As announced last month, our programming theme for 2015 is Eating Through Time.
We are thrilled to introduce a new pilot program, the Reciprocal Library Snack Cooperative, or Interlibrary Snacking, to go along with this theme. Our library boasts more than 10,000 volumes relating to food and cookery. For this new program, library staff will prepare recipes from the collection and send them to requesting libraries, who will in turn offer prepared recipes from their collections. All service providers will undergo thorough food safety training. In addition to white cotton gloves, cookbook users will receive hairnets.
Library snacks will focus on locally sourced, sustainable items. We are building a bespoke refrigeration unit based on the 1890 volume Mechanical Refrigeration and are taking into consideration cold storage advice from Into the Freezer—And Out (1946).
Before we tackle perishables, however, our focus will be on more shelf-stable foodstuff. Our collection includes a selection of items on canning, preserves, canned meats, food drying and dehydration, and other expiration-extending technologies.
The practice of developing new technologies to enable the safe transportation of food from one place to the next is an old story. As early as the 1850s, commercially canned goods—especially sardines, tomatoes, condensed milk, and fruits and vegetables—found an eager consumer audience in the Western United States. Cowboys bought oysters from Baltimore and canned tomatoes in bulk. In the early 20th century, canning facilitated the introduction of regional fruits like the California fig and the pineapple nationwide. Coast to coast, commercial canning introduced Americans to new foods, but often at the expense of freshness and taste.1
After the 1930s, supermarket foods were increasingly packaged: boxed, frozen, canned, dried, bottled, or combined in ready-to-eat forms. Advertisers marketed these in bright colors with catchy names that increased sales and added preservatives to ensure a longer-shelf life. Convenience usually trumped taste, and boredom at the family dinner table led many families increasingly to dine out.1
Our aim will be to use technologies like canning to enhance flavor. Along with the Reciprocal Library Snack Cooperative’s mission to include local, sustainable foods, we will also embrace more traditional methods of preservation. Goodbye chemical preservatives, hello pickling! Here is an example of a recipe currently in the works.
In addition, our program will have a secondary focus on recipes featuring new cooking technologies at the time of their publication. We have already had the soft-launch of the program: Our first item sent was inspired by this recipe from 1911.
Want to know more about food history? Attend our Eating Through Time programming.
1. Hooker RJ. Food and drink in America: A history. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill; 1981.
2. Special thanks to Juan at Sterling Affair for preparing historically accurate toast.