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Collections of cookbooks, diaries, menus, advertisements, and diverse ephemera document the culinary history and cultures of America, in particular. Holdings are particularly strong in published cookbooks, but also present are manuscript cookbooks and ephemeral materials that speak to the production, distribution, and consumption of food. The bulk of the collections are from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, although some touch upon the colonial and modern periods as well. This is not an exhaustive list; it is meant to offer an overarching sense of our diverse holdings on culinary cultures throughout history. The guide is organized by the centers and departments at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
If you are seeking a particular cookbook or a collection with food-related materials, search Duke's catalog by its title.
Digitized Cookbook Collections Outside of the Rubenstein Library
These links will lead you to online databases of cookbook and menu collections.
The Hathi Trust has compiled an expansive collection of nineteenth-century cookbooks, which are digitized and text searchable.
Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project
Michigan State University has digitized and made available over 75 influential American cookbooks dating from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Site includes digitized pages and searchable full-text transcriptions.
Service Through Sponge Cake
A collection of digitized and text-searchable community cookbooks (largely from the state of Indiana) made available through a partnership between Indiana University and the Indianapolis Public Library.
What's on the Menu?
The New York Public Library has digitized almost 20,000 restaurant menus dating from the 1850s through the 2000s. Among numerous food history topics, this database particularly lends itself to the study of the evolution of taste in America.
Highlights from our Collections
This section features one item/collection from each of the above-listed centers and departments at the Rubenstein. These sources are staff "favorites" and are meant to highlight some of the more intriguing and unique items that we hold in our collections.
Lillian Dimmick Scrapbook, 1942-1947
Scrapbook created by Lillian Dimmick features newspaper clippings, recipes, check stubs, letters, telegrams, and other material documenting her winnings in recipe and music trivia contests sponsored by local news media. Dimmick entered many of the recipe contests using the name "Cousin Michelina." Some war-time recipes feature meat substitutes and other rationed food saving techniques. Prizes included money and theater tickets. In 1946, Dimmick entered a contest sponsored by Robin Hood Flour and won a Frigidaire refrigerator. (John W. Hartman Center)
Cooking and Castle-Building, c. 1880
A unique cookbook in the form of a conversation: "'[H]ow are waffles made, Cousin Kate?' asked Alice. 'This is an excellent recipe for a simple raised waffle: one quart of milk, one ounce of butter, three pints of flour, and half a gill of yeast. Let rise over night.'" (Sallie Bingham Center)
Leroy T. Walker Africa News Service Archive, 1952-1998 and undated, bulk 1952-1994
Collection contains records featuring the food industry of Africa, generally, as well as corporations who have dealings with or are based in Africa. There are documents related to food security laws like the Horn of Africa Food and Security Act and food security groups such as Food for the Hungry, Food for Peace, and Food First. There is also documentation of the food-related initiatives of World Food Day. Of record are organizations tackling hunger in Africa not only through outreach programming, but also through research efforts like the International Food Policy Research Institute. (John Hope Franklin Research Center)
Five Farms: Stories From American Farm Families Photographs and Oral Histories, 2008-2009
This fascinating oral history project documents the life and work of several family farms with diverse geographic locations including farms on the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona; an organic farm in California's Capay Valley; a dairy farm in western Massachusetts; a diversified farm in central Iowa; and an African American-owned hog farm in eastern North Carolina. (Archive of Documentary Arts)
The American Household Book of Medicine, 1866
Recipe book containing home remedies and cures for common ailments. Food, in many capacities, is considered a form of medicine. The first chapter, "Prevention of Disease" includes sections: "On Food and Diet" and "Times of Eating" and highlights nineteenth-century ideas about nutrition. (History of Medicine Collections)
Student Action with Farmworkers Records, 1950-2013 and undated, bulk 1992-2010
Contains the papers of the Student Action with Farmworkers, a non-profit organization established in 1992 whose mission is to bring students and farmworkers together to learn about each other's lives, share resources and skills, improve conditions for farmworkers, and build diverse coalitions working for social change. (Human Rights Archive)
Theodore W. "Ted" Minah Records and Papers, 1941-1975
Minah was the Director of the Duke Dining Halls for many decades. In charge of a diverse workforce, he was deeply involved in race-related labor issues on campus. His papers also contain recipes, daily menus, photographs, and documentation about planning for formal campus banquets. (University Archives)
Recipe and Home Remedy Book, ca. 1896
Household formulas and recipes for foods, such as pickled cabbage, cakes, and puddings, and for various beverages, especially wine and beer. Medical home remedies for diseases afflicting people and farm animals include rheumatism, sore throat, diptheria, neuralgia, warts, smallpox, dysentery, and cancer. Index at end. (General Collections)
Research Services Intern and Ph.D. Candidate in History
The Value of Cookbooks
Cookbooks are much more than collections of recipes. Culinary historians carefully study the introductory essays, images, recipes, and suggested menus contained in cookbooks to understand topics like community formation, consumer culture, technology, and economic development. Further, these sources touch upon major historical categories of inquiry such as race, gender, ethnicity, class, and age.
For a detailed guide to the in-depth study of manuscript and published cookbooks, see Janet Theophano's Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote (2002).
Rubenstein Test Kitchen
Librarians and archivists at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library have enthusiastically participated in the Rubenstein Test Kitchen, a project that seeks to bring food history back to life. Participants comb through our historic cookbook collections to find a particularly compelling recipe. After preparing the dish, they blog about their experiences and the history behind the meal they prepared. This is a fascinating and fun window into the dynamic cookbooks in our collection.
Hoppin’ John (1847) – Rubenstein Test Kitchen blog post by John W. Hartman Center Intern, J. Peter Moore.