The Schlesinger Library

Looking for resources to finish up those final papers? Check out the Schlesinger Library at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute.

With hundreds of volumes of cookbooks dating back to the 17th century and leading to the present, culinary magazines, and other periodicals, to manuscripts of world renowned and lesser known chefs, cooks, television personalities and restauranteurs the Schlesinger Library offers an interesting and diverse sojourn into the American culinary landscape. Here, researchers can follow the development of cooking techniques, the introduction of and popularity of new ingredients in American cooking overtime. Get answers to questions like how have the menus for holidays and special occasions evolved since the 18th century? What were the most popular seasonal foods in 19th century New England? And really, when did green casserole become a thing?

schlesinger

One of the largest and most well-known collections here is that of American born French Chef, Julia Child. In her more than 100 boxes of material are correspondence, audio visual material from television shows, journals and of course recipes! Her papers not only tell her personal story as a woman, wife, and chef but that of a changing American food culture. Her efforts simplified and made French cuisine more accessible to the American cook and complicated the American palate.

Amidst the vast publications, advertisements, audio-visual material and large collections like that of Julia Child is one of our smaller collections that explores the introduction of Chinese cuisine to the American food culture. The “Frist Lady of Chopsticks”, Grace Zia Chu, is largely credited with making Chinese cuisine more accessible to the American home cook. Born in Shanghai China in 1899, Grace came to the United States to study physical education at Wellesley. As a student there, she was often homesick and to remedy her longing she began experimenting with Chinese cooking styles using local ingredients. After graduating and getting married she returned to China where she taught physical education. When her husband was called to Washington, DC in 1941 to serve as a military attaché to the Chinese Embassy Grace began instructing the officers’ wives who were interested in learning Chinese cooking.

Madame Chu stressed the cooking technique rather than the ingredients that made a meal uniquely Chinese. She taught her students about the variety of Chinese cooking from region to region. It was in 1954 that she was established as Chinese cook when she was invited to teach at the China Institute in America (New York). By 1962, Grace published her best seller The Pleasures of Chinese Cooking. In this and subsequent publications she provided pictures and anecdotes to the recipes simplifying the food preparation methods. One of the most important aspects being the use of high heat. This lead to her being a spokesperson for the American Gas Association and a short film based on the book in 1963.

Like Julia’s papers, Graces, although limited also tell of more than her personal journey with cooking. One tidbit that is included in her papers is a story of the advent of the Fortune Cookie. According to the notice from the San Joaquin Valley library system the fortune cookie was part of the charitable works of Los Angeles Restaurant owner David Jung. After World War I, Jung would see passersby that needed food and encouragement. After trying many recipes he found the perfect cookie and included scriptures and encouraging words given to by a local clergyman. This staple in American consumption of Chinese food was born in LA as an offering. Many more interesting developments and customs of American food culture have been chronicled in the collections at the Schlesinger Library. Come explore the food culture material in our archives, you never know where the journey will take you!

Kenvi C. Phillips, PhD
Curator for Race and Ethnicity
Schlesinger Library
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
Harvard University
3 James Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
617 834-8550
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