michigan State University’s “Feeding America” website, which digitizes and makes available hundreds of culinary primary sources to anyone with internet access. She has organized two national symposia on American culinary history, bringing together scholars for a unique exchange of ideas. She writes and lectures widely and is an associate editor of the “Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America,” an advisory board member of “Gastromica,” a quarterly journal for the scholarly study of food and food issues. She is also the recipient of the national Food Arts Silver Spoon Award.
Catherine Arcure, is the former food writer of the Ann Arbor News. She now lives in New York City where she manages her businesses: Manhattan Manners, etiquette training for children and young adults; and The Protocol Professional, etiquette training for businesses and organizations.